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Magic and its Socio-religious Function in the Ancient Israel Religion

Heesook Bae 1

1장로회신학대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

Magic is usually treated as a primeval form of religion. Thus far, magical practices in the Old Testament have been generally regarded as those of the Canaanite religion, and it was widely accepted that the YHWH religion of ancient Israel overcame magical rituals. However, the Old Testament reveals that the official religion of ancient Israel had never been separated from the magic. This study shows, with literary analyses of the stories of Elijah and Elisha and with parallels from the Ancient Near Eastern traditions, that magical rituals existed in the official religion of ancient Israel and that they performed a social and religious function in ancient Israelite society. The Elijah and Elisha narratives reflect the historical activities of the men of God. These stories show that the troubles which individuals (2 Kgs 5:1-27), families (1 Kgs 17:8-24; 2 Kgs 4:1-37), small social communities (2 Kgs 4:38-44), a city (2 Kgs 2:19-25), and a king and his kingdom (1 Kgs 22:10-12; 2 Kgs 13:14-19) underwent, were overcome through the magic which was performed by the men of God. In this regard, the magical actions are accompanied in some cases by the words of God and the prayers of the men of God, or by their symbolic actions or only by words of the men of God without any specific magical actions. To sum up, resistive magic, which prevents the causes of disasters that have already happened, comprises most of the magical rituals of Elijah and Elisha. It confirms that the purpose and the function of the magical ritual in ancient Israel was to eliminate all the social, economic, and political disorders which were detrimental to the existence of the people, and to establish the basic conditions of life for them.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.

This paper was written with support from the National Research Foundation of Korea.