Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-7f7b94f6bd-8p2w5 Total loading time: 0.281 Render date: 2022-06-30T07:24:33.330Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true } hasContentIssue true

Excommunication in Jewish Babylonia: Comparing Bavli Mo‘ed Qaṭan 14b–17b and the Aramaic Bowl Spells in a Sasanian Context

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 September 2015

Jason Sion Mokhtarian*
Indiana University


According to rabbinic literature of late antiquity, a Jew could be excommunicated or banished from the community for around twenty-four spiritual and social violations. The Talmuds’ list of sins that necessitated the separation of a transgressor includes, for instance, profaning the name of God, selling forbidden meat, insulting one's master, and obstructing justice. Once condemned, the sinner was physically isolated from other people and prohibited from the same actions that a mourner was, such as cutting one's hair or wearing phylacteries. After the sinner repented or a certain amount of time passed, the ban was then lifted, typically by the master who had initiated it. Indeed, the master-disciple relationship is often at the center of banning and cursing in rabbinic literature. Although the rabbinic concept of excommunication draws from earlier biblical and Second Temple precedents, such as the book of Ezra, it is in many ways a late antique innovation featuring prominently in Babylonia. The reason that bans and excommunication emerge as a salient feature of Jewish society in this period is related to the rabbis’ historical contexts within Roman Palestine and Sasanian Babylonia. As I show in this article, exegesis and history both played a role in the formation of the talmudic laws of banishment.

Copyright © President and Fellows of Harvard College 2015 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 See y. Mo‘ed Qaṭ. 3:1 and b. Ber. 19a, which list offenses punishable by excommunication and inquire regarding mishnaic precursors. On excommunication in the late Second Temple and rabbinic eras, see the overview by Göran Forkman, The Limits of the Religious Community: Expulsion from the Religious Community within the Qumran Sect, within Rabbinic Judaism, and within Primitive Christianity (ConBNT 5; Lund: Gleerup, 1972), esp. 92–105 on the texts and typologies of rabbinic bans. Forkman synthesizes studies before him, including C. H. Hunzinger, “Die jüdische Bannpraxis im neutestamentlichen Zeitalter” (Ph.D. diss., University of Göttingen, 1954).

2 For examples in the Babylonian Talmud, see b. Ned. 7a–b on profaning the name of God; b. Ḥul. 18a on forbidden meat; and b. Ber. 19a on insulting one's master. On obstruction of justice, see below.

3 For examples of texts on excommunication between master and disciple, see b. Pesaḥ. 52a, b. Mo‘ed Qaṭ. 16b–17a, b. Ned. 7b, b. Soṭah 5a, and b. Ber. 19a. For a discussion of expulsion from rabbinic circles in Palestine, see Hezser, Catherine, The Social Structure of the Rabbinic Movement in Roman Palestine (TSAJ 66; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1997) 143–50Google Scholar.

4 For more on Second Temple antecedents, including at Qumran, see Horbury, William, “Extirpation and Excommunication,” VT 35 (1985) 1338Google Scholar, esp. 21, 29, and 34–35 on the biblical and Second Temple literary influences of the rabbis’ understanding of bans. See also Forkman, Limits, 102–4 on how before 70 c.e. the nidduy ban was applicable in the context of purity.

5 Talmudic discussions on banishment are unstable. On this, see also Forkman, Limits, 104, on how “terminological variation is natural” and that ḥerem and šamta’ “are now and again used synonymously with” nidduy. And see also ibid., 12–13, on bans that are temporary versus definite, partial versus total, and formal versus informal.

6 The term nezifah, translated as “rebuke” or “anger,” typically occurs in a master-student encounter and is less severe than a nidduy ban.

7 See, for example, (karet), which I do not treat in this essay; on this term, see Horbury, “Extirpation,” 16–19 and 31–34, and Forkman, Limits, 17–20 on the biblical context.

