A piece of Egyptian parchment that is around 1,300 years old has been deciphered by a linguistics expert. The translation reveals instructions for an ancient love spell which makes references to aspects of the bible.

The piece of papyrus, which has been given the romantic name ‘P. Macq. Inv 588’, depicts two rather crudely-drawn creatures that may be birds, surrounded by one single long arm with hands attached to either end.

Christian Egyptians may be responsible for the love spells text

Also on the parchment are aspects of text, written in the Coptic, which is a language that has origins that can be traced back to Ancient Egypt. It’s a method of communication that uses the Greek alphabet and was used by the Copts, a group of Egyptian Christians.

A team led by Korshi Dosoo at the University of Strasbourg has spent the past few months working hard on the parchment, and have come to the conclusion that the written text is a love spell designed to bring two people together and protect them.

Dosoo suggests that the two figures, which look slightly different to each other, represent a man and a woman. Because they are facing each other, this may suggest the spell is designed to bind them together. The ‘arm’ that surrounds them may be chains, again suggesting it is a spell designed to join two people, possibly even sexually.

Fragment may once have been part of a larger volume of love spells

The text makes mention of Achitophel – a betraying counsellor of King David – and a perfume made from deer musk. Dosoo says the mention of Achitophel suggests the spell aims to rid any couple of potential bad influences.

It’s likely that this piece of papyrus once formed part of a larger volume, potentially a whole book of love spells. The drawings would have been made with the aim of impressing any potential client.


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