Monday, September 03, 2012

The Possession & a Jewish Magic Box

I just returned from seeing The Possession. I had to - I am a professor of religious studies specializing in the history of Jewish mysticism. People are going to ask me my opinion. I hope I can deduct the ticket price as a legitimate business expense.
So the movie - "based on a true story" - is simply ridiculous. I don't like horror movies, but decided I had to go. Within 15 minutes, I was fine - because I was laughing so hard from the sheer lunacy of the script and the technically incorrect details of the Jewish content that by the time Matisyahu showed up as a Jewish exorcist I was certain the movie was some kind of comedic parody.
And now I just read that The Possession is the number one box office winner of this Labor Day Weekend, with the 2nd biggest Labor Day opening in movie history, 2nd only to Halloween. If this is what American filmgoers want to go see, I am now certain we as a nation are simply stupid.
The center of the movie is a so-called "dybbuk box." There is no such thing as a dybbuk box. But here is a picture of the prop:
The Hebrew on the box is a mirror image of regular Hebrew. If read R-to-L the words mean nothing, and constitute gibberish. If read L-to-R, one character at a time, you do get translatable Hebrew: "See you the evil of the punishment" or better yet "You will see the evil of the punishment." On the ends of the box is the single word which again is mirror image of normal Hebrew, an incorrect Hebrew spelling of the word "Dybbuk" (if one were to spell "dibbuk" there would not be 2 letter vav's). All in all, a very unsatisfying and implausible and technically incorrect artifact. This mistaken mirror image Hebrew has become a regular feature of Hollywood Hebrew props - for example there was a tombstone in "Weeds" this season whose engraved Hebrew lettering was in mirror image gobbledygook. Why movie makers won't go to the trouble of doing things correct is beyond me.
The movie had a Jewish technical adviser - a Conservative congregational rabbi somewhere in Canada (where the movie was shot). Oy vey! I know what happens in situations like this -- the director wants it one way -- you argue for authenticity, and the result is what the director wants. A shonde fur de goyyim.


  1. Correction: The word harasha means the wicked, not the evil. In your parlance, "See you the wicked of the punishment"
    The sentence makes the most sense (and has the most pertinent meaning) if the order of the words are rearranged a bit: "You [shall] observe the punishment of the wicked".
    I personally thought the backwards hebrew was on purpose, to play around with the idea of a "Kabbalistic" secret code. Either way, fun movie, no need to take so seriously.

  2. Indeed, there are some examples in Jewish magic of reverse alphabet writing, but it isn't all that prevalent, and the incorrect spelling of the word dybbuk on the sides of the prop are still way stooopid.
    I remember a far more interesting episode of The X Files about a golem. Oh well...

  3. indeed the events are based on a supposedly true story. there is a dybbuk box that purchased from a holocaust survivor from Spain. as to its authenticity i cannot say but the story can be easily researched. the box in the movie looks nothing like the real dybbuk box though. and its contents are not accurately portrayed either.

  4. The phrase is from the Bible, Psalms 91:8. Easy to find in the internet, even directly in hebrew.

    1. Sorry, friend, but the verse you quote isn't correct, not even close.