Alan Brill reviews Yuval Harari’s recent book Jewish Magic before the Rise of Kabbalah and interacts with the author in a brief online interview. He argues that the practice of magic was very much a part of early Judaism (and Christianity), even though we’re predisposed not to see it. (What I do is “ritual”; what the people I don’t like do is “magic.”) Here’s one small snippet:
Magic is may be considered as pre-scientific technology, a scheme of technical practices founded on the belief in the way reality is run. Given the traditional premises concerning what forces that reality, magic behavior was rational.
Jewish magic is founded on a belief in human aptitude to affect the world by means of rituals, at the heart of which is execution of oral or written formulas. It is not different from Jewish normative religious view, which ascribes actual power to sacrifice, prayer, ritual, and the observance of law. Magic also does not differ from the normative views regarding God’s omnipotence or the involvement of angels and demons in mundane reality. It has elaborated as a system parallel to, and combined with the normative-religious one, a system that seeks to change reality for the benefit of the individual, commonly in order to remove a concrete pain or distress or to fulfill a certain wish or desire.
Books of magic recipes from antiquity as well as from later periods show that magic was pragmatically required in every aspect of life. Magic fantasy of the kind of One Thousand and One Nights or Harry Potter is missing almost all together from recipe books, which usually offers assistance in achieving targets that may be achieved also without magic. According to these Jewish books, magic power can be implemented personally or by an expert. Expert magicians offered their help in choosing and performing the right ritual and in preparing adjuration artifacts and other performative objects, such as amulets of roots and minerals.
Over at JesusCreed, Mitch East is arguing that “Doubt Is Overrated.” He has a point, if you hear him out:
A student in seminary once told me, “In this department, it’s not if you have a faith crisis, but when you have a faith crisis.” At the time, I laughed. He was right plenty of students had faith crises during the program. But since then, his words have stuck with me – but not for good reasons. He sounded proud about it, as if it were a badge of honor. A friend of mine calls this trendy doubt. Someone with trendy doubt rolls his eyes and says, “How cool is that we don’t have silly faith like we used to?” This is the kind of trendy doubt that led me to avoid people’s legitimate questions.
Sometimes, doubt is the only faith posture one can assume. But sometimes—maybe more often than we’re comfortable contemplating—we need to hear Jesus’ gentle rebuke, “O ye of little faith.”
Leader: This is not a litany.
People: This is a responsive reading.
Leader: A litany is an ancient prayer form in which the leader voices a petition and the people repeat a set response such as “Lord, have mercy.”
People: Or “Hear our prayer.”
Leader: A responsive reading is more of a creed. It’s a collection of sentences which, while probably true and praiseworthy, aren’t really talking to God.
People: We’re talking to each other, O Lord, about things we believe or affirm.
Leader: Therefore, responsive readings tend to be more didactic.
Leader: I mean, look at all these words, for crying out loud!
People: Simplify, simplify.
Leader: Instead of engaging the mind, all this verbiage might even foster laziness or mindless conformity.
People: But why in the world would you want to begin worship with a mental exercise? Why not begin with adoration, confession, or thanksgiving?
Leader: And since they change every week, you can’t even participate without a printed order of service.
People: But what about preschoolers, or foreigners, or the blind?
Leader: It might be better to begin with something that everyone could learn through frequent repetition.
People: Something less disposable.
Leader: Something the church has treasured for centuries. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel every week, you know.
People: Sometimes it’s a greater act of faith to trust the wisdom of the past.
Pete Enns has delineated “5 Modern Insights about the Old Testament that Aren’t Going Anywhere.” They are as follows:
- The Old Testament is an ancient Near Eastern phenomenon
- “Myth” is an inescapable category for describing portions of the Old Testament
- Israelites did not write their history “objectively”
- The Old Testament does not contain one systematic and consistent body of “truth” but various, and even conflicting, perspectives.
- The Old Testament “evolved” over time until it came to its final expression.
Each point is elaborated in just a few paragraphs, which are well worth your time. He concludes, and I concur:
There is much more to the Old Testament than these 5 points, of course. And accepting the Old Testament as scripture doesn’t depend on fully working out these 5 points. In fact, whosoever wishes can safely ignore all of this and move on with their lives of faith. I mean that.
But when we want to dig into why the Bible “behaves” as it does, and especially if we are curious about engaging the Bible on a historical level, these 5 factors simply can’t be brushed aside.
Do read the whole thing.
Thatjeffcarter has the honor of hosting this month’s Carnival. Enjoy!