Tuesday, September 26, 2006

New Book on Amulets

The Medieval Review has posted a review of a new book on Amulets: Don C. Skemer, Binding Words: Textual Amulets in the Middle Ages. (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006), in which some of our readers may be interested. [For the review try here or here]

According to the review (by Lea T. Olsan), the book begins with pagan and early Christian amulets before focusing on the middle ages. Two points of interest from the review:

  • "The very amulet recommended for inquisitor's protection by the authors of the Malleus maleficarum consisted of the words of Christ during the crucifixion written on a parchment in the shape of the measure of Christ."
    I wonder if these amulets (later described as "found in so many amulets dating from the last decades of the fifteenth century and well into the sixteenth") have any explicit notation of the Seven words from the Cross (cf. our earlier discussion here); and what is this shape (could they be cruciform like one or two gospel manuscripts?)?
  • "Skemer provides examples of the use of the opening of the Gospel of John, the most frequently met biblical text written on amulets."
    I had thought that Ps 90 was the most popular part of the Bible on amulets; so I would like to see all the evidence. But it raises the interesting possibility of a manuscript base for the delimitation of John's Prologue (cf. here).


  1. Ooh yes. Tell me more about the Johannine amulets. Tommy's handout on P78 from last International SBL showed John 1:3-5 were the contents of one amulet.

  2. PJW:

    "Tommy's handout on P78 from last International SBL showed John 1:3-5 were the contents of one amulet."

    Yes, but I also had a column with "Gospel incipits," to which category I assigned any item with more than one incipit (most often all four, but sometimes not) and this category is rather large. However, after studying this field I am rather sure that Ps 90 LXX is more common than the incipit of John, so I would also like to see the evidence.

  3. OK. I've got hold of a copy.

    The first point is raised on p66. This amulet does comprise the Seven Last Words of Christ.

    The second point is raised on p87: 'The scriptural quotation most frequently encountered in textual amulets was the apotropaic opening verses of the Gospel of John (1:1-14) ...' [unfortunately this is not defended]