"Sorcerers," said R. Yochanan, "contradict the heavenly household" and oppose the divine will. So begins one of the major Talmudic discussions of magic (bSan 67b). This conception of magic bestows tremendous power in the hands of the magician creating an autonomous realm where the human and divine vie for supremacy. How did the Rabbis imagine the realm of magic and what brought them to so empower their adversaries? This is the question I wish to address by examining some of the 'contest-narratives' between rabbis and magicians in rabbinic literature, concentrating mostly on a comparison between a discussion that appears in the Babylonian Talmud (bSan 67b-68a) and its Palestinian parallel (ySan 25d). I suggest that there are marked differences between how the two Talmudic discussions represent magic and its menace. While the Palestinian Talmud presents these contests through a discourse of power and identity, the Bavli constructs its view of magic by means of a discourse of knowledge. This difference has important ramifications for rabbinic self-fashioning and its strategies for imagining and negotiating identity; both their's and their others.


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