Guide to the Study of Ancient Magic


In the midst of academic debates about the utility of the term “magic” and the cultural meaning of ancient words like mageia or khesheph, this Guide to the Study of Ancient Magic seeks to advance the discussion by separating out three topics essential to the very idea of magic. The three major sections of this volume address (1) indigenous terminologies for ambiguous or illicit ritual in antiquity; (2) the ancient texts, manuals, and artifacts commonly designated “magical” or used to represent ancient magic; and (3) a series of contexts, from the written word to materiality itself, to which the term “magic” might usefully pertain.

The individual essays in this volume cover most of Mediterranean and Near Eastern antiquity, with essays by both established and emergent scholars of ancient religions.

In a burgeoning field of “magic studies” trying both to preserve and to justify critically the category itself, this volume brings new clarity and provocative insights. This will be an indispensable resource to all interested in magic in the Bible and the Ancient Near East, ancient Greece and Rome, Early Christianity and Judaism, Egypt through the Christian period, and also comparative and critical theory.

Contributors are: Magali Bailliot, Gideon Bohak, Véronique Dasen, Albert de Jong, Jacco Dieleman, Esther Eidinow, David Frankfurter, Fritz Graf, Yuval Harari, Naomi Janowitz, Sarah Iles Johnston, Roy D. Kotansky, Arpad M. Nagy, Daniel Schwemer, Joseph E. Sanzo, Jacques van der Vliet, Andrew Wilburn.

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David Frankfurter, Ph.D. (1990) Princeton University, is Professor of Religion at Boston University. A scholar of ancient religions, Frankfurter is the author of Religion in Roman Egypt (Princeton, 1998); and Christianizing Egypt (Princeton, 2017), as well as many articles on magic and popular devotion.
"This volume deserves a wide readership, and, far more than most edited collections, it repays being read from start to finish (...) the volume as a whole develops an argument of considerable sophistication, guided by a strong framework and editorial vision." - Michael D. Bailey, Iowa State University, Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft 15:1, 2020.
"I enjoin you to get access to the Guide to the Study of Ancient Magic. […] a guide to magic and more—to material culture, to ritual, to the negative space that produces a definition of religion. The book is an evident labor of love from the editor; it is a tour de force, a treasury and treasure." - Laura Nasrallah, Yale Divinity School, Review of Biblical Literature, 22 May 2020
"Guide to the Study of Ancient Magic analyzes magic expansively, including a wide range of traditions and methodologies (...) Guide to the Study of Ancient Magic is an excellent volume for a detailed overview of studies of magic in the ancient world." - William Brown, in: The Biblical Review, July 2019
"The Guide to the Study of Ancient Magic works well as a reference volume, and this is particularly evident in its three-part structure (...)" [it] is yet a critical resource for its efforts at suggesting what magic could be, yes, but more importantly, for highlighting what ancient magic certainly was not." - Shaily Shashikant Patel, Virginia Tech, in: Journal of the American Academy of Religion 87.4, 2019
"Few collections can boast such a number of authorities as the copious Guide to the Study of Ancient Magic (...) Provided that one accepts a wider definition of magic, there is a great deal to learn from this book, which will be particularly useful to expert readers who are already familiar with the topic." - Leonardo Constantini, Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, in: The Classical Review 1-3, 2019
"The book will perfectly serve as a general introduction to the field and can be recommended due to the fast scope of covered material." - Pavel Horák, Czech Academy of Sciences, in: Religious Studies Review 45, 4. December 2019
"Die Kombination von historischer, philologischer und archäologischer Perspektive erlaubt verschiedene Zugänge zur antiken Magie, während der vierte Teil des Guides konzeptuelle Fragen aufwirft und zu weiteren Studien anregen wird." - Daniel Vaucher, Universität Bern, in: Vigiliae Christianae 74.1, 2020
"Guide to the Study of Ancient Magic analyseert magie uitgebreid, inclusief een breed scala aan tradities en methoden (...) een zeer goed en leesbaar boek over magie in de Oudheid." - Mark Beumer, in: Kleio-Hiostoria 11, 2020
"This volume contains numerous valuable insights, and the editor, David Frankfurter, deserves much credit for gathering so many informative essays on this provocative topic." - Markham J. Geller, University College London, in: Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2020.03.37
"Der umfangreiche band kann als ein sehr hilfreiches Arbeitsinstrument für das Studium auf dem weiten und umstrittenen Feld der Magie dienen. Vor allem die beiden stärker empirisch ausgerichteten Teile 2 und 3, wo wesentliche Bereiche des einschlägigen Materials abgedeckt und eine Fülle von wichtigen Informationen und instruktiven Erkenntnissen zusammengetragen sind, können einen geeigneten Ausgangspunkt für das zukünftige Forschungsgespräch bieten. Aber auch im letzten Teil finden sich wertvolle Beobachtungen. (...) Und Register erhöhen die Brauchbarkeit dieses umfassenden Werkes." - Dietmar Wyrwa, in: Theologische Literaturzeitung 146 (2021) 4
"(...) those engaged in Jewish Studies will find points of interest throughout this volume. (...) Overall, therefore, the volume is well conceived and should prove to be very useful, both for research and especially for teaching at advanced undergraduate and postgraduate levels." - Siam Bhayro, University of Exeter, in: Journal of Jewish Studies 71.1 (2020).
List of Illustrations
Notes on Contributors

Part 1: Introduction

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

2 The Plan of This Volume
David Frankfurter

Part 2: Cultural Constructions of Ambiguous, Unsanctioned, or Illegitimate Ritual

3 Introduction
David Frankfurter

4 Mesopotamia
Daniel Schwemer

5 Iran
Albert de Jong

6 Egypt
Jacco Dieleman

7 Greece
Fritz Graf

8 Ancient Israel and Early Judaism: Wonders, Power, and Social Order
Yuval Harari

9 Rome and the Roman Empire
Magali Bailliot

10 Early Christianity
Joseph E. Sanzo

11 Roman and Byzantine Egypt
Jacques van der Vliet

Part 3: The Materials of Ancient Magic

12 Introduction
David Frankfurter

13 The Greco-Egyptian Magical Papyri
Jacco Dieleman

14 Christian Spells and Manuals from Egypt
Jacques van der Vliet

15 Binding Spells on Tablets and Papyri
Esther Eidinow

16 Jewish Amulets, Magic Bowls, and Manuals in Aramaic and Hebrew
Gideon Bohak

17 Gems
Véronique Dasen and Árpád M. Nagy

18 Figurines, Images, and Representations Used in Ritual Practices
Andrew Wilburn

19 Textual Amulets and Writing Traditions in the Ancient World
Roy D. Kotansky

20 Building Ritual Agency: Foundations, Floors, Doors, and Walls
Andrew Wilburn

Part 4: Dimensions of a Category Magic

21 Introduction
David Frankfurter

22 Spell and Speech Act: The Magic of the Spoken Word
David Frankfurter

23 The Magic of Writing in Mediterranean Antiquity
David Frankfurter

24 Magic and the Forces of Materiality
David Frankfurter

25 The Magical Elements of Mysticism: Ritual Strategies for Encountering Divinity
Naomi Janowitz

26 Magic and Theurgy
Sarah Iles Johnston

27 Magic as the Local Application of Authoritative Tradition
David Frankfurter

28 Magic and Social Tension
Esther Eidinow

All interested in magic in the Bible and the Ancient Near East, in ancient Greece and Rome, in Early Christianity and Judaism, in Egypt through the Christian period, and in comparative and critical theory.
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