8 According to Katz, Steven T., “The Rabbinic Response to Christianity,” in The Late Roman-Rabbinic Period (ed. idem; vol. 4 of The Cambridge History of Judaism; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006) 259–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar, esp. 272–74, this is how ḥerem differs from nidduy: “The sources that refer to Niddui are earlier and indicate that Niddui was a means of communal discipline used to support and defend halachic decisions against recalcitrant members, especially (or only?) sages, of the community. Ḥerem, in contrast, appears to have come into use in the sense of ‘excommunication,’ that is, permanent exclusion from the community, only after 200. The Niddui was intended as a temporary, revocable ban, usually of at least thirty days’ duration, that was leveled against those who threatened either the halachic process or halachic decisions.” Forkman, Limits, 92, dates the ḥerem to the middle of the 3rd cent. Significantly, Horbury, “Extirpation,” 18, shows that in the biblical context the term ḥerem refers to the death penalty, which was replaced by its secondary meaning as “communal vow.” Bans are thus in this sense symbolic executions performed by rabbis in their capacity as judges and masters. B. Ned. 7b uses the rare form (see Michael Sokoloff, A Dictionary of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic of the Talmudic and Geonic Periods [Dictionaries of Talmud, Midrash, and Targum 3; Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 2002] [henceforth DJBA] 747, and the printed editions and ms Munich 95), equating it with šamta’: “Regarding ‘May I be banished to you.’ R. Akiva thought that it is a term of excommunication [], but the rabbis thought that it is a term of banishment (šamta’).” (Translations of the talmudic texts in this article are the work of the present author, unless indicated otherwise.) This example illustrates the disagreement among the sages regarding how to define such terms.

9 See Elman, Yaakov, “The Socioeconomics of Babylonian Heresy,” Jewish Law Association Studies 17 (2007) 80127Google Scholar.

10 Ibid.

11 Libson, Gideon, “Determining Factors in Ḥerem and Nidui (Ban and Excommunication) during the Tannaitic and Amoraic Periods,” Annual of the Institute for Research in Jewish Law 2 (1975) 292342Google Scholar, esp. 335 [Hebrew] (trans. by Elman, “Socioeconomics,” 90).

12 See the recent volumes of the incantation bowls by Shaked, Shaul, Ford, James Nathan, and Bhayro, Siam, with contributions from Morgenstern, Matthew and Vilozny, Naama, Aramaic Bowl Spells: Jewish Babylonian Aramaic Bowls (Magical and Religious Literature of Late Antiquity 1; Boston: Brill, 2013), including 18CrossRefGoogle Scholar for an overview of their provenance and dating; Levene, Dan, Jewish Aramaic Curse Texts from Late-Antique Mesopotamia: “May These Curses Go Out and Flee” (Magical and Religious Literature of Late Antiquity 2; Boston: Brill, 2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Moriggi, Marco, A Corpus of Syriac Incantation Bowls: Syriac Magical Texts from Late-Antique Mesopotamia (Magical and Religious Literature of Late Antiquity 3; Boston: Brill, 2014)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Other incantations published include James Montgomery, Aramaic Incantation Texts from Nippur (Publications of the Babylonian Section 3; Philadelphia: University Museum, 1913); Naveh, Joseph and Shaked, Shaul, Amulets and Magic Bowls: Aramaic Incantations of Late Antiquity (3rd ed.; Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1998)Google Scholar; and Levene, Dan, A Corpus of Magic Bowls: Incantation Texts in Jewish Aramaic from Late Antiquity (London: Kegan Paul, 2003)Google Scholar.

