24.2.14

Talisman in Jewish Folklore




Exhibition

Jerusalem, Bible Lands Museum, Angels and Demons: Jewish Magic through the Ages, May 2010.

New Exhibition at the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem
Opens Today, 5 May 2010 through May 2011

How do you charm a woman? How do you protect babies against the evil demon Lilith? Why would you bury bowls upside-down at the entrance to your home?

The magical and mysterious world of Jewish incantations, spells and curses will be revealed in the upcoming exhibition Angels and Demons, Jewish Magic through the Ages.

This thought-provoking exhibition combines archaeology, folklore and superstition in an all encompassing display of amulets, khamsas, jewelry, manuscripts, books of spells and other mystifying objects.


A new exhibition – the first of its type - has opened this week at the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem. Entitled Angels & Demons, Jewish Magic through the Ages, the exhibition reveals the magical and mysterious world of Jewish incantations, spells and curses. Exploring the practice of magic in Jewish tradition from ancient times to today through archaeology, folklore and superstition, the exhibition includes an all encompassing display of amulets, khamsas, jewelry, manuscripts and books of spells.

Angels & Demons, Jewish Magic through the Ages, examines the origins and development of magic in Judaism from the First Temple period to the present day by focusing on beliefs, customs and, particularly, the practical use of magical objects in daily Jewish life. Belief that the world was filled with supernatural beings and forces such as angels, demons, spirits and the evil eye was common in the ancient world. Indeed, many people today hold to that conviction. Many powers were attributed to these beings that were thought to be responsible for the good, but especially the bad things, happening to people on a daily basis.

Among the rare and interesting items is a child's tunic-shirt discovered in the Cave of Letters dated to the Bar Kochba period (132-135 CE). Thousands of fragments of textiles have been discovered in Israel, but the Cave of Letters was the only one where the phenomenon of tied textile ('sacks') was found. These little 'sacks' contained various items believed to have protective and healing powers and to guard against the evil eye.

Another exceptional object on display is an amuletic textile from Iran. The textile shows a variety of images and symbols that reflect a mix of Iranian Jewish and non-Jewish magical traditions. The names of the ten sons of Haman (villain from the Book of Esther) are inscribed on the fabric. It was believed that all evil directed at the owner of this textile would be deflected onto the ten sons.

Also on display is a rare 2,500 year old marble discus from the Sea of Yavneh-Yam (near Kibbutz Palmahim). This has been identified as representing the cornea, iris and pupil of an eye and was mounted on the bow of a ship to protect the ship, its captain and its crew from the evil eye. There are only four such objects known in the world, two in Israel and two in Turkey.

Many of the artifacts are on loan to this exhibition from private collections and have never before been on public display. The exhibition is enhanced by artifacts on loan from the Golan Archaeological Museum, The Institute of Archaeology of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, The Israel Antiquities Authority and private collectors.

Resources

• Norman A. Rubin, Exhibition Angels and Demons, Fine Arts 360°, 2.5.2010

An exhibition of Jewish Magic through the ages at the Bible Lands Jerusalem – The magical and mystical mysterious world of Jewish incantations, spells, magic, curses and oaths, are displayed in amulets, shamsas, jewelry, manuscripts, books of spells, and other mystifying artifacts and objects.

In the ancient and medieval worlds, Jews were reputed to possess much knowledge about magic: amulets and spells to heal from sickness or harm one’s enemies, mystical incantations to ascend to heaven or bring angels down to earth, and information about the beneficent angels who assisted humans in their fight against the demons of illness and madness. Jewish magic has been part of folk Jewish knowledge and elite rabbinic practice through the years.

In antiquity there flourished among Jews (and other nations of that era) a widespread literature of magic and mysticism. Those people had a fear of the unknown and had turned to supernatural and magical forces, the magic of spells and amulets and incantations to alleviate and solving their personal troubles, by the performance of physical rituals, by the employment of magical herbs as amulets or potions; Written testimony to the magic formulae in Jewish literature can be found in the Bible, the Mishnah, the Talmud, and the Midrashim – and in archeological finds, i.e. in Qumran a fragment of a scroll was found containing magic compositions that was written in the Hasmonaean era.

