The Biblical Black Arts
Dr. John C. Reeves
204B Macy 21A Cedar (for 2017-18 only)
Office hours: WF by appointment (for 2017-18 only)
‘For there is no enchantment in Jacob, nor any divination in Israel ….’ — Numbers 23:23
‘… the more women (there are), the more magic (there is) ….’ — m. ’Abot 2.7
A survey of a broad range of biblical characters, stories, and rituals which intersect with some of the vocations and practices popularly known as the ‘black arts’; namely, sorcery, divination, necromancy, ritual magic, astrology, and alchemy. Many of these examples will be closely studied in tandem with earlier ancient Near Eastern or later Jewish, Christian, Graeco-Egyptian, or Muslim texts and traditions.
Warning: In this class you will hear or read ideas which may disturb, shock, dismay, or outrage you, and you will be compelled to think using methodological paradigms which you may deem troubling, wrong-headed, blasphemous, or even sacrilegious. If you think you might be uncomfortable in this situation, then this is definitely not the class for you. On the other hand, if you think you can suspend your uncritical attachments to certain notions about scriptures, their meaning, and the circumstances surrounding their production, then you will undoubtedly learn a great deal about the historical and cultural matrices betwixt which Judaism, Christianity, and Islam arose and flourished.
Web links to many of the primary texts we will read are available on the course website. Other texts will be distributed by the instructor either in class or electronically as needed.
a. Readings. The nature of this course entails a significant amount of close reading and reflection both within and outside of class. Students are responsible for completing the reading assignments (outlined below or assigned in class) in a timely manner. Every student must read and critically engage substantial portions of Bible, other scriptural and parascriptural works, commentaries, testimonia, folktales, spells, grimoires, and other esoterica which have been englished from texts originally written in Akkadian, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, Mandaic, Greek, Latin, Coptic, Arabic, Persian, and Ethiopic. Critical engagement with a select set of secondary readings authored by modern theorists, analysts, and historians is also required.
b. Take-home written exercises. An indeterminate number of written exercises (usually one per week; optimally one per class) will be prepared and submitted for in-class discussion and out-of-class evaluation. These exercises vary in length from less than one (1) to a maximum of five (5) typewritten or electronically printed pages. All of these exercises will be announced and explained by the instructor during the course of or at the conclusion of a class meeting. The instructor’s evaluation of the student’s collective written exercise performance (using a scale √+ = A-; √ = C+; √- = D) will comprise 50% of the course grade.
c. Final take-home essay. Instead of an in-class three-hour final examination, you will prepare a final essay wherein you will be expected to synthesize many of the major issues and themes discussed in class and in the required readings, as well as to demonstrate your knowledge of the specific source materials and facts which pertain to those issues and themes. Once its topic is assigned (on the final class meeting day), this essay will be delivered to the instructor before the date and time officially mandated for the final examination of this course by the UNC Charlotte administration. The final essay is worth 25% of the course grade.
d. Individual involvement. Almost perfect attendance (see below) is an essential requirement for this course. Each class meeting builds upon the knowledge gained during previous meetings. Moreover, in-class discussion and analysis comprises a significant portion of every class meeting. Preparation for every class usually involves the completion of a series of assigned readings and/or written assignment(s). Students are expected to contribute in an informed manner to the public analysis and discussion of any assigned topic, and the instructor reserves the right to administer occasional unannounced ‘pop-quizzes’ should he deem the situation so warrants (grades for such quizzes are averaged with those of the take-home exercises). The instructor’s assessment of one’s attendance, class preparation, and informed oral contributions will constitute 25% of the final course grade.
e. Zakhor (Remember!): Mastery of the assigned readings and diligent class attendance are necessary prerequisites for the successful completion of this course. Each student is responsible for all lectures, class discussions, assignments, and announcements, whether or not he/she is present when they occur.
