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Bible Artifacts Found Outside the Trench: Magic Incantation Bowls

Incantation bowls inscribed with ancient magic spells in ancient Aramaic script

The Importance of Bible Artifacts Found Outside the Trench: Magic Incantation Bowls

This Jewish incantation bowl features ancient magic spells written in Aramaic script spiraling around a bound demon in the hope that it will ward off evil. Though incantation bowls like the one pictured here are often Biblical artifacts found as the result of archaeological looting, they are not useless as some scholars suggest. Photo: Hershel Shanks.

Bible artifacts found not in a stratified context, and often as the product of archaeological looting, tend to get a bad rap. In this installment of our series on important unprovenanced Biblical artifacts, which includes Bible artifacts found outside of a professional excavation, we look at Jewish incantation bowls inscribed with ancient magic spells in ancient Aramaic script.

The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) and the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) have banned the publication of articles and the presentation of papers about unprovenanced Biblical artifacts in an attempt to curb archaeological looting and forgery of Bible artifacts found in Israel and Jordan. Other scholars, however, believe that Biblical artifacts found without a stratified context are by no means worthless.


Our free eBook Ten Top Biblical Archaeology Discoveries brings together the exciting worlds of archaeology and the Bible! Learn the fascinating insights gained from artifacts and ruins, like the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem, where the Gospel of John says Jesus miraculously restored the sight of the blind man, and the Tel Dan inscription—the first historical evidence of King David outside the Bible.
The Importance of Bible Artifacts Found Outside the Trench: Magic Incantation Bowls

Antiquities collector Shlomo Moussaieff surveys his collection of incantation bowls inscribed with ancient magic spells in ancient Aramaic script. Biblical artifacts found as the result of archaeological looting like these incantation bowls are not useless as some scholars suggest. Photo: Hershel Shanks.

Ancient magic spells have often been considered the enemy of “true” religion, but incantation bowls like this one from the collection of Shlomo Moussaieff show that demons, curses and ancient magic spells were a regular part of Babylonian Jewish life in the third–seventh centuries A.D.* Thousands of these incantation bowls have been found, and nearly all of them are inscribed with Jewish Aramaic script spiraling toward the center. These Biblical artifacts contain writings that are usually ancient magic spells: wishes for love, prayers for healing and even curses on enemies. Many people believed that demons were responsible for evil-doing and illness, so it was common to depict a demon on the bowl in the desired stance—bound and incapacitated—in the midst of the Aramaic script.

These incantation bowls, fascinating Bible artifacts found in the collection of Shlomo Moussaieff, demonstrate the extent to which some Jews absorbed the cultural practices and influences of their neighbors and utilized every available method, including even ancient magic spells, when seeking divine aid. And like other Biblical artifacts found outside a professional excavation, even as the result of archaeological looting, they are anything but worthless.


 

More Bible artifacts found outside the trench:

Israelite Clay Bullae

House Shrines

The Dead Sea Scrolls Discovery

The Moabite Stone

The Amarna Tablets


 

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1 Responses

  1. David R. Jones says:

    Unlike a lot of other artifacts the provenance of incantation bowls isn’t really important to their interpretation. They come from a narrow enough period of time and from a fairly known geographical zone. It’s their contents that is critical to their study and interpretation. There are a few from this collection that I would love to see in the original, particularly Moussaieff #3. Let us hope that a more complete and thorough cataloging and presentation will eventually forthcoming. The Judaism of late antiquity is fascinating and the magical artifacts shed a lot of light on, among other things, the development of angelology that evolves into Hekaloth and Qabalistic literature.

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1 Responses

  1. David R. Jones says:

    Unlike a lot of other artifacts the provenance of incantation bowls isn’t really important to their interpretation. They come from a narrow enough period of time and from a fairly known geographical zone. It’s their contents that is critical to their study and interpretation. There are a few from this collection that I would love to see in the original, particularly Moussaieff #3. Let us hope that a more complete and thorough cataloging and presentation will eventually forthcoming. The Judaism of late antiquity is fascinating and the magical artifacts shed a lot of light on, among other things, the development of angelology that evolves into Hekaloth and Qabalistic literature.

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