A Lead Curse Tablet With the Name Yahweh


Image Credit: Professor Alexander Hollmann

 

 

CBSNews has an interesting article discussing the content of a lead curse tablet which contains a curse using the name of Yahweh, the God of Israel.  Below is an excerpt from the article:

A fiery ancient curse inscribed on two sides of a thin lead tablet was meant to afflict, not a king or pharaoh, but a simple greengrocer selling fruits and vegetables some 1,700 years ago in the city of Antioch, researchers find.

Written in Greek, the tablet holding the curse was dropped into a well in Antioch, then one of the Roman Empire’s biggest cities in the East, today part of southeast Turkey, near the border with Syria.

The curse calls upon Iao, the Greek name for Yahweh, the god of the Old Testament, to afflict a man named Babylas who is identified as being a greengrocer. The tablet lists his mother’s name as Dionysia, “also known as Hesykhia” it reads. The text was translated by Alexander Hollmann of the University of Washington.

The artifact, which is now in the Princeton University Art Museum, was discovered in the 1930s by an archaeological team but had not previously been fully translated. The translation is detailed in the most recent edition of the journal Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik.

Reading a curse

“O thunder-and-lightning-hurling Iao, strike, bind, bind together Babylas the greengrocer,” reads the beginning of one side of the curse tablet. “As you struck the chariot of Pharaoh, so strike his [Babylas’] offensiveness.”

Biblical metaphors

The use of Old Testament biblical metaphors initially suggested to Hollmann the curse-writer was Jewish. After studying other ancient magical spells that use the metaphors, he realized that this may not be the case.

“I don’t think there’s necessarily any connection with the Jewish community,” he said. “Greek and Roman magic did incorporate Jewish texts sometimes without understanding them very well.”

In addition to the use of Iao (Yahweh), and reference to the story of the Exodus, the curse tablet also mentions the story of Egypt’s firstborn.

“O thunder—and-lightning-hurling Iao, as you cut down the firstborn of Egypt, cut down his [livestock?] as much as…” (The next part is lost.)

“It could simply be that this [the Old Testament] is a powerful text, and magic likes to deal with powerful texts and powerful names,” Hollmann said. “That’s what makes magic work or make[s] people think it works.”

To read the article in its entirety and see another photo of the lead curse tablet, visit CBSNews online.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

 

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