a. The grading scale used in this course is as follows:
91-100 A = demonstrable mastery of material; can creatively synthesize
81-90 B = some demonstrable proficiency in control of material & analysis
71-80 C = satisfactory performance of assignments; little or no analysis
61-70 D = inadequate and/or faulty understanding of material
0-60 F = unacceptable work
b. One of the requirements of this course is to complete the work of the course on time. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons for late work—an illness or other emergency. ‘Emergency,’ however, does not include your social involvements, travel plans, job schedule, disk, wi-fi, and/or printer failures, the state of your love life, your obligations to other courses, or general malaise over the state of the world. The world has been in a mess as long as anyone can remember, and most of the world’s work is done by people whose lives are a mass of futility and discontent. If you haven’t learned yet, you had better learn now to work under the conditions of the world as it is. Therefore:
1) All examinations will take place only upon their announced dates and times. In other words (and please note well!), there will be NO MAKEUP EXAMS scheduled. All missed quizzes, unwritten papers, and neglected exercises will be averaged as a 0 in the computation of the course grade. There is no such thing as a ‘make-up pop quiz.’ No exceptions will be considered or granted.
2) All papers and written exercises are due on the dates scheduled in the syllabus, or on the date announced by the instructor in class (usually, the next class meeting). ‘Late’ submissions of papers (not homework exercises—see below) bear the following penalties: one day late/one letter grade; two days late/two letter grades; three or more days late/F. Please note: these ‘days’ are calendar days, not class meeting days. For accounting purposes, letter grades bear the following values: A=95; A-=92; B=85; C+=78; C=75; D=65; F=30. A paper or written exercise that is not typed automatically receives the grade F, as do those typed papers which violate the required parameters or which the instructor deems physically unacceptable and/or grammatically incomprehensible.
3) Homework exercises are due on the date announced by the instructor in class. Since we will normally discuss these exercises together in class on that date, it would clearly be unfair to those who submitted their work on time for me to accept ‘late’ work from those who were privy to our in-class discussion. Hence I will not accept ‘late’ homework submissions (even from those of you who may be physically absent during our discussion); however, ‘early’ submissions (i.e., before the start of class) are always welcome and will receive full credit.
4) Since your diligent physical participation is critical for the success of this course, attendance at class meetings will be monitored by the instructor. One or two absences, while regrettable, are unexceptional; three (3) is the limit of tolerability. Each successive absence lowers the Individual Involvement component of your assessment by one letter grade; seven (7) or more earns an automatic F in that component of your final grade. Please note that—with the exception of religious holidays—the instructor does not distinguish ‘excused’ from ‘unexcused’ absences. Unsanctioned late arrivals and early departures will be tallied as absences.
5) Policy regarding Audits: the instructor expects auditors (whether formally enrolled as such or not) to meet the same attendance, preparation, and oral participation standards as those students who are taking the course for credit. The instructor does not expect auditors to prepare and submit any written assignments.
c. Assistance and solicitation of criticism is your right as a member of the class. It is not a privilege to be granted or withheld. Do not hesitate to request it nor wait too late in the course for it to be of help.
Rough Course Outline
a. the magic/religion dichotomy
b. kinds of magic: apotropaic, aggressive, erotic, etc.
c. how magic ‘works’ (both metaphysically and culturally)
- Ritual experts
a. some terminology for ‘black arts’ practitioners (Exod 7:11; 22:17, cf. m. Sanh. 7.11; Lev 19:31; 1 Sam 28:3, 7; Isa 3:1-3; 8:19-20; Jer 27:9-10; Mic 3:5-7; Dan 2:2; 5:11; 2 Chr 33:6)
b. the locus classicus: Deut 18:9-22
c. King Solomon (1 Kgs 5:9-14 [= Eng. 4:29-34]; Wis 7:15-22; cf. Qoh 2:8 with b. Giṭ. 68a)
d. concern over disclosing a secret name (Gen 32:29; Judg 13:18)
e. illegitimate invocation of the Tetragram (Lev 24:10-16, 23)
- Divinatory practices
a. oracle-seeking (Gen 25:21-23; Lev 19:26)
b. oracular lot-casting (Josh 7:14-16; 1 Sam 10:19-24; 22:9-20; 23:2-6, 9-12; 30:7-8; 2 Sam 2:1; 5:19, 23-25; Jonah 1:7-16; Prov 16:33; Esth 3:7; 9:24-26)
c. the priestly lots, or Urim and Thummim (Exod 28:30; Lev 8:8; Num 27:21; Deut 33:8; LXX 1 Sam 14:41; 28:6; Ezra 2:59-63//Neh 7:61-65, and cf. 1 Macc 4:42-46 and m. Mid. 1.6; Philo, Vit. Mos. 3; Josephus, Ant. 3.214-18; m. Yoma 7.5; Soṭah 9.12). Other priestly lots appear in m. Yoma 2.1-4.
