12. Necromancy

 WITH JOHN THE BAPTIST IN MK. 6:14-29//MT. 14:1-12//LK. 9:7-9

‘A certain female juggler had died, but a magician of the band put a charm under her
arm-pits, which gave her power to move; but another wizard having looked at her, cried out
that it was only vile carrion, and immediately she fell down dead, and appeared what she was in fact.’ 

~ Dom Augustine Calmet, Treatise on Vampires and Revenants [1850], XXXV ~

When Herod receives news of the miracles performed by Jesus, his immediate response is that John the Baptist has been raised from the dead and Jesus is able to perform miracles as a direct result (Mk. 6:14-29//Mt. 14:2). Although Herod is aware that debates are raging amongst the people concerning the true identity of Jesus and alternative candidates have been proposed (‘Elijah’ or ‘one of the prophets’, Mk. 6:15//Lk. 9:7-8), he remains steadfastly convinced that Jesus is to be identified with the post-mortem John. That Jesus himself was privately aware of these rumours is indicated by his question to the disciples ‘who do men say I am?’ in Mk. 8:27//Mt. 16:13//Lk. 9:18 and once again the three names of John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets are recounted (Mk. 8:28//Mt. 16:14//Lk. 9:19).

New Testament scholarship is remarkably silent concerning this seemingly widespread confusion regarding Jesus’ identity. Since these three proposed alter-identities appear on two separate occasions and take their sources from the general populace rather than from the malicious charges brought by Jesus’ opponents, it is fair to assume that the Gospel authors recognised that these rumours were commonplace amongst Jesus’ contemporaries or that they constituted popular elements of stories that arose following his death.[1] If so, the evangelists may have felt obliged to mention this speculation concerning Jesus’ true identity regardless of the damage that it may do to the messianic identity of Jesus. The identification of Jesus with Elijah may be related to the mishearing of the last words spoken by Jesus on the cross in Mk. 15:35//Mt. 27:47.[2] However, Herod’s correlation between Jesus and John the Baptist is a little more problematic. It is unlikely that Herod is referring to the concept of reincarnation since John the Baptist and Jesus existed contemporaneously and they are distinctly separate characters in the Gospels. So how it is that Herod understands the relationship between Jesus and the post-mortem John? And why would Herod assume that John was empowering Jesus to perform miracles?

In an attempt to answer these questions, Stephen Davies applies his spirit-possession model to this passage and suggests that Jesus was possessed by John and therefore Jesus was to be identified as John when under John’s influence.[3] Similar spirit-possession theories are recorded by Origen who states that in the early Christian community it was believed that through the possession of the same spirit, John the Baptist was Elijah and Jesus was John the Baptist. Therefore, Origen suggests that we are to understand Herod’s reasoning as ‘Jesus was possessed of the same powers which formerly wrought in John.’[4] Unfortunately, rationalising this Jesus-John relationship in terms of spirit-possession is inadequate since Herod’s accusation is not that Jesus is being influenced or possessed by John, but that John ‘has been raised from the dead’ (Mk. 6:14//Mt. 14:2). When re-examining this statement in the context of belief systems and superstitions concerning the violently and untimely dead in the ancient world, it becomes apparent that the modern reader, approaching the Gospels with a westernised and sanitised approach to customs surrounding the dead, may well neglect the underlying fears and anxieties that would have been brooding in Herod’s statement for the early reader. I would therefore suggest that the allegation, in the strictest sense, is that an external force has acted upon the body and/or soul of John to raise him from the dead and that John’s possessor (Jesus) is able to manipulate the post-mortem John to produce miraculous effects.
The manipulation of the spirits of the dead for magical purposes was known in antiquity as ‘necromancy’, from the Greek νεκρός (‘corpse’) and μαντεία (‘divination’). This term was often used to refer to the physical resurrection of a corpse or the re-animation of dismembered body parts using magical procedures, although it was also broadly applied to the practice of consulting the spirits of the dead regarding future events. This latter type of ‘spiritual’ necromancy was occasionally distinguished from the practice of bodily reanimation by the variant term ‘sciomancy’, from the Greek σκιά (‘shadow’) and μαντεία (‘divination’).[5] The prevalence of divinatory practices using the dead in the ancient biblical world is exemplified by the inclusion of laws forbidding such practices alongside the prohibitions against magic in the Old Testament. For example, Lev. 19:26 states ‘you shall not practice augury[6] or witchcraft’ and Deut. 18:10-11 explicitly forbids divination and consultation of the dead. The most infamous biblical example of this particular type of necromantic divination is the consultation of Samuel performed by the witch of Endor in 1 Samuel 28.

When the spirits of the dead were not being summoned to return to their corpses in order to reanimate it or harassed by magicians curious about future events, they were subjected to attempts by magicians to acquire them as familiar spirits who would work under the authority of the magician and perform supernatural acts whenever the magician so requires. We must therefore be aware that in addition to necromantic and sciomantic activity, many magicians in antiquity were actively seeking to gain possession of the dead as powerful assisting spirits.

By comparing Herod’s statement in Mk. 6:14//Mt. 14:2 to these three popular forms of necromantic activity in the ancient world, it is possible to estimate whether these magical procedures may have informed Herod’s understanding of the relationship between Jesus and the post-mortem John. Unsurprisingly, the Gospel authors do not present Jesus as engaging in activities which directly involve the raising of John in either a spiritual or corporal form. However, since the practice of necromancy was widespread in antiquity, there is a wealth of literary and magical documents that detail various necromantic rituals and methodologies and it is against this evidence that we can compare the behaviour of Jesus within the Gospels in order to judge whether the evangelists depict him as using techniques that were typically associated with the necromantic manipulation of the spirits of the dead. In order to do this, we will first adopt a literal reading of Mk. 6:14//Mt. 14:2 and ask whether the reader is to understand that Jesus has somehow raised the physical body of John. Second, we will apply a sciomatic interpretation and investigate the possibility that Jesus is accused of consulting the spirit of John through necromantic divination. Finally, we will enquire whether Herod is alleging that Jesus has possession of the spirit of John in the same way that a magician would have possession of a familiar spirit.


Corpse reanimation was considered to be a powerful demonstration of a magician’s mastery over the spirits of the dead and consequently the practice of raising the dead, particularly for divinatory purposes, is extensively cited in the literature produced by many cultures throughout history. The ancient Greeks, for example, claimed to reanimate the heads of those who had been decapitated in order to perform a type of divination known as cephalomancy and instructions for raising the dead in bodily form often appear in the magical papyri.[10] The physical resurrection of the dead is an ability that is attributed to Jesus by all four Gospel writers. There are two occasions in Mark’s Gospel in which Jesus appears to resuscitate the dead; the first is Jairus’ daughter (Mk. 5:35-43//Mt. 9:23-26) and the second follows Jesus’ exorcism of the epileptic boy (Mk. 9:14-29). On both occasions, the child only appears to be dead and therefore the legitimacy of the resuscitation is questioned (‘the child is not dead but sleeping’ Mk. 9:39//Mt. 9:24, ‘the boy was like a corpse’ Mk. 9:26). However, since a potentially magical word or phrase is present in both of these passages (see Chapter 6), our suspicions of magical practice should be heightened when considering magical activity in these particular accounts. [12] Conversely, the young man who is raised from the dead in Lk. 7:11-17 is being carried out in a σορός (‘coffin’) when his mother encounters Jesus and we may therefore presume that he has been dead for a considerable period of time.

