Ms. Esther Eshel
Bar-Ilan University

Aprotropaic Prayers From The Second Temple Period

Apotropaic prayers and hymns address God and request His protection from evil spirits. These prayers, already known in ancient Israel, became more common in the Second temple period. The oldest such Jewish prayer is the Priestly blessing found in Leviticus 9 and Numbers 6, which also appears in ninth and eighth century BCE inscriptions, such as the inscription written on a pithoi found at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud, or on the silver amulets found at Ketef Hinnom in Jerusalem, which quotes an abbreviated version of Numbers 6. These priestly blessings were also used by the author of 1QSa and 1QSb.

In his discussion of apotropaic prayer, D. Flusser tried to build a typology based on their shared elements, such as: reference to the knowledge of God and his Law, a plea for protection against sin, a request for forgiveness, and a plea for purification. Some of these elements can be found, for example, in the Prayer of Levi, in one of the hymns of the Psalms Scroll, named the Plea for Deliverance (11QPsa col. 19), as well as in Psalm 155:1-14 (ibid., col. 24), and the Lord’s Prayer in the Gospels (Mt. 6:13).

To return to the evidence from Qumran where four scrolls (4Q510, 4Q511, 4Q444 and 6Q18) belonging to the genre of apotropaic prayer were found, all of which seem to be close to the thought of the Qumran sect, and were probably composed by its members. Of these texts, the most important are 4Q511 and 4Q510, which appear to be different versions of the same composition and were attributed to the Maskil. The small text 4Q444 seems to be generally related to these texts, and in 6Q18 some fragments of apotropaic prayers have survived. The purpose of these texts was to protect the Sons of Light from the forces of evil, various spirits under the control of Belial. The fight against these forces was carried out by reciting the praise of God, and the Qumran texts share elements with other apotropaic prayers, such as the ones found in Jubilees, in the Prayer of Levi, in the Plea for Deliverance, and in Psalm 155.