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Curse tablet in Jerusalem

Archaeologists Find Ancient Magic Curse Tablet in Jerusalem

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Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists have discovered a 1,700-year-old curse tablet in the ruins of an old Roman mansion in the City of David in Jerusalem. It is believed the words were written by a magician and it outlines a curse placed on a man by a woman, probably over a legal case.

The text on the tablet is written in Greek and in it a woman named Kyrilla invokes the names of six gods to cast a spell on a man named Lennys. Part of the curse reads: "I strike and strike down and nail down the tongue, the eyes, the wrath, the ire, the anger, the procrastination, the opposition of Iennys." Kyrilla then asks the gods to ensure that "he in no way oppose, so that he say or perform nothing adverse to Kyrilla … but rather that Iennys, whom the womb bore, be subject to her…"

What is most surprising about the curse is that it combines elements from four different religions. Of six gods invoked, four of them are Greek (Hermes, Persephone, Pluto and Hecate), one is Babylonian (Ereschigal) and one, Abrasax, is Gnostic, a religion connected to early Christianity. Additionally, the text contains magic words such as "Iaoth" that have a Hebrew/Judaism origin.

It is believed that Kyrilla and Lennys were members of the Roman middle or upper class who were involved in some type of legal dispute. The word ‘opposition’ gives some hint as to its legal nature and the curse tablet also shows similarities to others found in Cyprus that are known to have been used in legal cases.

Nearly 2000 curse tablets have been found throughout the world, mostly written in Greek. They have been found particularly in Greece, Italy, England, Egypt and Middle Eastern countries.  The tablets are typically created using very thin sheets of lead which were scratched with tiny letters, then often rolled, folded or pierced with nails. These bound tablets were then usually placed beneath the ground: either buried in graves or tombs, thrown into wells or pools, sequestered in underground sanctuaries, or nailed to the walls of temples.

Many of those discovered at Athens refer to court cases and curse the opposing litigant, asking that he botch his performance in court, forget his words, become dizzy and so forth. Others include erotic binding-spells, spells ranged against thieves, and business and sporting rivals. About 130 curse tablets have been found in the town of Bath in England, where many of the curses related to thefts of clothes whilst the victim was bathing. In Ancient Egypt, so-called "Execration Texts" appear around the time of the 12th Dynasty, listing the names of enemies written on clay figurines or pottery which were then smashed and buried beneath a building under construction or in a cemetery.

By April Holloway

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April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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