In the account of the raising of Lazarus we are confronted with the resurrection of a corpse that been dead for four days (Jn. 11:1-46). Although a magical technique is not immediately apparent in the account provided by the author of John, some individuals, such as Tertullian, have desperately attempted to disentangle the raising of Lazarus from the practice of necromancy.[13] Furthermore, efforts to disassociate this passage from magical activities are seriously impeded by artistic depictions of Jesus in the third and fourth-centuries which portray him as using a wand when performing his miracles, particularly when raising Lazarus.

Jesus is frequently portrayed as raising Lazarus with a wand in the frescoes in the catacombs of Rome. For example, a fresco depicting the raising of Lazarus in the Catacomb of Callixtus in Rome dates to the mid-third century and presents Jesus as holding a long, narrow wand in his left hand with which he touches the head of Lazarus (see 'Jesus' Wand', fig. 1., cf. also figs. 2-3). The wand also appears in representations of the feeding miracles (figs. 4, 9) and, as Mathews observes, it is sometimes ‘Christianized’ by ‘putting a little cross on top of it’ (figs. 5, 16).[15] In addition to these Roman catacomb frescoes, the image of Jesus raising Lazarus with a wand also appears on many third and fourth century sarcophagi (figs. 6-10). These sarcophagi carvings also present Jesus as using a wand when raising the dead (fig. 11) and raising Jairus' daughter (fig. 12) and a long staff-like instrument appears in one instance when Jesus is healing a blind man (fig. 13). In addition to frescoes and sarcophagi, the image of Jesus with a wand also appears on a fourth-century gilt glass bowl (fig. 15) and two ivory diptychs; one which dates from the sixth century (fig. 16) and the Italian diptych known as the ‘Andrews’ diptych, which dates from the mid-fifth century (fig. 17).

This curious phenomenon has been overlooked by almost all studies investigating magic in the Gospels and therefore it has not been adequately explained. Although it is tempting to immediately claim that these artistic representations are valuable evidence that Jesus was considered to be a magician, we must first exhaust all other possible interpretations. For instance, is the wand used as a symbol of Jesus’ authority? This is highly unlikely as the scroll is employed for that very purpose on many other occasions and the wand does not appear in scenes which emphasise Jesus’ authority (see fig. 14). Alternatively, since many modern bible translations mention that ‘staffs’ are carried by the disciples (Mk. 6:8//Mt. 10:10//Lk. 9:3), could this wand simply be a walking-staff that is used by Jesus? Again this is unlikely as the wands do not appear randomly in scenes of Jesus’ life but only when a miracle is being performed. In many of these artistic representations the wands make contact with the object that is to be transformed, therefore they do not appear to be a superfluous or decorative element of Jesus’ appearance but they clearly have a functional purpose that is directly related to the performance of a miracle. Furthermore, the word commonly translated as ‘staff’ in Mk. 6:8//Mt. 10:10//Lk. 9:3 is ῥαβδος and F. J. M de Waele states that the use of this term in antiquity almost invariably means ‘wand’ or ‘rod’ (i.e. ‘a supple and pliant twig’) and is distinct from σκηπτρον (a rigid staff).[17] Although staffs were reportedly carried by magicians and gods in the ancient world, such as Hermes’ kerukeion-caduceus, De Waele observes that it was often the case, particularly in ancient Rome, that ‘the staff was only used as a support for beggars, for the old and the blind’.[18] The ῥαβδος, in contrast, was a flexible twig which would provide no support as a walking-stick and this smaller instrument characterised the archetypal ‘magical wand’ in antiquity (hence, although Hermes is often depicted carrying his kerukeion-caduceus, it is his ῥαβδος by which he performs his magic).

And so we come to ask: did these artists believe that Jesus had used a magical tool when performing his miracles, particularly when raising the dead? An association between wands and magical activity has clearly been made in the art of this period. For example, Peter is identified as a great magician in the Acts of Peter and therefore he appears on sarcophagi carvings bearing a wand that is similar to that used by Jesus (fig. 18). In addition, Moses is frequently depicted in the catacomb frescoes as using a wand when striking water from the rock and crossing the red sea (figs. 19-21). The book of Exodus states that Moses carried a mateh (Exod. 7:8-21; 8:5-6, 16-17), a term which the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon translates as ‘staff, rod, shaft’[21], however Mathews suggests that this instrument should be understood as having the same function as a wand.[22] By depicting Jesus as using a similar type of instrument, these artists obviously intended their audience to understand that Jesus was also a powerful magician. Therefore, in order to fully appreciate the implications of magic that these artists were weaving into the Lazarus story, we must investigate how the wand was believed to function in the ancient world.


In his comprehensive investigation into the use of wands in antiquity, F. J. M de Waele observes that the wand is a common staple of both ancient and contemporary magic and most figures in primitive or modern societies who act as a mediator between man and the gods usually carry a magical wand.[23] The Old Testament reveals that Moses and Aaron possessed magical staffs by which they worked their miracles (Exod. 7:8-21; 8:5-6, 16-17) and the use of wands in modern-day conjuring tricks demonstrates that these instruments remain associated with magical wonders in our contemporary culture.

Although the precise use of the wand in the ancient world is uncertain, De Waele suggests that the wand was considered by various cultures to be an extension of the bearer’s body and an effective power conductor through which he can transmit energy from himself to another person or object.[24] In addition to their efficacy in transferring energy, wands were also valued by the ancient Greeks as conductors of human souls. For example, Aristotle claimed that he had witnessed a man drawing the soul of a sleeping boy out of his body using a ‘soul-charming wand’ (psuchoulkos rhabdos)[25] and the Greek god Hermes appears in The Odyssey with a golden wand with which he summons the souls of the dead out of their bodies.[26] Due to their usefulness in directing energy and manipulating the souls of the living and the dead, wands were frequently employed by magicians as a necromantic tool and they often appear in representations of necromancy, on gemstones in particular, as a ‘plain small rod’ which is used by the necromancer to touch the head of the corpse. There is no definite consensus to explain why contact between the wand and the head of a corpse was necessary. It is highly unlikely that the necromancer is simply pointing to the corpse, since the precise connection between the head and the point of the wand cannot be coincidental on each occasion. In light of this recurrent wand-head connection, De Waele suggests:

‘it is very probable that the wand has something to do with a necromantic
action and that it is the usual implement of necromancers or magicians.’[28]

If the wand was unequivocally linked with necromantic practice in the ancient world, particularly when it was used to touch the head of a corpse, then it is surprising that an artist would consciously depict Jesus using a wand to perform his miracles and it is exceptionally remarkable that they would portray him as touching the top of Lazarus’ head with his wand (see 'Jesus' Wand', figs. 1-3, 7-10, 17, also the raising of Jairus’ daughter in fig. 12 and the raising of the dead in fig. 11). The suspicious similarity between the techniques of the necromancers and these depictions of Jesus in early Christian art is indicated by De Waele who comments in a vague footnote:

‘I can only suggest here that there may be a possibility of a connexion (sic)
between the artistic type of these necromantic gems and the type of Christ,
performing the wonder of the resurrection by touching the head of a dead
person with a wand.’[29]

We may presume from these artistic representations that certain individuals in the late third and fourth centuries understood that Jesus had employed magical, specifically necromantic, techniques when performing his miracles. Morton Smith briefly touches on this possibility when discussing a representation of Jesus with a wand on a fourth-century glass plate. Smith refers to the artist who produced this work as a member of the ‘Christian cult of Jesus the magician’ and he adds that this ‘cult of Jesus the magician’ demonstrates that representations of Jesus employing magical techniques are ‘not peculiar to outsiders nor solely the product of malicious interpretation’.[30] Smith therefore concludes:

‘we have to deal with a tradition that tried to clear Jesus of the charge of magic
and also one that revered him as a great magician.’[31]

In addition to the possibility that these artistic works were produced by a specific sect that worshipped and admired Jesus as a magician, Robin M. Jensen proposes that these depictions indicate that the early Church itself may have understood Jesus to be a magician.[32]

If these representations indicate that Jesus was suspected of practising necromancy in the centuries following his death, then it is likely that he encountered similar accusations during his lifetime. If so, we could possibly interpret Herod’s statement that John ‘has been raised from the dead’ (Mk. 6:14//Mt. 14:2) in its most literal form as revealing Herod’s fears that Jesus has accomplished the physical reanimation of John’s body. Although the Gospel writers indirectly support this interpretation by demonstrating that Jesus was entirely capable of raising the dead in bodily form, Herod’s allegation is not simply that Jesus has raised John from the dead, but that John is the source of Jesus’ ability to perform miracles. How is the reader to understand Herod’s suggestion that the body of the resurrected John is continually transferring power to Jesus? Are we to understand that the newly-revived cadaver of John was accompanying Jesus around Galilee and performing miracles on his behalf? On the contrary, perhaps the Gospel writers did not intend Herod’s words to concern the bodily resurrection of John but rather the consultation of his spirit. In this case, the allegation made by Herod could be interpreted as a charge that John’s spirit, rather than his physical body, is assisting Jesus in his miracles.


Magicians who were actively consulting the dead for divinatory purposes in the ancient world could often be identified by their use of a medium, typically a pure and uncorrupted pre-pubescent boy, who would act as a mediator between the magician and the spirit world. Young boys were specifically selected as mediums since their youth, sexual purity and freedom from physical desires was thought to enhance their perceptual abilities. In accordance with this opinion, Iamblichus states that the best mediums are those who are straightforward and young[34] and Justin Martyr acknowledges the popular use of ‘immaculate children’ in divination rituals.[35]

The divinatory texts within the Greek magical papyri are crammed with instructions for the use of young, pure boys. For example, a third-century lamp divination (PGM VII. 540-78) states: ‘the boy, then, should be uncorrupt, pure’. The boys’ sexual purity is stressed in ‘a vessel divination’ (PDM XIV. 1-92) in which the magician is advised: ‘you should bring a pure youth who has not yet gone with a woman’ (XIV. 68). The popularity of boy mediums in antiquity was so widespread that in one text entitled ‘a vessel divination’ (PDM XIV. 395-427) the magician is instructed ‘you can also do it alone’ (XIV. 425) and Betz expands this phrase by adding ‘i.e., without a youth.’[36] Furthermore, it was most often the case that instructions detailing the use of boys were omitted from magical texts since the authors readily assumed that the performer would be familiar with the necessary procedures.

Boy mediums have been used in magical practices from at least the fourth century B.C. and they were often employed in a practice known as ‘lecanomancy’, a method based on the notion that ghosts can manifest themselves in liquids. In the initial stages of a lecanomatic divination rite, the boy is usually blindfolded or his vision is restricted. Irenaeus mentions this practice when referring to the magicians in his Against Heresies (175-185 CE):

‘bringing forward mere boys [as the subjects on whom they practise], and
deceiving their sight, while they exhibit phantasms that instantly cease.’[40]

The blindfold is then removed and the boy is required to gaze into a reflective surface, such as stone, flames, or water. The images or shapes that the boy sees are thought to reveal a message from the gods or spirits. To aid the success of this type of divination, the magician is often directed to induce a trance-state in the boy in order to make him receptive to visions. Instructions to bring about a trance state for this purpose are provided in a text entitled ‘Charm of Solomon that produces a trance’ (PGM IV. 850-929).[42] Betz comments that this title literally means ‘Solomon’s Collapse’ and it is therefore ‘an indication of ecstatic seizure’.[43] Convulsive behaviour in a boy was a contributing factor to the accusations of magic made against Apuleius. When his accusers claimed that a boy ‘fell to the ground’ in his presence and consequently sought to attach a charge of magic to Apuleius, he defended himself by claiming that the floor was slippery or that the boy was suffering an epileptic seizure.[44]

In addition to their youth and sexual purity, many divination rituals in the Greek magical papyri require the boy to be naked and dressed in white linen. This manner of dress is described in a divination to Helios (PGM IV. 88-93) which instructs the magician to ‘wrap a naked boy in linen from head to toe (σινδονιάσας κατὰ κεφαλης μέχρι ποδων γυμνὸν κρότα)’. Pure garments or pure sheets are an essential apparatus in most divinatory rites and they are occasionally used by the practitioner himself. For example, a text entitled ‘Hermes’ ring’ requires the performer to ‘put under the table a clean sheet’ (σινδόνα καθαρὰν, PGM V. 220) and it is the magician himself who must put on a pure garment in the ‘Spell of Pnouthis’ (PGM I. 57).

Examples of child divination in the Greek Magical papyri appear to be the tip of the iceberg of an entire magical tradition that was associated with magical divination in antiquity. Since these procedures were commonplace and clearly related to magical practice, should the reader be suspicious of occasions in the Gospels in which Jesus is accompanied by a young man who is dressed in similar attire to the boy mediums in the magical papyri?

IV. THE νεανίσκος  IN GETHSEMANE (MK. 14:51) AND AT THE TOMB (MK. 16:5)

The identity and role of the νεανίσκος (‘young man’) who follows Jesus at Gethsemane (Mk. 14:51) has been subject to a great deal of discussion in New Testament scholarship since his function within the passage and his relationship with Jesus is unclear. Some commentators have suggested that the νεανίσκος  of Mk. 14:51 could be the author of Mark inserting himself into the Gospel narrative. However, we may presume from the great care taken by Mark to provide details regarding the youth’s unusual mode of dress that he did not intend the youth to be a superfluous literary device. In addition, simply by the criteria of embarrassment alone, the evangelist would not include a character dressed in such a bizarre fashion without good reason. It appears that the author of Mark was comfortable with the inclusion of this strangely dressed, anonymous figure and therefore the neani,skoj and the details of his unusual clothing must serve an important function within the narrative.

Another similarly dressed νεανίσκος appears later in Mk. 16:5 and some scholars have identified this figure as the same νεανίσκος previously encountered in Gethsemane. The white robe (στολὴν λευκήν) worn by the youth in Mk. 16:5 has led some commentators to conclude that the figure is an angel. However, although the term νεανίσκος  is used to refer to an angel in 2 Macc. 3:26-34 and Tobit 5 (in this latter instance this is because the angel is disguised), Scroggs and Groff correctly point out that the author of Mark uses ἀγγελος (‘angel’) elsewhere within his Gospel seemingly without embarrassment, therefore it is likely that he would have used the term ἀγγελος if he intended the reader to recognise this figure as an angel.

