In the 1930s, two American archaeologists working in the now-Turkish city of Antioch discovered a small lead scroll, closed shut with a nail, from the 5th century CE. It resembled other ancient amulets used to curse the owner’s enemies, but only recently has modern imaging technology made decoding the scroll’s text possible, as Amanda Borschel-Dan writes:
In the curse, written in a Jewish dialect of Aramaic in Hebrew letters, [a] gambler beseeches God and his panoply of angels to thwart a competitor’s horse and cause him to “drown in the mud.” . . . “The curse calls upon the angel who [in the Bible] stands before Balaam’s ass to block the horses of the opposing team,” said [Rivka Elitzur-Leiman, the scholar who has translated the amulet].
Curse amulets on horse racing were common during this time, but until now were only discovered written in Greek or Latin. There has been some attempt to tie one scroll to Jews, said Elitzur-Leiman, because it referenced Pharaoh’s chariots. However, she said, Christians of the era were also well versed in the Hebrew Bible’s stories, so this could not be conclusive proof of a Jewish connection.
Due to this scroll’s Jewish Aramaic dialect, the Hebrew lettering and the very Jewish content—including the Hebrew Tetragrammaton—she is convinced that this amulet was indeed written by Jews. . . . Spells were very diverse in terms of their goals, she said, but incantations on horse races were among the most popular in the general population of the time. And now, with this newly deciphered tablet, we see this unsporting behavior among Jews, too.
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