ANCIENT CHRISTIAN MAGIC ~ Coptic Texts of Ritual Power

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN MAGIC  ~ Coptic Texts of Ritual Power

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Book review and technical detail ANCIENT CHRISTIAN MAGIC ~ Coptic Texts of Ritual Power edited Marvin Meyer , Richard Smith

Technical detail of ANCIENT CHRISTIAN MAGIC ~ Coptic Texts of Ritual Power
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN MAGIC ~ Coptic Texts of Ritual Power
author edited Marvin Meyer , Richard Smith
ISBN 112574
Language English
Category Religion
Publisher Harpercollins
Pages 407
Publishing Date 1st January, 1970

Book Reviews:

 Meyer (The Secret Teachings of Jesus, 1984) and Smith (The Nag Hamadi Library, not reviewed) provide literate and entertaining translations of a variety of early Christian magical incantations. For too long, the editors contend, scholars have tended to draw distinctions between what is called ``religion'' and what is termed mere ``magic.'' In an effort to help reverse this trend, they have assembled a large number of texts from ancient Egypt that were purported by their Christian users to have ritual power. Relying on the latest theories concerning ritual studies, these scholars demonstrate not only the falsity of this dichotomy but also the incredible diversity of expressions in an early Christianity that is too often thought to have been monolithic. The spells and formulae in the volume perform a number of different functions, from healing for specific physical ailments to the securing of love and sex. There is also a collection of curses, including the interesting and vituperative curse by a mother upon a younger woman who had captured her son's affections. The most important part of the volume deals with various rites practiced by the Gnostics (a catch-all appellation for disparate groups of Christian heretics who believe in salvation through secret, mystical knowledge), including an initiation and a spell for ascending through the heavens. The final section of the work offers selections from various magic handbooks of the ancient world. The book could have benefited from some attention to Tom Driver's recent The Magic of Ritual (not reviewed). Though primarily of interest to religious scholars, there is enough here to entertain interested lay readers as well.

This thought-provoking collection of magical texts from ancient Egypt shows the exotic rituals, esoteric healing practices, and incantatory and supernatural dimensions that flowered in early Christianity. These remarkable Christian magical texts include curses, spells of protection from "headless powers" and evil spirits, spells invoking thunderous powers, descriptions of fire baptism, and even recipes from a magical "cookbook." Virtually all the texts are by Coptic Christians, and they date from about the 1st-12th centuries of the common era, with the majority from late antiquity. By placing these rarely seen texts in historical context and discussing their significance, the authors explore the place of healing, prayer, miracles, and magic in the early Christian experience, and expand our understanding of Christianity and Gnosticism as a vital folk religion.

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