Ancient Christian Magic: Coptic Texts of Ritual Power

Marvin W. Meyer, Editor, Richard Smith, Editor, Neal Kelsey, Editor
Marvin W. Meyer, Editor, Richard Smith, Editor, Neal Kelsey, Editor HarperOne $25 (407p) ISBN 978-0-06-065578-5
Paperback - 407 pages - 978-0-06-065584-6
Paperback - 432 pages - 978-0-691-00458-7
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Traditionalists may find heretical the use of ``Christian'' as a modifier for ``magic.'' But it's an apt combination for this gathering of previously untranslated curses, recipes and spells ritualistically cast by Egyptian Christians. In the Coptic language of the early Gnostics the words for ``religion'' and ``magic'' have common roots. While the texts offered here are individually intriguing (especially those about sex and healing), their cumulative effect is, as the editors note, that ``they demonstrate that Christianity can take the form of a folk religion . . . making use of ritual power for all sorts of practical purposes.'' There is, however, something else happening here as well. The materials gathered in this book largely date from the era of the Nag Hammadi Library, which, since its 1945 discovery in Egypt, has revealed aspects of early Christianity in a manner and scope comparable to that with which the Dead Sea Scrolls have illuminated the study of ancient Judaism; as a result, this collection also deepens and broadens our knowledge of how believers in Christ lived before the ``Church'' evolved. Readers who made a religion bestseller of The Nag Hammadi translation, for which Smith was managing editor, will find this collection to be a valuable adjunct to that benchmark of scholarship on Christian origins. (Apr.)
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