Hell Really Exists

Hell Really Exists

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certainly a 'middle ground', a 'religious koine' where Jews and Christians (and not only they) meet, both in urban context and in the villages. The clearest example of such a religious 'commonwealth' is probably the role of magical beliefs and practices. The magical papyri from Egypt, both in Greek and in Coptic, show a considerable amount of religious syncretism and interest in showing off Jewish (or 'Hebrew-sounding') theophoric words and names. New discoveries of Aramaic magic bowls coming from late ancient Mesopotamia highlight such common practices of Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, and others, such as Mandeans or Manichaeans.32

The real common ground of Christians and Jews in late antiquity was not so much the Old Testament - that offered the major cause for the permanent clashes between them. It was, rather, the ground they shared with the other communities throughout the Mediterranean and the Near East, a tertium quid that did not reflect any specific religious identity. The innumerable and invisible demons which magic practices were meant to tame did not really belong to either the realm of God or that of Satan. They were, simply, part of the structure of the universe, as objective as the sun, the moon, rain and drought.

Underlying the different theological and ethnic conflicting identities, there existed in the late ancient Mediterranean and Near East a 'religious koine'. On this religious 'commonwealth' Jews and Christians (as well as others) would meet without conflict, as they shared its implicit assumptions. This commonwealth was primarily magical beliefs and practices. It is almost impossible to disentangle religion from magic, at least in the ancient world, yet too often scholars have assumed magic to belong to the sphere of 'popular religion', leaving the higher spheres of theology 'intact'. The role of the Chaldaean oracles and the place of theurgy in later Neo-Platonism would be sufficient to cast serious doubts on such a view. In late antiquity, magic apparently moved up, and became more readily acceptable to the higher classes, including the intellectuals. Certainly both the church fathers and the rabbis strongly condemn magic, which they usually consider as the alien, doubtful and dangerous religiosity of the other. But a closer view shows that their own attitudes also accept the principles of magical thought and practice. Recent scholarship has shown a broad diffusion of magic among both Palestinian and Babylonian Jews, also among the rabbis. Magical power is part of the holy man's charisma, also among the desert monks. From Egypt through Palestine to Babylonia, spells, formulae, bowls and papyri provide a glimpse of a wide

32 SeeJ. Naveh andSh. Shaked, Magic spells andformulae: Aramaic incantations oflate antiquity.

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