The magic texts written on amulets and other artifacts, formulae written in sacred books that were to protect man (woman) were also meant to find favor with others, win love and admiration, social success and above all to cure one of illness. Healing of illness was usually was done in the fashion of expulsion of evil spirits, demons, and the evil eye through incantations, religious rites and wearing amulets written for the purpose of curing illness of all sorts – “May the evil spirit, the shadow-spirit, and the demon, both male and female depart from one’s body.” Also the names of the angels or deities are mentioned in which the spells are pronounced; Jewish texts frequently refer to the angels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. The use of magical powers was seen as normal during the Talmudic era, and it was sanctioned so long as the person involved stood within the rabbinic community and used magic for purposes accepted within rabbinic religion.

Note: Occasionally an incantation that was recited by the sages was directed against a specific disease. i.e Malaria was prevalent in that era and the Talmud contains varied prescriptions for treatment for the disease. In the Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 67b there is the distinction made between ‘one-day malaria’, tertian malaria’ and ‘feverish malaria’ (Joshua Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition, 1939).

The symbolic hamsa hand (Arabic) or hamesh hand (Hebrew) is an ancient and still popular an amulet for magical protection from the envious or the evil eye and is also known known to draw positive energy, happiness, riches and health. The hamsa (semitic root meaning five) includes five digits and symbolizes the Creator’s protective hand and refers to the digits on the hand. An alternative Jewish name for it is the Hand of Miriam, in reference to the sister of Moses and Aaron. Some hamsas contain images of fish, "the water covers the fish of the sea so the eye has no power over them (Berakhot 55b)." Some hamsa artifacts have the colors red and blue, both of which are said to thwart the Evil Eye. The symbol of the hand, and often of priestly hands, appears in kabbalistic manuscripts and amulets, doubling as the letter ‘SHIN’, the first letter of the divine name 'Shaddai' (one of the names referring to God).

Among the demons best known by the sages was Lillith. According to the Midrash, she was considered to be Adam’s first wife and when they parted she pledged herself to causing great harm for women in childbirth; she is a female demon of the night that supposedly flies around searching for newborn children either to kidnap or strangle them. Also, she sleeps with men to seduce them into propagating demon sons. Lilith abounds in many mythologies which causes difficulty in pinpointing her exact origin. A preeminent mythology is the Jewish folklore, or the Zohar, the book of splendor, a Kabbalistic thirteenth century meditation on the Old Testament, which establishes the Hebraic myth of Lilith, the Kabbalah further enhanced her demonic character by making her the partner of Samael (i.e. Satan) and queen of the realm of the forces of evil. (She represents the deeper, darker fear men have of women and female sexuality, inasmuch as female sexuality.)

Note: The appalling mortality rates of women in childbirth and of newborn children in the Talmudic era lay behind the terror of the demon Lillith.

According to some rabbinic sources, the demons were believed to be under the authority the king of the nether world, either Asmodai or, in the older Haggadah, Samael (“the angel of death”), who kills by his deadly poison. Occasionally in Jewish texts a demon is called “Satan”:” The reality of demons was never questioned by the Talmudists and the late rabbis; most accepted their existence as a fact. Even did most of the medieval Jewish scholars question their reality; demons were still dreaded in medieval Jewish folklore, as documented in the 13th century Sefer Hasidim.

Note: According to Rabbinical theologians there were three types of demons – Shedim (devils) the Mazzikim (harmers), and the Ruah (“spirits”). And there a host of other minor demons and spirits written in the Talmud; the evil creatures that caused migraines (Ruah Palga – Gittim 68b), the demon Ketev mention in the Psalms 91-6 and Deut. 32-24 is responsible for intestinal diseases, especially in the summer months, RuahTazzazit attacks animals and causes rabies and other convulsions (Yoma 83b), and etc…

Demons and evil spirits were thought by the superstitious to quite innumerable. “There numbers outweigh the number of humans on earth. If men were able to see them, none could stand the sight.” (Berakhot 6a).

Whereas the names of angels that have magical apotropaic properties frequently appear on amulets, magical inscriptions and formula. In the bedtime ritual Kriat Sh’ma al ha-Mitah, the angels Michael, Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael are invoked for protection through the night.

This thought-provoking exhibition at the Bible Lands Museum combines archaeology, folklore and superstition in an all encompassing display.

