“Take a living bat and on the right wing paint with myrrh the following figure, and on the left write the seven names of the god as well as, “Let her, NN whom NN bore, lie awake until she consents.” And so release the bat again. The names to be written on the left wing are these: “I call upon you, great god, Thathabathath Pepennabouthi Peptou Bast Jesus Ouair Amoun …. Let her, NN, lie awake thought the whole night and day, until she dies, immediately, immediately, quickly, quickly.”The reference “NN” is where the name of the woman and the name of her mother should be inserted. The poor woman in question (if this spell comes off as intended) is supposed to be unable to sleep until she gives this jerk was he wants.
(Translation by R. F. Hock, in Betz, Greek Magical Papyri, p.166-167).
Evans suggests that this instruction was meant to coerce a woman to consent to marriage or sex. I’m more inclined to see this in a different way. It might have to do with marriage, but one wonders whether the spell might have been more effective on the parents of the woman, those who would have a greater say in the decision to marry her off. Or maybe this guy is trying to cast a spell on his own wife who is refusing him sex (I can't imagine why; he seems like such a catch!). But it is equally likely that the woman in question is refusing to consent in other matters. For example, the first-century Babatha documents demonstrate that wealthy women held property, custody of children, etc. It could be that the problem is business related.
What is most interesting to me about this text is that it is decidedly not Jewish or Christian and yet the name “Jesus” appears in the list of foreign names. It was not uncommon for “exotic” culture/speech to be seen as powerful in incantation. It was an ancient form of ethnic prejudice that survives in modern times (cf. Big Trouble in Little China, All of Me, or almost any movie with a "magic negro" theme). The more exotic the culture, the more powerful the incantation – or so many people thought. In the case of this incantation, the man who is supposed to repeat the words “Thathabathath Pepennabouthi Peptou Bast Jesus Ouair Amoun” probably had no idea what these words meant. In all likelihood, the virtue of these words is that they were understood as powerful by exotic practitioners of incantation. With this in mind, do we have a list of foreign deities here?
If so, notice that the name Jesus is listed. Of course, the name “Jesus” was popular. But (1) Jesus was known widely as an exorcist and healer, and (2) there aren’t any other gods named Jesus. There is a very good chance that this text gives us an outsider perspective of Jesus in the popular imagination of ancient pagans.
Anthony Le Donne (Ph.D.) is the author of the books The Historiographical Jesus, and Historical Jesus.