Roman Curse Tablet Uncovered in Jerusalem’s City of David

Bible and archaeology news

A Roman curse tablet uncovered in the City of David in Jerusalem. Credit: Photo courtesy Robert Walter Daniel via LiveScience.

1,700 years ago, a woman named Kyrilla had vengeance on the mind. A Roman-era curse tablet discovered in a mansion in Jerusalem’s City of David invokes four religious traditions in an attempt to “strike and strike down and nail down the tongue, the eyes, the wrath, the ire, the anger, the procrastination” of the subject of the curse. The intended victim may have been opposed to Kyrilla in a legal dispute, according to a translation of the Roman curse tablet recently published in LiveScience. Made of lead and inscribed with Greek letters, the Roman curse tablet was found in a third-fourth century C.E. mansion that spreads across a half acre of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) excavation beneath the Givati Parking Lot in the City of David. Kyrilla calls upon the Greco-Roman gods Hermes, Persephone, Pluto and Hecate, the Mesopotamian goddess Ereshkigal and Gnostic Abrasax amidst magical words connected with Judaism and the Hebrew language. IAA archaeologists Doron Ben Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets have also uncovered mosaic and fresco remains, carved bone fragments, female figurines and evidence of the presence of the Roman Xth legion near the Roman curse tablet. The archaeologists suggest that the curse tablet was placed in room connected with cult or in close proximity to the subject of the curse.

Read more in LiveScience.

Jerusalem lies at the heart of Biblical archaeology. In the free eBook Jerusalem Archaeology: Exposing the Biblical City, learn about the latest finds in the Biblical world’s most vibrant city.


“May He Smite!” A Curse Tablet from Sepphoris

A drawing of the silver curse tablet from Sepphoris by Israeli paleographer Ada Yardeni. Read the full article in the BAS Library for photos of the silver scroll and detailed information on the Sepphoris excavations.

Archaeologists 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.

BAS Library Members: Read the full article online.

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  • Varghese says

    I know thy tribulation, and thy poverty (but thou art rich), and the blasphemy of them that say they are Jews, and they art not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Fear not the things which thou art about to suffer: behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days. Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life.
    (Rev 2:9-10)

  • Leigh Ann says

    I know the Bible is true. I find this history stuff very interesting.

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