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“And It Was in the Dwelling of Rabbi Joshua bar Peraḥiah”

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Notes on the Anti-Demonic Geṭ in the Jewish Babylonian Aramaic Incantation Bowls

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Jewish Babylonian Aramaic incantation bowls frequently refer to the notion of exorcising demons by divorcing them. These texts sometimes purport to be anti-demonic divorce writs, borrowing passages directly from the traditional rabbinic certificate of divorce (geṭ). Here I ask how the authors of these texts perceived the bowl amulets to operate and how they understood the concept of divorcing a demon. Some scholars have argued that late antique Jewish magical practitioners regarded divorce bowls as legal devices with the immediate power to expel demons from houses. Other scholars interpret the anti-demonic divorce motif in more metaphoric terms. I argue that divorce bowls were not seen as legally binding documents and that Jewish magical practitioners did not believe themselves capable of applying the rabbinic laws of divorce to demons. Instead, incantation bowls refer to the anti-demonic geṭ in order to allude to a mythological narrative in which Rabbi Joshua bar Peraḥiah exorcises Lilith by divorcing her. I explain the function of this mythological allusion through close analysis of several incantation bowls. I also draw on folkloristic scholarship regarding narrative devices in magical texts.

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