Staff – University of Copenhagen

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Cross-Cultural & Regional Studies > Staff

Troels Pank Arbøll

Troels Pank Arbøll

PhD Student

Current research

Magical and Medical Healing: Contextualizing Traditions of Magical and Medical Knowledge in Ancient Near Eastern Libraries

The ancient Mesopotamians (ca. 3000 BC to 70 AD), who inhabited the area of modern-day Iraq and Syria, did not distinguish between what we today label as “magic” and “medicine”, due to their belief that illnesses were caused by supernatural forces, such as gods, demons or witchcraft. Ancient Mesopotamian healing consisted of both a magical as well as a medical treatment, which were often dependent on each other. While the magical treatment healed the cause of the illness, the symptoms could still be treated by means that we would consider medical today (e.g. bandages or potions). Texts that modern scholars label “medical” therefore often contain a mix of diagnoses, incantations, prescriptions and elaborate religious rituals. It is the goal of this dissertation to illuminate the complex relationship between magic and medicine in ancient Mesopotamia - the former modernly relegated to the area of religion and the latter classified as science - by investigating how ancient scholars and healers used, understood, arranged and composed texts related to healing.

The person Kisir-Assur, who lived in the ancient city of Assur in the 7th century BC, was one of the foremost healing experts of his time. Through his educational and (often) practical texts, which were excavated in his family’s library, we can gain unique and unparalleled insight into a single influential individual’s use and understanding of Mesopotamian healing during a selected period of time. By studying this individual’s texts in relation to education, specialization and practice, and by comparing these results to contemporary healing attested at the Neo-Assyrian court and in library texts, this study aims to improve our understanding of the functional aspects of texts in their specialist environment. 

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