Sources of Evil: Studies in Mesopotamian Exorcistic Lore

Sources of Evil: Studies in Mesopotamian Exorcistic Lore is a collection of thirteen essays on the body of knowledge employed by ancient Near Eastern healing experts, most prominently the ‘exorcist’ and the ‘physician’, to help patients who were suffering from misfortunes caused by divine anger, transgressions of taboos, demons, witches, or other sources of evil. The volume provides new insights into the two most important catalogues of Mesopotamian therapeutic lore, the Exorcist’s Manual and the Aššur Medical Catalogue, and contains discussions of agents of evil and causes of illness, ways of repelling evil and treating patients, the interpretation of natural phenomena in the context of exorcistic lore, and a description of the symbolic cosmos with its divine and demonic inhabitants.

Thirteen essays by thirteen scholars of ancient magic and medicine are here assembled as the work product of a conference in 2015 on the book’s subject.  Essays are divided into five subject areas:

  • Organizing Magical and Medical Knowledge
  • Agents of Evil and Causes of Illness
  • Repelling Evil with Rituals, Amulets and Incantations
  • Concepts and Therapies of Illness
  • The Living and the Ordered World in Exorcistic Lore

An Index and a Preface are also provided as is an Introduction.

The editors are to be congratulated for masterfully organizing the parts into a cohesive, flowing whole.  Essays appear within the five divisions exactly where they ought to, without any second guessing coming to mind as one reads through them (asking things like ‘why did they put this essay here instead of somewhere else’).  The Introduction too is especially helpful as each essay is treated to a careful summary.  With the Introductory material at hand, readers can find their way to the essays of most interest and avoid those that are less interesting (to them).

The link above contains the table of contents, so readers are referred there for those particulars.  The present reviewer found the contributions of Frahm (chapter 1), Mertens-Wagschal (chapter 5), Schwemer (chapter 6), and Jimenez (chapter 12) to be the most engaging and the most informative and interesting.  The others were adequate, but these four were exceptional.

The general reader will find the work technical and dense.  Much is presumed of the volume’s readers.  Indeed, without a fairly good grasp of the language and literature of Mesopotamia the volume will be less than ‘open’.

But for specialists in one corner of ancient Near Eastern literature this volume is quite essential.  Or, to say that another way- if you are keenly involved in and engaged with exorcism and healing as understood in ancient Mesopotamia, you will not want to skip this volume.  If, though, a very narrow slice of ancient magical lore isn’t your cup of tea, you might well decide to spend your hard earned Shekels on something else (but do ask your research library to obtain a copy.  Someone will read it).