Israel - New Exhibition in Jerusalem Highlights Segulas Used Throughout Jewish History, Vos Iz Neias, 3.5.2010. Includes 29 comments.

The exhibition [...] examines the origins and development of magical practices in Judaism by focusing on beliefs, customs and the use of magical objects in daily Jewish life.

Israel - How do you protect babies against the evil demon Lilith? Why would you bury bowls upside-down at the entrance to your home?
The magical and mysterious world of Jewish incantations, spells and curses is revealed starting this this week May 5 in Israel at the upcoming exhibition Angels and Demons, Jewish Magic through the Ages.
This thought-provoking exhibition combines archaeology, folklore and superstition in an all encompassing display of amulets, khamsas, jewelry, manuscripts, books of spells and other mystifying objects.

Exhibition at the Bible Lands Museum Looks at Jewish Magic through the Ages, ArtDaily, 4.5.2010

JERUSALEM.- Magic permeates our daily (Jewish) lives to such a degree that life without magic is close to impossible. An interesting fact is that most individuals are unaware that many items in their daily life and many daily actions and beliefs are magical in nature. Examples of this are endless: knocking on wood, tfu tfu tfu, Evil Eye (בלי עין הרע), not naming a child before birth, the amuletic power of the mezuzah, red ribbon bracelet, khamsas, jinxes… These and many more practices have ancient sources. Some have lost their meaning even though they are still used, for example, the magical formula ABRACADABRA, has its roots in the 3rd century CE, and is continuously used even today.

In this exhibition visitors examine the origins and development of magic in Judaism from the First Temple period to the present day by focusing on beliefs, customs and, particularly, the practical use of magic objects in daily Jewish life.

Belief that the world was filled with supernatural beings and forces such as angels, demons, spirits and the evil eye was common in the ancient world and, indeed, many people today hold to that conviction. These forces were attributed with many powers and were thought to be responsible for many of the good, but especially the bad things occurring to people on a daily basis. It was (and is) generally believed that such forces can be coerced into acting on behalf of the applicant. Depending on whether the goal of this coercion was for evil or good, we can distinguish between witchcraft (black magic) and magic (protective magic, or white magic).

Biblical laws strictly forbid the Jewish people from having anything to do with witchcraft (black magic):

"You shall not allow a sorceress to live". (Exodus 22:17)

“There must not be found among you anyone that … uses divination, a soothsayer, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a medium, or a wizard, or a necromancer". (Deuteronomy 18:10-11)

However, (white) magic - i.e. defense against the dark arts, the forces of evil and the damage they cause - was not forbidden in Judaism. This is clear both from biblical and rabbinical writings and from many of the preserved.

The exhibition is enhanced by artifacts on loan from the Golan Archaeological Museum, The Institute of Archaeology of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, The Israel Antiquities Authority and private collectors.

Ángeles y demonios contra el mal de ojo en el judaísmo, RPP Noticias, Perú, 4.5.2010

La magia empleada en la tradición judía permitió proteger a una parturienta de fuerzas demoníacas, conquistar a una mujer y defender el hogar de vecinos indeseables.

