Thursday, April 30, 2009

Professor under fire for comparing Israelis to Nazis

"You can criticize Israel; you can criticize the war in Gaza," Foxman said. "But to compare what the Israelis are doing in defense of their citizens to what the Nazis did to the Jews is clearly anti-Semitism." -Abe Foxman, ADL Thought Cop

Professor's comparison of Israelis to Nazis stirs furor

The UC Santa Barbara sociologist, who is Jewish, sent images from the Holocaust and from Israel's Gaza offensive to students in his class. He has drawn denunciation and support.

By Duke Helfand

Controversy has erupted at UC Santa Barbara over a professor's decision to send his students an e-mail in which he compared graphic images of Jews in the Holocaust to pictures of Palestinians caught up in Israel's recent Gaza offensive.

The e-mail by tenured sociology professor William I. Robinson has triggered a campus investigation and drawn accusations of anti-Semitism from two national Jewish groups, even as many students and faculty members have voiced support for him.

The uproar began in January when Robinson sent his message -- titled "parallel images of Nazis and Israelis" -- to the 80 students in his sociology of globalization class.

The e-mail contained more than two dozen photographs of Jewish victims of the Nazis, including those of dead children, juxtaposed with nearly identical images from the Gaza Strip. It also included an article critical of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and a note from Robinson.

"Gaza is Israel's Warsaw -- a vast concentration camp that confined and blockaded Palestinians," the professor wrote. "We are witness to a slow-motion process of genocide."

Two Jewish students dropped the class, saying they felt intimidated by the professor's message. They contacted the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which advised them to file formal complaints with the university.

In their letters, senior Rebecca Joseph and junior Tova Hausman accused Robinson of violating the campus' faculty code of conduct by disseminating personal, political material unrelated to his course.

"I was shocked," said Joseph, 22. "He overstepped his boundaries as a professor. He has his own freedom of speech, but he doesn't have the freedom to send his students his own opinion that is so strong."

Robinson, 50, who is Jewish, called the accusations and the campus investigation an attack on academic freedom. He said his former students, the Wiesenthal Center and the Anti-Defamation League had all confused his criticism of Israeli policies with anti-Semitism.

"That's like saying if I condemn the U.S. government for the invasion of Iraq, I'm anti-American," he said. "It's the most absurd, baseless argument."

Robinson said he regularly sends his students voluntary reading material about current events for the global affairs course, and that no one raised questions when he subsequently discussed his e-mail.

"The whole nature of academic freedom is to introduce students to controversial material, to provoke students to think and make students uncomfortable," said Robinson, a UC Santa Barbara professor for nine years.

As the dispute over his e-mail plays out, UC Santa Barbara has become the most recent U.S. university to confront campus unrest over issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In recent years, Jewish and Muslim groups have quarreled repeatedly at UC Irvine about the Holocaust and Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. Professors and students at Columbia University have also argued over issues of intimidation and academic freedom amid debates on the Mideast.

In Robinson's case, reaction has been strong -- on both sides. Shortly after hearing from the two students in January, the Wiesenthal Center produced a YouTube video titled "Jewish Students Under Siege from Professor at UC Santa Barbara." The clip shows one of Robinson's former students, her face obscured to protect her identity, reading from his e-mail.

The head of the ADL's Santa Barbara region sent Robinson a letter in February calling on him to repudiate his statements about Israel. Last month, the ADL's national director, Abraham Foxman, in a meeting with faculty members at the campus, urged the university to conduct an investigation into Robinson. He was told that an inquiry was already underway.

"You can criticize Israel; you can criticize the war in Gaza," Foxman said. "But to compare what the Israelis are doing in defense of their citizens to what the Nazis did to the Jews is clearly anti-Semitism."

Robinson's supporters say the professor is being maligned for exercising his right to challenge his students to think critically about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Students on campus have formed a group, the Committee to Defend Academic Freedom at UCSB, which is chronicling the saga on its website. Letters of support also have arrived from academics across the country, including one from California Scholars for Academic Freedom, which says it represents 100 professors at 20 college campuses. The group argues that the allegations have been raised against Robinson to "silence criticism of Israeli policies and practices."

