Hershel Shanks, “Magic Incantation Bowls,BAR 33:01.



Serious research into the magic in the Talmud goes back to Blau’s late-19th-century study of Jewish magic in the Talmud (L. Blau, Das altjüdische Zauberwesen (Jahresbericht der Landes-Rabbinerschule in Budapest für das Schuljar 1897–88) [Budapest, 1898]). And though Blau does not mention the bowls, the connection between them and the Talmud is already noted in some detail by Wohlstein who published a small number of bowls from the Berlin Museum (Jos. Wohlstein, “Uber einige aramäische Inschriftin aus Thongefässen des Königlichen Museums zu Berlin” Zeitscrift für Assyriologie 9 [1893], pp. 313–340 and Jos. Wohlstein, “Uber einige aramäische Inschriftin aus Thongefässen des Königlichen Museums zu Berlin” in Zeitschrift für Assyriologie 9 [1894], pp. 34–41). Montgomery also notes the connection but could not realize the extent of it due to the very limited amount of material that was available to him at the time. With the publication of greater numbers of magic bowl texts by Cyrus Gordon, Joseph Naveh, Shaul Shaked, myself and others, the connections between the content of the material found in the bowls and that which is found in the Talmud has been realized in greater detail. The bowls are the practical application, the actual products of an aspect of culture and practice that are generously represented within the material of the Talmud.


Since I had written my doctoral dissertation on the magic incantation bowls in Moussaieff’s collection, it was only natural that he should make this ancient skull available to me for study and publication. Dan Levene, “Calvariae Magicae: The Berlin, Philadelphia and Moussaieff Skulls,” Orientalia 75, no. 4 (2006), pp. 359–379.


Two other early medieval non-Aramaic specimens have survived. See D. Montserrat, Ancient Egypt: Digging for Dreams; An Exhibition Held at the Croydon Clocktower, 8 October 2000–28 January 2001, and at the Burrell Collection, Glasgow, 16 March–30 September 2001 (London, 2000). Another specimen in Runic script comes from Denmark. M. Stoklund, “The Ribe Cranium Inscription and the Scandinavian Transition to the Younger Reduced ‘Futhark,’” in Tineke Looijenga and Arend Quak, eds. Frisian Runes and Neighbouring Traditions: Proceedings of the First International Sumposium on Firsian Runes at the Fries Museum, Leeuwarden, 26–29 January 1994, (Amsterdam, 1996), pp. 199–209.


J.A. Montgomery, Aramaic Incantation Texts from Nippur, Publications of the Babylonian Section, Vol. III (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1913), pp. 256–257.


Mishnah, Sanhedrin 7:4.