¿Cómo luchar contra el mal de ojo, proteger a una parturienta de fuerzas demoníacas, conquistar a una mujer o defender el hogar de vecinos indeseables? La magia empleada en la tradición judía tiene la respuesta a estas y otras preguntas.
Bajo el título de "Ángeles y Demonios, magia judía a lo largo de los años", el Museo de las Tierras de la Biblia de Jerusalén inaugura mañana una exposición que analiza los orígenes y desarrollo de las prácticas de la magia en la tradición mosaica desde el período del Templo del rey Salomón (siglo X a.C).
Aunque pudiera parecer el título de un best-seller, la muestra es la primera de su tipo en Israel y repasa las creencias del judaísmo marcadas por la existencia de poderes sobrenaturales, ángeles, demonios, espíritus y fuerzas malignas como el mal de ojo, comunes a otras culturas de la antigüedad.
"Es una mirada única de cómo vemos a las fuerzas protectoras contra el mal en este mundo, bien sea para conservar la salud o proteger el hogar", apunta a Efe la directora del museo, Amanda Weiss.
En la exposición se pueden encontrar estatuillas, amuletos, telas y pergaminos manuscritos e incluso material orgánico para realizar encantamientos, pócimas amorosas o luchar contra las maldiciones.
Gran parte de estos objetos fueron usados en la vida cotidiana de las comunidades judías de Europa, Oriente Medio y norte de África.
"Hoy seguimos empleando amuletos contra el mal de ojo como la "jamsa" (símbolo de una mano) y otros que probablemente incorporó el judaísmo desde la práctica islámica", explica Weiss.
Junto a estas populares manos que son sinónimo de buena fortuna, la exhibición presenta unos cuencos con inscripciones que eran enterrados boca abajo debajo de los suelos de los hogares judíos a fin de alejar a los malos espíritus y evitar incendios.
El hecho de que un vecino pueda incordiar hasta hacerse insufrible trae cola desde antiguo y, para luchar contra ello, los judíos empleaban fórmulas cabalísticas que les ayudasen a deshacerse del incómodo huésped, también útiles para repeler a las ratas.
El principio que guía los utensilios contra el mal de ojo es el de un espejo que reflejará la mala suerte, según explican los responsables de la exhibición, que destacan que el "ojo" simboliza lo que otros perciben de uno y provoca la envidia.
"A fin de luchar contra las enfermedades o la mala fortuna se solían dibujar pasajes del Antiguo Testamento o lugares santos en la Tierra de Israel que eran empleados como talismanes", apunta la subcomisaria de la muestra, Ori Meiri.
El Talmud (ley oral del judaísmo) dice que de 100 muertes, 99 son por el mal de ojo y una por causas naturales, lo que explicaría el celo con que el judaísmo cuida una de las etapas de la vida más susceptibles de "la mala fortuna", como es la maternidad.
Así, en la tradición judía no se suele mencionar el nombre del hijo que va a nacer hasta después del parto o incluso la circuncisión y muchos bendicen al bebé con las palabras: "Dios le libre del mal de ojo".
Uno de los mayores temores de las embarazadas más supersticiosas es la figura de Lilit, un ser demoníaco capaz de atacar a los recién nacidos y que según la leyenda, fue la primera mujer creada por Dios, que abandonó el paraíso y a Adán al negarse a ser sometida en el plano sexual.
Para salvar a los pequeños es costumbre invocar a los tres ángeles, Sanoy, Sansanoy y Samanglaf, enviados por Dios para traer de vuelta a Lilit al Edén pero que fracasaron en el intento, pues ella ya se había casado con el diablo.
El tema amoroso y erótico es uno de los que atrae mayor atención, como muestran unas figurillas del período bizantino con forma de mujer con las manos atadas en la espalda y consideradas "muñecas-vudú", expuestas en una sala dedicada a la "magia negra".
La ley judía prohíbe la práctica de este tipo de magia, "a la hechicera no dejarás que viva" (Éxodo 22:17), aunque no la lucha contra los poderes malignos.
La Cábala aplicada también proporciona encantamientos y libros que contienen fórmulas para que una mujer se enamore de un hombre y "su corazón arda de pasión".
Weiss señala que para el judaísmo hay una diferencia entre la práctica religiosa y la superstición, aunque reconoce que a veces sólo las separa una delgada línea. EFE

Angels & Demons, Jewish Magic through the Ages, Biblical Archaeology Society, 5.5.2010

The newest exhibit at the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem, Angels & Demons, Jewish Magic through the Ages, opened on May 5th. Designed to explore the origins and development of magic within Judaism, the exhibit is comprised of items relating to folklore and superstition such as amulets, Khamsas, jewelry, manuscripts and books of spells. Beliefs, customs and the practical use of magical objects in Jewish life will be examined beginning as far back as the First Temple Period up until recent times. The exhibit also includes loaned artifacts from the Golan Archaeological Museum, the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Israel Antiquities Authority and numerous private collectors.

Jewish Magic through the Ages, Times of Malta, 5.5.2010

A birth amulet to protect the new born, depicting an angel in the form of a bird and a hamsa, inscribed with a spell against the evil eye and an incantation against the demon Lilith made in Israel in 1864 is exhibited at the Angels and Demons, Jewish Magic through the Ages exhibition.
The exhibition is held at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem. It examines the origins and development of magical practices in Judaism from the First Temple period to the present day by focusing on beliefs, customs and particularly, the use of magic objects in daily Jewish life.
The exhibition combines archaeology, folklore and superstition in an all encompassing display of amulets, hamsas, jewelry, manuscripts, books of spells (kaballah ma'asit) and other mystifying objects.