Some UC Santa Barbara faculty members also are speaking up for Robinson. History professor Harold Marcuse, who attended the March meeting with the ADL's Foxman, said the pictures e-mailed by Robinson were "well within the bounds of appropriateness on campus. It's something I could have used in a course."

Marcuse, who is Jewish and teaches about the Holocaust in his world history and German history classes, said he would not have injected his own views into such a message to students, but added: "I don't think Bill Robinson's e-mail is anti-Semitic in any way. I think criticism of Israel is OK."

One UC Santa Barbara official has already looked into the allegations against Robinson, and a faculty committee is being formed to decide whether to forward the case to UC Santa Barbara Chancellor Henry Yang. A university spokesman declined to comment on the case.

Robinson has hired an attorney, and the student committee supporting him has scheduled a May 14 campus forum on the matter. Joseph and Hausman, the students who filed the original complaints, said they plan to attend. So do Hausman's parents from Los Angeles and Rabbi Aron Hier, director of campus outreach for the Wiesenthal Center.

"I just want to bring awareness," said Hausman, 20. "I want people to know that educators shouldn't be sending out something that is so disturbing."

End quote

Read the record of rabbinic censorship in
Judaism Discovered by Michael Hoffman


Monday, April 27, 2009

Alchemical Pan process on high

Pressing our Panic Button

A New York Times reader, Jim Brown, allegedly took this photograph from 10 Exchange Place in Jersey City, looking toward 77 Hudson Street and the Statue of Liberty

Another view, supposedly of the same aircraft

"A low flight by an Air Force One lookalike, the backup plane for the one regularly used by the president, caused brief panic in parts of New York City on Monday morning." 

--New York Times website April 27, 2009, 2 pm PDST

Swine flu "pandemic" (not epidemic) out of Mexico and a 9/11 "panic" in New York City, all on the same day.

Coincidence or conspiracy?


White House Apologizes for Air Force Flyover
By A. G. Sulzberger and Matthew L. Wald

An Air Force One lookalike, the backup plane for the one regularly used by the president, flew low over parts of New York and New Jersey on Monday morning, accompanied by two F-16 fighters, so Air Force photographers could take pictures high above the New York harbor.

But the exercise — conducted without any notification to the public — caused momentary panic in some quarters and led to the evacuation of several buildings in Lower Manhattan and Jersey City. By the afternoon, the situation had turned into a political fuse box, with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg saying that he was “furious” that he had not been told in advance about the flyover.

At 4:39 p.m. Monday, the White House issued an apology for the flyover. Louis E. Caldera, director of the White House Military Office, who served in the Clinton administration as secretary of the Army, said in a statement:

Last week, I approved a mission over New York. I take responsibility for that decision. While federal authorities took the proper steps to notify state and local authorities in New York and New Jersey, it’s clear that the mission created confusion and disruption. I apologize and take responsibility for any distress that flight caused.

The mission on Monday, officials said, was set up to create an iconic shot of Air Force One, similar to one that was taken in recent years over the Grand Canyon.

When President Obama learned of the episode on Monday afternoon, aides said, he, too, was furious. Senior administration officials conveyed the president’s anger in a meeting with Mr. Caldera on Monday afternoon.

The flyover, which began around 10 a.m., resulted in widespread confusion and a flood of calls to emergency hot lines. Perplexed officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and other authorities were inundated with calls from anxious ferry passengers, office workers and residents.

The mayor said the Police Department and someone in his administration – he did not say who – received an e-mail from the Federal Aviation Administration late on Thursday, informing them that there would be “a fly-by for a photo-op, as they described it.”

However, Mr. Bloomberg said he was not apprised of the flyover until his BlackBerry started buzzing this morning with messages from people asking if he knew what was going on. He characterized it as a breakdown in communication that “will never happen again.”

