Was Jesus Accused of Necromancy? by Robert Conner

Was Jesus Accused of Necromancy? by Robert Conner

   And Herod heard of it, for [Jesus’] name became known and they were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead and be-cause of this the powers are at work in him.”  But others said, “He is Elijah,” but others said, “A prophet, like one of the former prophets.” But when Herod heard, he said, “John, the one I beheaded, this one has been raised!”[1]

According to the earliest gospel as Jesus’ fame for exorcism and healing spread, Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, became aware of it and, like others, sought an explanation for “such powerful works” (dunameij toiautai).[2] By the time Jesus’ reputation came to Herod’s attention, Jesus had passed his power over spirits to select disciples and began sending them out in pairs to preach and drive out demons—“he gave them authority over unclean spirits” (exousian twn pneumatwn twn akaqartwn).[3] Soon the source of Jesus’ exousia (exousia), “authority,” became a topic of great interest; some proposed that Jesus was Elijah redivivus, or “a prophet like one of the former prophets,” but Herod subscribed to a different explanation: “John, the one I beheaded, has been raised.”

From a naïve reading of the text one might assume that Herod thought Jesus was John the Baptist back from the dead, most unlikely given that the career of Jesus and John overlapped and Herod had previously protected John.[4] The early tradition is clear that Jesus began to preach and perform works of power after John had been imprisoned but before his eventual execution. Asked by John’s disciples if he is the “Coming One,” Jesus replies,

   “When you go back, report what you hear and see to John. The blind are receiving sight and the lame walk about, lepers are being cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are being raised and the poor receive the good news.”[5]

Herod—“that fox”[6]was a Roman client whose position depended on his ability to keep the peace in his province, so it is probable that the activities of both John and Jesus were closely monitored and that “the crowds going out to be baptized by [John]”[7] contained informants who reported John’s activi-ties.

Carl Kraeling appears to have been the first to propose a reading of the text of Mark that not only accords with the culture of the era, but more importantly with the vocabulary and context of the passage: “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead and because of this the powers are at work (dia touto ener-gousin ai dunameij) in [Jesus].”

Between demons as the servants of magicians, and spirits of the dead used in a similar way there is no basic distinction. Both are beings of the spiritual order, not limited by time or space, and endowed with supernatural powers...What the people and Herod originally said about Jesus’ relation to John was that Jesus was using the spirit of John brought back from the dead to perform his miracles for him.[8]

The gospel of Mark rapidly establishes Jesus’ reputation as a master manipu-lator of spirits. Jesus teaches “as one who has authority (wj exousian ecwn) and not like the scribes”[9] and lest any doubt remain about what Jesus’ “au-thority” encompassed, Mark has Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries answer:

   “What is this? A new teaching based on authority (kat exousian)—he gives orders to the unclean spirits and they obey him!” And in-stantly the report about him spread out in every direction into the whole region of Galilee.[10]

Jesus’ fame is clearly linked to exorcismsuperior textual acumen and exe-getical prowess would hardly be the sort of news one would expect to spread like wildfire among the mostly illiterate country folk of rural Palestine. Al-though Jesus is sometimes addressed as “rabbi,” just what the speakers in-tended by this title is unclear. In Mark, Jesus is so addressed by Peter, James, and John after they witness the transfiguration.[11] In John, Nicodemus so addresses him, but appears to do so in recognition of his miraculous signs.[12]

Several features of the gospel narrative explain Herod’s response. First, it is clear that Jesus quickly established a regional reputation as an exorcist and healer“he went through all of Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out devils (ta daimonia ekballwn).”[13] After the initial report from Capernaum,[14] news that Jesus has returned home causes a dense crowd to gather[15] and when Jesus leaves, a mob of Galileans follows, joined in turn by a the curious from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, from villages across the Jordan, and from Tyre and Sidon.[16] By now Jesus’ renown is such that he can no longer openly enter a town,[17] and at this point Jesus chooses twelve disciples and sends them out “to preach and to have authority to cast out demons (ecein exousian ekballein ta daimonia).”[18] Jesus’ fame as an exorcist continues to spread; soon other exorcists begin to invoke the power of his name—“for his name became known.”[19] Jesus’ “name” is not merely his reputation; it is quite literally a name to conjure with.

