Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Let me say something more about my academic interests--I thought I should introduce myself a bit more to potential readers than what I've already said. My research covers early Jewish mysticism -- specifically the Hekhalot literature (literature of the heavenly palaces) -- and what I call "ritual practices to gain power" (also the title of my book, published in 1998 by Trinity Press International). What that means is the whole arena of ancient Jewish (and other) rituals such as incantations, spells, the use of amulets, exorcisms, curses -- verbal and ritual means to gain power over various realms of existence, including the human, the demonic, and the angelic. My book discusses these rituals in the Hekhalot literature, especially rituals intended to invoke angels and cause them to descend from heaven and reveal wisdom -- angels such as the Sar Torah (Prince of Torah), the Sar ha-Panim (Prince of the divine Presence), the Sar Halom (Prince of Dream), and Metatron Sar ha-Panim, the angel who is second only to God in heaven.

Since the publication of the book I have continued to do research in this area, especially on the question of women's role in early Jewish mysticism and rituals of power. Two years ago I published an article in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, (69 (June 2001), 343-375), entitled "Exe(o)rcising Power: Women as Sorceresses, Exorcists, and Demonesses in Late Antique Judaism." In it I discussed the presentation of women as witches in rabbinic literature (where, among other statements, it is asserted that "most women are witches" [b. Sanh. 67a]), and compared rabbinic statements with evidence derived from the Babylonian incantation bowls (for more information on these bowls, see Gideon Bohak's Traditions of Magic), which seem to give a more nuanced picture of women as victims of aggressive rituals inflicted on them by others, as exorcists ridding themselves and their clients of demonic harm, and as those seeking to inflict ritual harm on others. I discussed as well a fascinating figure in rabbinic literature, the mother or foster-mother (her name is not given) of Abaye, one of the rabbinic leaders of fourth century Babylonia. Abaye frequently quotes her in matters of incantations, and herbal and ritual healing.

My current research project is entitled Angels' Tongues and Witches' Curses: Jewish Women and Ritual Power in Late Antiquity and I hope to publish it eventually as a book.

This summer I am doing further research on the incantation bowls, for a panel discussion at the Association for Jewish Studies in December 2003 -- this paper will be on the images, mostly of demons, on the incantation bowls. I am also continuing my research in the Hekhalot literature for a presentation at the Society of Biblical Literature conference in November 2003 -- on the eschatological image of God's weeping arm in 3 Enoch (Sefer Hekhalot). I also have a couple of book reviews to write this summer, as well as encyclopedia entries on Lilith. All in all, I will be very busy!

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