“First thing is, I’m annoyed – furious is a better word – that I wasn’t told,” he said at a City Hall news conference held to discuss the swine flu cluster in Queens.

In unusually harsh language, the mayor criticized the Defense Department for conducting the exercise and the Federal Aviation Administration for being secretive about it.

Jim Peters, an F.A.A. spokesman, said “the photo op was approved and coordinated with everyone.” Notification was made in advance to the mayor’s office, “including its 911 and 311 operation centers,” the New York City Police Department, the New Jersey State Police, the United States Park Police and other agencies, he said.

The Police Department confirmed that it had been notified about the event but said it had been barred from alerting the public. “The flight of a VC-25 aircraft and F-16 fighters this morning was authorized by the F.A.A. for the vicinity of the Statue of Liberty with directives to local authorities not to disclose information about it but to direct any inquiries to the F.A.A. Air Traffic Security Coordinator,” the Police Department said in a statement.

The mayor criticized the secrecy around the flyover. The e-mail notification “did have the normal language of saying this is sensitive information, should be distributed on a need-to-know basis, that they did not plan to have any publicity about it, which I think is ridiculous and just poor judgment,” Mr. Bloomberg said.

He added: Why the Defense Department wanted to do a photo-op right around the site of the World Trade Center catastrophe defies imagination. Poor judgment would be a nice ways to phrase it, but they did. I also think that once they had told us, we should have done a better job. Had I known about it, I would have called them right away and asked them not to. It is the federal government and they can do in the end what they please, but I would have tried to stop it. I don’t know there’s a lot else to say other than they shouldn’t have done it.

Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said Monday afternoon that he was unaware of the flyover. At his daily press briefing, Mr. Gibbs initially referred questions to the F.A.A. and the Air Force. When told that those government offices were referring questions to the White House, Mr. Gibbs said: “I have no information on this other than what I saw.”

Mr. Gibbs, pressed by reporters, said he had seen news reports of the flyover, but declared: “I was working on other things. You might be surprised to know that I don’t know every movement of Air Force One.” Later, he added that he would look into the matter.

The flyover was scheduled for 10 to 10:30 a.m. The plane is designated by the Defense Department as a VC-25 but is recognizable to the public as a Boeing 747. Unaware of the planned exercise, scores of office workers flooded out of buildings, worried about the prospect of terrorism.

“People came pouring out of the buildings, the American Express Building, all the buildings in the financial district by the water,” said Edward Acker, a photographer who was at the building, 3 World Financial Center. “And even the construction guys over by 100 North End Avenue area, they all got out of their buildings. Nobody knew about it. Finally some guy showed up with a little megaphone to tell everyone it was a test, but the people were not happy. The people who were here 9/11 were not happy.”

Mr. Acker added: “New York City police were standing right there and they had no knowledge of it. The evacuations were spontaneous. Guys from the floor came out, and one guy I talked to was just shaking.”

Even the markets dipped shortly after 10 a.m., though it was unclear if the alarm over the planes was a factor. Starting at 10:02 a.m., three main market indexes started dropping precipitously. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 40 points in 10 minutes, starting 10:15 a.m., before it rebounded more than 50 points.

In Jersey City, construction workers were evacuated from a condominium tower under construction at 77 Hudson Street. The workers, who were on the 32nd floor of the construction site, said the plane circled three times past the Goldman Sachs tower, the tallest building in New Jersey. On the second pass, they said, the jet appeared to be only a few dozen feet from the building — close enough to clip the side of the skyscraper. A fighter followed right behind, mirroring its moves. The construction site as were other buildings in downtown Jersey City, including offices in the Exchange Place financial complex.

Carlina Rivera, 25, who works at an educational services company on the 22nd floor of 1 Liberty Plaza, said her co-workers were spooked in part because their offices are so close to the site of the 9/11 attack. “As soon as someone saw how close it got to the buildings, people literally ran out,” she said. “Probably about 80 percent of my office left within two minutes of seeing how close it got to our building.”

