Brock Mason and John Welch, JD, Law School
For my research project, I continued working with John W. Welch of the BYU Law School, investigating how Roman, Greek, and Jewish law accounted for magic. As part of my research, I traveled through Turkey and Greece searching for sources during the summer of 2012. During my trip, I discovered an important inscription which discusses city laws governing religious and other behavior (and a few more for other research projects I have about baptism for the dead). This inscription, piece 8187 at the epigraphical museum in Athens, is, as far as I know, currently unpublished. As of now, I am still translating the piece, and I will utilize it in further research. Below is a picture of me transcribing the inscription at the epigraphical museum in Athens:
In addition, I have collected a number of original sources for my project, in the Greek, Roman, and Jewish traditions, which discuss both the laws surrounding magic and certain cases where people were accused of or punished for magical practices. These sources include the following: for the Greek tradition, the Greek magical papyri, the Teos inscription, inscription 8187 from the epigraphical museum in Athens, Plato’s Laws, and the trials recorded in Philostratus’s Vitae Sophistarum; for the Roman tradition, Ammianus Marcellinus’s descriptions of law and magic in Rerum Gestarum, the trial of Claudia Pulchra (Annals of Tacitus), the expulsions of the Roman astrologers between 33 B.C. and A.D. 93, the trial of Apuleius for magic (Apology of Apuleius), the laws of Sulla, and a number of discussions contained in the Digest of Justinian (50.16.236, 48.8.13, 184.108.40.206f) and the Codex of Theodosius (9.16.5-13); for the Jewish tradition, Exodus 7:11, 22:17, Deuteronomy 13, 18, 2 Kings 9:22, 2 Chronicles 33:6, Isaiah 2:6, 47:9, 12, Jeremiah 27:9, Daniel 2:2, 27, Micah 5:10-15, Nahum 3:4, and Malachi 3:5.
Most of my research, on all of these issues, is still ongoing. I intend to continue working on the project with my mentor, John W. Welch, for at least another year and a half (until my graduation). Nonetheless, I have written one complete paper which discusses magic and law in the Jewish tradition. In this paper, entitled “Israelite Legal Perspectives on Magic as Sorcery: a Study of the Verb כשף and its Legal Implications in Iron Age Israel,” I examine the legal status and meaning of the root כשף (sorcery) and some related words in the Hebrew Bible and Canaanite literature. I presented this paper in ANES 430R, a research class on the history of ancient Israelite religion, taught by Dana M. Pike.
Although the results of my research are still tentative, as of now I can draw the following general and specific conclusions:
- the meaning of the term magic, both in legal and other contexts, varies between the societies under discussion. Further, it must be analyzed on cultural and religious grounds, and no universal definition of magic exists. For this reason, analyzing magic in legal terms is an effective way to contextualize the discussion within the culture being discussed. This method might resolve some issues in the current literature surrounding ancient magic.
- Within the Jewish tradition, the term “magic” and related nouns acted more as substantive adjectives, such as the word immoral, rather than as mere descriptive words. Most of the appearances of this class of words are value-judgments.
- Within the Jewish tradition, many forms of magic were considered social ills which undermined the entire covenant-society. Many of these forms of magic were punishable by death, both in the written law and a few historical cases (the exile being an example offered by the biblical writers).
- Within the Greek tradition, there were no specific laws against magic. Nonetheless, magicians could be charged and tried for magic, but these cases were normally based on laws of impiety or related statutes, not on any specific laws about magical practices.
- For the Greeks, magic was a broad term that encompassed a whole host of practices which changed depending on the political, religious, economic, and social contexts.
- Within the Roman tradition, the laws against magic developed overtime to become more specific and powerful. Around the time of Christ, there are no specific laws against magic, though the jurists recognized its potential threats to the empire. As time went on, the Roman jurists started to differentiate between positive and negative magical practices, outlawing the latter while permitting the former.
- By and large, the Roman attitude towards magic was more pragmatic than the Jewish or Greek traditions. Magic was punishable if it created bad consequences for the empire as a whole. This explanation accounts for the distinctions made by later Roman jurists (Justinian Digest 50.16.236).
I look forward to continuing my research on this project, and I am deeply grateful for the grant I received to continue my work. It was instrumental in allowing me to travel and obtain crucial insights into my project. It has been a wonderful and enriching experience. Thank you, again, for this support.