Griffin Gallery Antiquities

Aramaic Incantation Magic Bowl of a Serpent

Aramaic Incantation Magic Bowl of a Serpent

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Directory: Antiques: Regional Art: Ancient World: Holy Land: Pottery: Pre AD 1000: Item # 1195222

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Found in The Levant, A Pottery Magic or Incantation Bowls designed in the Aramaic language with Hebrew letters that spiral to middle of bowl. Buried upside down under a home the spell set a trap for the succubus Lilith and other evil demon gods. Bowl with Serpent motif (6" diameter.) Circa 3rd Century C.E. In excellent condition. Ex: Biblical Artifacts, Jerusalem. According to Dr Dan Levene, a Reader of Jewish History and Culture at The Department of History and The Parkes Institute for the study of Jewish/non-Jewish Relations at the University of Southampton; Aramaic incantation bowls, also known as magic bowls, are types of amulets that consists of an incantation written on common domestic earthenware. This kind of object is particular to the Sasanian period (3rd - 7th Century CE), is distinctively Mesopotamian, and is found in central and southern regions of what is known today as modern Iraq. The evidence suggests that this type of amulet stopped being made during the early period of the Islamic conquest. An interesting aspect of the incantation bowls is the way in which the text is laid out upon the surface of the bowls in different ways. The most common is the spiral, starting in the middle of the concave side of the bowl and working its way in a clockwise fashion to its outer edge. The skill displayed by these scribes is suggestive of those needed to produce manuscripts on more conventional types of material, such as parchment. However, the bowls are the only Aramaic manuscripts from the period that are known to have survived in the square, Mandaean, and Manichaean Syriac scripts. The Aramaic incantation bowl texts are overwhelmingly apatropaic, and claim to protect their owners from a variety of misfortunes that include difficulty in child birth and rearing, illness, poverty as well as afflictions caused by supernatural and human foes. Aramaic incantation bowl texts contain adjurations of supernatural entities to curb other such entities that were considered in late antiquity to be the causes of adversity. The fact that this characterizes bowls of all dialects and faith groups implies a world in which it was commonly believed that the supernatural plays an active part in human welfare, and that the interaction with it can be effective. The potency of such amulets was thought to have been determined by knowledge of words of power, such as those believed to have been spoken by the deity as part of the act of creation. Notions regarding the power of words can also be observed in the mystical literature of the period. The incantations in the bowls are often accompanied by graphic images that most commonly appear to be depictions of bound demons. Such illustrations seem to have added a sympathetic element to the amuletic object as a whole. Other types of images include a variety of animals and abstract magical symbols, known as characters. Jewish incantation bowl texts are eclectic in that we find in them literary materials that in many cases can be traced to canonical literature such as the Old Testament, the Mishna, the order of liturgy, or known mystical literature. Other elements occur that appear to have been culled or borrowed from literary works that are unknown to us, some of which are clearly not Jewish. The fact that the individuals who commissioned these amulets are usually mentioned within the texts, make them a rich source for research of personal names used in late antique Mesopotamia. Indeed, a study of male to female ratios, the make-up and size of families and households that are listed, and the types of afflictions mentioned all contribute to the study of the social history of the people who both made and used these objects. Most of the names are Persian, suggesting that non-Jews sought the services of Jewish amulet practitioners. Indeed, there is at least one case in which a certain client had bowls made for him by both Jews and non-Jews. Other cases are known in which bowls made by different faith groups were found in the same house. There are known to exist at least 2000 bowls in both museums and private collections, of which less than 25% have been published. The great majority is written in Aramaic dialects, a hand-full in Pahlavi, and there are two in Arabic. There are also a significant number of texts that are written in pseudo-scripts. The types of Aramaic represented in order of prevalence are: Aramaic square script (about 60%), Mandaic script (just under 25%), and Syriac scripts (under 15%). The square script is generally considered to be Jewish, the Mandaean script belongs to the Mandaeans, and the Syriac to Manichaeans, other unidentified Gnostic and/or pagan groups, and, in a few cases, to Christians.