Journal for the Study of Judaism

Journal for the Study of Judaism 44 (2013) 282-287

An Akkadian Demon in the Talmud: Between Šulak and Bar-Širiqa1
Avigail Manekin Bamberger
Tel Aviv University

Abstract This article examines the resemblance between the Talmudic privy demon (“Shed Bet ha-Kise”) and Šulak, a well-known Akkadian demon. There are four considerations that point to identifying the privy demon of the Talmud with the Babylonian demon Šulak: (1) They both dwell in the privy; (2) they both are demons that cause epilepsy, strokes, or sudden falls; (3) they both seem to have the form of a lion; and (4) their names (“Šulak” and “Bar Širiqa”) are very similar. This suggestion is yet another example of the presence of beliefs and opinions from the Ancient Near East that found an echo in the Babylonian Talmud, one that may be added to a number of examples given by M. Geller. Keywords Rabbinic literature, Babylonian Talmud, Jewish magic, Ancient Near East, Šulak

In a number of places in the Babylonian Talmud we fijind warnings against “Shed Bet Ha-kise,” the “privy demon.” One such place is b. Giṭ. 70a:
The Rabbis recited:2 One who comes from the privy mustn’t have sexual intercourse until he waits the length of half a mil because the privy demon accompanies him, and if he does, he will have nikpe (epileptic) children.3

1) I would like to thank Prof. Gidi Bohak, Dr. Uri Gabbay and Avigail Wagschal for their helpful comments and insights. 2) This statement is introduced by the term “Tanu Rabanan,” a term that is traditionally considered to introduce Palestinian baraitot from Tannaitic times. Exceptions to this view were already pointed out by J. N. Epstein who demonstrated a number of examples of
© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2013 DOI: 10.1163/15700631-12340381

Biblical and Talmudic Medicine (ed. 3) This is a translation of the Hebrew text. may strengthen the notion that this is in fact a Babylonian baraita. The presence of beliefs known to us from Babylonian cuneiform medicine. 2000). The Falling Sickness (2d ed. and Their Faces toward the East:’ The Temple and Toilet Practices in Rabbinic Palestine and Babylonia. All of the Mishnah’s commentators interpret the word in a similar manner and it seems quite clear it was used to describe what we know as epilepsy. See M. and that it is called that because a nikpe is forced to turn over when he collapses. A similar notion is also presented in the New Testament where Jesus cures a child. F. B.. In Palestine this belief is portrayed in a parable in Babylonian baraitot introduced by “Tanu Rabanan. 1993). D. Preuss. See O. 140. according to the version of the Vilna printed edition. Ketub. 1-81. as will be demonstrated in this article. The present article focuses on the connection with an earlier Babylonian tradition.C. Vatican Biblioteca Apostolica ebr. Oxford Bodleian Library MS Opp. 1971). by expelling the possessing spirit/demon. 244-53. 2002).” in Cultures of the Jews: A New History (ed.E. Biale. Jerusalem: Magnes. as will be demonstrated here. München Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Cod. which is roughly the same as the readings in the following manuscripts: Vatican Biblioteca Apostolica ebr. “‘Their Backs toward the Temple. New York: Sanhedrin Press. Neis. 7:5) and the Tosefta (t. Bat. New York: Shocken. his future children (or: “sons”) will be nikpim. see R. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. These beliefs were widely held in the ancient Greek sphere as well. . epileptic.5 The notion that epilepsy is caused by demons was widely believed in ancient times. see Mark 9:14-30 and the parallel versions in Matt 17:14-22 and Luke 9:37-46.” from the Hippocratic collection from as early as ca. It could be that the term nikpe preserves a belief that a demon forces (kofeh) the epileptic attack on its victim.” J. 771. 171-77 [Hebrew]. Neis connects this to I. apparently sufffering from epilepsy. Introduction to the Mishnaic Text (3d ed.4 Should a man not heed this advice. Bek. 5) The term nikpe is known from Tannaitic times and appears both in the Mishnah (m. Temkin. 367–403. Such can be seen in the polemic composition “The Sacred Disease.6 and can be found in Rabbinic Amoraic literature both in the west and the east. citing the Bavli and not the reverse. esp.” JSJ 43 (2012): 328-68.A. and trans. which includes the realm of demons and demonology. which is generally considered to be a post-Talmudic composition. t. Bamberger / Journal for the Study of Judaism 44 (2013) 282-287 283 From this source we learn of the prohibition to have sexual intercourse after returning from the privy during the time it takes to walk half of a mil. for more on the subject see M. the only parallel to this baraita is from tractate Kallah. see I. B. 6) Popular superstitions regarding the demonological character of epilepsy appear in ancient Babylonian beliefs. Shmuel Safrai. Gafni’s survey of culture contacts between Jews and Persians. 300. hebr. “Babylonian Rabbinic Culture. Rosner.” in The Literature of the Sages (ed.. see J. 400 B. M. Neis notes that the fear of demonic danger in the privy is of more concern in Babylonian Rabbinic materials than in Palestinian materials. “The External Tractates. 7:10. 4:5). Stol. 1978). 23-27. 95 (95). 393-95. because of the presence of the privy demon. 130. Furthermore. Epilepsy in Babylonia (Groningen: Styx. 1987). N. 4) For Rabbinic toilet rules. Lerner. Maimonides for example writes in his commentary to the Mishnah that the meaning of nikpe is known. Gafni. Epstein. Assen: van Gorcum.