It has also been proposed that the νεανίσκος  in Mk. 16:5 is to be understood as the risen Jesus, particularly since he appears ‘sitting on the right side’, a position which evokes the christological notion of the exalted Jesus seated at the right hand of God (cf. Mk. 12:36, 14:62). Furthermore, white garments featured earlier in Mark’s Gospel in the transfiguration narrative (Mk. 9:3). However, it is clear that Mark did not intend the νεανίσκος to represent the risen Jesus as the purpose of this figure within the narrative is to announce that Jesus is not in the tomb and to point towards his resurrection.

Others have suggested that the στολὴν λευκήν worn by this young man indicates that he was undergoing a Christian baptism or a ritual involving a symbolic death and resurrection experience. Although the customary dress of Christian baptism closely resembles the clothing of the neani,skoj in Mk. 16:5, we immediately encounter difficulties with this theory when attempting to identify this character with the near-naked νεανίσκος accompanying Jesus in Gethsemane. First, the νεανίσκος in Mk. 14:51 is not dressed in a στολὴν λευκήν but in a σινδών, a word used by all three Synoptic writers to describe the linen cloth in which Jesus’ body was wrapped (Mk. 15:46//Mt. 27:59//Lk. 23:53). Some scholars have deduced from this parallel that this σινδών is a burial cloth and therefore the youth must either be Lazarus or clothed in the ceremonial garb required for a death-rebirth ritual. Second, if the reader of the Gospels is to identify the νεανίσκος in Mk. 14:51 as the same figure in the tomb in Mk. 16:5, then it may be tempting to suggest that both passages describe a pre-baptismal and post-baptismal individual, or equally a pre-initiatory and post-initiatory individual. However, this theory would require Jesus to have completed the youth’s rite of transformation, either his baptism or initiation, between his arrest in Gethsemane and his resurrection from the tomb. Since the Gospel writers tell us that Jesus was in custody during this period, then the logical progression of events does not allow his interpretation. Furthermore the reader is led to believe that the youth is not a loyal follower of Jesus or fledgling disciple for, as Morton Smith notes, he runs away and abandons Jesus in Gethsemane (Mk. 14:52). If the youth is not to be understood as having a close relationship with Jesus, then what is his purpose in the narrative? And why would he follow Jesus around dressed in such an unusual manner if these were not baptismal or initiatory garments?
Readers of the divinatory rites in the Greek magical texts cannot fail to notice the similarities, particularly in clothing, between the boy mediums in the magical papyri and the νεανίσκος in Mk. 14:51 and 16:5. The youthfulness of the man is emphasised by Mark’s use of the Greek word νεανίσκος, meaning ‘young man’ or ‘servant’, although the precise age indicated by the term νεανίσκος is contentious. Furthermore, the word σινδών which is used to refer to the linen cloth worn by the νεανίσκος in Mk. 14:51 is also found in many of the rituals in the Great Magical Papyri of Paris (PGM IV). For example, in PGM IV. 88-93 the magician is instructed to ‘wrap a naked boy in linen from head to toe (σινδονιάσας κατὰ κεφαλης μέχρι ποδων γυμνὸν κρότα)’ and in an ‘oracle of Kronos’ (PGM IV. 3086-3124) the practitioner is instructed to ‘be clothed with clean linen (σινδόνα καθαρὰν) in the garb of a priest of Isis’ (IV. 3096). The symbolic use of the sindw,n to represent death and rebirth is evident in certain magical texts in which the participant is required to use a σινδών when performing a pseudo-burial. An example of this appears in a letter concerning bowl divination (PGM IV. 154 – 285) which permits the magician to consult a drowned man or dead man. It reads:

‘go up to the highest part of the house and spread a pure linen garment (σινδόνιον καθαρόν) 
on the floor…and while looking upward lie down / naked on the linen
(σινδόνα) and order your eyes to be completely covered with a black band. And
wrap yourself like a corpse, close your eyes and, keeping your direction toward
the sun, begin these words….’

Considering the similarities in age and dress between the boy-mediums in the magical papyri and the neani,skoj in Mk. 14:51 and 16:5, would the early reader of the Gospels, who would in all probability be accustomed to these magical procedures or at least familiar with such activities, notice these resemblances and suspect that the youth in these Markan passages had an equally magical purpose?


It is with a great deal of trepidation that I venture a brief discussion into the various suspicious elements of necromantic activity within the ‘Secret’ Gospel of Mark. Being fully aware of the current controversy regarding the credibility of this source, I do not intend to engage with issues surrounding the authenticity of the text and therefore evidence from the extended version of Mark is offered as a supplement to the earlier observations made in canonical Mark.[53] Furthermore, should the extended version of Mark be conclusively proven to be inauthentic, then this will not have a dramatic impact on our investigation since implications of divinatory processes have previously been established by the two instances of a suspiciously dressed νεανίσκος in canonical Mark. Therefore rejecting evidence gathered from this text on the basis of its dubious credibility will simply diminish the evidence of divinatory practices within the Gospels by one-third rather than discredit the suggestion in total.

The reader of Secret Mark is again presented with a young man who is ‘wearing a linen cloth (σινδόνα) over his naked body’ and once more commentators have attempted to explain his unusual dress by suggesting that the youth is undergoing an early Christian baptismal ceremony. To propose that the series of events in Secret Mark describe a Christian baptism raises the same difficulties as those previously identified in canonical Mark and there are additional elements within this passage that render this interpretation particularly problematic. For example, if the young man in Secret Mark is simply undergoing a Christian baptismal ceremony, then why is it necessary for the youth to come to Jesus during the evening in a secretive manner and remain with him throughout the night? And why would Clement refer to this particular act as a μυστικὰς (‘secret doing’) of Jesus?

In his Letter to Theodore, Clement hints at a distinction between the πράξεις του Κυρίου (‘doings of the Lord’) that are recorded in canonical Mark and the μυστικὰς (‘mystical/secret’) doings of Jesus that are absent in canonical Mark:

‘As for Mark, then, during Peter’s stay in Rome he wrote an account of
the Lord’s doings (πράξεις του Κυρίου)[55], not, however, declaring all of
them, nor yet hinting at the secret (μυστικὰς) ones, but selecting what he
thought most useful for increasing the faith of those who were being
instructed’ (I.15– 18, trans. M. Smith).

The clandestine nature of the extended Markan narrative is established at the outset by identifying this text as a μυστικὸν εὐαγγέλιον (II. 12), which immediately instils in the reader a sense of supernatural foreboding. As indicated in Morton Smith’s translation above, the translation of μυστικὰς as ‘secret ones’ thereby implies that these activities took place in secret and that their details were consciously withheld from public speculation. If the author of Mark omitted these additional details of Jesus’ secret or mystical ‘doings’ on the basis that they were to remain out of public circulation, then what could this supplementary passage in Secret Mark possibly contain that could prove to be so provocative or damaging?