Ms. Rivera, who was a high school student in the East Village when the 9/11 attack occurred, added, “I did feel a little bit foolish for staying in the office while everyone left.”

Ms. Rivera said eventually there was a message made over the public announcement system that the plane was an advertisement for a movie — which she said that did not coincide with what they were reading online about the plane taking pictures of the Statue of Liberty. “It was a little confusing. What was the truth?” she said.

Ms. Rivera continued: “Of course, everyone had to take out their cellphones and say, ‘You can come back, it’s O.K.’ Eventually they returned with some sort of comfort food. We feel like we should have at least been warned.”

At 1 Liberty Plaza, according to another person who works in Lower Manhattan, a loudspeaker announcement said at 10:55 a.m., “Planes were observed flying low over Lower Manhattan, but were part of an approved federal action.”

Johnny Villafane, 42, of the Upper West Side, said, “The plane did a 360. There was a vibration. The glass in the skyscrapers was shivering.” He added, “It sounded like the building were cracking, everything started shaking. I thought the plane was coming down.”

Sidney Bordley, a floor director in an office building at 1 Battery Park Place, said, “People were running out of the office, claiming they saw a commercial flight being pursued by F-16’s.” He added, “There was some confusion and a little excitement.”

A group of financial services workers, who were gathered outside the same building but declined to give their names, described their reactions. “I saw the landing gear and I was out of here,” one said. Another said: “There were people in my elevator, sweating and shaking. There were women crying. It was not an experience to be taken lightly.”

Andrew Burke, 49, a T-shirt vendor from Crown Heights, Brooklyn, said: “People panicked and ran into the streets thinking the worst.” He added, “It’s a real shame they couldn’t tell the city what they were going to do.”

Notify NYC, a pilot electronic service intended to quickly provide emergency alerts to New Yorkers who sign up for them, did not prove particularly effective. Text messages and e-mail messages explaining the flyover were sent out at 10:38 a.m., after the exercise was already scheduled to end. “The community was startled, and would have preferred advance warning,” said Catherine McVay Hughes, vice chairwoman of Community Board 1 in Lower Manhattan.

Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority, which runs the region’s three major airports, said the low-flying planes prompted confusion. “This has nothing to do with any of our airports,” he added.

The Staten Island Advance reported that the Federal Aviation Administration had authorized the flights and that the flights were “pre-planned.” President Obama was not aboard the plane, nor was he in the New York area. He gave a speech at 9 a.m. at the National Academy of Sciences in downtown Washington.

It was not the first time that flyovers had left anxiety in Lower Manhattan. In February 2002, two Air Force F-16 fighters flew low over Manhattan as they made their way back to Atlantic City after a regular patrol. Officials later acknowledged that “the timing and location” of the flyover were “poorly coordinated.”

And in May 2003, a Continental Airlines flight carrying American troops returning from Iraq received permission to fly low around the city, a decision that also rattled nerves.

Jessica Bagdorf, Sewell Chan, Jennifer 8. Lee, Colin Moynihan, Fernanda Santos, Daniel E. Slotnik and Jeff Zeleny contributed reporting.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Yad Vashem's Talmudic Lesson

A Talmudic Lesson: There was only one Holocaust. Nobody else qualifies for this level of cosmic victimhood except the Holy People. --Michael Hoffman


Excerpt: Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum's "position is that the Holocaust cannot be compared to any other event."

Yad Vashem fires employee who compared Holocaust to Nakba

By Yoav Stern | Haaretz | April 23, 2009

Yad Vashem has fired an instructor who compared the trauma of Jewish Holocaust survivors with the trauma experienced by the Palestinian people in Israel's War of Independence.

Itamar Shapira, 29, of Jerusalem, was fired before Passover from his job as a docent at the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, after a teacher with a group of yeshiva students from Efrat made a complaint. Shapira had worked at Yad Vashem for three and a half years.

This is the first time that Yad Vashem has fired a guide over political differences, an institution official said Wednesday.

