A Divine Contract for Household Protection (Ar…

mostlydeadlanguages:

This amulet plaque was found in Arslan Tash, near the northern border of Syria; it’s about the size of a business card.  Although its authenticity has been disputed in the past, the current consensus says that it’s probably a real artifact from the 7th or 6th century BCE.

Written in Phoenician, using an Aramaic script, the amulet wards female demons away from the house.  Some of them (the ʿPTʾ) may have been flying demons represented by the sphinx on one side; the wolf, halfway through devouring a human, may be the demonic “lamb-strangler.”  The warrior on the other side may have been Ashur, Baal, or Horon, all warrior gods mentioned in the text.  

As an incantation against flying female demons who attack the household at night, this amulet may connect to ancient Near Eastern traditions of Lilith/Lamashtu; the word “lilith” may even appear, but only half of it is visible.  The two sides of the amulet may represent a cosmic gender duality: male violence, which is godlike and protective, as compared to female violence (the sphinx and the devouring she-wolf), which is dangerous and disruptive.  The literary motifs of darkness and light parallel these themes.  Without better textual consensus or iconographic parallels, though, the amulet’s precise readings are still uncertain.


Main Text

An incantation against ʿPTʾ,
a contract of Sasmi son of PDRŠ:
uphold it for him
and against the Lamb-Strangler(s)!

The house I enter, you shall not enter,
and the courtyard I walk, you shall not walk.

They have sworn an eternal contract with us.
Ashur swore to us,
and all the deities, and the chief of the multitude of the sacred,
an eternal contract with heaven and earth —
with the contract of Baal, lord of the earth;
with the contract of the wife of Horon, whose speech is true,
and his seven concubines,
and the eight wives of holy Baal.

On the Sphinx and Wolf

Against ʿPTʾ:
From the dark room, move onward;
Go quickly, quickly tonight; [1]
From my house at midnight, go!

On the Warrior

… to my door,
and light to the doorposts;
the sun rises […]

[1] “Tonight” is partially broken and may, instead, be reconstructed as “Lilith”: “Go quickly, quickly, o Lilith!”