13 For more on this, see Stein, Dina, “Let the ‘People’ Go? The ‘Folk’ and their ‘Lore’ as Tropes in the Reconstruction of Rabbinic Culture,” Prooftexts 29 (2009) 206–41, esp. 210–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

14 The bibliography on this topic is expanding rapidly; by way of example, see Elman, Yaakov, “Acculturation to Elite Persian Norms and Modes of Thought in the Babylonian Jewish Community of Late Antiquity,” in Neti‘ot le-David: Jubilee Volume for David Weiss Halivni (ed. Halivni, Ephraim B., Steinfeld, Zvi A., and Elman, Yaakov; Jerusalem: Orhot, 2004) 3156Google Scholar; Kalmin, Richard, Jewish Babylonia between Persia and Roman Palestine (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; The Talmud in Its Iranian Context (ed. Carol Bakhos and M. Rahim Shayegan; TSAJ 135; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010); Herman, Geoffrey, A Prince without a Kingdom: The Exilarch in the Sasanian Era (TSAJ 150; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012)Google Scholar; Secunda, Shai, The Iranian Talmud: Reading the Bavli in Its Sasanian Context (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Kiel, Yishai, “Study versus Sustenance: A Rabbinic Dilemma in Its Zoroastrian and Manichaean Context,” ASJR 38 (2014) 275302Google Scholar.

15 On injuring a court messenger, see b. Qidd. 70b. Excommunication was also the punishment for refusing a court order, as seen in b. B. Qam. 15b, and the Babylonian Talmud typically uses šamta’ in such cases. See also y. Mo‘ed Qaṭ. 3:1 (81d), where after unsuccessfully summoning a man to court three times, R. Yehoshua ben Levi declares that he would pronounce the man ḥerem were it not for the fact that he has never done so in all his life.

16 On the rabbis’ need for the community's acceptance of authority, see Levine, Lee I., The Rabbinic Class of Roman Palestine in Late Antiquity (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1989) 131Google Scholar. Additionally, the Bavli's engagement with bans involves the concept of majority rules, on which see the R. Eliezer cycle (e.g., y. Mo‘ed Qaṭ. 3:1 [81c-d] and b. B. Meṣ. 59a–b), which suggests that sages with minority opinions were threatened with excommunication.

17 Cohen, Shaye J. D., “The Rabbi in Second-Century Jewish Society,” in The Early Roman Period (ed. Horbury, William, Davies, W. D., and Sturdy, John; vol. 3 of The Cambridge History of Judaism; Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1999) 922–90Google Scholar, esp. 967–74. As the author notes on 971 n. 221, the Mishnah does not discuss excommunication in detail; see, for two examples, m. Mid. 2:2, which describes how both mourners and individuals under a ban enter the Temple Mount to the left instead of to the right, and m. ‘Ed. 5:6, regarding the stoning of the coffins of those who died while under a ban, as well as the violation of Eleazar b. Enoch, who questioned the laws of hand cleansing. In the case of nidduy, Tannaitic traditions rule that someone who perishes while under this ban is humiliated by having his coffin stoned, a motif that is also found in the later Midrash such as Num. Rab. 9.28.

18 Cohen, “Rabbi,” 971.

19 In rabbinic literature, bans are listed as a punishment alongside lashes and death; for examples, see b. Pesaḥ. 52a and b. Ševu. 41a.

20 The importance of researching modes of discipline is elucidated in the writings of Michel Foucault, as explained in Dreyfus, Hubert L. and Rabinow, Paul, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics (2nd ed.; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983) 153–56Google Scholar.

21 The word (šamta’) may be related to (šamad), “to persecute, destroy” or “to convert,” whence also “apostate,” on which see DJBA 1155 and 1162–63 and Horbury, “Extirpation,” 37 n. 39, citing Jacob Levy's rabbinic dictionary published in 1924.

22 On the concept of dividing practices as it relates to studies on the subject, see the afterword by Michel Foucault, “The Subject and Power,” in Foucault (ed. Dreyfus and Rabinow) 208–26, at 208. See also the precise definition of the phrase in The Foucault Reader (ed. Paul Rabinow; New York: Pantheon Books, 1984) 8: “Essentially ‘dividing practices’ are modes of manipulation that combine the mediation of a science (or pseudo-science) and the practice of exclusion—usually in a spatial sense, but always in a social one.”

23 Katz, “Rabbinic Response,” 272–74 (quote from p. 272). The author further explains that a Jew under a ḥerem is still considered to be a Jew.

