Archaeology Odyssey 1:3, Summer 1998

Welcome to the World of Magic!

By C. Thomas McColloughBeth Glazier-McDonald

In 1992 and 1993, at Sepphoris (in Hebrew, Tzippori) in the lower Galilee, we uncovered two inscribed amulets designed to invoke magical powers.1 It’s not abracadabra; it’s WHYHAW and AWAAA. See if that will cure your fever!

These two amulets, small silver and bronze scrolls, open a fascinating window on life in a mixed Jewish-Christian-Greek city in the late fourth or early fifth century C.E.

Overlooking an ancient trade route between the Mediterranean and the Sea of Galilee, Sepphoris sits on a hill that was probably occupied as early as the Iron Age (beginning about 1200 B.C.E.). The large building in which our amulets were found was constructed in the early first century C.E. It was a typical rectangular basilical building (see drawing, above) with rows of columns enclosing a central open space decorated with pools and paved with mosaics. Around the entire structure was a series of small rooms or shops. A second floor probably housed more shops. By the fourth century the building had been partially destroyed; many of its magnificent stones were cannibalized and used in other structures. The surviving parts of the building were transformed into, among other things, a glass factory and a public bath. Our amulets were found in the part of the building that continued to function as commercial public space.

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