Did you know that ancient Jews practiced magic? Archaeology has revealed clues that allow us insight into the private lives of Jews of the Ancient Near East. Through finds such as the Aramaic Incantation bowls (over 900 bowl texts exist today) we moderns are introduced to the religious beliefs and practices that characterized Judaism in Late Antiquity. The incantation bowls do not contain names of authors or references to sources they used for their writing, but they do contain the names of their owners, names of historical figures, magical formulae, and even Hebrew Scripture!
The bowls, made out of clay and hardened in fire, were at the order of a specific client and each was its own independent composition. Scribes were commissioned by individual families to write bowls containing spells for protection. The bowls follow a textual formula that invokes a higher power to protect them from evil and harm. The bowls are overwhelmingly apotropaic (that is, they’re meant to avert evil), and they claim to protect their owners from a variety of misfortunes, including poverty and supernatural foes. One text begins, “Sealed and doubly sealed are the house and threshold of Dodi the daughter of Aḥat from all evil plagues (פגעין בישין; pega’in bishin).” More often than not, however, the most prominent purpose of the spells was to help with health problems.
Scribes also frequently included passages from the Psalms and concluded their spells with the psalmic phrase, “Amen, amen. Selah” (אמן אמן סלה; cf. Ps 41:13; 72:19). Indeed, many biblical and liturgical texts can be found among the incantation bowls, which shows that Scripture was regarded as one of the most powerful weapons against evil and illness in the ancient world.