   “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”[20]

The use of Jesus’ name by other exorcists is “clearly an example of profession-al magical use,”[21] a practice that apparently continued even after his death.[22] Regarding the unknown exorcist of Mark 9:38, Schäfer observes, “using the powerful name of Jesus had nothing to do with believing in Jesus...the magi-cal use of the name of Jesus worked automatically, no matter whether or not the magician believed in Jesus.”[23]

The account of the centurion’s slave boy provides further insight into the nature of Jesus’ authority:

   As he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, entreating him, “Lord, my boy is lying at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”
   Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”
   The centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy for you to step under my roof, but say the word and my boy will be healed. For I, too, am a man with authority, having soldiers under my command, and I say to this one, “Go!” and he goes, and to another, “Come!” and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this!” and he does it.”[24]

The wording of the pericope of the centurion and his boy—“to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it” (tw doulw mou poihson touto kai poiei)—is nearly iden-tical to a spell preserved in the magical papyri in which the magician com-mands his spirit assistant, “Do this task and he does it immediately” (poihson touto to ergon kai poiei parauta);[25] the phrasing of Matthew is also similar to the Sepher Ha-Razim: “...to declare the names of the overseers of each and every firmament...and what are the names of their attendants...to rule over spirits and over demons, to send them (wherever you wish) so they will go out like slaves.”[26] Jennings and Liew conclude,

What is stunning is that both the centurion and the Pharisees are basically embracing the same assumptions: authority works within chains of command. Just as a centurion can order the coming and go-ing of soldiers and servants under his command, the ruler of demons can cast out demons under its rule. What then is the centurion im-plying about Jesus’ identity? He believes that Jesus can order the coming and going of the demon that has been “torturing” his boy-love with paralysis because he believes that Jesus is the commander or the ruler of that and other demons. In other words, not only are the centurion and the Pharisees in agreement about how authority oper-ates, they further concur on the identity of Jesus as a commanding of-ficer in the chain of demonic beings.[27]

Although one might expect rejoicing from a populace released from the power of Satan by a formidable exorcist, the response to Jesus’ power is not relief, but fear. The Pharisees and Herodians begin to plot his murder,[28] his family claims Jesus is “out of his mind,”[29] and the scribes who come from Jerusalem to see what all the commotion is about claim that Jesus “has Beelzeboul (Beel-zeboul ecei) and he casts out demons by the ruler of the demons.”[30] Jesus’ own disciples are terrified of his powers[31] and the inhabitants of Gerasa, where Jesus casts demons out of a man and allows them to enter a herd of swine, fear him and beg him to leave.[32]

That Jesus “has Beelzeboul” is a clear accusation of sorcery. Indeed it is a claim that Jesus is the magician par excellence because he has bound Beelzeboul, the prince of demons. As Eitrem noted, “it marks the proper distance between John the Baptist and Jesus when John is said to ‘have a demon’ (Matt. xi.18) but Jesus is said to ‘have Beelzebub’ (Mark iii.22).”[33] Jesus is more powerful than John because he controls a more powerful demon. Kraeling, to his credit, noted this usage: “A clear case of this is the Beelzebub controversy, in which Jesus is said ‘to have Beelzebub’ beelzeboul ecei (Mk 3 22). This does not mean that Jesus is the unfortunate plaything of Beelzebub; it means, rather, that Jesus is accused of being a magician who by incantations and magical practices has obtained control over Beelzebub and makes him do his bidding even when this is to Beelzebub’s own disadvantage.”[34]

The belief that magicians drove out one demon with the aid of a yet more powerful demon—“driving out one nail with another”[35] as Lucian has it—is reflected in Eusebius’ claim that Apollonius’ famous exorcism was accom-plished “with the help of a more important demon.”[36] That “to have” Beelze-boul is to command Beelzeboul is further confirmed by the language of Re-velation where the risen Christ is “the one who has the seven spirits of God (o ecwn ta epta pneumata tou qeou) and the seven stars.”[37] “These seven spirits are thought of as autonomous beings, and they are equated with the seven angels which stand before God...What does it mean that Christ ‘has’ them? It obviously means that He has authority over them, that He can command them...”[38]

That “to have” Beelzeboul is to have authority over Beelzeboul is further con-firmed by the nearly identical wording of a necromantic spell to retain power over the ghost of a man who died violently:

