The employment of the Psalms in incantations. The general use of the Bible for magic purposes has been discussed under Bibliomancy. Inasmuch as the employment of the Psalms is mentioned there, a brief summary, together with certain supplementary material, will suffice in this article. Next to the Torah, the Psalms were especially popular in magic, since they formed the real book of the people, one which they knew and loved as a book of prayers; and prayers had, accordingto the popular opinion of the ancients, extremely close affinities with incantations. As early as the second century Ps. xci. was called "The Song Against Demons"; and the same statement holds true of Ps. iii. (Yer. Shab. 8b, 21; Sheb. 15b; and parallel passages). The former psalm, which is still recited at funerals, was found inscribed in a tomb at Kertch (Blau, "Das Alt-Jüdische Zauberwesen," in "Jahresbericht der Landesrabbinerschule in Budapest," 1898, p. 96); and the beginning, of it occurs together with Rom. xii. 1 and I John ii. 1 on a Greek papyrus amulet, which was undoubtedly buried with the dead (Heinrici, "Die Leipziger Papyrusfragmente der Psalmen," p. 31, Leipsic, 1903).

Tablets inscribed with verses of the Psalms or of the Bible generally, and found in great numbers in recent years, must have been regarded as a means of protection for both the living and the dead, whether the charms were Jewish or Christian in origin, as, for instance, amulets inscribed with the Lord's Prayer. The recitation of Ps. xxix. was recommended to avert the peril of drinking uncovered water in the dark on Wednesday evening or on Sabbath eve. (Pes. 112a). In ancient times the scrolls of the Law, when worn out, were placed in the grave of a scholar (Meg. 26b); and the papyrus books, which are almost without exception defective, are obtained from graves.

No other ancient examples of this use of the Psalms are known; but in the Middle Ages the employment of the Psalms in all the vicissitudes of life was so extensive and detailed (comp. Jew. Encyc. iii. 202-205, s.v. Bibliomancy) that there is no doubt that it was based on ancient custom, especially as a similar use of the Psalms for magic purposes existed among the Syrians and the European Christians in the early medieval period (comp. Kayser, "Gebrauch von Psalmen zur Zauberei," in "Z. D. M. G." xlii. 456—462—a veritable Syriac "Shimmush Tehillim"; Meyer, "Aberglaube des Mittelalters," pp. 145 et seq., Basel, 1884). The recitation of Ps. xvi. and cix. was regarded as a means of detection of thieves (Meyer, l.c. p. 230); and the Psalms were also employed in the Ordeal (Herzog-Hauck, "Real-Encyc." vii. 34). In all probability the origin of the employment of the Psalms in magic is essentially Jewish.

  • Mitteilungen der Gescllschaft für Jüdische Volkskunde, x. 81 et seq.
J. L. B.
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