The statement ‘Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God’ (3:8-9) certainly indicates a strong element of tuition and suggests that the youth is undergoing a secret initiation, such as those associated with mystery cults. If the passage was considered by the author of canonical Mark to describe an initiation rather than a baptism, then the evangelist may have been understandably reluctant to reveal too much detail regarding the methods used by Jesus to pass on his mystical teachings to his initiates. Alternatively, these activities may have been interpreted by the early reader as instances of magical practice and consequently the Gospel evangelist may have censored this passage and omitted it from the final version of his Gospel, hence this passage subsequently came to be referred to under the vague heading of ‘mystical’ or ‘secret’ doings. The magical connotations of the term μυστήριον are discussed by Betz who observes that in the Greek magical papyri: ‘magic is simply called μυστήριον (mystery, PGM IV. 723, 746; XII. 331, 333) or μυστήρια (mysteries, IV. 476, V. 110)’.[58] Smith boldly suggests that the ‘mystery of the kingdom’ was a magical ritual in itself. [59]

There are certainly many opportunities within the passage for those familiar with the magical traditions of the ancient world to grow suspicious of magical activity, particularly the presence of a naked youth dressed in a linen cloth and the imparting of secret knowledge during the night, a time which, although terribly clichéd, is typically associated with necromantic activity.[60] In addition, a strict interval of six days elapses before Jesus summons the boy to him. Are we to understand that Jesus has allowed the boy a period of convalescence to recover from the trauma of returning from the dead? Or does this indicate that a period of preparation has been necessary to equip the boy for the event which Jesus subsequently commands him to attend?

Most magical procedures require any individual who is uninitiated or unfamiliar with the performance of a rite to complete a period of preparation prior to the ritual. The pre-training of a child medium is a customary requirement in the magical papyri; for example, a ‘vessel inquiry’ (PDM XIV. 239-95) suggests that the magician uses ‘a pure youth who has been tested’ (XIV. 287). Similarly, in PGM II. 55 the magician must use ‘an uncorrupted boy, who has been tested’ (παιδὶ ἀφθόρω γυμναζομένω) and Betz writes in his comments on this text: ‘γυμναζομένω means literally ‘trained’ or ‘practiced’’.[61] A period of preparation is also necessary if the rite is to be performed by the practitioner himself. He is usually advised to purify himself and abstain from sex for several days beforehand in order to achieve a state of purity. For example, PGM IV. 1097 instructs the magician to ‘purify yourself from everything three days in advance’ and PGM IV. 3210 states that the practitioner should keep himself ‘pure for 7 days.’ A period of sexual purity is emphasised in PGM IV. 898 (‘keeping him from intercourse for 3 days’) and PGM I. 40-42 states: ‘[this] rite [requires complete purity]. Conceal, conceal the [procedure and] for [7] days [refrain] from having intercourse with a woman.’ Rites of initiation into mystery cults typically involved a period of purification and preparation prior to the initiation ceremony. For example, in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses, Lucius undergoes a purification ritual several days before his initiation into the Isis cult and he is clothed in a linen robe on the day of the ritual. [63]

If Secret Mark is an authentic document which reveals the ‘mystical’ or ‘secret’ doings of Jesus, then we have a huge wealth of evidence from which to draw parallels between Jesus’ behaviour in the Gospels and the activities of the magician operating within the ancient magical tradition. However, if Morton Smith is responsible for constructing this extended version of Mark, then perhaps he had these particular magical procedures in mind when doing so and fully intended to raise our suspicions of dubious practice in order to add a pinch of magic to Jesus’ ministry. In either event, the existence of the text indicates that someone, either an ancient Gospel writer or a modern New Testament scholar, understood that Jesus was engaging in activities that were not only secretive, but also carried significant connotations of magical behaviour.

Returning to Herod’s statement in Mk. 6:14//Mt. 14:2, it is entirely possible to interpret this as an allegation that Jesus is consulting the deceased spirit of John the Baptist, especially considering that Jesus is often accompanied by a figure who fits perfectly into the role of a magician’s medium. In addition, C. H. Kraeling in his study ‘Was Jesus Accused of Necromancy?’ observes that the term used for the conjuring up of spirits of the dead in magical texts, namely ἐγείρειν, is identical to that used by the author of Mark in Mk. 6:14.[64] Since the dead were most often manipulated for divinatory purposes, evidence of foresight or prophetic visions of the future were valuable indicators of necromantic activity[65], therefore the consultation of the dead is not a behaviour that we would expect to find associated with Jesus in the Gospel accounts. In spite of this, all three Synoptic authors report that Jesus was skilled at prophecy and that he was privy to information concerning future events, as indicated by his own passion predictions (cf. Mk. 8:31; 10:33f; 14:8, 18, 27-31 and pars.). He also appears talking with Moses and Elijah during his transfiguration (Mk. 9:4// Mt. 17:3// Lk. 9:30). As this consultation with Moses and Elijah is initiated by Jesus and the author of Luke specifically states that they revealed to him details about his future (‘they spoke of his departure’, Lk. 9:31), is the reader to understand that Jesus had invoked the dead in order to consult with them concerning future events?[66]

Alternatively, in contrast to theories of corpse reanimation and spirit divination, Kraeling proposes that when Herod states that John ‘has been raised from the dead’ he does not mean that Jesus is in communication with the spirit of John, but his words reflect the popular opinion circulating amongst the people of Galilee that Jesus had, or was in possession of, the spirit of John the Baptist. [67] This position was later supported by Morton Smith who explains the allegation made in Mk. 6:14 as follows:

           ‘John the Baptist has been raised from the dead (by Jesus’ necromancy; Jesus
now has him). And therefore (since Jesus-John can control them) the (inferior)
powers work (their wonders) by him (that is, by his orders).’[68]

Interpreting Herod’s statement in terms of Jesus’ possession of the spirit of John exposes an identical allegation to that made by the Pharisees in the Beelzebul controversy (Mk. 3:22//Mt. 12:24//Lk. 11:15). In this instance, rather than proposing that Jesus’ miraculous powers have a demonic source, Herod is claiming that Jesus draws his power from the magical manipulation of the soul of John the Baptist. The wealth of evidence surrounding the magical employment of the souls of the untimely dead in the ancient world suggests that this explanation of Jesus’ powers would have been perfectly natural to a first century audience and therefore Kraeling’s theory is a very persuasive proposal.


Cause of death was of great importance to people in the ancient world and an individual’s manner of death was noted and interpreted accordingly. Numerous civilisations throughout history have feared the souls of those who have met a violent or early demise since the ominous nature of this kind of death made it both frightening and highly suspect. Tertullian, in his De Anima, assigns these souls to two distinct categories; those who had died before their natural allotment of time on earth (the ἄωροι) and those that had been killed by violence (the βιαιοθάνατοι), including suicides, murder victims and those killed in battle.[70] A contributing factor to the fear surrounding the βιαιοθάνατοι in particular was the notion that if the soul was taken from the body by violence then this would prolong its co-existence amongst the living. From the fifth-century BC onward, a growing number of texts underline the popular theory that the ‘untimely dead’ or ‘dead by violence’ are unable to enter the Underworld and that they must remain restless until they reached the time of their natural death from old age.[71] For example, in Plato’s Phaedo, Socrates recounts the popular belief that the dead are unable to ascend or descend and that they are forced to live in and around their graves, restlessly wandering and seeking ways to assault the living and avenge their death.[72]

Stories concerning the earth-bound, or more specifically the corpse-bound, nature of these spirits may have arisen from direct observations of the cadavers of those who suffered a sudden death. Modern medical studies reveal that the bodies of victims who have been killed suddenly or violently tend to behave abnormally following death. Not only do these bodies decompose at a slower pace, but often their blood reliquifies. Anyone unacquainted with this abnormal post-mortem phenomenon would therefore assume when coming into contact with the body of an individual who had suffered a violent or sudden death that the body was still alive, since it would bleed when cut and decompose more slowly than usual.