7:5. 11) Diagnostic Handbook. Epilepsy. Tablet 27. Birth in Babylonia and the Bible: Its Mediterranean Setting (Groningen: Styx. L. Babylonisch-assyrische Diagnostik. Šabb. A. 26:5. one fijinds the view that if someone falls on his left side he was smitten by the hand of Šulak. See Heessel. 10) Ibid. where we fijind only references to the social status of epileptics.E. See also N. 2007). Rab. Stol.M. Münster: Ugarit-Verlag. The presence of the belief that epilepsy is caused by demons can also be found in the Babylonian Talmud where we see that amulets were prescribed to prevent epilepsy attacks (b. 1000 B. 1951). Epilepsy.9 One section of the Diagnostic Handbook is almost entirely devoted to epilepsy. in which a doctor gives an Israelite and a priest an amulet against epilepsy but only gives instructions to the Israelite. Finkel and M. An edition and translation of the portions on epilepsy in the Diagnostic Handbook was published by Stol.8 This Akkadian handbook dates from ca. Heessel. Babylonischassyrische Diagnostik (AOAT43. P. 8) Portions of the Diagnostic Handbook were published in R. Traité akkadien de diagnostics et pronostics medicaux (Leiden: Brill. M. this could be explained by the casuistic nature of the Tannaitic compositions. If his left side is let down: Hand of Šulak. lines 11-13. bears a striking resemblance to an Akkadian prescription involving a demon named Šulak. Epilepsy. who argues with Stol’s interpretations of the Akkadian terms for epilepsy. Bamberger / Journal for the Study of Judaism 44 (2013) 282-287 Lev.11 Stol translates: If his right side is let down: stroke (inflicted by) a lurker. 2000). warning of the presence of the privy demon.7 Šulak is the Akkadian privy demon and he is mentioned in the Diagnostic Handbook. 61a). 55. he has been hit at the rear. J. However. If the right side of his body is in its entirety let down: stroke (inflicted by) a lurker. lurker of the privy. a medical handbook used in Babylonia in ancient times. When the priest inquires why he didn’t receive instructions from the doctor. while the explicit association of epilepsy with demons cannot be found in Tannaitic literature. As noted by M. 76. but was in use also later. M. 131-36.C. Leiden: Brill. Wiggerman. he will recover. . 167. and not necessarily by their beliefs. For example. the Israelite’s usual manner is to walk amongst graves. I. 55-98. Labat.10 In it. 9) Stol. epileptics are included in the list of priests who are not permitted to work in the Temple. spasms and strokes. Avalos. the doctor replies that unlike the priest. Bek. See also H. 2000). The Amoraic portrayal of epilepsy difffers from the occurrence of nikpim in Tannaitic literature. Geller. If his left side 7) Stol. The implication is that spirits of the dead are connected to epilepsy attacks. 297. in m.” in Disease in Babylonia (ed. Stol and F. “Epilepsy in Mesopotamia Reconsidered. the source above from tractate Giṭṭin.284 A.

