ABSTRACT: Magic Seals on the Body among Jews in the First Centuries C.E.

Tarbiz, 57 (1988), pp. 37-50  Meir Bar-Ilan


Several sources from Rabbinic and Hekhalot literature are examined in order to clarify how and why all sorts of divine names were written on the body (sphragis), a magic and mystic practice that was customary among Jews of various beliefs in the Land of Israel in late Antiquity.

The Biblical background of these phenomena is discussed, and Tannaitic sources that have not been studied in this aspect are introduced. These Halakhot exemplify the custom of putting seals with the name of God on the body. Ma'ase Merkava and other extracts from the Hekhalot, as well as from late Midrashic literature, show that seals were actually inscribed on the body, and were not just referred to as metaphors. This clarifies the magic apotropaic aim of this practise, and the use of the seal as a 'password' into the Heavenly palaces as well as a shield on earth. The phenomenological practise and the application of the custom during the first centuries C.E. is explained.