I beseech you, Lord Helios, listen to me [name to be supplied] and grant me the power over this spirit of a man killed violently (toutou tou bioqanatou pneumatoj) from whose tent I hold [a body part]. I have him with me [name of deceased], (ecw auton met emou [tou deina] a helper (bohqon) and avenger for whatever business I desire.[39]

The “tent” (skhnh, skēnē) is the body, the house of the soul, in this case a corpse; the identical metaphor occurs in 2 Corinthians, where “in the tent” (en tw skenei) means “in the body,”[40]—the ghost of the murdered man is the sorcerer’s “helper” (bohqoj, boēthos), a spirit entity like the risen Jesus, “the Lord, my helper”(Kurioj emou bohqoj).[41]

As a biaioqanatoj (biaiothanatos), a victim of violence, the spirit of John the Baptist has the makings of an unquiet ghost—“Needy and dangerous figures waiting in the shadows of existence...particularly those who died young or violently, the unhappy and unsatisfied dead with their restless energy and free-floating rage.”[42] “...no living person has the power of even a minor name-less hero, whose power flows simply from the fact that he is dead and angry about it, and cannot sleep still...many heroes die angry...waiting to be aveng-ed for their murders; these are potential actors in ghost stories, dangerous and partly wakeful.”[43] The ghost of John the Baptist, “a biaiothanatos, those who have been killed by violence,” is “part of a wider class of the restless dead, who came to be thought of as the typical instruments of malign magic.”[44]

Peter Bolt’s comments on Mark 6:14-16 merit an extended quote:

   Despite the fact that so few have noticed it, and so many have ig-nored it, it seems that the narrative is saying clearly that Herod con-sidered Jesus to be a magician who had raised John’s spirit in order to capitalize upon its power. This is why the focus is upon John’s be-heading. A beheaded man, as a biaioqanatoj, would make a powerful ghost and would be highly sought after by the magicians. When Herod suggests that Jesus has ‘raised’ John, he uses language that regularly appears in the magical material for the summoning of the ghostly daimon from its rest in the underworld in order to do the magician’s bidding.[45]

Although the modern rationalist might suppose a headless spirit would be worse than useless, the magical papyri contain frequent references to the power of headless entities of various sorts.[46]

That Lucian parodied the claims of the Christian gospels is easy to suspect given his examples of those who die violently:

   “We are just attempting to persuade this hard-headed fellow,” Eu-crates said, pointing at me, “to believe that some spirits and ghosts and souls of dead men (daimonaj...kai fasmata kai nekrwn yucaj) exist and wander around above ground and appear to whomever they wish. I blushed and bowed my head out of respect for Arignotus.
   “Perhaps, Eucrates,” he said, “Tychiades means to say that only the souls of those who died by violence (taj twn biaiwj apoqanontwn monaj yucaj) walk about, for example if someone hanged himself,[47] or was beheaded,[48] or crucified or departed from life in similar fashion, but that those who die from the usual causes do not.”[49] 

That the exorcist/sorcerer controls the demon is the whole point of Jesus’ question, “How can one enter a strong man’s house and seize his belongings unless one first binds the strong man?”[50] After a thorough review of the intrinsic evidence of the gospel accounts, Samain concluded that to “have Beelzeboul” must be understood in an active sense, to have authority over the demon:

Christ is the master of Beelzeboul and he controls him to the point of using him to perform exorcisms...joined with the ruler of the de-mons, he compels him, by using his name, to perform the miracles he wants, particularly exorcisms; no spirit, no demonic power, can resist him...Daimonion ecei therefore means that Jesus is a false prophet, a magician.[51]

Samain’s conclusion agrees perfectly with the analysis of the Christian apo-logist Origen, who, above all other writers from antiquity, provides us with the most fulsome explanation of how exorcism and magic were thought to work:

Once we concede that it is consistent with the existence of magic and sorcery (mageian kai gohteian), made active by evil demons (energou-menhn upo ponhrwn daimonwn) that are invoked, spellbound by magical charms (periergoij qelgomenwn), submitting to practitioners of sorcery (anqrwpoij gohsin upakouontwn)...”[52]

Demons, like “the strong man” of Jesus’ analogy, are bound, compelled by Christian exorcists as well as pagan magicians, forced to submit by prayers or incantations, a magical force majeure[53]—“This kind can never be cast out except by prayer”[54]—which in the Christian spiritual economy is accom-plished by using the powerful name of Jesus: “Did we not cast out demons in your name?”[55] What are incantations used to drive out demons if not prayers to be delivered from evil? Indeed, for Origen the confessions of Christian faith are “just like spells that have been filled with power” (wsperi epwdaj dunamewj peplhrwmenouj).[56]

