Friday, December 29, 2006

Ancient Magic and Ephesians

Here is an interesting text from 1 Enoch that helps reveal the attitude towards magical rites in the ancient world:

"And they will worship stones, and others will make graven images of gold and silver and wood and clay, and others willl worship impure spirits and demons and all kinds of superstitions not according to knowledge, notwithstanding no manner of help will be found in them" (1 Enoch 99:7)

The final phrase of this sentence seems to convey one of primary motives behind this idolatorous and demonic worship - acquiring help in various aspects of life. What does all this have to do with Ephesians? Well, in a very important monograph (Ephesians: Power and Magic), Clinton Arnold argues that one of the primary reasons Paul wrote Ephesians was to encourage Christians living in a culture consumed my magical practices and the supernatural (cf. Acts 19). Arnold suggests that Paul highlights Christ's supremacy over cosmic evil (cf. 1:20-22) in this letter in order to remind Christians in Asia Minor that they need not engage in magical rites as a means of placating demonic forces. Christ's defeat of the "powers" is a major theme in this letter and given the central role of the Artemis cult in the religious climate of Ephesus, a connection between the writing of this letter and pagan magic seems quite plausible. This suggestion would also account for the general tone of the letter. Still, I can't help but think that Paul's "sights" are ultimately set on broader (but closely related) concerns.


Kevin Jones said...

Yep Mark. It seems that with mirror reading, there is always the danger that one's mirror might actually be too narrow.

Mowens said...

Thanks for visiting my blog. Mirror reading is no doubt a danger in this kind of historical research. But, Arnold really has too much historical data behind him to describe this as mirror-reading. Mirror reading in its purest form would be something like, "Well, since Paul tells the Ephesians in Eph 5:5 to abstain from 'crude joking,' the Ephesians believers must have struggled with 'crude joking.'"
In defense of Arnold, I'm pretty sure he would say that magic is not the central issue in Ephesians. I was in fact able to briefly talk with him after his paper presentation at ETS about my research topic and he seemed to appreciate the broadening of his research that I was generally proposing. BTW, he probably is one of the most gracious scholars I've ever met. Blessings.

Kevin Jones said...

gotcha. Thanks for the response. I guess I was alluding to the fact that reconstructions though drawn from the text can often be too specific, but you say this is clearly not what Arnold has done.

Mowens said...

I would (humbly) say that Arnold's analysis is too specific but since he really does not argue that Ephesians was written solely to oppose pagan magic, his theory is sound. By way of clarification, my previous comment was taking issue more with your use of the term "mirror-reading" to describe Arnold's work. If I'm not mistaken, the term refers more to simplistic reconstructions of the community "behind" the text that are based on little more than casual statement in an epistle. Blessings.


crell said...

A late response. Clinton Arnold sent me a Cd of his book a few years ago. I agree that he is a very gracious bloke. Also worth a read would have been his book The Colossian Syncretism. Neither is what I would call 'mirror reading' but rather good scholarship. How did the PhD go? I guess you finished year's ago?

Robert said...

A summary of the evidence for magic in the NT is up at