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History & Archeology

ancient bowls with magic spells in Hebrew discovered in Jerusalem

During an anti-robbery operation by IAA, hundreds of rare artifacts from the biblical period were found, including magic spells in Hebrew.

magic spells in Hebrew in The incantation bowls (Photo: Yoli Schwartz, Antiquities Authority)
The magic spells in Hebrew incantation bowls (Photo Yoli Schwartz, Antiquities Authority)

Hundreds of ancient items, including rare biblical artifacts, were captured during an anti-robbery operation conducted Monday by the Antiquities Authority’s robbery prevention unit and the local police against a Jerusalem resident suspected of illicit antiquities trading.

Among the unique items, the investigators discovered decorated bone and ivory items from the biblical period, coins, glassware, and bowls with magic spells in Hebrew, going as far back as 1,500 years, authorities said.

Incantation bowls, often known as “swearing bowls,” were employed as amulets in ancient times, dating from the 8th to 4th century CE. To protect them, it was customary to bury them beneath the home floor. Within the bowls, magical inscriptions in the Babylonian-Aramaic language were inscribed. The bowl’s inscription is intended to ward off curses, demons, vermin, and diseases.

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They were taken from a resident of the capital’s Ramat Shlomo area on suspicion of illegal antiquities trading.

Some of the items that were recovered (Photo Yoli Schwartz, Antiquities Authority)
Some of the items that were recovered (Photo Yoli Schwartz, Antiquities Authority)

“Bowls of this type came from ancient sites in the area of Mesopotamia, now present-day Iraq,” explains Amir Ganor, head of the Antiquities Authority’s Robbery Prevention Unit, Amir Ganor, head of the Antiquities Authority’s Robbery Prevention Unit.”

“The text was written by artists for a specific client, according to their personal needs. Occasionally, as can be seen in one of the bowls, a figure of the “night” demon, was painted in the center of the bowl, representing the individual that the bowl was meant to ward off. In 2003, following the war in Iraq, thousands of stolen “incantation bowls” began to enter international trade markets.”

Also discovered in the suspect’s home bone and ivory artifacts painted in Phoenician style with Egyptian themes that included animal images and geometric embellishments. On one of the artifacts, two griffons – winged lions with human faces – face off. The second item described a caravan of four-winged lions marching in unison.

Hundred of coins were found in the suspect's house (Photo Yoli Schwartz, Antiquities Authority)

Similar ivory artifacts have been unearthed during previous excavations at an antiquity site in Samaria, as well as at other antiquity sites such as Tel Megiddo. These are ornamental pieces that were nailed on wooden furniture in the ninth and eighth centuries BC.

According to the Israel Antiquities Authority, the suspect refurbished the bowls in order to sell them. Apart from the artifacts, numerous chemicals were taken in his home, purportedly for the purpose of restoring ceramics and cleaning historic metals and coins.

Assyrian tablet (Photo Yoli Schwartz, Antiquities Authority)
Assyrian tablet (Photo Yoli Schwartz, Antiquities Authority)

“Antiquities belong to all of us. They are our heritage.” Says Eli Eskosido, Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority. “Unauthorized antiquities dealers encourage looters to go out and destroy ancient sites in search of finds for sale on the antiquities market. In the name of greed, they plunder antiquity sites, removing the finds from their historical context, thus obscuring parts of human history”.

Documents taken from the suspect’s residence may give light on his relationships with antiquities thieves and unlicensed sellers. Following the suspect’s arrest, Antiquities Authority investigators visited an auction shop in central Israel and recovered more antiquities that had been put up for sale in violation of the law by the suspect.

The incantation bowls (Photo Yoli Schwartz, Antiquities Authority)
(Photo Yoli Schwartz, Antiquities Authority)

Additionally, ancient weaponry, glassware, and bronze and silver coins were discovered.

The Antiquities Authority’s Legal Bureau will now examine the findings of an indictment for attempting to trade in antiquities without a permit, failing to report the discovery of an antique, failing to register a collection and possession of property suspected of being stolen – all of which are criminal offenses carrying a maximum sentence of three years in prison.



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