(Larry Hurtado): I draw attention to an important study by Gideon Bohak, Ancient Jewish Magic: A History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008). Readers of this blog site will be particularly interested in his extended discussion of “Jewish magic in the Second Temple period” (pp. 70-142).
One of the provocative points Bohak makes is that ancient Jewish magic seems to differ in some respects from “pagan” magic. Indeed, Bohak goes so far as to propose that the ancient Jewish monotheistic stance may have prompted and shaped ancient Jewish magic in distinctive ways. E.g., more typically in magical texts, you appeal to particular deities, and can even threaten them if they don’t do what you want. Bohak contends that ancient Jewish magical texts reflect invocation of angels but not direct appeals to the biblical God. The transcendence and sovereignty of God (in ancient Jewish belief) meant that you can’t jerk him around the way you can deities in a polytheistic scheme. That’s a very sketchy characterization of what in Bohak’s discussion is more nuanced and supported, so do read his discussion before you make up your mind.
Another point that struck me was almost a throw-away line on p. 88. Here Bohank commences his discussion of exorcism as “the best attested” of ancient Jewish magical practices of the second-temple period. He classifies “the mechanics” into three types involving (1) “the use of animal, vegetal, or mineral substances” (e.g., the account in the book of Tobit where burnt fish-entrails drives the demon away); (2) “the personality and innate powers of the exorcist himself”; and (3) the use of “elaborate incantations, as well as specific implements and rituals, by a professional exorcist”.
Then, in a fascintating parenthesis, Bohak states: “A fourth type, exorcisms ‘in the name of Jesus,’ is one of the earliest signs of the parting of the ways between Judaism and nascent Christianity, and will not be dealt with here.” Hmm. Really interesting! Given that some scholars contend that no “parting” is observable till perhaps the late second or third century (or, per Boyarin, not till the fourth century CE), Bohak’s statement is a real head-snapper. For the use of Jesus’ name in exorcisms likely goes back to the earliest decades after Jesus’ execution (and quite possibly even back into the time of his own activities).
So, does Bohak’s passing observation point to one of what may be a number of important religious practices (esp. involving the ritual use of Jesus’ name) characterizing earliest circles of the Jesus-followers that signal a distinguishable religious movement far earlier than some scholars have recognized?