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Amulets and Magic Bowls: Aramaic Incantations of the Late Antiquity

by Shaul Shaked

Bibliographic information

TitleAmulets and Magic Bowls: Aramaic Incantations of the Late Antiquity
AuthorShaul Shaked
PublisherVarda Books
Publication Date2009
SubjectAramaic Incantations of the Late Antiquity


Amulets and magic bowls are part of a long-standing tradition of magic in the Near East. They were used to protect the home and inhabitants of the home from evil and disease as well as to arouse love. Texts taken from these items provide insight into the society, religion and culture of pagans and Jews during the early Christian era which corresponds to that of the Talmudic period. The authors provide reliable material for scholarly study of life during this period.

About the Author 

Shaul Shaked ---

Shaul Shaked is Professor (Emeritus) of Iranian studies and Comparative Religion at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His research interests include Zorcoastrian religion in the Sasanian period, the transmission of symbols, themes and ideas from Sasanian Iran to Islam, early Judeo-Persian language and literature, magical literature in late antiquity and in early Islam.


Many bowls were found placed in their original position upside down, a fact which has led scholars to assume that they may have served as traps for demons, being meant to keep the evil spirits imprisoned inside them. This view may gain some support from the fact that in some cases two bowls were found placed facing each other forming between them a closed sphere.8 Such an enclosed ball-shaped area might be an ideal prison for evil spirits. This theory was rejected by Gordon,9 who argued that it would be absurd to assume that any house-owner would want to have demons permanently locked in his house. It seems, according to Gordon, much more likely that they would want to get rid of the maleficent spirits and to have them removed from the house. He therefore suggests that the shape of the bowls resembles that of a skull, which may have been regarded as magically effective. We must confess that this argument fails to convince us. The idea of keeping demon-traps in the house need not strike us as more ridiculous than that of placing mouse-traps. In both cases the hated victim, once caught, is incapacitated and is made powerless to cause harm. A harmless demon caught by the bowl constitutes no menace to the safety of the house. The text of the bowls very often talks of chaining and pressing the evil entities; at the same time it may also bid them go away, leave the house and desist from bothering the house-owner. The bowl thus serves both to entrap the evil powers and to reject them; there is no real contradiction between these two propositions.

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