Magic in the Roman World: Pagans, Jews, and Christians

Magic in the Roman World: Pagans, Jews, and Christians

Magic in the Roman World: Pagans, Jews, and Christians

Magic in the Roman World: Pagans, Jews, and Christians


Using in-depth examples of 'magical' practice such as exorcisms, love rites, alchemy and the transformation of humans into divine beings, this lively volume demonstrates that the word 'magic' was used widely in late antique texts as part of polemics against enemies and sometimes merely as a term for other people's rituals. Naomi Janowitz shows that 'magical' activities were integral to late antique religious practice, and that they must be understood from the perspective of those who employed them.


When I was asked to write a book on magic in the first three centuries I was not sure how to proceed, since, as the reader will discover, this in my view is not a coherent topic. The result before you, a short introduction to a bewildering topic, could be called "The Artifice of Magic." It begins with a review of the workmanship that went into ancient notions of "magic," and includes some comments on modern artifice as well. In the subsequent chapters I ask the reader to explore a variety of once-maligned rituals without using the word "magic." Readers may wish to read the more technical discussion of some of these rituals included in my book Icons of Power: The Pragmatics of Late Antique Ritual, forthcoming from Penn State Press.

Numerous teachers and students have helped me think over ancient texts and modern methods, far too many to name. In particular the students in my graduate seminar at Hebrew University read and commented on various drafts and their enthusiasm was critical to finishing the project.

Additional guidance came from the participants and audiences at the symposium "Magic and Witchcraft in the Ancient, Medieval and Renaissance Worlds" at the UCLA Center for the Study of Women and at conferences in Israel organized by Moshe Idel, Ithamar Gruenwald, Yuval Harrari and Michael Mach.

I want especially to thank John Sawyer, editor for the series The First Christian Centuries, and Richard Stoneman at Routledge for many good suggestions and for their patience. Technical questions were answered by Tal Ilan, Brian Schmidt, and David Olster. Editorial help came from Patricia Stuckey, Devorah Schoenfeld and Andrew Lazarus. University of California Davis Research Grants supported the work.

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