On the Shelf Review – Oelsner’s Incantations in Southern Mesopotamia

Over the break, I had an opportunity to read quite a bit in a large number of fields.  One article of especial note came from the Brill publication Officina Magica:  Essays on the Practice of Magic in Antiquity.  Brill’s published a good number of books on magic in antiquity, the downside of which is that they believe in expensive editions that not even most libraries can afford.  Nonetheless, their collections are usually worth checking out.

This particular one held an interesting piece on “Incantations in Southern Mesopotamia – From Clay Tablets to Magical Bowls” by Joachim Oelsner.  Though the article does touch on the topic, it’s really about the decline of cuneiform inscriptions across the area.  This nonetheless is important, as these cuneiform documents continued to transmit magic, astrology, and religion – indeed, Oelsner reads the presence of clay tablets as a sign of a surviving temple cult dedicated to the Mesopotamian gods in a city.  This doesn’t quite coincide with the dates, as the last survivals of cuneiform seem to date to the 1st century and the last temples to the 3rd, but while cuneiform lasted it seemed to be intimately connected with these activitiets.

The tradition of the cuneiform tablets dies out in different places at different rates, which Oelsner explores.  Among the last places from which they vanished were the cities of Babylon, Borsippa, and Cutha.  Those last two should be familiar to Necronomicon aficionados, as both have prominent mentions in Simon’s books.  (That doesn’t mean he got things right about Borsippa or Cutha, of course.)

At the end of his essay, Oelsner points toward work done on the early magical bowls and metallic scrolls of the Mandaeans, of whom I’ve talked about in the past.  Most of my material on them has come through Lady E. S. Drower’s The Mandaeans and Yamauchi’s Mandaic Incantation Texts, but this article suggests a source or two more that I might examine.  I’ll let you know what I find.

Published in: on January 9, 2009 at 3:31 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. Ah Brill… You would think that after “325 years of scholarly publishing” they would have figured out that books that cost over $450 (albeit Officina Magica costs is much less) sell far less than ones that cost only $45, and if they lowered the price so that libraries (at least!) could afford them, they might actually have a market for their wares. But they haven’t and they won’t. Ain’t pure greed great? Nothing like spreading knowledge. Or not.

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