'I Descended to the Depths of the Earth': A Rhetorical Poetics of the Jewish Babylonian Aramaic Incantation Bowls

Daniel Waller

    Research output: ThesisThesis fully internal (DIV)

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    This dissertation investigates the use of narrative spells in the magical context of the Jewish Babylonian Aramaic (JBA) incantation bowls. These ancient clay bowls were inscribed with incantations that were designed to protect their owners from demons. But the bowls do not just adjure or threaten demons. They also use narrative spells to achieve their goals. This dissertation collates the narrative materials in the four hundred JBA bowls published thus far. It makes various important distinctions within these materials, and uses the concepts of magic, rhetoric, and rhetorical narratology to examine how the JBA bowls harnessed the power of narrative to generate a change in the world and persuade or compel demons to do things. Persuasive appeals reveal people’s orientations and attitudes towards supernatural powers, and the rhetorical framework outlined in this work draws attention to the multiple but neglected forms of effective narrative deployed in the bowls. It demonstrates how the efficacy of these spells is built upon distinctive narrative properties such as description, narrative space, and the implicit movement of simple narratives towards resolution. It also examines how the bowls reveal the demonology of late antique Judaism, and argues that their texts show the human actors behind the bowls in the active, imaginative process of constructing and negotiating their relationships with angels, demons, and God. This book is thus not just about the use of words to change the world; it is also a story of imagination in the service of magic.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Groningen
    • Popovic, Mladen, Supervisor
    • von Stuckrad, Kocku, Supervisor
    Award date2-Jul-2020
    Place of Publication[Groningen]
    Print ISBNs978-94-034-2779-9
    Electronic ISBNs978-94-034-2780-5
    Publication statusPublished - 2020

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