For the ancient magician, the vengeful nature of both the ἄωροι and the βιαιοθάνατοι and their hostility towards the living and resentment toward their killers singled them out as particularly keen to lend their aid to magical activity, as their bitterness could be redirected to victims at the discretion of the magician. Tertullian addresses this magical spirit-manipulation in his De Anima, describing how the violently killed and the ‘too early killed’ were frequently invoked in many types of magical ritual and they appeared to the magician as phantasmata. [77] Since these vengeful souls were considered to be of such great value to the magician, if one could not be found then one would be made. Hence there were reports of magicians in antiquity who performed boy sacrifice in order to create a restless spirit and this is probably the origin of the rumour that Simon Magus performed his ‘miracles’ using the soul of a murdered boy that he created out of thin air and promptly sacrificed.[79] In addition to the human dead, the souls of animals were also used in magical manipulations. For example, PGM XII. 107-21 contains instructions on the use of ‘a black cat that has died a violent death’ and certain texts in the magical papyri give instructions on the ‘deification’ of animals in order to grant the magician a powerful spirit through which he can work his magic.[80]

Although some curse tablets, or defixiones, have been discovered in caves or bodies of water such as wells, since the dead were considered to be a healthy supply of useful spirits it is no surprise that the majority of curse tablets have been found in graves. Magicians considered graves to be gateways to the underworld and they would often insert their curse tablets into them, the tablets essentially acting as ‘letters’ and the corpse acting as a ‘letterbox’ to the underworld. This procedure is demonstrated in PGM V. 334-339 which provides the following directions for constructing a curse tablet:

‘taking it [the package] away to the grave of someone untimely dead, dig [a hole]
four fingers deep and put it in and say ‘Spirit of the dead, who[ever] you are,
I give over NN to you, so that he may not do the NN thing.’ Then, when you
have filled up the hole, go away.’

The earliest curse tablets do not accredit power to the corpse itself, but a change occurs around the fourth-century BC and the dead themselves become a power that can be exploited. Magical texts and curse tablets from the fourth-century BC onwards began to address the ghost of a corpse directly and refer to this spirit as a δαιμόνιον. [81] The use of the spirits of the dead came to be such a standard feature in ancient magic that it was eventually crystallised in the special term νεκυδαίμονες (‘corpse demon’). The term νεκυδαίμονες recurs frequently throughout the Greek magical papyri, particularly in the Great Magical Papyri of Paris (dated to around 200 AD) in which the term is used in the construction of love charms such as the ‘Wondrous Spell for Binding a Lover’ (PGM IV. 296-466). This particular binding spell requires the magician to place the text beside the grave of one who has died an untimely or violently death and adjure all the ‘daimons’ of the graveyard to ‘stand as assistants beside this daimon’ for the magician’s consequent employment. Later in the same text, the daimon of the corpse is invoked with the special term νεκυδαίμον (IV. 360). Other rites from the same papyrus instruct the magician regarding methods used to employ the disembodied souls of the violently dead as spiritual assistants on earth. For example, there is a love spell of attraction performed with the help of heroes or gladiators or those who have died a violent death (PGM IV. 1390-1495), a rite for binding a lover using the demons of ‘men and women who have died untimely deaths’ (PGM IV. 296-466) and in a Prayer of Petition to Helios (PGM IV. 1950-1955) the magician prays:

            ‘I beg you, lord Helios, hear me NN and grant me power over the spirit of
this man who died a violent death… so that I may keep him with me [NN]
as helper and avenger for whatever business I crave from him.’ [82]

Since an association between the daimones and the dead is evident in curse tablets and magical papyri several centuries on either side of the New Testament period, the early readers of the Gospels would most probably have made a connection between the ‘demons’ exorcised by Jesus and the spirits of the dead, particularly since the author of Mark uses daimo,nion and pneu/ma avka,qarton (‘unclean spirit’) interchangeably in order to ensure that his readers understand both to be the same.

The account of the Gerasene demoniac in Mk. 5:1-20 clearly demonstrates that fears regarding the untimely dead and their influence upon the living were common within the New Testament era. This scene in Mark’s Gospel depicts an encounter with the unsettled dead and describes their post-mortem existence among the living, their ability to possess the living and their inclination towards displays of aggressive and violent behaviour.


As the author of Mark states that the Gerasene demoniac has been living amongst the tombs (Mk. 5:3) there is a strong possibility that the early reader of the Gospels, who was accustomed to various superstitions surrounding the untimely dead, would naturally assume that the demoniac has been exposed to wrathful spirits forced to remain within the vicinity of their graves.[86] This association between spirit-possession and the individual’s proximity to the graves of the dead is reinforced by the ancient magical practice known as ‘incubation’, a method in which the magician would sleep on top of a grave in order to encounter the ghost of the spirit within. It is the process of ‘incubation’ that is described by Philostratus in his account of Apollonius of Tyana’s consultation of Achilles[88] and this practice is also mentioned in Isaiah 65:4 regarding those who ‘who sit in tombs, and spend the night in secret places’.

Some commentators speculate that as the possessing demons in Mk. 5:1-20 identify themselves as ‘legion’ then these possessing spirits are the souls of soldiers who fell in battle with the Romans. The validity of this hypothesis is strengthened by a wealth of evidence which suggests that soldiers and those killed in battle were deemed the most fearful of restless spirits. Not only had these souls suffered a violent death, but as the bodies of soldiers often remained unburied and unidentified on the battlefield, this disrespectful treatment of the corpse was thought to contribute to the spirit’s restlessness. For this reason, the souls of the unburied acquired a classification of their own in ancient magic and battlefields were frequented by necromancers either looking to procure a useful familiar spirit or seeking to place curse tablets for activation by restless ghosts. The souls of soldiers commonly appear as familiar spirits in the magical papyri; for example, PGM IV. 1390-1495 is entitled: ‘A love spell of attraction performed with the help of heroes or gladiators or those who have died a violent death’. In addition, it was against this background of magical tradition that the witch Erictho in Lucan’s Pharsalia chose to consult the ghost of an unburied soldier[93] and Apollonius of Tyana was reported to have exorcised the restless ghost of a soldier who had taken possession of a boy.[94]

Throughout this exorcism in Mk. 5:1-20, the hostility and violent nature of the spirits possessing the Gerasene demoniac are evident in the demoniac’s aggressive behaviour and amazing strength (Mk. 5:3-5). The vengefulness of these spirits is finally demonstrated in their chosen method of expulsion - a cathartic release in the form of a καταποντίσμος, (‘sea dive’), an ancient ritual associated with sacrifices to Poseidon. If the author of this exorcism account was aware that the spirits of the dead were generally violent and vengeful and that they could return to exert their influence upon the living, then perhaps this is the fundamental theory that lies beneath Herod’s statement in Mk. 6:14//Mt. 14:2. As established at the beginning of this chapter, it is unlikely that the reader is to interpret the Jesus-John relationship in terms of spirit-possession due to the fact that Herod states that John ‘has been raised from the dead’, i.e. that an external force has acted upon the body and/or soul of John to raise him from his grave. I would suggest that the relationship between Jesus and the post-mortem John is to be understood as an allegation of magical spirit manipulation. Herod is proposing that Jesus has raised the spirit of John from the dead and that he is using this spirit to perform miracles, much in the same way that a magician in the ancient world would employ a βιαιοθάνατος to carry out his magical operations.


