Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



The phrase “cutting a covenant” is familiar to us from texts of the Hebrew Bible. In Gen 15:18, for example, God makes a covenant with Abram that is accompanied by a ritual enactment. This ritual performance involves the slaughter of animals, arranging the pieces in two rows, and fire passing between the two rows of pieces. The phrase that is used in this passage is: כרת יהוה את–אברם ברית , or “God cut a covenant with Abram.” This phrase “to cut a covenant” לכרות ברית) ) is a common one in the Hebrew Bible. The slaughtering of animals and the performance of other ritual acts to ratify oaths and treaties was an ancient practice in the Near East. Oath and treaty texts from the second millennium BCE from Mari and the Hittite Empire include elements of ritual performance such as animal slaughter, the burning of figurines, and the breaking of model plows and chariots.1 Aramean and Assyrian treaty texts from the first millennium BCE also include elements of ritual slaughter and other performative rituals.2 Also the ratification of the covenant in Deut 27-28 includes the building of an altar, making sacrifices, erecting the torah stones at the altar site, and an oral performance of the covenant with its blessings and curses. So it is no surprise that covenant and performative rituals go together. But what about covenant and incantation texts? What does covenant have to do with magical artifacts?


Presented in the Society of Biblical Literature: Atlanta, 2015