Regarding the use of Jesus’ name in exorcism, Origen explains,

A similar philosophy of names also applies to our Jesus, in whose name, in fact, innumerable demons are seen driven out of souls and bodies, so effective it was (energhsan) on those from whom [the de-mons] were driven. And on the topic of names we have mentioned that those who are experts in the use of incantations relate that the spell pronounced in the appropriate dialect[57] achieves (energhsai) the very thing commanded, but said in another tongue becomes weak and capable of nothing.[58]

Significantly, Origen’s explanation duplicates the demonological use of ener-gew in Mark: “because of [59] [raising John the Baptist] the powers are at work (dia touto energousin ai dunameij) in [Jesus].”[60] Regarding energew (energēo), “to be at work,” Bertram notes that in the New Testament “theological or demonological use is predominant.”[61] The “powers” suspected to be at work in Jesus are spirits.[62]

Both energew and corresponding noun, energeia (energeia), from whence energy, are used in the magical papyri for working sorcery; it “generally refers to the (activated) power of magic...the actual ‘activating’ of a magic spell.”[63] The magical papyri contain a number of examples that permit us to con-textualize this and cognate terms: “the ritual called ‘the Sword,’ which is unequaled owing to its [magical] power” (dia thn energian),[64]the sacred power (thn qeian energreian) of the symbols you are about to possess,”[65] “the pre-paration of the magical working” (h kataskeuh thj energeiaj),[66] “pull up the plant while invoking the name of the demon, demanding that it be very ef-fective,” (parakalwn energesteran genesqai),[67] “you have the rite of the greatest and sacred power (tou megistou kai qeiou energhmatoj).[68]

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians participates fully in the broader cultural as-sumption that figures raised from the dead are sources of miraculous power—the Ephesian Christians will know “the surpassing greatness of his power among us who believe, according to the working (kata thn energeian) of the power of his might, which he put into operation (energhsen) by raising Christ from the dead.”[69] The spirit of the risen Christ stands against “the ruler of the authority of the air (to arconta thj exousiaj tou aeroj), the spirit even now at work (tou pneumatoj tou nun energountoj) in the sons of disobe-dience.”[70]

The connection between Jesus’ violent death by crucifixion and the derived power (dunamij, dunamis) is everywhere presupposed in the writings of Luke and Paul. The apostles testify to Jesus’ resurrection “with great power” (duna-mei magalh).[71] As Kraeling noted, “Dunameij are either ‘mighty works’ (cf. Mk 6 5) or the powers by which such works are done (cf. in Mk 5 30).”[72]

“If dunamij [dunamis, my note] is understood here as ‘miracle working pow-er,’ that is, the sort of power that works dunameij (‘miracles’), then the apos-tles’ role in testifying to the resurrection is not just oral, but linked directly to their miracle working.”[73]  As Myllykoski notes, the raising of Jesus “is the foundation miracle for the whole narrative of Acts”[74] as it is in the gospel of John, which specifies that the spirit will not be given until Jesus is “glori-fied.”[75] Acts consistently connects the performance of signs and wonders with the risen Jesus, “nailed up and killed by the hands of lawless men.”[76]

The gospel of Mark shares the basic assumption behind necromancy: as resi-dents of the spirit world, ghosts and demons know both the future and truths con-cealed from mortals. A voice from heaven first announces that Jesus if the Son of God,[77] but the next spirit to identify Jesus as the “holy one,” is a demon.[78] The demons “knew who he was”[79] and are blabbering it everywhere—Jesus is the “Son of God.”[80] The Gerasene demoniac, who “lived among the tombs,”[81] implying possession by a ghost, identifies Jesus as the “Son of the Most High God.”[82]

Necromancy, strictly speaking, is the practice or art of obtaining in-formation concerning the future by communication with the dead who...are thought to share with gods and demons a knowledge of things beyond the ken of living mortals...the term necromancy has a wider connotation by virtue of which it describes the practice of ac-complishing through the instrumentality of the spirits of the dead any or all of the deeds belonging to the sphere of “black magic.”[83]

Spirit manipulation was standard magical praxis in the Middle East for at least a millennium or more before the time of Jesus and ghosts were often invoked to accomplish magical acts.