Shapira confirmed, in a telephone conversation with Haaretz, that he had spoken to visitors about the 1948 massacre at Deir Yassin.

He said he did so because the ruins of the Arab village, today a part of Jerusalem's Givat Shaul neighborhood, can be seen as one leaves Yad Vashem.

"Yad Vashem talks about the Holocaust survivors' arrival in Israel and about creating a refuge here for the world's Jews. I said there were people who lived on this land and mentioned that there are other traumas that provide other nations with motivation," Shapira said.

"The Holocaust moved us to establish a Jewish state and the Palestinian nation's trauma is moving it to seek self-determination, identity, land and dignity, just as Zionism sought these things," he said.

A Yad Vashem official said the institution objects to any political use of the Holocaust, especially by a docent working for it.

The institution's position is that the Holocaust cannot be compared to any other event and that every visitor can draw his own political conclusions.

Yad Vashem spokeswoman Iris Rosenberg said that after holding a hearing for Shapira, at which he refused to accept his superiors' instructions and change his teaching methods, it was decided to terminate his job as a guide in the institute's school for Holocaust studies.

"Yad Vashem would have acted unprofessionally had Itamar Shapira continued his educational work for the institute," Rosenberg said.

Yad Vashem employs workers and volunteers from the entire political and social spectrum, who know how to separate their personal position from their work, she said.

Shapira said Yad Vashem chooses to examine only some of the events that took place in the War of Indpendence. "It is being hypocritical. I only tried to expose the visitors to the facts, not to political conclusions. If Yad Vashem chooses to ignore the facts, for example the massacre at Deir Yassin, or the Nakba ("The Catastrophe," the Palestinians' term for what happened to them after 1948), it means that it's afraid of something and that its historic approach is flawed," Shapira said.


Read Judaism Discovered by Michael Hoffman
A Talmud lesson deemed too hot to handle by

Monday, April 20, 2009

The New Catholic "Shoah" Theology: Newsletter #47


Revisionist History Newsletter no. 47 

The New Catholic "Shoah" Theology 
Alibi for the Revolutionary Overthrow of the Gospel of Jesus Christ 

In this special 16-page issue, Michael Hoffman's 18,000 word essay analyzes and deconstructs the Holocaustolatry which has become a dogma and criterion for holding church office.

Contents include: The Gospel according to the Shoah: The Religion of Judaism for Gentiles; the Alchemical Blending of Irreconcilable Opposites; Nostra Aetate: the Underground comes out of the Closet; Paul VI Builds on Nostra Aetate; Refuting the Scripture-twisting Shoah theology of John Paul II and Benedict XVI; Exaltation of Judaic Racial Prestige by Distortion of the Book of Romans; St. Paul: Still Clinging to "Jewish Traditions"?; "Our Elder Brothers in the Faith"; Shoah Newspeak as Hegelian Dialectical Praxis; Bishop Richard Williamson and the Vatican Order to Recant his doubts about Auschwitz Gassings; Auschwitz Replaces Calvary; the Apostate's Creed. Also: A Progress Report on Judaism Discovered - a Book and its Enemies.

"Though I am not a theologian, in the vacuum created by theologians who refuse to take up this subject with Biblical fidelity, I have had to step into the breach, with a view toward crafting a groundwork for an exegesis which begins to demonstrate why Bishop Richard Williamson's principled stand concerning execution gas chambers in Auschwitz, far from being a 'side issue' for the Church, is actually at the very heart of the struggle for the gospel in our time." 
--Michael Hoffman

Revisionist History Newsletter no. 47 The New Catholic "Shoah" Theology. $8.50 (postpaid in the USA. Overseas send $9.50).  
MAIL to: Independent History and Research, Box 849, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho 83816 USA

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Or subscribe to Revisionist History Newsletter and start your subscription with this issue


Friday, April 17, 2009

Rabbinic Skull Magic

One piece of the puzzle that is the Bush family's Skull-and-Bones secret society?

