"..... The Magician: Charlatan or ... .. ..."

Discuss the historical aspects of magic, including memories, or favorite stories.

Postby George Olson » 12/07/05 08:40 PM

My daughter forwarded a fascinating monograph reviewing the book "Jesus the Magician: Charlatan or Son of God" by Morton Smith ISBN: 1-56975-155-2 she came across in her Post Doctoral work in Art History on the interpretation of Joseph in Medievil Spanish Art.

I post this not with any religious rancor or position, but rather as an interesting discussion of our "Art" in the First Century. I did a Google Book search and got tons of referance.

Dustin, you can dump this if you wish. I just thought, from a historical perspective, this early research into the history of Magic would prove gripping.

This from a pure skeptic:

We will probably never know. But applying law of parsimony, which demands that rational people assume the simplest hypothesis in explaining events, it seems very likely that Jesus, if he exited, was a talented magician.

To this from a 2002 review:

(Quite long for the forum)

by David Graves -- December 20. 2002
Morton Smith's work Jesus the Magician was very influential in moving
the focus of scholarship away from Jesus the teacher to Jesus the miracle
worker. The ancient world is full of people who could do "miraculous"
things. Some were regarded as miracle workers, others as gods and still
others as magicians. So looking at the miracles performed by Jesus, was
Jesus a miracle worker, a divine man (a god), or a magician?

Smith points out several kinds of "magicians" in the Hellenistic world.
Three of these categories are goes, magi, and "divine men." Goes is the
most common form of magician in Jesus' time and is typically an abusive
word. This term is frequently applied to Jesus by his opponents who regard
him as a fraud.

The word magi comes from a group of Median priests. The magi performed
miracles and had "distinctive ethical and escatological teachings." Jesus
would have fallen into this category because his teachings were mostly
"ethical and eschatological" and he performed miracles. When Jesus'
opponents called him a "magician" then, they referred to the fact that he
"could appear as a teacher and attract a following," along with his

A third group was the "divine man." According to Smith, "the 'divine
man' was a god or demon in disguise, moving about the world in an apparently
human body." The divine man's powers came from the divine power inside him,
or so his followers would argue. Magicians, however, could "become" divine
men by "joining" himself with a god. In doing this, one could no longer
clearly distinguish between a magician and a divine man. So can anyone know
for sure if the "divine man" was born a god or if he was a magician and
"made" himself a god? From a neutral standpoint it is impossible to
Smith's arguments about the usage of each of these terms blur the lines of
meanings so that one cannot argue definitively that any group held any "list
of traits that always characterized any one of these types."

Christians have been forced to try to distinguish Jesus' miracles from
that of other magicians. Some would view magic as simply illusions
performed by tricksters or "by the help of demons controlled by spells,
sacrifices, and magical paraphernilia." Most Christians have tried to argue
that since Jesus' miracles were authentic and they were not from demons, he
was not a magician. Smith argues, however, that this view is not
representative of all magicians, only the "lowest type of ancient magician."
In fact the some of the techniques used by Jesus seem to parallel those of
magicians, and which "his contemporaries might well have regarded as

The story of Apollonius causes a major problem with the argument that
Jesus' actions were different from those of other magicians. The account of
Apollonius' life is nearly identical to that of Jesus. Both were performed
miraculous acts, both had some sort of teaching, and both had a following.
Yet, Apollonius is considered by Christians as a magician, while Jesus,
whose techniques are recorded as being quite similar to those of Apollonius,
is considered a miracle worker.

So what is the relationship of magic and religion? Aune argues that
magic and religion aren't different, but rather magic is a subset of
religion. He states quite clearly, "magic and religion are so closely
intertwined that it is virtually impossible to regard them as discrete
socio-cultural categories." He refers to magic as a "deviant behavior"
found in all religions. Smith points out that a comparison of religious
texts with magical papyri shows that in both "we find the same goals stated
and the same means used." According to Crossan, "magic and religion can be
mutually distiguished...by political and prescriptive definitions, but not
by substantive, descriptive, or neutral descriptions." The only difference
he says is who is performing the act. If your opponent is doing it, it's
magic, but if you or someone in your group is doing it, it's religion.
Crossan puts it nicely when he says, "'we' practice religion, 'they'
practice magic." In other words, magic in and of itself is not a religion,
but rather what the establishment calls the people outside of their own
group. Magical practices often mirror religious practices, only that magic
is a "deviant behavior." It is performed outside the "approved and
official" religious context. Crossan argues that "distinctions can and
should be made, but they are within magic/religion and not between magic and
religion." Technique, according to Wright (and Crossan), is not the only way
to label someone as a magician, "social and religious significance" also
plays a major role. The miracles performed by Jesus were done "outside the
system." Because of his failure to perform works in the normal social
context of Judaism, his miracles were considered magic.

