Oldest Aramaic incantation explains how to capture “devourer”

An Aramaic inscription discovered at the ancient site of Sam’al, modern-day Zincirli in southern Turkey, describes how to capture the evil “devourer” to liberate a victim from its “fire.” The inscription was made on a cosmetics pot that predates it and was reused for the purpose. It was inscribed on the vessel between 850 and 800 B.C., making it the oldest Aramaic incantation ever found.

The incantation was written by a magician named as Rahim son of Shadadan. It tells how the blood of the devourer could be used to treat people suffering from the devourer’s fire. The directions do not make it clear whether the blood would be used to make a potion to be drunk by the afflicted or if it should be smeared onto their body.

“Accompanying the text are illustrations of various creatures, including what appears to be a centipede, a scorpion and a fish,” wrote [Madadh] Richey and [Dennis]Pardee, who is the Henry Crown professor of Hebrew studies at the University of Chicago, in the abstract. The illustrations are found on both sides of the cosmetic container. […]

The illustrations suggest that the “devourer” may actually be a scorpion or centipede; as such, the “fire” may refer to the pain of the creatures’ sting, Richey told Live Science.

University of Chicago archaeologists, who have excavated the site for the past four years, discovered the artifact in August 2017 in a small structure that may have been a shrine or had some religious function. The incantation had to have been of some importance because the structure is more than a century younger than the inscription, dating to the late 8th or 7th century B.C., which means it was deemed significant enough to be kept for generations after it was engraved.

In addition to the incantation, another piece more ancient than the building was find inside of it, a black stone crouching lion with red stone inlaid eyes. It dates to the 10th or 9th century B.C. when it was used as the base for a metal figurine of a striding individual, perhaps a deity.

Sam’al has been occupied going back at least to the Bronze Age. During the time when Rahim was engraving his how-to guide, it was the capital of an Aramaean Neo-Hittite kingdom that began as a city state around 900 B.C. and expanded to encompass a few neighboring territories. It had massive outer defensive walls, a monumental palace and city gates with elaborate stone reliefs. With the rise of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, Sam’al was conquered around 720 B.C. and became first a vassal state, then a province.

2 thoughts on “Oldest Aramaic incantation explains how to capture “devourer”

  1. So essentially this was a medical text, placed somewhere that the knowledge would not be hidden away and lost.

  2. Where can I find the actual text? All I keep reading are descriptions of what it said. I’d love to actually see this text in Aramaic and the English translation. PLEASE! (It’s important)

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