Mandaic Incantation(s) on Lead Scrolls from the Schoyen Collection.

Author:Abudraham, Ohad
Position:Critical essay

This article presents a first edition of three Mandaic lamellae from the Schoyen Collection, MS 2087/10, 2087/11, and 2087/18, which are the product of the same scribe and probably constituted a single amulet. The language of the amulet differs from that of other Mandaic texts, and demonstrates unknown or rare phonetic and morphological features. In addition, several lexemes that were hitherto unattested in Mandaic have been identified. Some of the amulet's formulae are familiar from previously published texts, but in several cases the new textual evidence allows us to improve upon their readings.


The study of Babylonian Aramaic magical texts has enjoyed something of an upsurge in recent years. The discovery and publication of dozens of new epigraphic sources from Mesopotamia have significantly increased the corpus of such materials now available and contributed greatly to our knowledge of three types of Aramaic employed in the region: Jewish Babylonian, Syriac, and Mandaic. In the present article, we hope to make an additional contribution to the ever-increasing corpus of Mandaic texts. Three Mandaic lamellae are published here in an editio princeps, accompanied by a translation and linguistic and philological notes.

These scrolls supplement the fairly limited number of Mandaic amulets written on metal that are currently known to the scholarly world. The lamellae, both in terms of their miniscule script and their state of preservation, present significant challenges to their readers, and every new textual witness that becomes available adds to our understanding of previously published materials.' The magic formula our scrolls contain is parallel in most parts to an early Mandaic amulet published by Rudolph Macuch in 1967. (2) Naturally, the new material presented here aids us in understanding several of Macuch's difficult passages, just as the material published by Macuch was of great aid to us in interpreting or reconstructing those parts of the Sch0yen scrolls that were partially illegible or damaged. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to collate the readings in Macuch's texts since the photographs that accompanied his edition were insufficient for the purpose. (3)

An additional partial parallel is to be found on a Mandaic magic bowl in the Iraqi Museum (IM 1481), an edition of which was produced by Nu'man in her master's thesis of 1996. (4) Again, the photographs that accompany the text are only partially legible, though in some cases they have been of use to us in checking her readings. We may assume that the long-awaited publication of additional parallels will further illuminate the formula presented herein. (5)


The Mandaic amulet presented here is inscribed upon three small lead scrolls now held in the Martin Schoyen Collection. The scrolls measure 22 cm x 3.4 cm (MS 2087/10), 22.5 cm x 3.1 cm (MS 2087/11), and 10.6 cm x 3.7 cm (MS 2087/18). MS 2087/10 has split into two parts that form a perfect join. MS 2087/11 comprises a single complete piece but is damaged on the lower part of the recto and the upper part of the verso. MS 2087/18 contains only twenty-three lines on each side. While we cannot decisively determine the original length of the scroll, since the other two scrolls contain around sixty lines each (col. IV is somewhat shorter), it is reasonable to assume that MS 2087/18 was of similar proportions. Otherwise, the scrolls are fairly well preserved and allow for a certain reading in most places, though in parts they have suffered from the ravages of time that characterize such materials.

Thanks to Macuch's parallel copy of the amulet we were able to establish definitively the relationship between two of the three scrolls, and suggest with a high level of probability that they formed a set with the third. Interestingly, the scrolls are not organized in a linear fashion; rather, the scribe jumped from one scroll to another. The formula begins at the top of the recto of MS 2087/10 (I) and continues on both sides of MS 2087/11 (II-III). Only after he had completed the second side of MS 2087/11 (III) did the scribe return to the verso MS 2087/10 (IV) (see Fig. I). (6) The text found in MS 2087/18 (V-VI) does not constitute the direct continuation of the previous scrolls, but only appears in Macuch's text considerably further on in the formula of his text no. I. However, given that a) in Macuch's text the formula that MS 2087/18 contains is part of the same amulet formula that the two continuous amulets contain, b) this third lead strip is written by the same scribe in the same unique language, and c) it was purchased at same time as the two continuous amulets, it is reasonable to regard it as their indirect continuation. We may assume that the scribe initially laid out the first two scrolls before him and inscribed them on one side, then turned them over and inscribed the second side before taking up a third scroll.


    3.1. Orthography and Phonology (1)

    While the formula contained in this amulet is, as we have mentioned above, for the most part known from other sources, the present scrolls make a particular contribution in the field of grammar, since they present the amulet formula in an early and heretofore unknown form of the Mandaic language. It is a truism that almost every new epigraphic source that is published adds something, great or small, to our knowledge of Pre-Classical Mandaic. (8)

    However, in the case of the present scrolls, this is something of an understatement, since the scrolls contain a significant accumulation of unusual linguistic phenomena and new forms that set it aside from all the other sources that have been published to date. In what follows, we present some of the more salient features of this amulet's language.