Fol. 108. it appears that the two demons may actually be one and the same.A. the spell against the demon is: “On the heads of lions and on the nostrils of (lion) cubs you found the demon ‘Bar-Širiqa 12) Stol. Šabb.12 From this source. See G. 76. In the bed of leeks I hit him. Levene. Bohak shows an interesting parallel between the spell formula here and in a certain incantation bowl (M101) and suggests that the spell in the Talmud and the spell on the bowl are variations of the same. “The Demon of the Roof. The manuscripts checked here include Vatican Biblioteca Apostolica ebr. Oxford— Bodleian Library MS Opp. . Lurker of the bathroom. 23(366).” see T. 2002). though one should note diffferent orthographies of panda/panra and also diffferences between “Širiqa” with full and defective spelling. also varies between manuscripts but seemingly with no diffference in meaning. tractate Giṭṭin. M. A Corpus of Magical Bowls: Incantation Texts in Jewish Aramaic from Late Antiquity (London: Kegan Paul. München Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Cod. 14) This source has been discussed by Bohak in regard to Aramaic incantation bowls published by D. which is similar to what we have seen in the Babylonian Talmud.” in Disease. 40-41. the Akkadian demon mentioned in the Diagnostic Handbook.” Peʾamim Studies in Oriental Jewry 105-106 (2006): 258 [Hebrew]. 15) For ‫ אוסיא‬as nostrils. according to the version of the Vilna printed edition. Hand of Šulak.” ‫אוסי‬. The word translated “nostrils. see M. Sokolofff. and Genizah fragment Cambridge—Westminster College G. Add. we see clearly the connection between the Akkadian privy demon Šulak and a seizure/stroke.13 While Stol points to the similarity between the Akkadian and Jewish renditions of the privy demon. which discusses spells to be used against demons or illnesses:14 To the Privy Demon one should say: On the heads of lions and on the nostrils15 of cubs you found the demon Bar-Širiqa Panda. Present and Future: on A Corpus of Magic Bowls: Incantation Bowls in Jewish Aramaic from Late Antiquity by Dan Levene. 2. Bamberger / Journal for the Study of Judaism 44 (2013) 282-287 285 is let down in its entirety: he has been hit at the front. Kwasman. 95 (95). 13) For another demon that causes epilepsy. 67a. the manuscript readings are very much alike. First. 160-86. 16) This is a translation of the Aramaic text. A conjurer shall not make a prognosis for his recovery. can be derived from the following two considerations.16 That the Privy Demon in this passage is in fact Šulak. the “roof-demon. This is indicated by b. A Dictionary of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic (RamatGan: Bar-Ilan University Press.F. Bohak. Epilepsy. and with an ass’s jawbone I struck him. hebr. “Babylonian Incantation Bowls – Past. 2003). Talmudica II. 92.

