Magic In The Biblical World -- By: Edwin M. Yamauchi

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 34:1 (NA 1983)
Article: Magic In The Biblical World
Author: Edwin M. Yamauchi


Magic In The Biblical World

Edwin M. Yamauchi

I. Introduction

There can be no doubt that both the Old Testament and the New Testament were born in environments permeated with magical beliefs and practices.1 It should come as no surprise to find Moses contesting with magicians in Egypt, later identified as Jannes and Jambres (2 Tim. 3:6–8),2 as magic was a dominant factor in Egyptian

culture.3 For Egyptians to attain to an afterlife they had to provide themselves with magical incantations such as the Pyramid Texts in the Old Kingdom, the Coffin Texts in the Middle Kingdom, and the Book of the Dead in the New Kingdom.4 Magic was also a potent force in other contemporary cultures, such as that of the Hittites.5

Daniel at Nebuchadnezzar’s court in Babylon was a colleague of assorted ‘magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers’ (Dn. 1:20; 2:2, 10, 27; 4:7; 5:7, 11, 15),6 who were the heirs of an ancient Mesopotamian

tradition of magic and divination.7

Though the Old Testament condemned the heathen practices of magic and divination, this did not prevent some Jews from making illicit use of such measures, any more than the prophets’ fulminations kept the Israelites from idolatry.8 Magic was a pragmatic matter which had an ecumenical appeal. The same spells could be used with minor changes by people from different religious backgrounds.9

Despite the protests of the rabbis, magic was increasingly used by the common folk in the Talmudic age (3rd-5th century A.D.). Striking evidence for this comes from an important Hebrew manuscript, the Sepher Ha-Razim, ‘Book of the Secrets’, published by M. Mar...

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