G Was Jesus a Magician

The question has been hotlv debated since Morton Smith proposed a straightforward Yes But the debate remains confused and not reallv capable of delivering a satisfactorv answer. A kev problem is the definition of 'magic' and the range of practices covered bv the term;342 in particular, is the attempt to manipulate and coerce spiritual powers a defining feature of magic? A correlated problem is that the overlap of religion, ritual, and magic343 means that anv attempt to interact with the spiritual realm unavoidablv leaves itself vulnerable to a charge of magic or sorcerv. 'Magic' is a social classification, and where the term is regarded as negative, as is usuallv the case,344 its use indicates the polemical attitude of the opponent more than a factual description.345

Two points can be made with reasonable claritv. First, if magic is defined in terms of rituals and practices used to coerce the gods and spirit powers, then we can certainty sav that it was 'omnipresent in classical antiquitv'.346 This would be true of Palestinian as well as diaspora Judaism.347 Second, as alreadv

341. M. Smith, Jesus the Magician (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1978); similarty Crossan, Historical Jesus 305 (but with qualifications); good bibliographies in Meier, Marginal Jew2.553-56; andKlauck, Religious Context209-31.

342. Meier proposes a sliding scale, a spectrum or continuum of characteristics, running from the 'ideal tvpe' of miracle at one end to the 'ideal tvpe' of magic at the other {Marginal Jew 2.537-52). His discussion includes a useful review of other studies (560-61 n. 26).

343. Cf, e.g., the Introduction to M. Me^er and R. Smith, Ancient Christian Magic: Coptic Texts ofRitual Power (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994) 1-6; 'Books written bv sociologists tend to have "religion" in their titles, while books written bv anthropologists are often about "magic"' (3). Similar to Meier, Klauck proposes magic and religion as 'antithetical poles within a continuum, two end points joined bv a common line'; in simplified slogan terms, 'coercion is typical of magic, and petition typical of religion' (Religious Context 217-18).

344. E.g., Theissen, Miracle Stories 233, 238-43; Aune, 'Magic in Earty Christianity' 1518-19; H. D. Betz, 'Magic in Greco-Roman Antiquitv', ER 9 (1995) 93; Crossan, Historical Jesus 304-10 ('magic as religious banditry'); other bibliography1 in Meier, Marginal Jew 2.55859 n. 19.

345. The point is illustrated bv the accusation levelled against Jesus that he used sorcerv to expel demons (Mark 3.22 pars.). Despite recognizing that the accusations are 'polemical name-calling, not neutral character description', Crossan nevertheless unjustifiablv draws from the accusation the suggestion 'that perhaps Jesus healed in ecstatic trance' (Birth 341).

346. F. Graf, Magic in the Ancient World (Cambridge: Harvard University, 1997) 1.

347. See P. S. Alexander, 'Incantations and Books of in Schurer, History 3.342-

noted. one of the most consistent attacks directed against Jesus by the early opponents of Christianity was the charge of sorcery.348 What were the grounds for such a charge? Four features of Jesus' technique call for comment.

(1) At the time of Jesus it was evidently typical for healers and exorcists to use material aids, particularly in exorcisms. In Tobit's exorcism. success is achieved through burning a fish's liver and heart (Tob. 8.3). In Josephus's report. the smell of a root drew out the demon through the demoniac's nostrils {Ant. 8.45-49). According to Justin. fumigations and magic knots were used 85.3). In the Testament of Solomon, Solomon seals the demons with a ring given him by the Lord Sabaoth through the archangel Michael.349 A further motif sometimes to be found is the demon manifesting its departure by knocking over something en This latter raises the intriguing possibility that the stampede of the pigs in Mark 5.13 pars, originally had the same function of demonstrating that the 'legion' of unclean spirits/demons had truly departed from the man. That episode apart. the accounts of Jesus' exorcisms are remarkably free of reference to material aids. Jesus apparently made no use of any such aid in his exorcisms. Did Jesus deliberately eschew what appears to have been regular features of typical exorcistic practice?

(2) In the reports of his healings. however. we read of Jesus regularly taking by the hand. or stretching out his hand and touching the leper (Mark 1.41 pars.). In Mark's account 'laying on of hands is regarded as Jesus' normal mode of ministering to the sick. Was this distinctive? It is frequently noted that the

79; C. E. Arnold, Ephesians: Power and Magic: The Concept of Power in Ephesians in Light of Its Historical Setting (SNTSMS 63; Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1989) 29-34; and the data indicated above (§15.7a); for OT references see the summary in Betz, 'Magic' 96.

348. See again Stanton, 'Jesus of Nazareth: Magician and False Prophet?' (above, n. 95). For an earlier review see Smith, Jesus the Magician ch. 4. Smith cites the accusation against Jesus of being a 'doer of evil' (John 18.30), which he takes on the basis of later Roman legislation to be the equivalent of 'magician' (41, 174). He even sketches the life of 'Jesus the magician' as it was pictured by those who did not become his disciples (67) — rather like trying to reconstruct the picture of a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle out of the 20 pieces still preserved.

349. T. Sol. 1.6; 2.5; 5.11; 7.3, 8, etc.; interesting variations in 18.15-16,28, 32-35, 38, etc.

350. Josephus, Ant. 8.48 (a bowl of water spilled); Philostratus, Life 4.20 (a statue knocked over). See also Theissen, Miracle Stories 66-67.

Alternatively, the thought may be of the demon being sent into some other object which could then be disposed of (Twelftree, Jesus the Exorcist 75).

352. Mark 1,31/Matt. 8.15 (touched her hand'); Mark 5.41 pars. It is to be noted, however, that Jesus is never recorded as touching demoniacs (Aune, 'Magic in Early Christianity' 1529); the only near exception is Mark 9.27, when the exorcism has already succeeded.

353. Mark 5.23 (hands)/Matt. 9.18 (hand); Mark 6.2 ('through his hands'); 6.5; 7.32; 8.23; Luke 4.40; 13.13. Perhaps also in blessing (Matt. 19.13, but Mark 10.13/Luke 18.15 read practice is unknown in biblical and post-biblical Judaism, though now attested in lQapGen 20.28-29, where the exorcism is achieved by prayer and the laying on of hands.354 Perhaps, then, a spontaneous gesture of Jesus (of sympathy and personal rapport?), when confronted with sickness, is recalled here. More to the point, his success in healing is attributed to it (n. 353). We may deduce further that the remembrance of this characteristic gesture influenced earliest Christian

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