Angels and Demons in Jerusalem, Euronews, 12.5.2010.

A new exhibition – Angels and Demons – has opened at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem. The focus is on Jewish magic and mystical symbolism and the display includes artifacts as well as documentation. Entering on the right foot brings luck, as does the hamsa – a symbol shaped like an upside-down hand.
A Jewish magic practitioner Yitzhak Mizrahi explains: "We have many cases in Israel of spirits, like souls of deceased people who don’t move on but stay in the house. That can cause bad luck or phenomena that scare the residents of the house, so we write what we call a Solomon seal. The purpose of this is to release the spirits from the house in order to purify it."
The exhibition distinguishes between what it calls white magic – like amulets containing blessings for health, marriage, easy birth and success in business – and black magic like love spells or spells to make people unwittingly share their secrets.

• Dan Friedman, Jews have been Magic for Thousands of Years, Forward, 19.5.2010

We all believe in magic. Despite 300 years of industrial and social revolution, as well as unparalleled explanation of the natural world through the scientific method, we still throw salt over our shoulders, put up hamsas in our homes, wear lucky shirts to job interviews and run through tested game-day rituals, whether we are playing or watching. The new exhibition at the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem, "Angels & Demons: Jewish Magic Through the Ages," (open for a year from May 5) shows us how deep-rooted and complex those beliefs are.
The majority of the exhibition, which displays artifacts from North Africa, Byzantium and other locales more geographically appropriate for a museum based on the Bible lands, is of the "don’t ask, don’t tell" order of magic. Items and procedures that the rabbis might not condone, but would probably not go out of their way to condemn; spells to cure disease, charms to protect new mothers or newborn children and amulets to ward off evil or infestation were not religiously countenanced, but did little harm. In fact, the most recent amulet on display (placed next to the most ancient item, from the 8th century BCE at the exhibition’s entrance) is a text with specific instructions for use. This text, written in 1992, cured the owner who every day for a week drank water in which the parchment had been steeped and then wore it in a silver holder until the problem was resolved.
Of course, hamsas and other general amulets for warding off the evil eye have always been balanced by specific prescriptions. Most unexpected, at least to this Northern European Jew, were the inverted clay bowls inscribed with spells and, often, pictures that were placed under the threshold of the house to deter spirits and beasts from entering. These, too, varied between the general (fire, rats) and the specific (the angel Sarfiel orders two demons to be exorcised from the household of Kafnay, son of Imma, and his wife, Immay, daughter of Anay).
Black magic that bends others to your will, only plays a small part in the exhibition. But, enticingly hidden behind a black curtain, are the forbidden tools of manipulative magic: potions, curses and poppet dolls. The details of magical coercion are exotic, but the intentions are almost always banal: Hurt your enemies, and seduce objects of desire. In a rare twist, a carved voodoo doll with bound limbs from the Hellenistic Period in Israel (332 C.E. — 37 BCE), is labeled "probably used in erotic magic practices," suggesting that some people were aiming to kill two birds with one stone.
Obviously, magical objects are going to look a little strange from the context of the Jewish mainstream. But even beyond this strangeness, the widespread use of pictures and, in some cases, figures gives these Jewish objects the aura of the pagan. Less so for the illustrated magic books collecting recipes, spells and procedures for mitigating a variety of situations. For a people so obsessed with the divinity of the book, the power of letters is second nature even when it is, strictly speaking, prohibited.
One virtue of magicians is that they, like novelists, have a vested interest in making the unknown seem graphic and terrible. Demons are not cute cartoon characters, but rather furious forces of nature to be dealt with in specific ways. In the magical worldview, Lilith is not a powerful feminist icon but a vicious, vengeful demon who devours newborn babies and spitefully kills their mothers. Specific adjurations need to be crafted, alluding to myths describing her weaknesses and previous promises. The anime-sounding Suni, Susuni and Snigli are in fact powerful angels. By a number of different names alluding to the same myths (in other texts they are called Sanoi, Sansanoi and Samangalof), they have the hex on Lilith and are thus the specific spirits charged with protecting houses with babies and mothers in them.
In the end, the main drawback of "Angels & Demons" is its logistical limitations of space and scope. It’s a shame that such a suggestive exhibition couldn’t be spread out more. The surface of the prevalence, pattern and practice of Jewish magic and its context in the larger world of Mediterranean mythology is barely scratched by this worthy introduction. Samangalof and friends come from an entirely alternative mythical system that would surely enrich our understanding of midrashic traditions. The museum is running a series of events that allows collectors, users and current practitioners of the magical arts to shed light on this marginal but very Jewish narrative. Perhaps, with intervention from either side of the black curtain, such a show might become possible in the future!

