What do hands have to do with warding off evil? What is the significance of red Kabbala strings? Why do people knock on wood or spit? A new exhibition that opened recently at Jerusalem’s Bible Lands Museum explores the origins of the practice of magic in Judaism, bringing together for the first time a wide display of amulets, hamsas, jewelry, manuscripts and books of spells from the First Temple period to the present day.
Angels and Demons is the first exhibition of its kind, examining through archaeology, folklore and superstition the beliefs, customs and practical use of magical objects in daily Jewish life. To construct such a varied exhibition, the museum was loaned artifacts by the Golan Archaeological Museum, The Institute of Archaeology of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Israel Antiquities Authority and private collectors, most notably William Gross, a private donor who provided a large number of magical artifacts relating to practical Judaism.
While biblical laws expressly forbid Jews to have any involvement with witchcraft (Exodus 22.17: “You shall not allow a sorceress to live” and Deuteronomy 18:10-11: “There must not be found among you anyone that … uses divination, a soothsayer or an enchanter or a witch or a charmer or a medium or a wizard,or a necromancer”), there was a distinction between black magic – such as witchcraft, discussed above – and white magic, such as defending oneself from evil powers and the damage they seek to cause. The latter was not forbidden but embraced in Judaism as can be seen in some of the artifacts in the exhibition.