   I command you, ghost of the dead (exorkizw se nekudaimon), by the powerful and implacable god and by his holy names...in whatever form you had, and if you are able, transact for me [named] task, if I command you, now, now, quick, quick...[the ghost] will ask you, say-ing, “Command what you wish and I will do it.”[84]

Small wonder “by associating itself with power over demons Christianity associated itself with magic in the minds of its critics.”[85]

Ross Kraemer has proposed that Mark emphasized the method of John’s death precisely to counter a rumor that Jesus was John raised from the dead:

   Why is Jesus not John resurrected from the dead? The gospel narratives are clear that this identification has been suggested. It would seem to be troubling to followers of Jesus for obvious reasons, namely, that it obscures distinctions between Jesus and John and may even subordi-nate the former to the latter...Jesus is not John raised from the dead because John’s body and head were severed: only his body was buried by his disciples, while the whereabouts of his head, given to Herodias, are unknown, thus, implicitly, making his bodily resurrection impos-sible.[86]

Regarding the reason why Jesus may have selected the ghost of John above all others as a source of power, this observation by Daniel Ogden bears careful note: “How significant were these categories of dead for necromancy in par-ticular? Often the prime criterion for selecting a ghost for necromancy was the relevance of the individual ghost to the matter at hand. Hence, the ghost exploited was often a dear one...A further category that may have been parti-cularly valued for necromancy was that of the exalted ghost.”[87] Who could have been more relevant to Jesus’ career or more exalted than John the Bap-tist? He is Jesus’ forerunner, “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,” even a relative according to Luke, and of those born of women, who was greater than John?[88]

Comparing Mark’s account with those of the other gospels suggests that Kraeling was spot on; the report of popular opinion in Mark, which at the very least strongly implied that Jesus was a necromancer, has been substan-tially rewritten by the other synoptics. As noted by Kannaday, “The text of the New Testament was in a potential sense an ammunition magazine, a common store of gunpowder and musket balls critical to victory in the cam-paign being waged by both pagan intellectuals and apologetic defenders.”[89] The writers of Matthew and Luke attempt to preserve the tradition about John while at the same time disarming it.

In the process of redacting his version of the story, Matthew has Herod say, “This man is John the Baptist (Outoj estin Iwannhj o baptisthj). He was raised from the dead and that is why the powers are working (dia touto ai dunameij energousin) in him.”[90] The text of Matthew has Herod simply identi-fy Jesus as John raised from the dead, but this clumsy gloss does not address the question of why “the powers” would be working in one raised from the dead—the New Testament records no case of special powers accruing to the resurrected—“there is no evidence of a contemporary expectation that the re-surrected dead would be endowed with miraculous powers they did not pos-sess during their lifetimes.”[91] And as David Aune observes, “it is unclear how a resurrected John could be thought to perform miracles when he had not done so previous to his execution.”[92]

Nor, even more obviously, does it address how Herod could have confused Jesus, who was still very much alive and whose “name” was widely recog-nized, with John, the man whose execution he had just ordered. If, as the gospels assert, John performed no powerful works while alive[93] even though “he will go before [Jesus] in the spirit and power of Elijah (en pneumati kai dunamei Hliou),”[94] a prophet of exceptional miracle-working power, how could Herod have imagined that John would start to produce a gasp-induc-ing series of wonders once raised from the dead? As Kraeling noted, such an identification “fails to take into account the strong individuality of John and the difference between him and Jesus.”[95]

That Matthew’s reworking of the story has an apologetic intent is suggested by his stipulation that John’s disciples come and take his now headless body away, bury it, and tell Jesus about it.[96] Matthew wants his readers to know that John is not an atafoj (ataphos), unburied, a class of the dead likely to become a restless ghost. “It was commonly believed in ancient times that there were two classes of spirits of the dead which were relatively easy to con-jure up and were thus most accessible for the purposes of ‘black magic.’ The first class is that of the atafoi [ataphoi, my note], spirits of persons who had not received a regular burial...The second class, relatively more numerous and less immediately attached to a specific locality, is that of the biaioqanatoi [bi-aiothatoi], spirits of persons who had died a violent death.”[97]