By stating ‘John, whom I beheaded, has been raised’ (Mk. 6:16), Herod draws attention to John’s mode of death and indicates to the reader that his death satisfies the credentials for the creation of a highly vengeful spirit that is ripe for magical exploitation. There are a number of differing opinions regarding decapitation in the ancient world. The Romans regarded it as a quick and painless death and therefore it was often reserved for dignitaries, but to Greek minds it was a brutal act and counted amongst the most violent of deaths. Due to their violent demise, the souls of the beheaded were feared throughout antiquity and accounts of headless men and headless creatures were particularly common. In Hellenistic Egypt it was believed that the spirit of a beheaded criminal became a type of 'headless' demon known as an Akephalos and these headless demons frequently appear in the magical papyri.[97] For example, the incantation in PGM V. 96 is addressed to a ‘Headless one’ (ἀκέφαλον) and the magician later claims in the same text that he is to be identified as a ‘headless daimon’ (ἀκέφαλος σαίμων, V. 145).
Due to the fear associated with the victims of a violent death in the ancient world, especially regarding victims of decapitation, the method of John’s execution in Mk. 6:16 would have been particularly significant for the early reader of the Gospels as it would have singled him out as a prime candidate for magical manipulation. I would therefore suggest that it is possible to interpret Mk. 6:14-29//Mt. 14:2 as an allegation that Jesus is using the spirit of John as a powerful βιαιοθάνατος by which to perform his miracles. Furthermore, by identifying himself as the killer and accepting responsibility for John’s death, Herod reveals that he fears retaliation from John’s vengeful spirit and this may account for his steadfast opinion that it is John who has returned and his reluctance to consider the alternative candidates proposed in Mk. 6:15//Lk. 9:7-8.

Since the Gospel writers frequently portray Jesus as knowledgeable regarding binding methods used by magicians to control demonic spirits in the ancient world (as demonstrated in Chapter 11), it is perfectly reasonable to assume that Jesus was also capable of employing these techniques to gain the control over spirits of the dead, such as John the Baptist, particularly since the demons that are exorcised in the Gospels are occasionally identified as the spirits of the dead (Mk. 5:1-20). Furthermore, the magical tradition reveals that a magician who had gained control over the spirits of the dead could not only cast them out in exorcism, but he could also ‘set them to work’ on specific tasks such as healing, exorcising other spirits or divination. In consideration of this, Herod’s allegation that Jesus is able to perform miracles through the magical manipulation of the spirit of John is not only understandable, but in accordance with the principles of ancient magic it is also an entirely credible interpretation of Jesus’ power-source.

If the critic would dismiss the possibility that Jesus’ miraculous powers had a demonic, or daimonic, source on account that this evidence is found in the mouths of Jesus’ opponents in the Gospels who intended to discredit his authority and claims to messiahship, then it is necessary to silence any deliberation from hostile sources and proceed from hereon accompanied solely by the words and behaviour of Jesus himself as presented by the evangelists. In order to conclusively confirm that Jesus has control of a spirit in the Gospels, rather than visa versa, we would ideally hope to uncover an aspect of coerciveness in Jesus’ approach to his empowering spirit or, at the very least, an indication of his ability to compel a spirit to obey his will. Whereas the implications of demonic and daimonic manipulation discussed in the previous chapters were made by Jesus’ opponents, we will discover in the following chapter that valuable evidence of spirit manipulation can also be found in certain accounts of Jesus’ own behaviour and teachings, namely the implied manipulation of the Holy Spirit in Mk. 3:29//Mt. 12:31//Lk. 11:20, the use of the title ‘Son of God’ as a means of self-identification, the arrival of a familiar spirit in the baptism narratives and the cursing of the fig tree in Mk. 11:12-24//Mt. 21:18-22. I would suggest that evidence of spirit manipulation and a coercive attitude can be discerned in Jesus’ own words, teachings or behaviour in each of these passages and this annihilates all possession theories and firmly stamps the seal of magic on his ministry. However, the spiritual source in question does not derive from the demonic or the dead in this instance, but from the most common source of assisting spirits employed by the magician in the ancient world; the divine. 

Extract from Helen Ingram (2007) Dragging Down Heaven: Jesus as Magician and Manipulator of Spirits in the Gospels, PhD, The University of Birmingham, UK.



[1] An echo of this is found in the Slavonic additions to Josephus’ Jewish War in which we read: ‘some said of him, ‘our first lawgiver is risen from the dead, and hath evidenced this by many cures and prodigies.’’
[2] The confusion regarding Jesus’ words on the cross will be addressed later.
[3] ‘By the logic of possession, then, if Jesus received John’s spirit he had therefore become possessed by John and so sometimes had John’s identity. Or, if possessed by Elijah’s spirit, he therefore sometimes had Elijah’s identity’ (Stevan L. Davies, Jesus the Healer: Possession, Trance and the Origins of Christianity (London: SCM Press, 1995) p. 95).
[4] Origen, Commentary on Matthew, 10:20. Morton Smith points out that there was a period of time when Simon Magus was believed to ‘be’ Jesus until his real methods were discovered (Morton Smith, Jesus the Magician (London: Gollancz, 1978) p. 34).
[5] This process would typically involve the conjuration of a spirit in a ghost-like form or the controlled possession of the magician by the invoked spirit (for induced possession as a method of magical prophecy, see the use of the 'ob' in Chapter 12).
[6] The Hebrew word here translated as ‘auguries’ generally carries the meaning of ‘divination’ (cf. BDB p. 638).
[10] See PGM XII. 279-283: ‘for the resurrection of a dead body’.
[12] For example, the talitha koum commandment appears in the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Mk. 5:41) and following the exorcism of epileptic boy, Jesus teaches his disciples that this type of demon ‘cannot be driven out by anything but prayer’ thereby suggesting to the reader that a specific prayer technique should be used in this case (Mk. 9:29).
[13] Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, 53.3.
[15] Mathews,  T.F., The Clash of Gods: A Reinterpretation of Early Christian Art (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993) p. 57.
[17] F. J. M. de Waele, The Magic Staff or Rod in Graeco-Italian Antiquity (Drukkerij Erasmus, 1927) p. 25.
[18] De Waele, The Magic Staff, p. 27.
[21] BDB, p. 641.
[22] ‘these subjects are ubiquitous in catacomb art and…demonstrate Moses making use of his magic wand’ (Mathews, The Clash of the Gods, p. 72).
[23] F. J. M. de Waele, The Magic Staff or Rod in Graeco-Italian Antiquity (Drukkerij Erasmus, 1927). De Waele notes: ‘even as in our days, this ancient object belongs to the equipment of the sorcerer…so it may have been with the goetia, originally a kind of necromancy, but afterwards generally, only a kind of prestidigitation…in augury and astrology, as well as in many other forms of primitive sorcery, a wand or staff may have been used’ (p. 23).
[24] De Waele, The Magic Staff, p. 165.
[25] Clearchus, On Sleep, quoted by Proclus in his Commentary on Plato’s Republic X. For further discussion of this passage, see Hans Lewy, ‘Aristotle and the Jewish Sage According to Clearchus of Soli’, HTR 31.3 (1938) pp. 205-235.
[26] Homer, The Odyssey 24. For examples of staffs used by gods and goddesses such as Hermes, Dionysos and Asklepios, Athene, Artemis, Nemesis, Rhea, Poseidon, and Apollon, see De Waele, The Magic Staff, chapter 1: ‘The Magic Staff or Rod in the Hands of the Gods.’
[28] De Waele, The Magic Staff, p. 165.
[29] De Waele, The Magic Staff, p. 165.
[30] M. Smith, Jesus the Magician, p. 64.
[31] M. Smith, Jesus the Magician, p. 94.
[32] Robin M. Jensen, ‘Raising Lazarus’, Bible Review 11.2 (1995), pp. 20-29.
[34] Iamblichus, Myst. 3. 24.
[35] Justin Martyr, 1 Apol. 18.
[36] Hans Dieter Betz (ed.), The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, Including the Demotic Spells, 1 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986) p. 220.
[40] Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 2. 32. 3.
[42] The author of the text adds in parenthesis following the title ‘works on both boys and on adults.’
[43] Hans Dieter Betz, The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation , p. 55.
[44] Apuleius, Apology, 27. Having denied using a boy-medium, Apuleius later states ‘it is my own personal opinion that the human soul, especially when it is young and unsophisticated, may by the allurement of music or the soothing influence of sweet smells be lulled into slumber and banished into oblivion of its surroundings so that, as all consciousness of the body fades from the memory, it returns and is reduced to its primal nature, which is in truth immortal and divine; and thus, as it were in a kind of slumber, it may predict the future’ (Apology, 43). He adds: ‘this miracle in the case of boys is confirmed not only by vulgar opinion but by the authority of learned men’ (Apology, 42).
[53] Readers who are interested in the current state of scholarship regarding the authenticity of Secret Mark are directed to the recent publication by Stephen C. Carlson, The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith‘s Invention of Secret Mark (Baylor University Press, 2005). Carlson provides a comprehensive overview of scholarly investigation into this text to date and argues that Secret Mark is a modern forgery that has been fabricated by Morton Smith himself.
[55] The ‘deeds of Christ’ appear in Matthew 11: 2.
[58] H. D. Betz, 'Magic and Mystery in the Greek Magical Papyri' in Christopher A. Faraone and Dirk Obbink (eds.) Magika Hiera: Ancient Greek Magic and Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991) p. 249.
[59] Smith, Jesus the Magician, p. 135.
[60] The practitioners of the spells in the Greek magical papyri are frequently instructed to perform their rituals ‘at night’ (cf. PGM IV. 3091) and daimons are often invoked from out of the dark (cf. PGM XXXVI. 138). Also, Heraclitus associates the magi with the ‘night-walkers’ (Clement of Alexandria, Protrepticus 22.2).
[61] Betz, The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, p. 14. n. 17.
[63] Apuleius, Metamorphoses, XI. 2.
[64] C. H. Kraeling, ‘Was Jesus Accused of Necromancy?’, JBL 59 (1940) p. 155. Arndt and Gingrich translate ἐγείρω as ‘raise, help to rise’ (W. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957) p. 213-214). Mark uses the term ἐγείρειν of Jesus’ resurrection (Mk. 16:6) and of people after healing (Mk. 1:31; 2:9-12; 3:3; 9:27; 10:49). In addition to indicating the raising of the dead (Mt. 11:5; Mk. 5:41; Lk. 7:14, 7:22, 8:54; Jn. 5:21), the term is also used in the Gospels to indicate the movement of the body upon awaking from sleep (Mt. 2:13, 2:20, 8:26; Mk. 4:27, 14:42). Oepke recognises the various interpretations of ἐγείρω by translating the term as ‘to rise up’, also ‘to make well, to rise up strengthened’ and ‘‘to raise the dead’ or pass. ‘to rise from the dead’’ (Albrecht Oepke, ‘ ἐγείρω / ἔγεροις', TDNT, vol. 2, p. 335).
[65] Hence Philostratus protects Apollonius against a charge of magic by claiming: ‘his foreknowledge was gained not by wizardry, but from what the gods revealed to him’ (Philostratus, Life of Apollonius, 5.12).
[66] It could be argued that since Eiljah was carried to heaven in a fiery chariot (2 Kings 2:7-12), we cannot identify him as a member of the dead.
[67] Kraeling, ‘Was Jesus Accused of Necromancy?’ pp. 147-57
[68] Smith, Jesus the Magician, p. 34.
[70] Tertullian, De Anima, 56-57.
[71] Porphyry attempts to explain this phenomenon when he writes: ‘The soul, having even after death a certain affection for its body, art affinity proportioned to the violence with which their union was broken, we see many spirits hovering in despair about their earthly remains; we even see them eagerly seeking the putrid remains of other bodies’ (Porphyry, De Sacrificiis, Chapter on the True Cultus).
[72] Plato, Phaedo, 6.
[77] Tertullian, De Anima, 52.
[79] Clementine Recognitions, XV: ‘Then we understood that he spake concerning that boy, whose soul, after he had been slain by violence, he made use of for those services which he required.’ Even the post-crucifixion Jesus was subjected to magical exploitation in view of the violent nature of his death and we will explore this later in Chapter 14.
[80] Other texts including the ‘deifying a spring mouse’ (PGM IV. 2457) and the ‘deification of a field lizard’ (PGM VII. 628). PGM III.1 states that drowning the animal causes it to be transformed into an Esies. Betz interprets the term Esies as ‘an epithet of the sacred dead often applied to Osiris who was drowned and restored to life’ (Betz, The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, p. 334).
[81] This correlation between the Greek daimons and the souls of the dead was not only made in magical texts. For example, Josephus makes the same connection in Bellum Judaicum 1.82, 84 and Antiquitates Judaicae 13.314, 317, 415-416.
[82] See also PGM LVII. 1-37, dating from the 1st or 2nd century A.D, which reads ‘I will not break [the] bonds with which you bound Typhon, and I will not call those who have died a violent death but will leave them alone’ (LVII. 5-6, my emphasis).
[86] For the notion that the living can be possessed by the ghosts of the dead, see Justin Martyr, 1 Apol. 18.
[88] In order to consult Achilles, Apollonius was required to spend the night on his ‘barrow’ (Philostratus, The Life of Apollonius, 4.11).
[93] Lucan, Pharsalia, 6. 717-987.
[94] Philostratus, Life of Apollonius, 3. 38.
[97] For more on the Akephalos see Betz, The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, p. 335.

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