Jewish magical papyri are a subclass of papyri with specific Jewish magical uses, and which shed light on popular belief during the late Second Temple Period and after in Late Antiquity. A related category of contemporary evidence are Jewish magical inscriptions, typically on amulets, ostraca and incantation bowls.

Jewish magicEdit

Although magic was forbidden to Jews in the Hebrew Bible, it was widely practised in the late Second Temple period and particularly well documented in the period following the destruction of the Temple into the 3rd, 4th and 5th centuries C.E.[1][2] Jewish and Samaritan magicians appear in the New Testament, Acts of the Apostles, and also in Josephus, such as Atomos, a Jewish Magician of Cyprus (Antiquities of the Jews 20:142).

Papyri textsEdit

The language of the papyri may be:

Jewish magical papyri supplement the evidences for angelology found in early rabbinic material, for example in identifying the existence of a national angel named Israel.[6]

The character of Jewish magical papyri is often syncretic.[7] Some "Jewish magical papyri" may not themselves be Jewish but syncretic invocations of the Jewish god by non-Jews.[8]

Amulet and incantation bowl inscriptionsEdit

Although not technically "papyri" inscriptions on amulets and incantation bowls offer context. Jewish incantation bowls were collected most notably by Shlomo Moussaieff and the inscriptions analysed by Dan Levene (2002).[9]

Importance for researchEdit

The discovery, primarily during the heyday of Near Eastern archaeology in the late 19th Century, and subsequent interpretation and cataloguing, primarily during the early 20th Century, has been followed by incorporation into academic research which has allowed Jewish magical papyri and magical inscriptions a supplemental role to major sources such as Pseudepigrapha, Apocrypha, Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Josephus, the New Testament, and the Talmuds.[10][11]


  1. Gideon Bohak Ancient Jewish magic: a history 2008
  2. Clinton Wahlen Jesus and the impurity of spirits in the Synoptic Gospels 2004 p19 "The Jewish magical papyri and incantation bowls may also shed light on our investigation.79 However, the fact that all of these sources are generally dated from the third to fifth centuries and beyond requires us to exercise particular ..."
  3. Gideon Bohak Ancient Jewish magic: a history 2008 Page 166 "... let us examine three specific instances of Jewish magical papyri, and see what they might contribute to the study of Jewish magic in late antiquity:
  4. The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, Including the Demotic Spells Hans Dieter Betz - 1997 from Papyri Graecae Magicae. Die griechischen Zauberpapyri, herausgegeben und übersetzt von Karl Preisendanz, vol. I (Leipzig: Teubner, 1928), vol. ... On Jewish magic and related bibliography, see L. Blau, Das altjudische Zauberwesen
  5. Bohak, p167
  6. Bentley Layton Studies in the History of Religions Volume 22 1972 Page 291 "The existence of an angel Israel is implied in both hellenistic (Jewish) magical papyri and in late Jewish mystical literature, in rabbinic material concerning the name of the angel with whom Jacob wrestled and in Hekhaloth literature ..." reprinted in Map is not territory: studies in the history of religions ed Jonathan Z. Smith - 1993
  7. Howard Jacobson The Exagoge of Ezekiel 2009 "Greco-Jewish magical papyri invoke God and Helios in virtually the same breath."
  8. G. H. Parke-Taylor - 1975 "The use made of divine names in the semi-Jewish magical papyri of the first four or five centuries is evidence of the way in which potential magical tendencies within the divine name found expression. The sixth century also yields ..."
  9. In the name of Jesus: exorcism among early Christians p41 Graham H. Twelftree - 2007 CMB 2: two of the twenty Jewish Aramaic bowls Levene transcribes and discusses offered protection against curses and oaths in general, two were for protection against the malicious magic of named enemies, two others were dispensed for ..
  10. Jacob Neusner Religion, literature, and society in ancient Israel, formative Christianity and Judaism University Press of America Volume 2- 1987 "As my introductions to each section in this corpus clarifies, the documents help solidify the importance of Philo, Josephus, the Old Testament Apocrypha, the Qumran Scrolls, and Jewish Magical Papyri"
  11. Craig A. Evans, Emanuel Tov Exploring the origins of the Bible: canon formation in historical Literary, and Theological Perspective Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology 2008 "Now, thanks to research by Jews and Christians on the Pseudepigrapha, Apocrypha, Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Josephus, the New Testament, the Jewish magical papyri, inscriptions, and rabbinics, we know that the following is correct about ... "

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