Monday, May 13, 2013


In considering trajectories of human social development from the 19th century onward, many people (including those associated with the so-called phenomenological school and the German “Religionsgeschichtliche Schule” of the first half of the 20th century) assumed an evolutionist paradigm and were misguided into thinking that human progress had followed a path from “savagery, through barbarism, to civilization” (Morgan 1877). According to this evolutionist paradigm, magic was an expression of the first and most-primitive forms of human religion, born of belief in the hidden powers of nature (as in manaism or dynamism) or of spirits (as in animism). Up to the second half of the 20th century, many exegetes and scholars of religious studies believed that monotheistic religion had supplanted beliefs in magic with conceptions of the absolute dependence of man on the one true God, and thus this dependence was in no way amenable to manipulation through magic...

Over the last decade, however, as anthropology has turned more directly toward cultural phenomena, the perception of “magical” practices in Old Testament studies has changed (Cryer 1991; Jeffers 1996; Schmitt 2004), as it has also in studies of the ancient Near East (for example, Thomsen 1987; Abusch 2002; and Schwemer 2007) and Egypt (for example, Assmann 1991 and Ritner 1993). Magic and divination have come to be seen more as performative acts and comprising the more integral part of religion and the entire symbolic system of a culture. Accordingly, magic in the Old Testament, as in the ancient Near Eastern world, was not so much a manipulation of matter and beings through the use of dynamistic or animistic powers as it was the result of a belief in the absolute power of the divine. The absolute divinity was the final or sole authority able to intervene by supernatural force in the human realm. Magic as a descriptive term denotes ritual practices that were intended to effect particular results through rituals or acts performed in anticipation of divine intervention (see Schmitt 2004: 92–93). Thus, the rites and rituals of family religion—as well as the rituals of official cults—were strategies of ritual behavior that must be seen as genuine expressions of religion, regardless of differences in socioreligious settings.—Family and Household Religion in Ancient Israel and the Levant, page 388

<idle musing>
Same results, though. Man trying to control God!
</idle musing>

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