Ancient Jewish Magic: A History by Gideon Bohak

By Gideon Bohak

Gideon Bohak supplies a pioneering account of the wide background of historic Jewish magic, from the second one Temple to the rabbinic interval. it's dependent either on historical magicians' personal compositions and items in Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek, and at the descriptions and prescriptions of non-magicians, to reconstruct a old photograph that's as balanced and nuanced as attainable. the focus is at the cultural makeup of historical Jewish magic, and exact consciousness is paid to the methods of cross-cultural contacts and borrowings among Jews and non-Jews, in addition to to inner-Jewish creativity. different significant concerns explored contain where of magic inside of Jewish society, modern Jewish attitudes to magic, and the id of its practitioners. all through, the ebook seeks to provide an explanation for the methodological underpinnings of all sound study during this challenging box, and to spotlight components the place extra study is probably going to end up fruitful.

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50 This is, however, part of a much wider Greek discourse of rationality, one in which the Jews began taking part in a serious and lasting manner only after the second Jewish encounter with Greek philosophy – the one that took place in the Middle Ages and involved reading Greek philosophy through its Arabic translations and Muslim interpretations. From the Geonic period onwards, we find in Jewish writings too the claim that some of the magicians’ claims are just impossible, and that the magicians’ practices achieve none of their purported aims.

66 Thus, we must generally forego the assumption of conscious fraud on their part, and assume that both practitioners and clients took these recipes and practices very seriously and copied and performed them in order to achieve the goals for which they were intended. The question, then, cannot be avoided or evaded – how could they take all this seriously? Why did they think it would work? The question of the rationality of magic has, of course, often been asked before, especially in the anthropological study of “primitive” societies.

36 Ancient Jewish magic Western civilization. In the study of Judaism, the assumption that magic has nothing rational about it had one obvious implication – magic is an intrinsically un-Jewish activity. 46 As we shall see in subsequent chapters of this book, it is often hard to tell who exactly were the practitioners behind the Jewish magical practices in antiquity. 47 Moreover, when we do find evidence outside the actual magical texts as to who practiced such magical rituals, that evidence repeatedly demonstrates the acceptance, and even practice, of magic by members of the Jewish elite, including the religious establishment itself.

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