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The magic of medicine
  1. John Launer
  1. Dr John Launer, London Department of Postgraduate Medical Education, Stewart House, 32 Russell Square, London WC1B 5DN, UK; jlauner{at}londondeanery.ac.uk

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There are many wonderful museums in Jerusalem, but one of my favourites is the Bible Lands Museum. Its collection includes historical artefacts from all around the “fertile crescent”—the great swathe of land from Persia to Egypt that was the source of many ancient civilisations, and gave birth to some of the world’s great religions. Currently there are two special exhibitions there. One is centred on ancient musical instruments and is a multi-media event, helping to bring back to life the tunes and harmonies from thousands of years ago. The other is an exhibition showing the different faces of monotheism. It includes some fascinating examples of how the three principal local religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have influenced each other and shared many of their core symbols and modes of representation.

There are dozens of objects in both these exhibitions that deserve attention, but if you visit there and you are a doctor I suggest that you should head for the second and look at the display cabinet containing incantation bowls from the sixth and seventh centuries. Incantation bowls are small pottery bowls with painted writing on them, designed as charms to ward off diseases and other misfortunes. They were usually buried under the floors of houses to protect the owner and his or her household from harm attributable …

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