The Testament of Solomon, Part 2

We’ll begin our examination at the beginning, this time taken from Peterson’s text because I left the other at home:

And behold, when the Temple of the city of Jerusalem was being built, and the artificers were working thereat, Ornias the demon came among them toward sunset; and he took away half of the pay of the chief-deviser’s (?) little boy, as well as half his food.   He also continued to suck the thumb of his right hand every day. And the child grew thin, although he was very much loved by the king.

I have to stop here, because some interesting things are going on.  We see Ornias in the typical Middle Eastern guise of a disease demon – falling upon the weak to inflict suffering, in this case through sucking his thumb (I presume, but could be wrong, that the demon is drawing blood from him).  Yet something strange is going on here.  Why, for instance, does the demon take his food and money?  And, if that’s the case, why does he take half when he could clearly take it all?

The closest parallel to this in our own time is the pact with the devil, as portrayed in the myth of Faust and elsewhere.  Indeed, at about the time that the Testament was written, the magical papyri were circulating in Egypt.  These included a number of rites to call a parhedros, or spiritual helper, to aid the magician.  Still, none of these required so high an ongoing cost of maintenance as this, and there’s no mention of the boy entering into such an agreement with the spirit.

A more useful model might be found in Michael Swarz’s work on amulets found in Cairo from the 10th-15th centuries, which is a little bit out of our time period.  Much of the language on these documents is very legalistic in their terms, often borrowing phrases taken from the law.  Along with this came the notion that demons could in fact secretly marry humans, thereby being bound to them and stand to inherit their property.  There exist tales in Jewish tradition of rabbis called upon to adjudicate inheritance claims brought by the demons born of a man and his “wife” who want to take over a man’s house after his death.

Of course, what’s going on between Ornias and the boy can’t really be described as a marriage.  Nonetheless, it seems to have similar aspects:  an “agreement” the boy has entered into without consent which requires him to give up some of his property.  Thus, it seems to be a variation on a common theme that might have been circulating at the time.

This is just a best guess, however.  If someone’s got a better idea, please let me know.

For Wednesday – Solomon finds out, and things get ugly.

Published in: on November 26, 2007 at 6:56 pm  Comments (5)  

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  1. “Why, for instance, does the demon take his food and money? And, if that’s the case, why does he take half when he could clearly take it all?”

    My thought is that the demon takes the food and money to weaken the physical and socio-economic strength of the victim leading to their isolation on both fronts. Such isolation allows the demon to work more openly. It is also, possibily, a way for the author to increase the sense of demonic threat. Protection of food resources and currency were, as they are now, of prime importance and not always as closely watched as one’s own thumb. Thus the idea that a demon is taking food and money while you are busy lifting stones in the temple or answering questions over the phone at a library’s reference desk is stressful, to say the least.

    Why half? Obviously to reduce suspicions that a supernatural entity with the power to be invisible, move through solid objects and apport objects while you aren’t looking is taking your food and money. Also, it keeps the boy alive a lot longer while you suckle his thumb. A cynic might suggest that the notion of a demon only taking half of your property is easier to convince yourself of and thus leading to readers’ own confirmational biases. We’ve all had that experience where we were sure we had some specific amount of money in our pocket only to discover it to be less. Rather than imagine we might have been wrong, its easier (and more fun obviously) to imagine a denizen from the abode of eternal flames to have snatched a dollar or two. Besides, it explains those damn single shoes on the highways and why I keep missing socks.

    The next question is clearly, what happens to these cucumber sandwiches and assorted shekels? The demon doesn’t need to eat and rarely needs to shop for the latest Mesopotamian fashion. And the answer is… he hoards them! He has to with the most common reason (aside from the summoning of dancing girls) to call up infernal spirits being the locating of treasure. After several hundreds of years, there isn’t enough treasure for a black poulet to scratch. So to meet demand, the demon has to increase the supply. Therefore, every demon keeps several dozen locales filled with just enough ill gotten gains to assure their summoning by some recent reader of a grimoire. No demon wants to be caught without a nice trove to locate for their customer/summoner. Word gets around and reputations can suffer. Interested readers can learn more about these important business tips in _Wicked Ways: How Ancient Grimoires Can Lead You to Success in Business and Life_ this spring from Simon and Schuster.

    Oddly, this would also imply huge vast underground vaults filled with ancient decayed staked towers of barley and wheat breads, mounds of cheese and rotten fish platters. Yet there was never much of a demand for a demon to locate such storehouses. Can’t imagine why.

  2. Post + comment is like chocolate + peanut butter. Nice.

  3. Apologies if you are already familiar with this but I have found “Solomon the Esoteric King: From King to Magus, Development of a Tradition”, (Leiden: Brill, 2002)by Pablow Torijano to be usefil.

  4. […] 28, 2007 Last time, we met the thumb-sucking demon Ornias and commented upon his depradations.  Next we come to […]

  5. […] on, when the boy is being tormented by Ornias, Solomon asks the boy what’s going on. In most manuscripts of the Testament, this is a […]

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