24 On bans against Jewish-Christians, see ibid., 271–76, where Katz expresses skepticism that this occurred.

25 Schwartz, Seth, Imperialism and Jewish Society, 200 B.C.E. to 640 C.E. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001) 120 n. 57Google Scholar.

26 Ibid., 120.

27 For further evidence regarding the status of Jewish excommunication according to the Roman authorities, see also Levine, Rabbinic Class, 97 n. 238, who references the Theodosian Code 16.8.8: “The following law, reaffirming the authority of the Jewish leaders in Palestine, as well as in the Diaspora, to excommunicate and to revoke excommunications” (translation in Louis H. Feldman and Meyer Reinhold, Jewish Life and Thought among Greeks and Romans: Primary Readings [Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1996] 99). There is no equivalent law about the Jews found in the Sasanian legal corpus.

28 There is evidence that excommunication existed in Tannaitic Babylonia; see Neusner, Jacob, “Jews in Iran,” in The Seleucid, Parthian and Sasanian Periods (ed. Yarshater, Ehsan; vol. 3(2) of The Cambridge History of Iran; Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1996) 909–23Google Scholar, esp. 918 for the dating to the Tannaitic era in Babylon of R. Ahai b. R. Yoshiah, who in b. Qidd. 72a proclaims a ban against the inhabitants of Birtha di Satya for fishing on the Sabbath. For an analysis of the historicity of the R. Ahai stories, see Herman, Prince, 68–76.

29 Only some of these contexts have thus far been fully exploited in recent scholarship. On Christianity and the Talmud, see Siegal, Michal Bar-Asher, Early Christian Monastic Literature and the Babylonian Talmud (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Syriac sources should be equally explored; regarding bans, see, for instance, the comparable finding of Herman, Prince, 202: “The principle sanction in the hands of the Catholicos appears to have been the right to excommunicate. This was always an option but not always effective, as repeated calls at synods to communities and clergymen to honour the ban orders indicate.”

30 For an overview of the Sasanian religious landscape, see Daryaee, Touraj, Sasanian Persia: The Rise and Fall of an Empire (International Library of Iranian Studies 8; New York: I.B. Tauris, 2009) 6997Google Scholar, and Pourshariati, Parvaneh, Decline and Fall of the Sasanian Empire: The Sasanian-Parthian Confederacy and the Arab Conquest of Iran (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2008) 319–49Google Scholar.

31 This motif of the shofar being blown as an announcement of excommunication appears in no other rabbinic texts except the Bavli, as explained in as explained in Rubenstein, Jeffrey L., Stories of the Babylonian Talmud (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010) 140Google Scholar. The motif also appears in the Jewish Aramaic bowls, as seen in Levene, Jewish Aramaic Curse Texts, 80 (VA.3381).

32 See Horbury, “Extirpation,” 37, regarding how in ancient Judaism there is “a long-standing view of the ban as a preliminary to death.”

33 ms Munich 95: Rava.

34 Most witnesses: . ms New York–Columbia X 893 T 141 (henceforth ms Columbia) is the only one that reads , which makes sense as part of the play on words with šamta’.

35 The printed editions do not record this attribution.

36 B. Mo‘ed Qaṭ. 17a (ms Columbia).

37 Y. Mo‘ed Qaṭ. 3:1 (81c), based on Talmud Yerushalmi: According to Ms. Or. 4720 (Scal. 3) of the Leiden University Library with Restorations and Corrections (ed. Yaacov Sussmann; Jerusalem: The Academy of the Hebrew Language, 2001) 809–10.

38 See The Jewish Study Bible (ed. Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler; New York: Oxford University Press, 2004) 308–9 (commentary).

39 Here and below ms Vatican 134 substitutes , “mourning,” for .

40 The order of these punishments varies in the mss.

41 The connection differs among the manuscripts; see ms London—BL Harl. 5508 (400) and ms Oxford Opp. Add. fol. 23: . ms Munich 95 and ms Vatican 134: .

