Warding Off Evil and Illness: An Oriental Hebrew Amulet

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In the premodern world, magical and practical kabbalistic material abounds in various, sometimes unexpected formats. Individual recipes and formulas may be found in virtually any handwritten codex, from the Talmudic and calendrical, to the mathematical, poetical, and liturgical, and found as marginal notes, added inscriptions on flyleaves or title-pages, and appendices. In a more consistent manner, practical manuals of various lengths appear in multiple-text volumes, which alongside various recipes compile theosophical-speculative kabbalistic treatises or fragments thereof. There exists a great number of self-contained books comprising solely of recipes and practical advice, both of kabbalistic and non-kabbalistic character—among the latter category, the how-to books of remedial and dietary advice prevail.

Apart from recipes and formulas extant in the independent medieval and early modern codices, a number of amulets as finished products—that is written for a specific person or persons—have been preserved. One such artefact, an amulet written in a late Oriental script, is now held by the Library at the Katz Center. It was written for Rivkah bat Miriam, whose name is inserted in the protective formula at the top of the amulet. The amulet was intended to safeguard its owner from evil and illness. Since in the premodern world at least some of the causes of maladies were thought to originate in the supernatural realm, so were the measures taken to prevent and heal those medical conditions. The format of the amulet is quite standard, consisting of formulas which employ various constellations of divine and angelic names familiar from the Jewish magical and practical kabbalistic writings, such 72- and 42-letter divine name. The side panels which surround the main body of the amulet feature a series of angelic names. The top panel features three angelic names Senoy, Sansenoy, Semangelof enclosed within three bird-like shapes, a graphic element well-known from the printed edition of Sefer Raziel (Amsterdam, 1701).

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Warding Off Evil and Illness: An Oriental Hebrew Amulet

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