For example. and scholars do in fact identify the demon Šulak with a demon in the form of a lion. Rosenthal discussed the interpretation of Ben Qavutal/Qavutar by the Babylonian Rav as Kabōtar. 1992). Frank. Livingstone. Spirits. “panda”/”panra.E. and the phonological exchanges between /l/ and /r/ and between /k/ and /q/. A. The main diffferences for the exchange are the graphically similar letters yod and vav. M. According to Wiggerman. Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts (Groningen: Styx.” and may just be an Aramaic adaptation. A. it may be that the demon Bar Širiqa was known . 32:6 20) See Wiggerman. One may fijind similar exchanges in other loanwords in Aramaic. E. 98. Pazuzu und andere Dämonen. 48-50 [Hebrew]. a pigeon. These phonological exchanges seem to be due to the adaptation of the Akkadian name to Aramaic. see C. Shaked. S. 887. 23) The interchange between the liquid consonants lamed and resh is very common in Semitic languages. S.” MAOG 14 (1941): 26.” in which Šulak is described as “a lion. according to the translation by A. Semitic Languages: Outline of a Comparative Grammar (Leuven: Peeters. E. Lipiński. Alternatively. the Talmudic name “Bar Širiqa” has a resemblance to the Assyrian name.22 whereas in the Aramaic incantation bowls we fijind both asqupa and askupa. And also C. One of the few seals found containing an image of an urmaḫlullû is shown to be attacking a lion. Bamberger / Journal for the Study of Judaism 44 (2013) 282-287 Panda.23 17) The word following the name.286 A.”19 Further evidence that Šulak has the form of a lion is suggested by F. Wiggermann. “Šulak. see Sokolofff. Uri Gabbay for bringing this to my attention. Court Poetry and Literary Miscellanea (SAA 3. M. 18) See F.’”17 That is to say. 21) E. 122. Ein Beitrag zur babylonisch-assyrischen Dämonologie. 135. 1997). standing constantly on his hind legs. no. Dictionary. M. 19) “The Underworld Vision of an Assyrian Prince” (Museum no. Wiggerman suggests that the lion may in fact be the privy demon Šulak. “Talmudica Iranica.21 Another example is the adaptation of the Akkadian word askuppatu to asqupa in the Talmud.C. 72. 22) I would like to thank Dr. Dictionary. describing demons from the “Under World. “Lamaštu. Helsinki: Helsinki University Press. Rosenthal.” can be translated as “a blow. 1989). S.” see Sokolofff. Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute. the fijindings of apotropaic fijigures of the lion-man urmaḫlullû that were sometimes placed outside of lavatories may have been aimed at attacking the lion-demon Šulak. 1982).20 Furthermore. Wiggermann. 181.” in Irano-Judaica: Studies Relating to Jewish Contacts with Persian Culture throughout the Ages (ed. the spell in the Babylonian Talmud is against a demon in the form of a lion. 33.18 This identifijication is due to a large Assyrian tablet from around the seventh century B. VAT 10057). 98.

2006). 25) See M. just as their colleagues in Palestine were influenced by Hellenistic beliefs and practices. M. the same Akkadian handbook in which we fijind Šulak. I suggest that the sages of the Talmud knew of the demon Šulak.. Geller. S. or sudden falls. Burnett and W. the Diagnostic Handbook. Bamberger / Journal for the Study of Judaism 44 (2013) 282-287 287 To conclude. F. while the kaf has a plosive and fricative sound (personal communication). and a medical vademecum. strokes. one that may be added to a number of examples given by M. Giṭ. and (4) their names (“Šulak” and “Bar Širiqa”) are very similar. loanwords from other languages did not.” Encyclopedia Iranica (New York: Mazda.” in Magic and the Classical Tradition (ed. Kottek et al. Shaked. C. in which case this exchange is not surprising as Pahlavi doesn’t distinguish between the lamed and the resh sounds. If correct. .24 This also supports Geller’s conclusion that the rabbis in Babylonia were influenced by their surrounding societies in beliefs in magic and healing. there are four considerations that point to identifying the privy demon of the Talmud with the Babylonian demon Šulak: (1) they both dwell in the privy. Geller’s parallel to the Diagnostic Handbook (b. J. 2000). Geller. “Deconstructing Talmudic Magic.” in From Athens to Jerusalem (ed. Ryan. Whether this is just a coincidence or whether it shows something of the knowledge of the editors of tractate Giṭṭin is a matter for further study. 1987). Shaul Shaked attributes the qof/kaf exchange to the loss of emphatic consonants in Babylonian Jewish Aramaic. Rotterdam: Erasmus. According to Shaked the reason for the preference of the letter qof is because its accent is unequivocal. see S. 2:259. 1-18. 68b-70a. As a result. “Iranian Loanwords in Middle Aramaic. this suggestion is yet another example of the presence of beliefs and opinions from the Ancient Near East in use in the Sassanian time in Babylonia that found an echo in the Babylonian Talmud. mentioned him in the Talmud and gave instructions on how to defend oneself from him. Giṭ. “An Akkadian Vademecum in the Babylonian Talmud. see M. (2) they both are demons that cause epilepsy.A. Giṭ. (3) they both seem to have the form of a lion. 13-32. 70a). 68b-70a) is extremely close to the location of the parallel about the privy demon Šulak (b. 24) One of the most signifijicant of Geller’s examples is the parallel between b.25 to the rabbis through Persian culture. London: The Warburg Institute. Geller. While Aramaic words kept the original orthography.