• Gwen Ackerman, Lovers enticed, Demons trapped by Jewish Magic Charms, Bloomberg, 20.5.2010

Take some incantation bowls, turn them upside down and bury them under the threshold of your home. Believe they have a little magic and watch them trap demons from entering, and keep the place safe.
The clay and bronze bowls from about 1,500 years ago are among items of superstition on display at the "Angels & Demons, Jewish Magic Through the Ages" exhibition at Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem. A bronze doll, hands tied behind its back, was probably used in erotic practices 2,300 years ago.
In the entrance hangs a more recent amulet personally inscribed for a friend of the curator to heal an illness. According to instruction, she dipped the amulet in water every day for a week and drank the liquid. After the first seven days, she wore the amulet around her neck until she recovered.
"This woman is healthy today," said museum director Amanda Weiss. "Did the amulet do it? You tell me. It is a fascinating concept. What we wanted to look at in this exhibit is what drives us to look for that extra power."
The primary motive is fear, Weiss said.
Some superstitions have transcended the centuries, such as framing amulets made of paper or parchment and hanging them on walls. About 1,900 years ago, mothers tried tying small sacks containing items to a child’s tunic. Now parents pin charms to baby carriages. The items are said to ward off fire, rats and evil.
Weiss says she has hung several hamsas, the sign of a hand that keeps out evil, in her home. "Does that mean my home won’t be safe without them? No. But I happen to think that they add to the positive energy," she said.
Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Shas party has used amulets in its election campaigns, prompting in 2000 an amendment to the election law prohibiting the lobbying to vote or not to vote "via oath, excommunication, promise to bless or giving amulets."
Magic, or mysticism, has a permanent place "in popular Jewish spirituality, which has elicited everything from vociferous opposition to quiet consent, to an actual endorsement," said Jeffrey Woolf, a Jewish-studies lecturer at Bar-Ilan University.
Throughout the centuries, Judaism has allowed for the practice of forswearing “heavenly hosts to do your bidding, especially for something good,” he added. Even in medieval texts there are references to the enlisting of angels to help drive a miscreant out of a community.
Items displayed come from private collections, other museums, the Israel Antiquities Authority, and other Bible Lands exhibits.
They include books containing recipes for love potions, or for concoctions "to get rid of a lousy neighbor," said Weiss.

• Benny Ziffer, A Walk through the Subconscious, Haaretz, 17.9.2010

The exhibition 'Angels and Demons' at the Bible Lands Museum focuses on the rich history of sorcery in Judaism.

There has been a sort of exorcism going on in the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem over the past few months. An exhibit called "Angels and Demons" - curated by gifted Assyriologist Filip Vukosavovic, whose life story would make a great novel - tells the story of this young Montenegrin's love for Israel and his decision to join his fate to that of Jerusalem, by researching incantations and amulets related to Jewish tradition.
The exhibit displays the entire history of Jewish magic, from the early Middle Ages onward, in the form of objects, some of which you wouldn't suspect of being useful for sorcery if it weren't for the explanations provided. These items embody humanity's fears, past and present, in the face of danger. A seemingly shapeless lump of clay turns out to be a little sculpture of a person with its hands and feet tied, signifying the desire of its owner to symbolically bind evil so it won't harm him. And there are angels for all seasons, whose names are no less strange than the powers attributed to them. Their role? To defend people in difficult times, whether from the evil eye, bad health or other problems.
For instance, the angel Serfial, drawn on a Mesopotamian bowl, inscribed with text in Judeo-Aramaic, from the early Middle Ages, looks as though he came straight from painter Paul Klee's brush. Serfial was a "personal" angel, hired to defend Kafnay, son of Imma, and his wife, Immay daughter of Anai, from ghosts in their home. And how poetic and musical are the names of a trio of guardian angels from the kabbalistic Book of Raziel: Senoy, Sansenoy and Semangelof.
Inscriptions are written on strips of leather, paper, human skulls, coins and knots. What did they protect one against? Scorpions, primarily. "Human" scorpions, no less. This is where black magic enters the picture - a phenomenon as widespread in the Jewish world as it was in general. One of the most famous inscriptions from the biblical period is a curse found at the entrance to a Judean cave from the 7th century B.C.E., which says: "Damned be the cockroach son of a grasshopper by the hosts of God," apparently referring to some unwanted personage in entomological terms.
If visitors to the Israel Museum may be thought to be wandering through the recorded history of the Jewish people, in "Angels and Demons" one walks through its subconscious.

