Magic bowls are the only direct epigraphic documents
by Jews, Christians, Mandaeans, Manicheans and other minorities


The long awaited volume by Shaul Shaked et al, Aramaic Bowl Spells (Brill, 2013), has been published no less than 18 years since Professor Shaked started his study of the 654 Aramaic magic bowls in The Schøyen Collection in 1995. This first volume detailing 64 bowls is the first in a series of nine planned volumes.

"The sheer size and complexity of the undertaking was quite daunting," states Professor Shaked.

The preface of this groundbreaking book in this field of magic in the great Sasanian Empire (5th- 7th century AD) states: "The study of the Aramaic magic bowls is a matter of great interest and importance: They constitute the only direct epigraphical documents - written mostly by some of the most important minority groups, Jews, Christians, Mandaeans, Manichaeans and others. Since the bowls are original manuscripts, they can teach us a great deal about the languages spoken, mostly varieties of Aramaic; popular religious practices, that takes form of magical texts; and certain aspects of social life, family structure and dwellings."

Some of the 64 bowls contain the earliest examples of Hekhalot or Jewish mystical texts and extracts from the Mishna. They quote famous Jewish rabbis like Hanina ben Dosa and Joshua bar Perahia.  They quote seven verses from Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy and the Psalms that are not present on the Dead Sea Scrolls, which makes them the earliest witnesses to the original Hebrew text of these parts of the Bible.

More information and illustrations of incantation bowls can be found on this website in collections 4.6. Aramaic, Hebrew and Syriac scripts; collection 10. Magical literature; and collection 23.14. Zoroastrianism.


Related Links:

Published Manuscripts in the Schøyen Collection

Note to Editors:

The Schøyen Collection crosses borders and unites cultures, religions and unique materials found nowhere else. The Collection, based in London and Oslo, contains over 20,000 significant manuscripts of major cultural importance and is an important part of the world’s heritage.

There is no public collection that has the Schøyen Collection’s unique array of manuscripts from all the greatest manuscript hoards, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, The Cairo Genizah of Hebrew MSS, The Oxyrhynchus hoard of classical papyri, The Dishna Biblical papyri, The Nag Hammadi Gnostic papyri, the Dunhuang hoard of Buddhist MSS, and many others. Nor is there one with such a variety, geographically, linguistically and textually, and of scripts and writing materials, covering so a great span of time — 5,000 years of history.