    3.1.1. Doubled i

    The masculine plural morpheme is written on several occasions with a double i, e.g., malutiia 'curses' (I 28), bsuqiia 'in the streets' (II 35), rurbiia 'great' (III 47), Sihiia 'desire' (126). So too in the 3 participles: nasabiia 'they take away' (118), qadiia 'they were screeching' (II 14). (9) Apart from these morphemes, the doubled i is also found once in word-medial position in hiiniun 'they' (VI 8) and once in the client's name lkusalqaiia 'to Khwasqai' (III 42-43).

    3.1.2. The Digraph ia in Medial Position

    The digraph ia occurs in medial position to indicate a single i/e vowel, (10) e.g., sliahia 'desire' (I 26-27), lilliata 'Lilith' (III 10-11), bhzliadaiun 'in their dishonour' (III 20-21), uasiata 'and I healed her' (III 40), d-'tamhiaba 'by which was struck (m.s.)' (IV 30), uhziata 'and I saw her' (V 7), 'tiamlia 'they ( were filled' (V 14), 'tiamala^i^un 'they were filled' (VI 9). An interesting case is the mixed orthography of the participle morpheme umaurian 'they blind' (III 15). This spelling combines the two regular forms of the participle in Mandaic, maurin and mauria. (11)

    3.1.3. The shewa

    An historical shewa mobile and even shewa quiescent is frequently represented with plene orthography. So, e.g., in syllable-final position: nasabia 'they take' (I 17, 29; II 31), nasabiia 'they take' (I 18), nasaba 'they take' (I 31; 3, qasatataiun 'their bows' (I 42), kusata 'truth' (I 59), uhasata 'and now' (II 23), bisira 'flesh' (II 6), surabalta 'families' (III 24-25), adakirit 'and I recalled' (III 27; compare adkrit, III 30), uasaralta uhtamata 'and I bound her and sealed her' (HI 41-42), bhatama 'by the seal' (III 46), zilmata 'the hair' (III 54-55; compare zimta, III 56), ulama 'until' (III 54, 58).

    In word-initial position: banaiun 'their sons' (I 32), banataiun 'their daughters' (I 47), zama 'blood' (II7), udaraiun 'and their arms' (II 20), bat'bil 'in this world' (III 20), samalaiun 'their left' (III 49), mallakia 'angels' (IV 17-18), and hrilbia 'swords' (I 23-24) for the regular spelling harbia/hirbia. (12) It should be noted that almost all these cases of plene orthography involve a sonant or sibilant consonant. (13) In light of the interchange of i and a in the forms halbila (II 15-16) and hibila (II 24) we may assume that the vowel quality was somewhat variable, sounding to the copyist sometimes like a short a and sometimes like a short e, perhaps a central a. (14)

    3.1.4. i>a?

    While as in other Aramaic dialects the prefix for the participles of the t- stems in Mandaic is generally mi- (/mi-/), in our scroll we find four examples that do not accord with this norm: matahzia 'they appear' (II 28), uma|taqria (II 33-34), rhaiaqria (III 2), and matp|sqia 'they are cut off' (III 21-22). It is not entirely apparent what phonological reality lies behind these spellings, but perhaps we are dealing with vocalic harmony: i-a > a-a. (15) The G-stem infinitive form lmagt|l 'to kill' (II 54-55) for CM lmigtal may perhaps also be explained accordingly.

    3.1.5. a > u

    There is evidence for the partial assimilation of an a vowel to the bilabial b: kubira 'mighty'

    3.1.6. -un > -iun

    Undoubtedly, the most notable feature of this amulet's language is the scribe's tendency to add a y in word-final syllables that end in -un, apparently reflecting the shift /-un/ > /-yun/ > -yun. This phenomenon reoccurs frequently in different grammatical categories throughout the amulet, and cannot be regarded as a scribal error. The shift has occurred in the following categories:

  2. 3 independent pronoun: hiniun lbisia sihiia 'they are clad in desire' (I 25-26), hiniun nasabia gubria 'they carry off men' (I 29-30), hiniun diuia mhnqia ildia 'they are devs, the stranglers of children' (III 12-13); (17) on two occasions we encounter the spellings hiniaiun (V 16) and hiiniun (VI 8).

  3. Far-deixis demonstrative pronoun: hnataliun 'those' (III 11-12).

  4. Perfect forms: 'tirhlaiun 'they were filled' (VI 7).

  5. Imperfect verbal forms: n'nziun unaltariaiun 'let them be repelled and removed' (IV 35-36), lantansibaiun 'they may not be taken away' (III...

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