Jewish incantation bowls

Type: Bowls, Pottery
Date: Sixth to eighth century
Location or Findspot (Modern-Day Country): Iraq
Medium: Earthenware
Dimensions: 16 cm diameter (British Museum) and 36.5 cm diameter (Aliza and Shlomo Moussaieff Collection)
Description: These magic bowls and others like them include magical characters and incantations (spells) written in circular patterns on their inside surfaces. Such bowls were made on behalf of customers who sought specific kinds of protection: fighting enemies or demonic influence, or ensuring a person's health, longevity, and prosperity. They were often placed in transitional locations (cemeteries and burial places, or the thresholds of houses).

The smaller bowl, now in the British Museum, has Aramaic texts beginning at the center and spiralling outwards. They are primarily prayers seeking health and blessings for Aštad, son of Mahduk. The particular prayers indicate the bowl was made for a Jewish patron. It was found during an excavation northeast of Babylon, at an archaeological site that was once the city of Kutha.

Although magic bowls usually include variations of the Aramaic language, they often incorporate other languages, such as the Mandaic on the larger bowl from the Aliza and Shlomo Moussaieff Collection—or even deliberately indecipherable scripts. At the center of this bowl is a demon with unruly hair and bound legs and feet.
Relevant Textbook Chapter(s): 3, 4
Image Credits: Linda Safran, © Trustees of the British Museum

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British Museum, Jewish-Aramaic incantation bowl