Hershel Shanks

ANGELS AND DEMONS. Like their neighbors, Babylonian Jews invoked magic formulae to combat demons (often associated with illness), impose curses against human foes or charm potential mates. Generally written in Jewish Aramaic, incantations were inscribed on anything from parchment to eggshells, tin, lead, copper, silver and gold. More than two thousand magic incantation bowls from the third to seventh centuries C.E. survive. Although it is not entirely clear how they functioned, many bowls share certain features: an inscription that spirals out from the bowl’s interior and, in some cases, a drawing of a figure may represent the intended target. Recent scholarship has suggested that folk religion reflected in these magic rites often complements the more-austere traditions mentioned in the contemporaneous Babylonian Talmud. The bowls pictured here are from the Moussaieff collection.