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Mesopotamian Exorcistic Texts Howe, Adam


The corpus of Mesopotamian exorcist texts consists of Sumerian and Akkadian incantations and ritual instructions that were intended to expel evil, heal illness, and protect people and property. The texts were composed and employed by practitioners known as the ‘exorcist’ (Akkadian āšipu or mašmaššu), and the corpus could be referred to in Akkadian as āšipūtu ‘lore of the exorcist’. The earliest incantations date to the pre-Sargonic period (c. 2500 BCE onwards) and precursors of later standard incantations are known from the Ur III and Old Babylonian periods (c. 2100–1500 BCE). The process of canonization and standardization began in Babylonian in the late second millennium BCE, while many texts were grouped into standard series and copied in large numbers under the Sargonid kings of Assyria (8th–7th centuries BCE). Exorcistic texts continued to be copied in temples, school contexts, and private houses in the second half of the first millennium, until the Seleucid and Parthian periods (c. 330 BCE–50 CE). The corpus includes rituals against witchcraft, demons, and ghosts, medical texts, purification rites for people and buildings, and texts concerning materia magica, as well as parallel text production including commentaries and catalogues. The incantations consist of prayers to deities (whose participation was essential to the success of the rituals), addresses to sources of evil and materia magica, and explanations of accompanying ritual actions. The rituals make use of symbolic actions to destroy or expel evil, including manipulation of figurines representing the patient or source of evil, or the transfer of impurities to animal (or rarely human) substitutes. These were often accompanied by purification rites, prophylactic measures, and offerings to deities or sources of evil. The exorcist was also responsible for a number of medical treatments, including diagnosing the causes of illness, and preparing and administering medicines.

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Attribution 4.0 International