d. teraphim (Gen 30:27; 31:19, 30-35; 1 Sam 19:13-16; Hos 3:4; Ezek 21:26; Zech 10:2)
e. necromancy (Lev 19:31; 20:6-7, 27; Isa 8:19-20; 19:3; 29:4; 1 Sam 28:3-25; 1 Chr 10:13-14)
f. lecanomancy (Gen 44:5, 15)
- ‘Magical’ objects/rituals/substances/potions
a. the potion from the ashes of the red cow (Num 19:1-22; cf. Pesiq. Rab Kah. 4.7)
b. the potion for the śoṭah (Num 5:11-31; cf. Josephus, Ant. 3.270-73)
c. soothing or expelling a demon (1 Sam 16:14-23; 18:10-11; Tobit 6:3-9, 17-18; 8:1-3; Josephus, Ant. 8.46-49; Pseudo-Philo, L.A.B. 60.2-3)
d. expelling or laying to rest the threat from an unburied corpse (Deut 21:1-9; m. Soṭah 9.1ff.)
e. expelling evil (Lev 16:1-34)
f. execrating the enemy (Jer 51:59-64a; cf. also 1 Sam 6:1-21)
g. healing snake-bite (Num 21:1-9; cf. 2 Kgs 18:4; m. Pesaḥ. 4.9; Wis 16:5-14; John 3:14-15; Barn. 12:5-7)
h. removing sickness (Lev 14:1-20; 2 Kgs 2:19-22; 4:38-41; 5:1-19; 20:1-11)
i. reviving the dead (1 Kgs 17:17-24; 2 Kgs 4:18-37; 13:20-21)
j. rainmaking (1 Sam 12:16-18; 1 Kgs 17:1; 18:41-46; 2 Kgs 3:15-20; Josephus, Ant. 14.22-28; Megillat Ta‘anit to Adar 8, 9, and 20; m. Ta‘an. 3.8)
k. amulets (Exod 13:9, 16; Deut 6:8; 11:18; Josephus, Ant. 4.213; Matt 23:5; cf. 2 Macc 12:40; b. Shabb. 61a-b, 67a)
l. raising a ‘force-field’ (Deut 6:9; Josephus, Ant. 4.213)
- Tales of dueling magicians
a. Moses and Aaron versus the sorcerers of Pharaoh (Exod 7:8-8:15; 9:11)
b. the marvelous staff/wand (assorted aggadic traditions)
c. Balaam versus Israel (Num 22:1-24:25)
d. Elijah versus the prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel (1 Kgs 18:1-40)
- Astral worship and prognostication (Isa 47:12-15; Jer 10:2; Esth 1:13)
- Apotropaic prayers, hymns, and incantations
a. the ‘priestly blessing’ (Num 6:24-26)
b. some materials from Qumran (‘Prayer of Levi’ [4Q213a = 4QLevb ar]; the Plea for Deliverance [11QPsa col. 19]; Ps 155:1-14 [11QPsa col. 24]; 4Q510-511; 4Q444; 6Q18; 11Q11 [11QapocPs])
- Toward the articulation of a biblical demonology
a. what is a demon? Is God a demon? (Gen 32:25ff.; Exod 4:24-26; 1 Sam 26:19; 2 Sam 24:1; Isa 45:7)
b. terminology and names (Deut 32:16-17; Isa 13:21-22; Ps 106:37; Bar 4:7, 35; 1 Cor 10:20)
c. Lilith and the ‘hairy ones’ (Isa 34:14 [note especially LXX and Vulgate]; cf. Lev 17:7)
d. Resheph and Qeṭev (Deut 32:23-24)
e. Resheph and Dever (Hab 3:5)
Supplemental Bibliography for RELS 3000
In response to student requests for recommendations regarding useful and enlightening discussions of certain topics, themes, and personalities that are presented in class and/or readings, I offer the following suggestions for further study at the student’s leisure. I confine myself to materials which I myself have used with profit. Not all of these may be currently available at Atkins Library.