"There are two kinds of necromancy: the one where the dead is raised by naming him, the other where he is invoked by means of a skull." 

--The Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 65b


Rare Magic Inscription on Human Skull

The BAS Library | 16 Apr 2009 

Not long ago, the well-known collector Shlomo Moussaieff acquired two earthenware bowls, the open ends of which were adjoined to form a kind of case - inside the case was an ancient human skull. A magic incantation, written in Aramaic, was inscribed on the skull.

BAR readers already know about the more than two thousand magic incantation bowls that have survived from third - seventh-century C.E. Jewish communities in Babylonia. The incantation bowls were made at the same time and in the very communities that produced the most intricate, complex and revered accomplishment of rabbinic Judaism, the Babylonian Talmud. 

Although some have deemed the incantation literature to be inconsistent with the spirit of the Talmud, recent research has shown it to be, rather, complementary and representative of aspects of life reflected within the Talmud.

The Moussaieff incantation skull arrived in two earthenware bowls that form a container. The bowls themselves are not inscribed. It appears that the skull and bowls constituted a single ritual object, with the inscribed skull as the magical focal point.

The fact remains that belief in demons was widespread at this time among Jews as well as other peoples. Incantation bowls are known not only from Jewish communities but from other communities as well. The Jewish versions are written in what is commonly known as Jewish Aramaic.

To combat demons - who cause medical problems as well as other mishaps and ills - people invoked numerous magic rites and formulae. The magic rites could also serve as a love charm. Your desired one would surely fall in love with you if the proper incantation was invoked. The reverse was also true. To bring disaster on your personal enemy, you would invoke a curse text. These often-strange and mystifying incantations were usually inscribed in cramped writing in a spiral on the interior of the bowls.

Not all magic incantation texts were written on bowls. Sometimes they were written on parchment, tin, lead, copper, silver and even gold. Occasionally we find one on even more exotic materials such as eggs. Now from the Moussaieff collection comes one written on a skull.

It appears that only four other skulls with incantation texts have come to light - and a dim light at that. None of them was excavated professionally. All simply surfaced on the antiquities market.

“BY MEANS OF A SKULL.” It is difficult to write on the idiosyncratic surface of a skull; reading a skull inscription can be equally difficult. Like the inscriptions on incantation bowls, the skull text is surrounded by a squiggly line. Although the inscription on the Moussaieff skull is very hard to decipher, one thing is clear: It contains names of people for whom the incantation was made. 

One of the names, Shilta, is derived from an Aramaic word meaning “after-birth.” The skull itself was probably that of a woman. The exact manner in which this skull was used, however, remains a mystery. A contemporaneous source, the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 65b, offers a possible clue: “There are two kinds of necromancy: the one where the dead is raised by naming him, the other where he is invoked by means of a skull.”

And all but the Moussaieff skull have been known since the early 20th century. The great Aramaic scholar James A. Montgomery of the University of Pennsylvania studied one in the university's museum collection, about which he wrote in 1913.4 When he examined it, the entire skull was there and well preserved, although in a shattered state. Montgomery reported two inscriptions on the skull. Unfortunately, the text was not very clear, and he managed only a few comments on the text. Even more unfortunate, the skull does not appear to have been well cared for since Montgomery's time. 

Among the 17 remaining skull pieces I examined in Philadelphia - which were poorly mounted on a precarious wire structure with what appears to be something like epoxy glue - I found only what appears to be part of the shorter inscription. It is painfully clear that there is much less of the object at the present than there was when Montgomery examined it. And what is left of the skull appears to be in poor condition.

Montgomery's comments on what he could salvage of the Philadelphia skull text indicate that it referred to "spirits" and "Liliths," in the plural. In this period, high infant and birthing-mother mortality rates were attributed to Lilith demons, who were thought to roam the earth looking for pregnant women and newborn infants to attack. Lilith, of course, emerges later, in the medieval period, as the mythological first wife of Adam who refused to be subservient to him. But the motif of the demoness who roams the earth looking for newborn infants to devour has its roots in much-earlier Mesopotamian traditions and persists throughout history.