42 The mss differ here. The printed eds. add an attributed statement from Rav Yosef to Abaye.

43 ms Vatican 108 adds: .

44 B. Mo‘ed Qaṭ. 14b (ms Columbia).

45 Elman, “Socioeconomics,” 89.

46 Ibid. 90.

47 The exilarch may have also played a role in rabbinic bans. See, for example, b. Ned. 8b, which states that a single public expert, a legal position associated with the exilarch, could lift a ban.

48 Although this introductory interrogative phrase does not appear regularly in ms Columbia, it does in other manuscripts; cf. ms Oxford Opp. Add. fol. 23 or ms Vatican 108.

49 On this word, see Sokoloff, DJBA, 1060, but compare Jastrow, Marcus, Dictionary of the Targumim, Talmud Bavli, Talmud Yerushalmi, and Midrashic Literature (New York: Judaica Treasury, 1971) 366Google Scholar, who explains it as “, with inserted,” which, drawing from a Gaonic text, the author defines as “[removal, isolation,] imprisonment within a narrow enclosure of reeds or poles, a punishment for contempt of court.” For more, see Horbury, “Extirpation,” 21: “the Vulgate exilium, however, is comparable with the rabbinic explanation of the word as a penalty (hardāpāh) applied to the banned (M.K. 16a, in the name of Rab Judah (third-century Babylonia)), and it is not impossible that the Vulgate represents a Jewish interpretation of Jerome's time . . . in all these interpretations it was viewed as an intensification of the ban, whether by imprisonment or acceleration of the process.” For one text that discusses the killing of a pursuer who is about to murder, see b. Sanh. 72b. A cognate term appears in Christian Syriac martyrologies from the Sasanian period in reference to Zoroastrian persecutions of Christians; on this, see Payne, Richard E., A State of Mixture: Christians, Zoroastrians, and Iranian Political Culture in Late Antiquity (Oakland: University of California Press, 2015) 25Google Scholar.

50 The attributions vary here. Although not appearing in ms Columbia, I added the name Yehudah since it appears in multiple reliable witnesses.

51 These attributions are more uniform; but see ms Vatican 134, which does not include the reference to Rav Hisda in line N, and ms Vatican 108, which begins this list with Rav Pappa.

52 Before the days mentioned, the verb “we warn him on” appears in some witnesses, but not in ms Columbia.

53 B. Mo‘ed Qaṭ. 16a (ms Columbia). Cf. the Tannaitic tradition in b. Ševu. 36a.

54 See Forkman, Limits, 24–28.

55 Ezra 10:8 also appears in y. Mo‘ed Qaṭ. ch. 3:1 (81d) alongside the rabbis’ reference to twenty-four causes for excommunication.

56 Naveh and Shaked, Amulets and Magic Bowls, 202–3 (bowl 13, line 19).

57 Kaufman, Stephen A., “Appendix C: Alphabet Texts,” in Excavations at Nippur: Eleventh Season, by Gibson, McGuire (Oriental Institute Communications 22; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975) 151–52Google Scholar, accessed May 30, 2015, [ellipsis in original].

58 B. Ned. 50b mentions a woman who is banned for insulting Shmuel and then bursts and dies.

59 Shaked, Ford, and Bhayro, Aramaic Bowl Spells, 56–57 (JBA 1 [ms 1927/8]) [bracketed material in original, with the exception of biblical citations, which have been supplied by the present author]. See also Shaked's analysis of this source, including in light of rabbinic stories, in Shaul Shaked, “Form and Purpose in Aramaic Spells: Some Jewish Themes—the Poetics of Magic Texts,” in Officina Magica: Essays on the Practice of Magic in Antiquity (ed. idem; Institute of Jewish Studies, Studies in Judaica 4; Boston: Brill, 2005) 1–30, esp. 10–16. Compare also the duplicate spells to the one quoted above, as elucidated in Levene, Corpus of Magic Bowls, 115–20. For more on R. Hanina ben Dosa and the bowls, see Shaked, Ford, and Bhayro, Aramaic Bowl Spells, 53–55.