It is often helpful for the student to begin with appropriate articles in the standard Bible dictionaries. The most up to date are The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols.; ed. Katherine Doob Sakenfeld; Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006-09) and The Anchor Bible Dictionary (6 vols.; New York: Doubleday, 1992). Dated but still reliable are The Interpreters’ Dictionary of the Bible (4 vols.) and its Supplementary Volume (ed. George A. Buttrick; Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962 & 1976), and the Harper’s Bible Dictionary (ed. Paul J. Achtemeier; San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985). Highly recommended are the relevant articles in the new Encyclopaedia Judaica (22 vols.; Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA/Thomson Gale, 2007), the Encyclopaedia of Islam (2d ed.; 11 vols.; Leiden: Brill, 1954-2002), the Encyclopaedia of the Qur’ān (6 vols.; ed. Jane Dammen McAuliffe; Leiden: Brill, 2001-06), and The Qur’ān: An Encyclopedia (ed. Oliver Leaman; London and New York: Routledge, 2006).
Some General Studies of Magic/Religion
Jan van Baal, “Magic as a Religious Phenomenon,” Higher Education and Research in the Netherlands 7 (1963): 10-21.
Jan N. Bremmer, “The Birth of the Term ‘Magic’,” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 126 (1999): 1-12.
David Frankfurter, “The Great, the Little, and the Authoritative Tradition in Magic of the Ancient World,” Archiv für Religionsgeschichte 16 (2015): 11-30.
James George Frazer, The Golden Bough, A Study in Magic and Religion: A New Abridgement from the Second and Third Editions (ed. Robert Fraser; Oxford World Classics; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998). See esp. pp. 26-59.
Sabine MacCormack, “Magic and the Human Mind: A Reconsideration of Frazer’s Golden Bough,” Arethusa 17 (1984): 151-76.
Bronislaw Malinowski, Magic, Science and Religion and Other Essays (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1948).
Marcel Mauss, A General Theory of Magic (trans. Robert Brain; London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972).
Jonathan Z. Smith, “Here, There, and Anywhere,” in idem, Relating Religion: Essays in the Study of Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 323-39.
______, “Trading Places,” in idem, Relating Religion, 215-29.
Stanley J. Tambiah, Magic, Science, Religion, and the Scope of Rationality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).
______, “The Magical Power of Words,” Man 3 (1968): 175-208.
Lynn Thorndike, “Some Medieval Conceptions of Magic,” The Monist 25 (1915): 107-39.
H. S. Versnel, “Some Reflections on the Relationship Magic-Religion,” Numen 38 (1991): 175-97.
Michael Winkelman, “Magic: A Theoretical Reassessment,” Current Anthropology 23 (1982): 37-66.
Ancient Near Eastern, Jewish, and Muslim Magic
P[hilip]. S. Alexander, “Incantations and Books of Magic,” in Emil Schürer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (rev. ed.; 3 vols. in 4; ed. Geza Vermes, Fergus Millar, and Martin Goodman; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1973-87), 3/1:342-79.
Gideon Bohak, Ancient Jewish Magic: A History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).
Yuval Harari, Jewish Magic Before the Rise of Kabbalah (trans. Batya Stein; Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2017).
Michael Muhammad Knight, Magic in Islam (New York: TarcherPerigree, 2016).
