The Aramaic Incantation Bowls are amuletic objects consisting of incantation texts written in several dialects of Aramaic (Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, Syriac, and Mandaic) on the inside of small earthenware bowls. They constitute a phenomenon limited in both place and time — to Sasanian Mesopotamia.
Besides a handful of scattered articles, there really exist only epigraphic and grammatical treatments of the incantation bowls. My Ph.D. project intends the first, large-scale synthetic treatment of these objects, and comprises a poetics of the Jewish Babylonian Aramaic (J.B.A.) bowl texts — an investigation into their poiesis or active making, their aesthetics and the principles of their composition, as well as an investigation into the relation that they instantiate between magic and rhetoric. My project will demonstrate that our understanding of these texts is greatly enhanced by their treatment with the tools of literary analysis. Their religious significance, for example, cannot be properly understood without paying due attention to their rhetorical and poetic structure. One of the most significant features of the bowls written in J.B.A. is their constant engagement with the Hebrew Bible, the rabbinic writings, and myths and stories derived from these sources. The manner in which they adopt and adapt these materials, as well as the figurative sensibility and sensitivity to image and metaphor that they display, requires both an acknowledgement of the metaphoric character of all representation and an approach that is appreciative of the poetic and creative aspects of magical and religious discourse.
The method I propose to deal with the bowls is drawn from the adjacent fields of cognitive poetics and cognitive rhetoric and is designed to test the hypothesis that the bowls function as magical vehicles for (popular) religious thought and that their texts reflect the ongoing construction of these beliefs.
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