Building a book of spells: The so -called “Testament of Solomon” reconsidered

Sarah L Schwarz, University of Pennsylvania


The TSol as translated in modern editions comes from a body of Greek sources which integrate the tale of Solomon's construction of the Jerusalem Temple aided by demons with an encyclopedic collection of recipes for use in dealing with the demons in question. While the title “Testament of Solomon” suggests a relatively fixed text, the situation is in fact far more complex. This dissertation explores the question of what the TSol actually is, including an assessment of the shape in which it has come down to us. This exploration has led to the conclusion that the text (or texts) in fullest form, as represented in late medieval manuscripts, is actually quite a late development in this tradition's history. My contention is that most of the elements which eventually come together under the title TSol (and the like) circulated independently during the late antique period. The preponderance of evidence suggests that the production of a spellbook collection which contained folktale-like elements, including a narrative frame around the spells situating them in a testament written by Solomon, cannot be demonstrated to have existed any earlier than the Byzantine period. I approach the claim that the TSol is a composite text through both literary and anthropological analyses, arguing that because of the wide variety and apparent disjunctures in the late manuscripts, it is unlikely that the tradition began with one author at one moment in time. Through a case study of astrological terminology used in the TSol, I argue that misreadings have resulted from inattention to the problems of the TSol's textual development. This project suggests future avenues for the study of the TSol, which include closer attention to the social function of compiling, as well as to the Byzantine context and parallels for material like the TSol. This exploration also provides an example of how a better understanding of the textual transmission of such works might enrich our perspective on parabiblical traditions and their audiences (“pagans,” Jews, and Christians) in the late antique period.

Subject Area

Religious history|Ancient civilizations

Recommended Citation

Schwarz, Sarah L, "Building a book of spells: The so -called “Testament of Solomon” reconsidered" (2005). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3179809.