• Michael D. Swartz, Angels & Demons, Biblical Archaeology Society, 16.1.2012

Here is a brief quiz for BAR readers:
(1) What are the two most ancient copies of a Biblical text?
(2) What is the largest body of inscriptions documenting ancient Judaism?
Most BAR readers will know the answer to the first question: The two small strips of silver from Ketef Hinnom containing portions of the Priestly Blessing from Numbers 6:24–26. Fewer people, however, may realize these small silver strips were most probably magical amulets. Like many ancient amulets, they were found at a gravesite. See Gabriel Barkay, The Riches of Ketef Hinnom: Jerusalem Tomb Yields Biblical Text Four Centuries Older than Dead Sea Scrolls, BAR 35:04.
The answer to the second question is not so well known: The largest body of inscriptions from ancient Judaism is the collection of more than 2,000 magic bowls from Talmudic Babylonia (present-day Iraq) from the fifth–eighth centuries C.E. These bowls are inscribed in Aramaic with incantations against demons. See Hershel Shanks, Magic Incantation Bowls: Charms to Curse, to Cure, and to Celebrate, BAR 33:01.
Magic—a term usually applied to unauthorized ritual practices to obtain a material benefit for an individual—has flourished in Judaism from Biblical times to the present, despite prohibitions against witches and other practitioners in Exodus 22:17 (verse 18 in English), Deuteronomy 18, and elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible.1 Jewish magic usually involves invoking the powerful name of God to command intermediary beings, such as angels and demons, to do the will of the practitioner. For centuries Jews have used magical incantations, talismans worn on the body or hung in the house, objects such as curse tablets, and handbooks, for conducting magical rituals to heal a sick person or protect women and babies in childbirth or make a business prosperous. Other curses are used to harm an enemy or cast a spell to make someone fall desperately in love. These latter two often take the same form—adjuring an angel or demon to put a burning fire in the bowels of the intended "victim." In our day, Jewish books, images and Web sites of "practical Kabbalah" can be downloaded from the Internet, and magical charms can be bought in kosher grocery stores.
In 2010 the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem recognized the importance of the magical tradition in Jewish history and culture with an exhibit of amulets, objects, books, manuscripts and ephemera from classical antiquity to modern times. This handsome volume is the exhibition catalogue. It contains rich photographs of the objects—indeed some of the best photos yet available of some texts and archaeological items. It also features essays by some of the finest scholars of Jewish magic, mysticism and art history.
The essays begin with brief surveys of the main historical periods and go on to specific themes. The objects are organized not by historical period but by function (such as "Personal Protection" and aggressive magic, here called "black magic") and by themes, such as "Letter and Word" and "Evil Eye." This organization highlights two important features of Jewish magic: Its cosmopolitan nature and its remarkable continuity. Jewish magical texts and objects closely resemble those of their neighbors, so that instructions found in the Book of Mysteries (Sefer ha-Razim), a magical handbook from the Talmudic period, are very similar to non-Jewish Greek magical papyri of the same era. Jewish magic’s cosmopolitan character is illustrated in the catalogue by magical gems with the names of Jewish angels written in Greek. There are also many examples of the "khamsa," a symbolic hand worn as a pendant or hung on a wall as protection against the evil eye; this same image is found throughout the Middle East.

2 comments:

Maggie Anton said...

I saw this exhibit when I was in Jerusalem a while back; it gave me so much inspiration on what to write about in ENCHANTRESS

akermariano said...

Thanks for sharing Maggie :)

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