Luke, on the other hand, produces a Herod who is “completely perplexed,[98] unable to even begin to explain Jesus’ famous powers. Garrett admits that Luke has rephrased “the most damaging part of the account” to avoid the charge of necromancy, but next claims that the evangelists “did not share modern readers’ frequent assumption that identity of appearance implies ac-tual identity.”[99] Garrett does not explain how she knows what assumptions the ‘evangelists’ shared; if their own opinion is to be allowed, it would appear they believed that appearances and identity were tightly linked, that ‘trees are known by their fruit.’[100] The alteration and omission of incriminating details by Matthew and Luke indicate that the writers shared common assumptions about appearance and identity—why emphasize Jesus’ exorcisms unless their performance established his identity, the Son of God?[101] Garrett’s claim also ignores the reputation of Jews among Gentiles—Gentiles regarded Jews as ac-complished exorcists and Jesus the Jew as a magician.

Everyone knows about the Syrian from Palestine,[102] the master of his craft (ton epi toutw sofisthn),[103] and how he receives many moon-struck, frothing at the mouth and eyes rolling, and he sets them aright and sends them away sound of mind...standing beside them as they lie there he asks from whence [the demons] have come into the body. The madman himself is silent, but the demon answers in Greek or a barbarian [language] from whence and how he entered the man. By adjuring, or if the spirit does not obey, threatening, he drives out the demon.”[104]

 It is likely that Lucian had Jesus himself—renowned for casting out devils—in mind when composing his story of the Jewish exorcist and that he and his audience were enjoying a joke at Christian expense. “This passage enraged pious scholiasts who saw it as yet another of Lucian’s blasphemies.”[105] “It is possible this parody was inspired by some gospel story...”[106] “The church fathers, among them Irenaeus, Arnobius, Justin Martyr, Lactantius, and Ori-gen, were keenly aware of the charge—made by Jew and Gentile alike—that Jesus was a magician.”[107]

It will come as little surprise to find that Kraeling’s arguments have received short shrift among New Testament scholars of apologetic bent—Twelftree[108] and Hoehner[109] relegate Kraeling to the footnotes and neither addresses his thesis in any detail. Notwithstanding, several lines of evidence converge to support Kraeling’s interpretation: the careers of John and Jesus, both of whom were well known—“People went out to [John] from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan”[110]—overlapped. Herod could not have confused them. Therefore Matthew’s identification of Jesus as John back from the dead fails on textual grounds and is historically improbable.

The source of Jesus’ authority over demons became a topic of speculation; some “were saying (elegon), ‘John the Baptist has been raised from the dead and because of this (kai dia touto) the powers are at work in [Jesus].’”[111] The terms of the common people match word for word the terminology of the magical papyri, our clearest window into the work of popular magicians who were notable for raising ghosts as magical assistants. Indeed, the critics of early Christianity constantly compare Christian exorcism to “the works of sorcerers” (ta erga twn gohtwn), the street magicians “who drive demons out of men, and blow away diseases, and call up the souls of the heroes.”[112] Given the abundance of testimony from ancient sources, Kraeling’s explanation has far more support that the alternatives.

That the notion of raising of a ghost for magical purposes would never have suggested itself in the context of early Christianity is questionable. Besides the references in near-contemporary non-Christian sources, the pseudo-Clemen-tine Homilies of the early 4th century contain a specific reference to just such a practice that is attributed to Simon: “For he set out to commit murder, as he revealed as a friend among friends, extracting the soul of a boy from his own body by means of abominable invocations, a helper (sunergon) to cause the appearance of whatever he pleased...”[113]

Kraeling’s careful attention to the text distinguished “what the people were saying about Jesus”[114] and Herod’s own conclusion. Some claimed Jesus’ powers could be attributed to the ‘raising’ of John “and because of this the powers are at work in [Jesus] but others were saying (alloi de elegon), ‘He’s Elijah’ (Hliaj estin)”—not an impossible conclusion if Elijah was expected to return—“but others were saying (alloi de elegon), ‘A prophet like one of the prophets.’”[115] “But when Herod heard, he said, ‘John, the one I behead-ed, this one has been raised (outoj hgerqh).’”[116] Herod’s answer, “this one,” strongly implies his rejection of the other possibilities: Jesus is not Elijah, nor is he a prophet “like one of the prophets.” Jesus has ‘raised’ or ‘awakened’ John and “because of this the powers are at work in him.” Herod’s response, “this one” (outoj) serves both to clearly identify the ‘risen’ John as the source of Jesus’ power and to dismiss the alternative theories; the demonstrative serves a similar function elsewhere in Mark: “This [and no other] is my Son (Outoj estin o uioj mou), the beloved...”[117]

