Artifact Spotlight–Aramaic Incantation Bowl

Aramaic Incantation Bowl

This original 4th-5th century incantation bowl is made out of terracotta and has been a part of Special Collections since 2011.  The writing on the inside of the bowl is in Aramaic and is written in a circular pattern.



Incantation bowls were mainly used in the Middle East during the Persian rule from the 4th to 8th centuries AD.  The bowls were intended to purify one’s home and would often be interred in the ground near the threshold of the house.

During culturally tense times, magical cleansing was often used This period of history was a difficult time, with religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Mandism, Zoroastrianism, and Islam opposing each other and magic.  It is generally believed that the incantation bowls were used in a cultural sphere rather than religious one.  Although religion generally opposed magic, many religious people utilized incantation bowls inscribed with prayers rather than spells.

Most incantation bowls are defined as,

The Aramaic incantation bowl texts are overwhelmingly apatropaic, and claim to protect their owners from a variety of misfortunes that include difficulty in child birth and rearing, illness, poverty as well as afflictions caused by supernatural and human foes. Aramaic incantation bowl texts contain adjurations of supernatural entities to curb other such entities that were considered in late antiquity to be the causes of adversity. (“Jewish Aramaic”)

Special Collection’s Aramaic Incantation Bowl has not been translated. What follows is an example from Shaked’s compilation of Aramaic Bowl Spells and is listed as MS 1927/8:

By your name, I act, great holy one. May there be healing from heaven from Mahdukh daughter of Newandukh. And may she be healed and protected from all spirits, from all blast demons and tormentors that exist in the world… (Shaked)

While this example applies to an individual, many similar incantation bowls ask for a blessing on a whole family or home.


“Jewish Aramaic Incantation Bowls.” Jewish/ Non-Jewish Relations. N.p., 15 Oct. 2014. Web. 28 Oct. 2016.

Shaked, Shaul, Bhayro, Siam, and Ford, James Nathan. Magical and Religious Literature of Late Antiquity : Aramaic Bowl Spells : Jewish Babylonian Aramaic Bowls Volume One (1). Leiden, NL: Brill, 2013. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 28 October 2016.



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