Magical Practices and Discourses of Magic in Early Christian Traditions: Jesus, Peter, and Paul Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Patel, Shaily
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Religious Studies
  • This project represents a methodological intervention in the study of magic in early Christianity. Modern scholars have overwhelmingly adopted post-Enlightenment, exclusively discursive understandings of magic with which to approach ancient evidence. That is to say, contemporary historians believe that the ancient Christians crafted magic in the charge against theological opponents. As a result, magic was a category empty of all content until it was levied against others. In contrast, the following study attempts to show that while magic was a discursive category in the ancient Graeco-Roman world, certain practices attendant to this discourse demonstrated relative stability. Some activities were more likely to convey the charge of magic than others. Practices like reanimation-necromancy and love spells tended to be associated with magic more often than practices like healing or exorcism. These areas of dynamism and fixity have wide-ranging implications for the study of early Christian magic. Rather than understanding early Christians as either participating in magic or not, the following project shows how Christians crafted their distinctive magical tradition along two indices: the narration of magical practices and the subsequent interpretation of these practices. Since Christians overwhelmingly adopted magical practices that engendered discursive flexibility (rather than those practices that remained fixed as magic in the Graeco-Roman imagination), they were able to characterize their own practices as “non-magic” and put the resultant discourses to a number of theological ends: announcing the coming Kingdom of God, affecting rapprochement between Petrine and Pauline factions of Christianity, and “othering” those practices and ideologies antithetical to nascent orthodoxy. By placing an equal emphasis on magical practices as well as meta-discourses of magic, this study returns conceptual variability to ancient magic, demonstrating that it was a thoroughly polyvalent theological expedient that Christians adopted for myriad ends apart from delineating insiders from outsiders.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Boon, Jessica
  • Ehrman, Bart D.
  • Styers, Randall
  • Plese, Zlatko
  • Rives, James
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2017

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