60 For two studies on this passage from within a Sasanian context, see Spicehandler, Ezra, “Dina deMagista and Be Davar: Notes on Gentile Courts in Talmudic Babylonia,” HUCA 26 (1955) 333–54Google Scholar; and Secunda, Iranian Talmud, 92–93 and 195 nn. 32–35.

61 Spicehandler, “Notes on Gentile Courts,” 339 dates b. B. Qam. 113b–114a to the late Amoraic era based on its attribution to Rava or Rav Huna.

62 For more on this term, see Sokoloff, DJBA 210 and 310, and Shaked, Shaul, “Notes on the Pahlavi Amulets and Sasanian Courts of Law,” Bulletin of Asia Institute 2/7 (1993) 165–72Google Scholar, esp. 168 on how the term “clearly denotes a judicial function,” and how the talmudic borrowing appears to be from a late form of Middle Persian, when the language was beginning its transition into New Persian. If correct, this problematizes Spicehandler's dating of the text to the Amoraic era. Spicehandler, “Notes on Gentile Courts,” 341–44 goes through all of the various interpretations, concluding on p. 344 that “the weight of the evidence indicates that (more correctly ) is in all likelihood an extant term for an Iranian court or courthouse presided over by a dādbar or judge.”

63 According to Spicehandler, “Notes on Gentile Courts,” 353, magista’ can be equated with the word in the Talmud for Zoroastrian priest, magošta’. On this, see also DJBA 640.

64 B. B. Qam. 113b–114a (ms Hamburg 165). For manuscript variants of be dawar and dine de-magista’, see Secunda, Iranian Talmud, 195 n. 35.

65 However, in Sasanian law there were typically three witnesses in a case; see Encyclopædia Iranica, s.v. “Judicial and Legal Systems iii: Sasanian Legal System,” by Maria Macuch, published September 15, 2009; updated April 17, 2012,, where it is explained: “If the main evidence was based on the testimony of witnesses, at least three were required, with the only exception of state officials (kārdār) giving testimony in their field of expertise or the mowbedān mowbed as head of the judiciary. In these cases one witness sufficed.”

66 See Berman, Saul J., The Boundaries of Loyalty: Testimony against Fellow Jews in Non-Jewish Courts (Tikvah Center Working Paper, 09/11; New York: New York School of Law, 2011) 1923Google Scholar (quote from 22), accessed May 30, 2015, 19–23.

67 See Herman, Prince, 202 n. 151 referencing b. Ḥul. 132b.

68 One can perhaps trace similarities between the rabbinic concept of the banned sinner in a state of mourning and the Zoroastrian notion of tanāpuhl, a degree of sin and forfeit of the body; for more on this concept, see the Hērbedestān (ed. Firoze M. Kotwal and Philip G. Kreyenbroek, with contributions by James R. Russell; vol. 1 of The Hērbedestān and Nērangestān; Cahiers de studia iranica 10; Paris: Association pour l'avancement des études iraniennes, 1992) 46–49 (ch. 7:5) and 58–61 (ch. 11:1–3). These texts describe the state lasting one year. Other passages in chs. 16–19 also deal with this state of sin in light of scholastic contexts, including in social relations with non-Iranians. On the Avestan background to tanāpuhl, see Gershevitch, Ilya, The Avestan Hymn to Mithra with an Introduction, Translation and Commentary (University of Cambridge Oriental Publications 4; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1959) 247Google Scholar.

