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Amulets and Charms

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

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AMULETS AND CHARMS . 1 . The custom of wearing amulets ( amuletum from Arab. [Note: Arabic.] root = ‘to carry’) as charms to protect the wearer against the malign influence of evil spirits, and in particular against ‘the evil eye,’ is almost as wide-spread as the human race itself. Children and domestic animals are supposed to be specially subject to such influence, and to-day ‘in the Arabic border lands there is hardly a child, or almost an animal, which is not defended from the evil eye by a charm’ (Doughty). The Jews were in this respect like the rest of the world, and in the Talmud it is said that ninety-nine deaths occur from the evil eye to one from natural causes (see Magic Divination and Sorcery).

2 . RV [Note: Revised Version.] has substituted ‘amulets’ for AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ‘ear-rings’ in Isaiah 3:20 , the Heb. word being elsewhere associated with serpent-charming. There is nothing to indicate their precise nature or shape. Our knowledge of early Palestinian amulets has been greatly increased by the recent excavations at Gezer, Taanach, and Megiddo. These have brought to light hundreds of amulets, bewildering in their variety of substance and form beads of various colours (the blue variety is the favourite amulet at the present day), pendants of slate, pieces of coral, bronze hells (cf. Exodus 28:33; Exodus 39:25 ), a tiny ebony fish from the Maccabæan period, a yellow glass pendant with ‘good luck to the wearer’ in reversed Greek letters ( PEFSt [Note: Quarterly Statement of the same.] , 1904, illust. p. 354), a small round silver box with blue enamel ( ib . 1903, illust. p. 303), etc. The influence of Egypt, where amulets were worn by men and gods, by the living and the dead, is shown by the great number of scarabs and ‘Horus eyes’ unearthed at Gezer and Taanach.

3 . The ‘consecrated tokens’ ( 2Ma 12:40 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ) found by Judas Maccabæus on the bodies of his soldiers were heathen charms against death in battle, the peculiar Gr. word being a tr. [Note: translate or translation.] of the Aram. [Note: Aramaic.] word for ‘amulet.’ The Mishna ( c [Note: circa, about.] . a.d. 200) shows that in NT times a favourite charm ( qemia ’, whence our ‘cameo’) consisted of a piece of parchment inscribed with sacred or cabalistic writing, and suspended from the neck in a leather capsule. In this connexion it may be noted that ‘phylactery’ signifies an amulet, and like the mezuzah or door-post symbol, was often so regarded.

4 . In antiquity jewels were worn quite as much for protective as for decorative purposes, being supposed to draw the attention of the spirit from the wearer. A popular form of jewel-amulet was the moon-shaped crescent in gold and silver, like those worn by the Jerusalem ladies ( Isaiah 3:18 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ), and the ‘crescents and pendants’ worn by the Midianite chiefs and hung from the necks of their camels ( Judges 8:21; Judges 8:26 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ). The ear-rings of Genesis 35:4 , also, were evidently more than mere ornaments, so that AV [Note: Authorized Version.] and RV [Note: Revised Version.] may both be right in their renderings ‘ear-rings,’ ‘amulets’ of Isaiah 3:20 .

For the amulets worn by the heathen Arabs see Wellhausen, Reste Arab. [Note: Arabic.] Heidenthums (1887), 143 ff., and for modern Jewish amulets the art. ‘Amulet’ in Hastings’ DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] .

A. R. S. Kennedy.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Amulets and Charms'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdb/​a/amulets-and-charms.html. 1909.
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