Rebecca Lesses, “Exe(o)rcising Power: Women as Sorceresses, Exorcists, and Demonesses in Babylonian Jewish Society of Late Antiquity,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 69 (2001): 343-75.
John C. Reeves, “The Eschatological Appearance of the Staff of Moses,” in idem, Trajectories in Near Eastern Apocalyptic: A Postrabbinic Jewish Apocalypse Reader (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005), 187-99.
______, “Talking Heads and Teraphim” (unpublished).
Daniel Schwemer, “The Ancient Near East,” in David J. Collins, S.J., ed., The Cambridge History of Magic and Witchcraft in the West: From Antiquity to the Present (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 17-51.
Michael D. Swartz, “Jewish Magic in Late Antiquity,” in Steven T. Katz, ed., The Cambridge History of Judaism, Vol. IV: The Late Roman-Rabbinic Period (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 699-720.
R. Campbell Thompson, Semitic Magic: Its Origins and Development (London: Luzac & Co., 1908).
Joshua Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition: A Study in Folk Religion (New York, 1939; repr., New York: Atheneum, 1970).
Travis Zadeh, “Magic, Marvel, and Miracle in Early Islamic Thought,” in David J. Collins, S.J., ed., The Cambridge History of Magic and Witchcraft in the West: From Antiquity to the Present (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 235-67.
The Biblical Black Arts
Meir Bar-Ilan, “Witches in the Bible and in the Talmud,” in Herbert W. Basser and Simcha Fishbane, eds., Approaches to Ancient Judaism V: Historical, Literary, and Religious Studies (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1993), 7-32.
Gabriel Barkay, et al., “The Amulets from Ketef Hinnom: A New Edition and Evaluation,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 334 (2004): 41-71.
G. E. Bryce, “Omen Wisdom in Ancient Israel,” Journal of Biblical Literature 94 (1975): 19-37.
T. Canaan, “Haunted Springs and Water Demons in Palestine,” Journal of the Palestine Oriental Society 1 (1920-21): 153-70.
Yehudah Cohn, “Were Tefillin Phylacteries?” Journal of Jewish Studies 59 (2008): 39-61.
Frederick H. Cryer, “Magic in Ancient Syria-Palestine and in the Old Testament,” in Frederick H. Cryer and Marie-Louise Thomsen, Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Biblical and Pagan Societies (ed. Bengt Ankarloo and Stuart Clark; Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), 99-149.
T. Witton Davies, Magic, Divination, and Demonology Among the Hebrews and their Neighbours (London: James Clarke & Co., 1898).
Esther J. Hamori, Women’s Divination in Biblical Literature: Prophecy, Necromancy, and Other Arts of Knowledge (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015).
Paul Haupt, “Crystal-Gazing in the Old Testament,” Journal of Biblical Literature 36 (1917): 84-92.
Ann Jeffers, Magic and Divination in Ancient Palestine and Syria (Leiden: Brill, 1996).
Anne Marie Kitz, “Demons in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East,” Journal of Biblical Literature 135 (2016): 447-64.
Johannes Lindblom, “Lot-casting in the Old Testament,” Vetus Testamentum 12 (1962): 164-78.
Burke O. Long, “The Effect of Divination upon Israelite Literature,” Journal of Biblical Literature 92 (1973): 489-97.
J. B. Segal, “Popular Religion in Ancient Israel,” Journal of Jewish Studies 27 (1976): 1-22.
William Robertson Smith, “On the Forms of Divination and Magic Enumerated in Dt xviii.10,11,” Journal of Philology 13 (1884): 273-87; 14 (1885): 113-28.
Karel van der Toorn, “The Nature of the Biblical Teraphim in the Light of the Cuneiform Evidence,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 52 (1990): 203-22.
Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst, eds., Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (2d ed.; Leiden: Brill, 1999).
Ada Yardeni, “Remarks on the Priestly Blessing on Two Ancient Amulets from Jerusalem,” Vetus Testamentum 41 (1991): 176-85.
Ida Zatelli, “Astrology and the Worship of the Stars in the Bible,” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 103 (1991): 86-99.