In addition to the Philadelphia skull, Montgomery mentioned two other skulls in the Berlin Museum that he was not able to examine. I noticed an additional skull at the Berlin Museum - so there are actually three, not two, specimens there. The texts on two of the three are extremely fragmentary. One fragmentary text, however, records the name of the powerful and sinister demon Yaror, the so-called "demon of dispatch" known from other incantation texts. This skull also contains a drawing of a bound demon, not dissimilar to the figures occasionally found in the incantation bowls. Perhaps this is Yaror himself.

One of the Berlin Museum skulls, however, bears a more extensive text. Parts of 16 lines have survived. The text mentions the son and grandson of Lilith, seven angels and Gabriel. One part of the text that is difficult to interpret mentions someone who "eats and is not filled ... [who] drinks and is not intoxicated ... [and who] is injured and not released [meaning uncertain]." This could refer to an insatiable demon (the grandson of Lilith), or it might be a description of either the client's complaint or a description of what this incantation is meant to inflict on his enemy. The rareness of this type of text and the difficulty of reading it mean that we will have to wait for the appearance of more material to ascertain which of these possibilities is the more likely.

ANGELS AND DEMONS. Like their neighbors, Babylonian Jews invoked magic formulae to combat demons (often associated with illness), impose curses against human foes or charm potential mates. Generally written in Jewish Aramaic, incantations were inscribed on anything from parchment to eggshells, tin, lead, copper, silver and gold. 

More than two thousand magic incantation bowls from the third to seventh centuries C.E. survive. Although it is not entirely clear how they functioned, many bowls share certain features: an inscription that spirals out from the bowl’s interior and, in some cases, a drawing of a figure may represent the intended target. Recent scholarship has suggested that folk religion reflected in these magic rites often complements the more-austere traditions mentioned in the contemporaneous Babylonian Talmud. The bowls pictured here are from the Moussaieff collection.

It is not easy to write on a skull. The texture of the surface, its curves, bumps and holes, requires scribal adjustments that affect the flow of the text and make reading it more difficult. This is certainly true of the recently surfaced example from the Moussaieff collection.

This skull came to Moussaieff inside two bowls that formed a case. The bowls themselves contain no writing. An examination of the bowls gave me the impression that they were an original and integral part of a single magical object of which the skull was the main part. This is, however, speculative.

The inscription on the skull contains many of the features common to magic bowl inscriptions. We know the names of at least some of the people for whom the skull incantation was made. Two of them are common Jewish names: Martha and Shilta. According to one scholar, Shilta is derived from an Aramaic word meaning "after-birth." And the skull is probably that of a woman. Although parts of 11 lines of text have survived, it is difficult to make much sense of what remains. The text is surrounded by a squiggly line, a common element among incantation bowls.

The text, however, is only part of the mystery. Basic questions continue to baffle: Why a skull? I have no certain answer. That so few examples exist, in comparison to the large number of bowls, suggests that the use of skulls for incantation texts was rare. Judaism, of course, has many taboos regarding human remains. Even touching a corpse imparts impurity. Necromancy is forbidden5 (although it was obviously sometimes practiced). Perhaps the skull was used for this text because it was thought that the spirits of the dead, to which skulls are obviously connected, have access to the supernatural realm.

In the end, this skull and its text remain mysterious, unfortunately revealing less than they conceal.

Only five skulls inscribed with Jewish Aramaic magic incantation texts have come to light, none from professional excavations. Like the others before it, this skull, acquired by collector Shlomo Moussaieff, raises more questions than it answers. Its relationship to the more common genre of incantation bowls and its use in a rite of magic seem clear enough. But until more information emerges, basic questions—how this skull was used, for whom, by whom and for what reason—remain unanswered. (End quote)

Photos accompanying this article may be viewed here.

To learn more about rabbinic Babylonian magic read: