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“May He Smite!” A Curse Tablet from SepphorisArchaeologists uncovered two inscribed amulets designed to invoke magical powers at Sepphoris in the Lower Galilee. These artifacts open a fascinating window on life in a mixed Jewish-Christian-Greek city in the late fourth or early fifth century C.E. One, a small silver scroll a little more than 4 inches long, was a curse formula found in the Sepphoris basilica (see drawing to the right). Crammed with 55 lines of Aramaic text, the curse scroll solicits divine power to rebuke, smite and crush a “murmurer.” That the divine power is the Jewish god Yahweh is indicated by various formulas used to write the ineffable divine name: YAH, YH, YHW, YYY and YY. Although the meaning of “murmurer” is not clear, authors McCullough and Glazier-McDonald suggest two possibilities: The term might simply refer to the malign spirit responsible for the amulet owner’s unspecified “misfortune,” or the term might have a political meaning relating to conflicts between Sepphoris’s Jewish and Christian communities. By the fifth century, Christians were aggressively proselytizing in Sepphoris, the traditional home of the family of the Virgin Mary. The Talmud refers to conflicts in Sepphoris between rabbinic authorities and minin (heretics). “Murmurers” may thus refer to “heretics” who do not follow the rabbinic laws of the people of Yahweh—perhaps Christians or Christianized Jews.
The Archaeology Odyssey article “Welcome to the World of Magic!” by C. Thomas McCollough and Beth Glazier-McDonald describes the Sepphoris excavations that uncovered two magical inscriptions on silver and bronze amulets from one of Israel’s most distinguished sites.
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