Since Kraeling wrote, great progress has been made in understanding the popular culture of the Greco-Roman world as it applies to early Christian-ity,[118] a culture now known to have been obsessed with magic and the super-natural. With the publication of material collected and edited by Mordecai Morgalioth,[119] it became increasingly obvious that popular Jewish culture was likewise preoccupied with magic. Indeed, the broader understanding of the society in which Jesus and the early Christians moved both supports Krael-ing’s interpretation of Mark 6:14-16 and clarifies the apologetic intentions of Matthew and Luke who apparently understood all too well the implications of the text as it stands in Mark.


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[1] Mark 6:14-16.
     Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own.
[2] Mark 6:2.
[3] Mark 6:7, 13.
[4] Mark 6:20.
[5] Matthew 11:3-5.
[6] Luke 13:32.
[7] Luke 3:7. Compare Mark 3:22 that mentions the scribes that ‘come down from
[8] Kraeling, Journal of Biblical Literature 59 (1940): 154-155.
      Carl H. Kraeling (1897-1966) was an eminent historian and noted archaeol-
ogist who, while teaching at Yale, simultaneously held the department chair in both Near Eastern Languages and New Testament Criticism and Interpretation.
[9] Mark 1:22.
[10] Mark 1:27b-28.
[11] Mark 9:5.
[12] John 3:2.
[13] Mark 1:39.
[14] Mark 1:21.
[15] Mark 2:1-2.
[16] Mark 3:7-8.
[17] Mark 1:45.
[18] Mark 3:14-15.
[19] Mark 6:14.
[20] Mark 9:38, NIV.
[21] Hull, Hellenistic Magic and the Synoptic Tradition, 72.
[22] Acts 19:13.
[23] Schäfer, Jesus in the Talmud, 60.
[24] Matthew 8:5-9.
[25] Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae I, 182.
[26] Morgan, Sepher Ha-Razim, 17-18.
[27] Jennings & Liew, Journal of Biblical Literature 123 (2004): 485-486.
[28] Mark 3:6.
[29] Mark 3:21.
[30] Mark 3:22.
[31] Mark 4:41.
[32] Mark 5:15, 17.
[33] Eitrem, Some Notes on the Demonology of the New Testament, 4.
[34] Kraeling, 154.
[35] Lucian, The Lover of Lies, 9.
[36] Conybeare, The Life of Apollonius of Tyana II, 551, 567.
[37] Revelation 3:1.
[38] Hanse, “ecw,” The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament II, 821.
[39] Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae IV, 1947-1954.
[40] 2 Corinthians 5:4.
[41] Hebrews 13:6.
[42] Rabinowitz, The Rotting Goddess: The Origin of the Witch in Classical Antiqu-
    ity, 104.
[43] Vermeule, Aspects of Death in Early Greek Art and Poetry, 7, 27.
[44] Gordon, Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Ancient Greece and Rome, 176.
[45] Bolt, Jesus’ Defeat of Death: Persuading Mark’s Early Readers, 191-192.
[46] Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae II, 11; IV, 2132; V, 98, 125, 130, 145; VII,
   233, 243, 442; VIII, 91.
[47] Matthew 27:5.
[48] Matthew 14:10.
[49] Lucian, Lover of Lies, 29 (my translation).
[50] Matthew 12:29.
[51] Samain, Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses 15 (1932): 468, 470, 482.
     My translation of “...le Christ est maitre de Béelzéboul et le domine au point de l’employer pour opérer ses exorcismes...uni au chef des demons, il le forcerait, possédant son nom, à opérer les prodiges qu’il veut et spécialment les exorcismes; nul esprit, nulle puissance démoniaque ne lui résiste...signifie donc encore que Jé-sus est un faux prophète magicien.”
[52] Origen, Contra Celsum II, 51.
[53] It is a nearly constant claim by Christian apologists that spells and prayers are dif-
ferent in kind, a claim utterly overturned by ancient usage. Spells in the magical papyri are quite often called “prayers” (eucai) as anyone familiar with the material knows. Jewish magicians also failed to observe any distinction between spells and prayer; the Sepher Ha-Razim instructs the magician, “fall upon your face to the earth and pray this prayer (hlpt).” (Morgan, Sepher Ha-Razim, 71.)
