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The demon of the roof

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Chapter Summary

Epilepsy illustrates probably more than any other illness a dual tradition of interpretation in the history of medicine. On the one hand, epilepsy has been explained as being caused by demonic powers or the supernatural, and on the other hand by natural or physiological processes. One of the reasons for this is the dramatic way in which epilepsy expresses itself, showing both mental and physical symptoms. The origins of the roof demons are clearly to be found in the Mesopotamian demon bēl-urri/LUGAL-urri/LUGAL-ugri "Lord of the roof". Marten Stol was the first to identify this demon with the Syriac bar ʾeggāra. The demons in the Geniza texts are much older than the presumed date of the 11th century. These demons survived centuries of tradition. The Geniza documents show that among the illnesses in Pesachim ancient epilepsy and related diseases such as stroke, mental illness, and skin diseases are being described.

Keywords: ancient epilepsy; Geniza texts; Marten Stol; mental illness; Mesopotamia; roof demons; skin diseases; stroke



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