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Reviewed by:
  • Now You See It, Now You Don't: Biblical Perspectives on the Relationship between Magic and Religion
  • Daniel Miller

magic, ancient magic, antiquity, Judaism, the Hebrew Bible, relation to religion, biblical figures

Shawna Dolansky . Now You See It, Now You Don't: Biblical Perspectives on the Relationship between Magic and Religion. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2008. Pp. ii + 116.

This monograph is one of a number of recent book-length studies dealing in whole or in part with what may, arguably, be deemed "magic" in the Hebrew Bible (others include Ru¨diger Schmitt's Magie im Alten Testament [End Page 115] and Solomon Nigosian's Magic and Divination in the Old Testament). Dolansky's book comprises an Introduction and five chapters, the last of which serves as a conclusion to the study. In the Introduction, subtitled "Separating Religion from Magic in Biblical Scholarship," Dolansky begins by discussing the categories of religion and magic in general, as well as the scholarly treatment of them. She asserts that "[b]oth magic and religion claim access to realms outside of ordinary reality and attempt to manipulate supernatural forces for desired outcomes in the natural world" (p. 4) and notes that the two categories are not necessarily applicable to some societies and time periods of the ancient world. She then provides a concise discussion of scholarship on magic in the Hebrew Bible. Here, she makes two cogent observations. First, she notes that "there is evidence throughout the Bible that magic is not superimposed on a pristine Israelite religion but rather is present at the foundation of the religion and instrumental throughout its history" (p. 9). Second, she points out that in order to discuss magic in the Hebrew Bible, scholars must employ an etic as well as an emic approach. She also provides a definition of magic for the Hebrew Bible that will underpin her analysis: "Within the Hebrew Bible, magic can be defined as an act performed by a person (as opposed to theophany or direct acts of God), with or without attribution to God, that has no apparent physical causal connection to the (expected or actual) result" (p. 14) [emphasis original]. We shall return below to the issue of the usefulness of this definition.

Chapter 1, "Magic in the Ancient World," has two basic tracks. The first is a survey of the wider ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean socioreligious matrix out of which Israelite-Jewish society emerged and in whose cultural context it developed (Dolansky looks at Egypt, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, the Greco-Roman world, early Christianity, and Rabbinic Judaism, but does not include the Late Bronze Age texts from Ugarit). The second concerns how magic has been treated in anthropological scholarship.

In Chapter 2, "What's the MagicWord?: Biblical Terms Relating to Magic and Divination," Dolansky surveys the various biblical-Hebrew terms that scholars have focused upon in analyzing the Israelite view(s) toward magic (and divination). Generally, the terms for magic occur in the context of condemnation of the activities associated with them, but Dolansky points out the very striking fact that, with very few exceptions, these terms do not appear in those cases in which positive biblical figures (e.g., Moses, Aaron, Elijah, Elisha) actually perform supposedly magical acts. Ultimately, she asserts—correctly, in the opinion of this reviewer—that in the Hebrew Bible "magic is not categorically condemned. Only certain lay specialists are actually prohibited, and only in the legal and some prophetic materials" (p. 54). [End Page 116]

In Chapter 3, "Magic: For Prophet?," Dolansky mainly examines ostensible magic associated with the figures Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Elijah, Elisha, and Isaiah. Accepting the classical Documentary Hypothesis in which the Tetrateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers) is divided up into the J (Yahwist), E (Elohist), and P (Priestly) documents, she concludes that in P "there is no question of . . . humans possessing any power of their own" (p. 68); that E displays an "attribution of power to prophets yet careful portrayal of Yahweh's hand behind their actions" (p. 73); and that in J, who has neither a prophetic nor a priestly agenda, there is a relative lack of concern "about showing humans in control of magic" (p. 72...


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