[54] Mark 9:29.
[55] Matthew 7:22.
[56] Origen, Contra Celsum III, 68.
[57] Preservation of the “appropriate dialect” is the likely reason for the retention of
the Aramaic expressions in Mark 5:41 and 7:34—which are missing from the parallel passages in Matthew and Luke. Aune notes “the importance attributed to preserving adjurations and incantations in their original language” and proposes that the preservation of Aramaic in Mark occurred “for the purpose of guiding Christian thaumaturges in exorcistic and healing activities.” (Aune, Aufsteig und Niedergang der Römischen Welt II.23.2:1535.)
[58] Origen, Contra Celsum I, 25.
[59] dia touto is clearly causative; following Smyth, it could be translated, “owing to,
thanks to, on account of, in consequence of...” (Smyth, Greek Grammar, 375.)
[60] Mark 6:14.
[61] Bertram, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament II, 653.
[62] Compare Romans 8:38, 1 Peter 3:22, etc.
[63] Kotansky, Greek Magical Amulets, 241.
[64] Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae IV, 1718.
[65] Ibid, I, 274.
[66] Ibid, III, 290.
[67] Ibid, IV, 2976.
[68] Ibid, XII, 317.
[69] Ephesians 1:19-20.
[70] Ephesians 2:2.
[71] Acts 4:33.
[72] Kraeling, 149.
[73] Reimer, Miracle and Magic: A Study in the Acts of the Apostles and the Life of Apol-
lonius of Tyana, 91.
[74] Myllykoski, Wonders Never Cease: The Purpose of Narrating Miracle Stories in the
New Testament and Its Religious Environment, 162.
[75] John 7:39.
[76] Acts 2:22-23, 43.
[77] Mark 1:11.
[78] Mark 1:24.
[79] Mark 1:34.
[80] Mark 3:11.
[81] Mark 5:3.
[82] Mark 5:7.
[83] Kraeling, 147.
[84] Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae IV, 2030-2053.
[85] Sorensen, Possession and Exorcism in the New Testament and Early Christianity,
[86] Kraemer, Journal of Biblical Literature 125 (2006): 343.
[87] Ogden, Greek and Roman Necromancy, 226-227.
[88] John 1:23, Luke 1:36, Matthew 11:11.
[89] Kannaday, Apologetic Discourse and the Scribal Tradition, 2004, Society of Biblical
[90] Matthew 14:2.
[91] Frayer-Griggs, Matthew and Mark Across Perspectives, 40.
[92] Aune, “Magic in Early Christianity,” Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt
   2.23.2 (1980), 1542.
[93] John 10:41.
[94] Luke 1:17.
[95] Kraeling, 153.
[96] Matthew 14:12-13.
[97] Kraeling, 154-155.
[98] Luke 9:7-9.
[99] Garrett, The Demise of the Devil, 3.
[100] Matthew 7:20.
[101] Luke 4:41.
[102]  “The context of Lucian’s tale is Judaeo-Christian. The term ‘Syrian from Pales-
     tine in effect means ‘Jewish’.” (Ogden, In Search of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, 133.)
[103] Elsewhere Lucian refers to Jesus as “that crucified sophist” (ton de aneskolopis-
  menon ekeinon sofisthn). (Lucian, On the Death of Peregrinus, 13).
[104] Lucian, The Lover of Lies, 16.
[105] Jones, Culture and Society in Lucian, 48.
[106] Smith, Jesus the Magician, 57.
[107] Ricks, Ancient Magic and Ritual Power, 141.
[108] Twelftree, Jesus the Exorcist, 208.
[109] Hoehner, Harod Antipas, 188.
[110] Matthew 3:5.
[111] Mark 6:14.
[112] Origen, Contra Celsum I, 68.
[113] Clementine Homilies II, 26.
[114] Kraeling, 148. (The emphasis is Kraeling’s.)
[115] Mark 6:14-15.
[116] Mark 4:16.
[117] Mark 9:7.
       On the particularizing use of outoj see Baur, Arndt & Gingrich. (A Greek-
     English Lexicon of the New Testament, 600-601.)
[118] Arnold, The Colossian Syncretism and Ephesians: Power and Magic, to cite but two
     of many possible examples.
[119] Margalioth, Sepher Ha-Razim, 1966, Yediot Achronot.