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Rabbis, Sorcerers, Kings, and PriestsThe Culture of the Talmud in Ancient Iran$
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Jason Sion Mokhtarian

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780520286207

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520286207.001.0001

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Rabbis, Sorcerers, and Priests

Rabbis, Sorcerers, and Priests

(p.124) 6 Rabbis, Sorcerers, and Priests
Rabbis, Sorcerers, Kings, and Priests

Jason Sion Mokhtarian

University of California Press

In Sasanian Mesopotamia, magic was a social context where competition and exchanges between different linguistic, ethnic, and religions groups were common. Jewish sorcerers composed spells containing both rabbinic and non-Jewish elements for Jewish and gentile clients. This chapter explicates the sociocultural connections between the Babylonian rabbis and Jewish Aramaic sorcerers who produced the popular magical bowls from around the fifth through eighth centuries CE. By comparing the Bavli and the bowls, scholars can cultivate polythetic definitions of Babylonian Judaism that bring to light alternative Jewish identities, external to the rabbis. Drawing on folklore theory, this chapter delineates the ways in which the broader context of magic in Sasanian Iran changes our understanding of the rabbinic engagement with the cultural horizon outside of the academies. This chapter argues that the rabbis and sorcerers differed in how they engaged outsiders: while the rabbis built up the borders of Jewish identity, the sorcerers used syncretistic forms of religiousity and healing to appeal a wide audience.

Keywords:   Aramaic magical bowl spells, magic, polythetic definitions of religion, Jewish identities, syncretism, popular religion, folklore

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