This chapter focuses on Jewish Aramaic and Hebrew ritual materials from Late Antiquity to the early medieval period including: Palestinian amulets and spells, Babylonian magic bowls, and the recipes preserved in the Cairo Genizah. Materials are interrogated for evidence of social context (gender of clientele) and the status of these kinds of materials in Judaism at the time of composition. Finally, it compares Jewish materials to non-Jewish analogues.
Twitch divination (palmomancy) entails observing the involuntary twitches of a person’s body to predict his or her future. It is a practice attested already in the Assyro-Babylonian world and it circulated widely in late antiquity and in the Middle Ages. It is well attested in the Cairo Genizah, which shows its great popularity among the Jews of medieval Cairo. The present paper provides an edition and translation of the extant Genizah fragments of Kitāb al-Ikhtilāj, “The Book of Twitches,” attributed to Shem, son of Noah. This is followed by a detailed survey of all the palmomantic fragments from the Cairo Genizah in Aramaic, Judeo-Arabic, and Hebrew. Finally, I offer a reedition of a palmomantic fragment from al-Quṣayr, which has previously been misidentified as an amulet. Together, all these fragments attest to the vitality of the palmomantic tradition in medieval Egypt.
The article’s starting point is a recipe from the Cairo Genizah with instructions for opening a locked door by reciting a long adjuration over some dust and throwing it into the lock. This recipe – which is published here for the first time – serves as a case-study for two inter-related analyses. First, we ask whether medieval Jews would have classified such a recipe, and such a ritual, as “magic,” and whether modern scholars should classify it as such. Next, we ask whether we have any evidence that such a recipe was ever used by medieval Jews, and if so, by whom.