Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Jesus the Magician

For a long time it has seemed to me that much of the Christian narrative about Jesus is more myth than fact. Unlike some occultists who think Jesus never existed, I do think there is enough historical evidence to conclude that he was a real person who taught something similar to what is recorded in the Gospels and could very well have been crucified by the Romans. However, I think that the theology that was built up around him starting with Paul's letters and later with the rulings of the Council of Nicea likely has little to do with the historical reality aside from a few basic facts and surviving parables.

An excellent book on what the historical Jesus may have really been like is Jesus the Healer by Stevan L. Davies. Davies argues that Jesus may have started out as a trance healer and exorcist who went on to develop a following. Such healers were common in ancient Palestine, so in order to accomplish that Jesus must have been especially proficient. Trance healers of the period tended to use "familiar spirits" that they invoked in order to accomplish their healings, but Jesus was different in that he identified his "spirit" as that of God. The similarity between this concept and the Thelemic description of the Holy Guardian Angel strikes me as quite noteworthy.

A new piece of archaeological evidence indicating that people may have thought of Jesus as a magical practitioner has been found in the harbor of Alexandria in Egypt. The piece is a bowl engraved with an inscription that may be read as "by Christ the magician" or "the magician by Christ." The bowl is dated between the second century BC and the first century AD, so it could have been made during the life of Jesus. If "Christ" here does indeed refer to the Biblical Jesus, this bowl provides an interesting glimpse into how the founder of the largest religion in the Western world may have really been viewed during his ministry.

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AISh MLChMH said...

Check out "Jesus the Magician" by Morton Smith which goes into a lot of detail regarding this thesis. While at least one of his key arguments is dated, his comparisons with parts of the gospels and the Egyptian-Graeco magical papyrii (among other things) is interesting. In particular "Son of God" being an epithet for "Magician".

Ananael Qaa said...

Sounds interesting! I'll have to check that out.