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Ancient Christian Magic Paperback – March 15, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-0691004587 ISBN-10: 0691004587

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Ancient Christian Magic + Magic, Witchcraft and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds: A Sourcebook + The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation: Including the Demotic Spells: Texts (Volume 1)
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Product Details

  • Series: Mythos
  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (March 15, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691004587
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691004587
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #567,963 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Traditionalists may find heretical the use of "Christian" as a modifier for "magic." But it's an apt combination for this gathering of previously untranslated curses, recipes and spells ritualistically cast by Egyptian Christians. In the Coptic language of the early Gnostics the words for "religion" and "magic" have common roots. While the texts offered here are individually intriguing (especially those about sex and healing), their cumulative effect is, as the editors note, that "they demonstrate that Christianity can take the form of a folk religion . . . making use of ritual power for all sorts of practical purposes." There is, however, something else happening here as well. The materials gathered in this book largely date from the era of the Nag Hammadi Library, which, since its 1945 discovery in Egypt, has revealed aspects of early Christianity in a manner and scope comparable to that with which the Dead Sea Scrolls have illuminated the study of ancient Judaism; as a result, this collection also deepens and broadens our knowledge of how believers in Christ lived before the "Church" evolved. Readers who made a religion bestseller of The Nag Hammadi translation, for which Smith was managing editor, will find this collection to be a valuable adjunct to that benchmark of scholarship on Christian origins.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

The use of magic or ritual in the early practice of the Christian religion reflects its roots in folk practices and beliefs. This volume presents a sampling of English translations of early texts, dating from 100 C.E. to the 12th century, that concern private rituals done for specific purposes (e.g., to attract a woman, to cure a medical problem). Each section begins with an essay about the kinds of texts included in the section. The book is valuable it makes available the English translations of ritual texts from the early era of Christianity that show how practitioners viewed their relationship to power, demons, angels, and God. Recommended for academic collections supporting Christian religious scholarship.
- Gail Wood, SUNY Coll. of Technology Lib., Alfred
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

63 of 63 people found the following review helpful By FrKurt Messick HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 11, 2003
Format: Paperback
With so much interest in things magical (from card games to Harry Potter) and mystical (from Celtic chants to Zen monastic biographies) I have been surprised that this book is not better known, and yet it remains, despite a prestigious university press pedigree (Princeton University Press) and marketing by one of the powerhouses of publishing (HarperCollins, their HarperSanFrancisco division here) a relatively unknown text. Not perhaps coincidentally, many of the texts contained herein were, for most of Christian history, relatively unknown. Indeed, it is virtually unknown that, in many parts of Christendom, magic was not only tolerated, but expected of the priestly class; miracles, after all, often seem magical events, much to the chagrin of rational theologians who try to explain them metaphorically, symbolically, or any way other than as Houdini-esque happenings.
In particular, the Coptic Christians, who were concentrated mostly in Egypt, spreading (as all Christians were wont to do) throughout the Roman and non-Roman world from a centre not too far from Alexandria, one of the major cities of the world of the time. The Coptics never really died out, but always remained a strange Christian aberration from orthodoxy on the fringes of East and West. The texts contained in `Ancient Christian Magic: Coptic Texts of Ritual Power', by Marvin Meyer and Richard Smith, come from these people.
These texts contain the whole slate of magical utterances -- rites, spells, amulets, curses, recipes.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 25, 1999
Format: Paperback
In an environment where `what we do is religion and what they do is magic' attitude, these compilers prefer to speak of `ritual' as a less value-ridden word and since the spells relate to that sphere of life we call `religion' the sub-title may be a more appropriate description. There are 135, dating from the first 1000 years of Christianity, in English, with notes and written originally on papyrus, parchment, rag paper, pottery or bone. There are love spells, healing spells, sexual spells, protective spells, spells to drive out demons, spells for a good singing voice or to silence a dog, and curses. A book for specialists.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Ashtar Command on June 3, 2009
Format: Paperback
"Ancient Christian Magic" is a collection of magical spells, charms and rituals from ancient Egypt.

Or not so ancient, since the translated texts are from the Roman period, or the Early Middle Ages. The real shocker is that the magic is...wait for it...Christian. Or at least nominally Christian. In reality, the magical papyri included in this volume are a syncretistic blend of Christianity, Judaism, Gnosticism and good old fashioned Egyptian paganism. Osiris, Isis, Anubis and the inevitable mummies are featured alongside Abraxas, Yao, Jesus, Gabriel, and what have you.

Some of the spells and incantations are quite humorous. One is a homosexual love spell! We also learn that the magician is supposed to write his spells on a piece of papyrus, visit a rock tomb at midnight, and place the papyrus in the mouth of a corpse. Please stay clear of the jackals! The book also includes an extended version of the apocryphal correspondence between Jesus and king Abgar of Edessa.

Still, the volume feels a bit disappointing. The introductions deal mostly with the issue of whether "religion" and "magic" are really two different things, or why the phrase "ritual power" is better than "magic". Yawn. I'm sure this is very interesting...to assistant professors at some sleepy comparative religion department. Personally, I would have appreciated a longer essay on the syncretism. How are we to interpret this blend of Christian, pagan and "heretical" elements?

But above all we want to know: CAN THE MUMMY REALLY WALK?
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Prayerbead on August 2, 2006
Format: Paperback
I bought this book hoping for more information on Catholic and Christian folk magic and folk ways. This is deffinently more of a "ceremonial" type book calling on various spirits and angels. There also aren't many amulets presentes as the back of the book boasts, nor are there complete prayers, rather fractions of several prayers with many blanks left in between.
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13 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Virgil Brown VINE VOICE on September 21, 2003
Format: Paperback
If all one wants to do is decide if there was such a thing as Christian magic, this book is not for them. Instead such a person ought to read C K Barrett's _New Testament Background_. Barrett includes half a dozen sample texts along with texts which illuminate other aspects of Christian origins.
What the reader gets in this book is Coptic and Greek texts of ritual power, i.e. magic. There are spells of healing and spells of protection from harm. There are also curses. In one text a woman named Mary appeals to three archangels to "bring away" a woman by the name of Martha. Mary's appeal is rather vicious in that she seeks to have Martha suffer an ulcerous tumor or to pour forth worms. It is significant that Mary considers this "punishment" for Martha. She then appeals to "lord Jesus Christ" to dissipate any hope that Martha might have.
Personally I find magical incantations distasteful. They represent the worst in people. What can not be gained by the legitimate rules of a society are attempted to be gained by invoking the power of a supernatural being. Such selffishness would not seem to be in alignment with what Christianity proclaims.
Meyer has collected a number of Coptic texts from the early centuries of Christianity which are texts of ritual power. Since there are thousands of un-recorded Coptic texts in the Berlin Museum alone, one can not say that Meyer has a comprehensive collection. Nevertheless he has collected texts for diverse situations and events. And most helpfully, he has added numerous notes to help the reader toward understanding.
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