Chapter 1 Ancient Magic in a New Key: Refining an Exotic Discipline in the History of Religions

In: Guide to the Study of Ancient Magic
David Frankfurter
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This introductory essay attributes the preoccupation with defining magic in the study of ancient religions to Morton Smith’s provocative Jesus the Magician (1978). It proceeds to argue that truly “insiders’” (emic) approaches cannot use the word “magic”; that the materials we use to characterize “magic” (like the PGM) must be examined for how they arise and function historically, not as illustrations of our own fantasies; and that uses of mageia, khesheph, and so on tend to fall into broad discursive patterns (reflected in Part 3). Still, there may be ways that “magic” can be used to discuss ancient ritual practices and materials.

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