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Magic and Manuscripts

In my post yesterday I mentioned something about the importance of our surviving manuscripts for understanding practices of magic in the early Christian tradition.  Several people have asked me about it, so I thought I would follow it up. There’s been a lot written about magic over the years.  When talking about antiquity, “magic” is not what we think of today: we think of illusion artists who do tricks in order to make think something has happened which in fact has not.  In antiquity, magic was understood to be a real thing, not a clever illusion.  It involved the manipulation of the physical world through suprahuman means.  The big question was then (and still is for scholars studying the phenomenon) how to differentiate between magic and miracle.  The (very) short answer is that miracles were performed by those who were thought (by the observer) to be on the side of the good (or God or the gods) and magic was performed by those who were (thought by the observer to be) on the side of [...]

Manuscripts and Christian Magic

My last post on the discovery of an amulet with passages from the Bible on it brought to mind part of an essay I wrote and recently edited for the second edition of the book that I edited (with Michael Holmes), The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis.  The book contains essays on every major aspect of NT textual criticism by different authors, all of them internationally known experts in the field, with articles on papyri manuscripts, majuscule manuscripts, minuscule manuscripts, lectionaries, Greek Patristic citations, Latin Patristic citations, early versions such as Syriac, Coptic, Latin, methods for studying the manuscripts, and … lots of other things.  My essay is called “The Text as Window.”  It is about how the manuscript tradition of the NT can tell us about the social history of early Christianity – including the use of magic.   Here is the short section devoted to that question of magic (endnotes are at the bottom): *********************************************************** The incursion of the social sciences into the study of early [...]

Jesus the Magician

Some of you will be familiar with the work of Morton Smith, especially on the “Secret Gospel of Mark.” I may have posted a few bits on it at some point. Smith was a brilliant scholar, always the smartest guy in the room. And he knew it. He had a rapier wit and was not afraid to use it. He regularly bloodied people – even internationally famous scholars – who disagreed with him. I met him only a couple of times, when I was a lowly graduate student and he was a mighty professor at Columbia. He really was the real deal. Unbelievably learned and uncanilly knowledgeable about all things antiquity. One of his “popular” books was Jesus the Magician. A great book, even if you disagree with it. A new edition is coming out (it was published in 1978 – 35 years ago now!). And the publisher has asked me to write a brief Introduction to it. I was honored and flattered. Here is a draft of what I have in mind for it: [...]

2020-04-25T18:33:03-04:00December 5th, 2013|Historical Jesus|
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