Even with this being said there is evidence of the positive use of the
terms magic and magician. Betz points out descriptive terms and definitions
found in the magical papyri. An instance where positive connotations can be
found are in the Papyri Graecae Magicae. "Holy magic" is a positive term
used, as well as other terms used to describe magic. Therefore, one cannot
argue that magic has a negative connotation because found in this papyri
there are positive uses of magic. Betz describes this phenomena by saying,
"magic and religion are a single entity."

So if Jesus has techniques similar to other magicians, he performs
outside normal social contexts like other magicians, and there are positive
uses of terms used to describe magic, does it really matter if Jesus is
called a "magician" rather than a "miracle worker?" To put it in Betz'
words, "if there is a difference between religion and magic at all, it does
not really matter as long as they work in much the same way."

Dustin, you can dump this if you wish. I just thought, from a historical perspective, this early research into the history of Magic would prove gripping.

George Olson
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Postby Guest » 12/07/05 09:07 PM

While Morton Smith was a provocative academic he was, easily, the worst lecturer I have ever heard. I attended a seminar on the East Coast some years back and one of the featured speakers was Morton Smith. Sitting in the audience was an amazing experience.

He delivered his talk in a staccato monotone with each word clipped and precise, delivered in a machine gun-like manner. He did not stop for laughter when it happened. Indeed, he was almost oblivious to the audience's reaction to anything he said. He might as well have been in a closet for all the connection he made with those listening.

Fortunately, I've yet to see his "equal." Lucky me.

Postby Guest » 12/07/05 09:36 PM

David, did you just attempt to distract a discussion of magic, miracles and context with an ad-hominem discussion about the presenter of the thesis cited?

Postby Guest » 12/08/05 05:15 AM

So did Jesus indulge in pre-show work?
(I am tempted to write a semi-serious, semi-satirical article on this neglected topic.)

Postby Guest » 12/08/05 05:41 AM

Originally posted by Richard Stokes:
(I am tempted to write a semi-serious, semi-satirical article on this neglected topic.)
Keeping us on track, or at least away from religious issues...

What would you call the placebo effect in this context?

Postby Dustin Stinett » 12/08/05 11:28 AM

Please stick to the historical context.

(Watching with some trepidation...)
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Postby George Olson » 12/08/05 06:21 PM

Dustin, I didn't want to "..trepid" you.

My thought was to open up new avenues of discovery...

I've spent the day (retired, I've got to get a life...) searching magic, egypt, jesus: tons of stuff to read!

There is one web site called Mandrake out of England that has many referances to Egypt and magicians; much of the stuff is about the Occult, but once you get past that good historical stuff from 3800 BC to 1st century.

another search was magic 1st century...

George Olson
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Postby Guest » 12/09/05 02:18 AM

Placebo = just another method. Miracle = what I believe, Magic = what others believe. The book itself, I thought, was good. I especially liked the section on Apollonius of Tyana.

Postby Guest » 12/09/05 10:21 AM

Isn't this all rather moot? There is no primary evidence for the existence of Christ so any theory's about him doing conjuring tricks in lieu of actual miracles is simply conjecture based on here say.
I'm agree with Jefferson. The miracles and other supernatural feats attributed to Christ only detract from the actual message he was trying to impart. It is not at all important if he was divine or mortal. The importance was the message of trying to all be better people by treating each other as we ourselves wished to be treated.

Postby Guest » 12/09/05 10:37 AM

Originally posted by payne:
Isn't this all rather moot? There is no primary evidence for the existence of Christ...
In proper response to that, and without opening any issues of Faith, it would help to remember that the term "Christ" is a title, not a name. The title was bestowed upon the person referred to by the stories we call the New Testament and a few others which have since been removed from the official cannon of Christianity. Just as the fictitious character "Santa Claus" has the title "Father Christmas", historical figures can have titles.

The open question of where and how those who offer demonstrations of what we in our craft call magic, get labeled by religion, magic, faith, myth and charlatanism is valid.

Postby Richard Kaufman » 12/09/05 11:38 AM

It was inevitable ... topic closed.
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