Thursday, May 04, 2006

A trip to the Orient

Last night I took a trip to the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago with a former co-worker. Though I didn't see any fellow bloggers there, I did get a chance to check out some really interesting archaelogical artifacts.

The Institute has exhibits on Sumeria/Mesopotamia, Assyria, Israel/Canaan, The Hittite Kingdom, Persia, Egypt and Nubia.

A couple of observations. I saw receipts for tax payment, letters from a police chief to investigate a death, a schoolboy's notebook where he practiced writing. In many ways, the societies of 3000 years ago were not that different from ours.

I impressed my companion by being able to read some rudimentary Hebrew and Greek. I was amazed how anyone could figure out the tiny cuneiform writing that covers a lot of the Sumerian artifacts. It seems impossible.

Lastly, for those who read the Godol Hador - he had a post on the Enuma Elish recently, and of course visiting the museum, I could not help but think of it. One of the exhibits featured a set of incantation bowls, much like the one pictured here. The writing is usually a mixture of Aramaic and Hebrew. These were buried in various parts of the house to ward off evil spirits such as the one pictured in the middle. This particular bowl mentions Lillith, who is a very colorful character in Jewish mythology.

Here is a translation of one of these bowls.

You are bound and sealed,
all you demons and devils and liliths,
by that hard and strong,
mighty and powerful bond with which are tied Sison and Sisin....
The evil Lilith,
who causes the hearts of men to go astray
and appears in the dream of the night
and in the vision of the day,
Who burns and casts down with nightmare,
attacks and kills children,
boys and girls.
She is conquered and sealed
away from the house
and from the threshold of Bahram-Gushnasp son of Ishtar-Nahid
by the talisman of Metatron,
the great prince
who is called the Great Healer of Mercy....
who vanquishes demons and devils,
black arts and mighty spells
and keeps them away from the house
and threshold of Bahram-Gushnasp, son of Ishtar-Nahid.
Amen, Amen, Selah.

Vanquished are the black arts and mighty spells.
Vanquished the bewitching women,
they, their witchery and their spells,
their curses and their invocations,
and kept away from the four walls
of the house of Bahram-Gushnasp, the son of Ishtar-Hahid.
Vanquished and trampled down are the bewitching women --
vanquished on earth and vanquished in heaven.
Vanquished are their constellations and stars.
Bound are the works of their hands.
Amen, Amen, Selah.


Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>I impressed my companion by being able to read some rudimentary Hebrew and Greek. I was amazed how anyone could figure out the tiny cuneiform writing that covers a lot of the Sumerian artifacts. It seems impossible

What's really impressive is how they were originally deciphered in the first place, when their meaning had been lost for millenia.

Read the paragraph on Decipherment:

May 04, 2006 8:41 AM  
Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

Wow, that's so fascinating! I've developed an unhealthy interest in all things Lilith in the last few months, so this adds a valuable specimen to the "collection" of stories I've internalized!

May 04, 2006 8:53 AM  
Blogger Tobie said...

There was a program at the museum recently and I was going to attend, but never ended up doing so. Sadly enough, I haven't been to the Oriental Institute the entire time that I have been here. I find the whole thing really fascinating, though, so maybe I should.

May 04, 2006 10:57 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...


You've piqued my curiosity. What unhealthy interest towards Lillith do you have?


Take the opportunity before you make aliya. BTW, the UofC campus is beautiful in the springtime.

May 04, 2006 12:16 PM  
Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

It began when I decided to name the character in the story I'm writing, "The Nameless", Lilith, for reasons which will become clear to the readers at the end... And then, doing research for that, months, and months ago, I found so many interesting things about her in the folklore of different culture, that I couldn't stop thinking about it, and have been gathering information about her since!

May 04, 2006 2:43 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

Fascinating stuff. Really makes you wonder about the Jews of long ago...

May 04, 2006 8:56 PM  

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