69 For a comparison of repentance in talmudic Judaism, Zoroastrianism, and Islam, see Kiel, Yishai, “The Systematization of Penitence in Zoroastrianism in Light of Rabbinic and Islamic Literature,” Bulletin of the Asia Institute 2/22 (2008) 119–35Google Scholar, esp. 126–29 on confessions to the rad, a type of judge who oversaw repentance. On p. 128 the author explains that this system of penitence is unique to Zoroastrianism and is not paralleled in Judaism: “According to Šāyist nē Šāyist 8.6 and 8.21, the rad has the undisputed authority to order the death sentence for a margarzān, and the sinner is not redeemed unless he fulfills the instructions of his rad and submits himself to death. . . . To the best of my knowledge, however, the practice of confessing to, or in the presence of, a religious authority . . . is rarely attested in Jewish circles of late antiquity and the medieval period, at least until the thirteenth century.”

70 There is attested in Middle Persian sources social tension between priestly masters and followers, although such cases are not necessarily framed as social bans per se; on the necessity of having spiritual guides, see Kreyenbroek, Philip G., “On the Concept of Spiritual Authority in Zoroastrianism,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 17 (1994) 115Google Scholar, esp. 4–5. See also Jamaspasa, Kaikhusroo M. and Humbach, Helmut, Pursišnīhā: A Zoroastrian Catechism; Part 1, Text, Translation, Notes (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1971) 2225Google Scholar (chs. 12–13) on how it is a good deed to have a dastwar. One interesting attestation of a master refusing to teach a student is the Nērangestān’s use of the term *škast-rad, lit. “smash/annul the rad,” which recent editors loosely translate as “excommunication,” in ch. 23, entitled “On Failing to Honour the Religion,” in the Nērangestān, Fragard 2 (ed. Firoze M. Kotwal and Philip G. Kreyenbroek, with contributions by James R. Russell; vol. 3 of The Hērbedestān and Nērangestān; Cahiers de studia iranica 30; Paris: Association pour l'avancement des études iraniennes, 2003) 30–57, at 32–33. On this word the manuscripts are irregular. This passage states that excomunication is deserving for someone who has not repented and that one who dies while excommunicated is in a state of mortal sin (margarzān).

71 For more on this topic, see Mokhtarian, Jason Sion, Rabbis, Sorcerers, Kings, and Priests: The Culture of the Talmud in Ancient Iran (Oakland: University of California Press, 2015) 104–6CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

72 For more, see Harviainen, Tapani, “Syncretistic and Confessional Features in Mesopotamian Incantation Bowls,” StudOr 70 (1993) 2937Google Scholar.

73 For a recent overview of the biblical and liturgical elements in the bowls, see Shaked, Ford, and Bhayro, Aramaic Bowl Spells, 18–23. As the authors show, the Mishnah is not a central text in the incantations.

74 On polythetic classifications of religion, see Smith, Jonathan Z., Imagining Religion: From Babylon to Jonestown (Chicago Studies in the History of Judaism; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982) 49Google Scholar.

75 Stein, “Let the ‘People’ Go?,” 208, says something similar about the value of folklore theory, which is useful “for exploring the ways in which the rabbis imagined their social profile and for assessing the overlap between the designation offered by the texts themselves and modern scholarship.”

76 For magical folklore in rabbinic literature, see Yassif, Eli, The Hebrew Folktale: History, Genre, Meaning (trans. Teitelbaum, Jacqueline S.; Folklore Studies in Translation; Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009) 144–66Google Scholar.

77 See ibid., 150, on how the rabbis promoted Torah among the masses by rabbinizing popular tales. On the historiography behind the dichotomization of the rabbis vis-à-vis the masses, see Stein, “Let the ‘People’ Go?,” 211–15 (on Ginzberg, Lieberman, and Urbach).

78 See note 12 above.

79 For more on the ties between Kol Nidre and the incantation bowls, see Dalia Marx, “What's in a Bowl? Babylonian Magic Spells and the Origin of Kol Nidre,” in All These Vows: Kol Nidre (ed. Lawrence A. Hoffman; Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 2011) 26–30; and Gordon, Cyrus H., “Leviathan: Symbol of Evil,” in Biblical Motifs: Origins and Transformations (ed. Altmann, Alexander; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1966) 19Google Scholar, esp. 6–7 n. 23.

