Not long ago, the well-known collector Shlomo Moussaieff acquired two earthenware bowls, the open ends of which were adjoined to form a kind of case—inside the case was an ancient human skull. A magic incantation, written in Aramaic, was inscribed on the skull.
BAR readers already know about the more than two thousand magic incantation bowls that have survived from third–seventh-century C.E. Jewish communities in Babylonia.a The incantation bowls were made at the same time and in the very communities that produced the most intricate, complex and revered accomplishment of rabbinic Judaism, the Babylonian Talmud. Although some have deemed the incantation literature to be inconsistent with the spirit of the Talmud, recent research has shown it to be, rather, complementary and representative of aspects of life reflected within the Talmud.1
The fact remains that belief in demons was widespread at this time among Jews as well as other peoples. Incantation bowls are known not only from Jewish communities but from other communities as well. The Jewish versions are written in what is commonly known as Jewish Aramaic.