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Magic Spells and Formulae: Aramaic Incantations of Late Antiquity

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TitleMagic Spells and Formulae: Aramaic Incantations of Late Antiquity
PublisherVarda Books
Publication Date2009
SubjectAramaic Incantations of Late Antiquity


In addition to the inclusion of texts from newly discovered collections, this work also includes Babylonian incantations on bowls and magic texts from the Cairo Geniza. These manuscripts were neglected for nearly a century. The Geniza texts, though written in the Middle Ages, follow the tradition of Palestinian Jewish magical texts of Late Antiquity, providing valuable information where understanding of later texts was hampered due to damage or incoherence. All texts, as in Amulets and Magic Bowls are published with transliteration, translation and commentary. Includes an introduction on the relationship between magic and medicine and magic and liturgy.


How are we to describe the Hekhalot literature? We can hardly do better than quote the concise presentation given to it by P. S. Alexander: The so-called hekhalot literature, produced by the Merkabah mystics of the Talmudic and early Gaonic periods, abounds in magic of a theurgic nature. The adepts were interested in acquiring secret knowledge about various subjects the heavenly world, the mysteries of nature, the esoteric meanings of Torah, the future course of human history and they used theurgic techniques to obtain this knowledge. Sometimes by means of ritual and incantation, they ascended to heaven, at others they conjured a powerful angel down to earth and compelled him to impart the desired information. Some of their incantations take the form of hymns or prayers which they believed to be part of the angelic liturgy ... They [the adepts] also used magic names of great power by means of which the angels could be controlled and forced to do their will. The Hekhalot tracts are full of nomina barbara and other unintelligible magic formulae. ... The names, as well as the rituals they practised in their conventicles, are very similar to those found on Jewish amulets and incantation bowls, in Sefer ha-Razim and in the Greek magical papyri (Alexander 1986, p. 361).

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