80 See Shaked, Ford, and Bhayro, Aramaic Bowl Spells, 99.

81 According to ibid., 11, the sorcerers’ use of a ban is related to the bowls’ warning to the evil spirits.

82 On the problems of interpreting folklore as subversive and representative of marginal voices, see Stein, “Let the ‘People’ Go?,” 218–19.

83 See the similar point in Shaked, Ford, and Bhayro, Aramaic Bowl Spells, 7.

84 For additional examples of bans in the bowls, see: Montgomery, Aramaic Incantation Texts, 231–32 (bowl 34), with commentary on 235, as part of the “epithets of the Lilith”; ibid., 154–55 (bowl 8), which states that R. Yehoshua b. Perahia sent a ban against the liliths (and see also Naveh and Shaked, Amulets and Magic Bowls, 158–63 [bowl 5]); Levene, Corpus of Magic Bowls, 51–52 (M103) and 62–63 (M107); Naveh and Shaked, Amulets and Magic Bowls, 175–77 (bowl 9); Edwin M. Yamauchi, Mandaic Incantation Texts (AOS 49; New Haven: American Oriental Society, 1967) 226–29 (text 20) and 272–75 (text 27), in reference to the adversaries’ teeth; Moriggi, Corpus of Syriac Incantation Bowls, 155 (bowl 32; and see also bowl 16), which reads, “Cut, banned, and excommunicated [ḥrymyn wmšmtyn],” in reference to the evils; and ibid., 49 (bowl 6). For attestations of nidduy in the bowls, see Levene, Corpus of Magic Bowls, 36 (bowl M59, line 11) ().

85 Levene, Jewish Aramaic Curse Texts, 74–83. The clients are a mix of Aramaic and Iranian names: “Kaspi son of Qaqai and for Ziqoi daughter of Didukh his wife and for Khwarkhud and Marganita Zikoi's children.”

86 Ibid., 74.

87 Ibid., 76.

88 Ibid., 79.

89 Ibid., 80–81 (VA.3381). I have cited here three noncontinuous sections of the text; in this instance, ellipses have been bracketed to distinguish them from breaks in the text.

90 Shaked, Ford, and Bhayro, Aramaic Bowl Spells, 153 (JBA 26 [MS 1928/43]).

91 Levene, Corpus of Magic Bowls, 41–43. See the parallel in Hekhalot Rabbati 92 on the blasting of trumpets in the heavenly court and the lesser and greater excommunication. For more on the parallels between the bowls and Hekhalot literature, see Shaked, Ford, and Bhayro, Aramaic Bowl Spells, 23–27.

92 Compare the terms found in ibid., 261 [] and b. Ḥul. 132b [].

93 Levene, Corpus of Magic Bowls, 40–41 (M101).

94 See Levene, Jewish Aramaic Curse Texts, 6 and nn. 23–28 on the evidence that suggests that bowl curses were used in judicial disputes: “Such charms could have been prepared in advance of legal confrontations, in which opponents’ names were known and inserted into appropriately prepared aggressive bowl incantations.” See also Shaked, Ford, and Bhayro, Aramaic Bowl Spells, 105 (JBA 13, and see also JBA 14 and 20), which references “in the court-session of Rabbi Joshua bar Peraḥia.”

95 See Stein, “Let the ‘People’ Go?,”; Yassif, Hebrew Folktale.

96 See Stein, “Let the ‘People’ Go?,” 212–14, including on Urbach and Lieberman's shared dislike of “what they perceived as irrational elements in rabbinic Judaism” (214).

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Excommunication in Jewish Babylonia: Comparing Bavli Mo‘ed Qaṭan 14b–17b and the Aramaic Bowl Spells in a Sasanian Context
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Excommunication in Jewish Babylonia: Comparing Bavli Mo‘ed Qaṭan 14b–17b and the Aramaic Bowl Spells in a Sasanian Context
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Excommunication in Jewish Babylonia: Comparing Bavli Mo‘ed Qaṭan 14b–17b and the Aramaic Bowl Spells in a Sasanian Context
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *