Démons et exorcismes en Mésopotamie et en Judée

Daniel Barbu e Anne-Caroline Rendu Loisel


This article constitutes a general survey of the documents concerned with demons, demonology, and exorcist practices both in Ancient Mesopotamia and Second Temple Judaism. As such, it is part of an ongoing comparative project carried out by the authors. Exorcism, as the Assyriologist Jean Bottéro recalled, is an expression of the human reaction towards his suffering and condition: illnesses and torments are often understood as evil demons, especially in Ancient Mesopotamia. In cuneiform sources, rituals and incantations used and written by experts (priests) constitute the main part of our documentation. In the first part of the present article (Anne-Caroline Rendu Loisel), we shall especially focus on the incantations and rituals appearing in the "Utukkū Lemnūtu" collection. This collection points out important aspects of demons as they were understood in Ancient Mesopotamia: they are neither gods nor humans but angry beings ever in search of evil activities. Specific rituals had to be performed to draw them out of a body they have possessed. The three rituals presented and studied here all involve a similar process, making explicit the effects of the noise produced by an instrument such as a drum or a gong. The evidence from ancient Judea is more fragmentary, and must be gathered from very diverse types of documents. In the second part of the article (Daniel Barbu), we shall present what can be considered a Jewish mythology pertaining to the origins of demonic evildoers, who, as in Ancient Mesopotamia, appear as a cause of both the human condition in general and physical illnesses in particular. We shall also investigate the literary evidence for Jewish incantations against demons, fragments of which have been discovered among the Dead Sea scrolls. Such incantations were traditionally attributed to ancestral figures, recourse to which indicates the authoritative character of these figures in the matter, but also hints at belief in the 'magical efficiency' of their invocation. We shall pursue this lead and include evidence concerning practitioners of exorcism rituals in Second Temple Judaism (the most famous of whom being Jesus), as well as the practical conditions of such rituals.

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