Tefillin as Magic Charms?
Although Rambam's concepts and meanings strike biblical cords, many common people, as well as Rabbis, appended other ideas to the wearing of tefillin. Edersheim and The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia speak of tefillin being regarded as 'magic charms' to ward off evil:
The 'Greek term 'phylacteries' for these 'tephillin,' is apt. 'It is now almost generally admitted, that the real meaning of phylacteries is equivalent to amulets or charms. And as such the Rabbinists really regarded and treated them, however much they might otherwise have disclaimed all connection with heathen views.' 'Many instances of the magical ideas attaching to these 'amulets' might be quoted; but the following will suffice.' We 'have it expressly stated in an ancient Jewish Targum 37 (that on Cant. 8:3), that the 'tephillin' prevented all hostile demons from doing injury to any Israelite.'38
'The word 'phylacteries' occurs in the Bible only in Mt. 23:5. The Greek word means 'safeguard,' 'means of protection,' 'amulet,' and as used in Mt. 23:5 is generally identified as the tefillin (lit. 'prayers'), small boxes containing Scripture verse'. 'Rabbinic literature indicates that the tefillin were equivalent to amulets or charms for some wearers, yet for many others they were a memorial of God's commandments'.39
As with most any religious object, tefillin took on superstitious qualities of its own. Yet here we see in an official Jewish work (the Targum on Cant. 8:3), that Judaism endorsed such superstition. And it's possible that tefillin began as a form of magic. There are some Jewish scholars that believe that tefillin actually 'originated as amulets.'40
The concepts behind tefillin that Rambam gave are divine. The prayers offered tell us that the wearing of them are a Commandment from God. The Septuagint told us that tefillin can't be as ancient as the Letter of Aristeas would have us to believe. And we've seen that it's creators, the Pharisees, wore them all day long, at least one tefillah, with many thinking of it as a magical charm to ward off evil. Was the Septuagint wrong for speaking of the passages in a metaphorical sense? More on this in a moment.
The reason for the institution of tefillin came from a literal rendering by the Pharisees of the four places in Scripture which speak of placing 'something' 'upon the hand and between the eyes'. Because of its importance, we've written out the Exodus passage as well as the two from Deuteronomy. This way one has 'a feel' for what Yahveh is saying to Israel and to us: