Friday, February 25, 2011

Jesus The Magician (Post 7: Chapter 6 Summary)

(Prior posts in the series are located in Category "Jesus the Magician")

Smith begins Chapter Six by making the case that the mark of a magician is, sin que non, a miraculous act and that, based upon the writings of Justin and Celsus, the title “son of god” was used in popular thought as an alternative label to designate a “miracle man.” This, he states, is why the title “son of god” is almost always used in the synoptic gospels in connection with miracle stories. An example of one such miracle worker/magician whose claims to divinity was well known during the time of the composition of John’s gospel was, according to our author, Simon Magus from Samaria. According to Smith it was apparently Jesus’ resemblance to Simon Magus that prompted his critics to label him a Samaritan (like Simon Magus).

Next, Smith demonstrates that early Christian writers such as Origin were forced to admit that the miracles of Jesus closely resembled the miraculous acts that were performed by magicians. However, Origin is quick to point out those factors which distinguish Jesus’ miraculous acts from those that a magician would perform. According to Origin, Jesus’ miracles do not resemble any of those performed by magicians (i.e., goetes) on account that Jesus utilized his miracles as a platform to teach those that were amazed by the spectacles the fear of God and to call them to moral reformation (As a side note, Smith points out that the miracle stories within the synoptic gospels are not usually connected with Jesus’ teaching stories. Thus he takes the position that Jesus’ miracle stories and his teaching stories probably circulated independently of one another, thereby suggesting that the activities did as well.) Smith then argues that other Christians followed suit and, like Origin, conceded that Jesus’ miracles resembled the miraculous acts of magicians. Like Origin they too found other criteria to distinguish the miracles of Jesus from those of the magicians. According to Smith, the typical maneuver of these Christians was to reduce the idea of a “magician” to its lowest standard of the scoundrelous goes. In doing so they were able to assert that Jesus, given that he did not resemble this character, was not a magician (As a side note, Smith reminds us that the notion of “magician” in Palestine had a wide range of meanings that do not fit this characterization of a magician. In other words, Smith argues that while the early Christians denied that Jesus was a magician, they were denying a very limited and specific type of magician, principally the scoundrel or criminal type. According to Smith, this tactic was an intentional misrepresentation of the accusation to deny the charges of Jesus’ accusers).

Smith brings the chapter to a close by comparing the stories of Jesus and Apollonius of Tyana, noting both the historical similarities between the activities of Jesus and Apollonius and the legends that sprang forth as a result of these activities. For Smith, the most noteworthy facts to discern from such a comparison is that both Jesus and Apollonius were believed to be a “son of god” by their followers (i.e., a being of supernatural power) and that both were accused of being magicians by their enemies.

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