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Magic (in the Bible)


The common Hebrew verb meaning to practice magic or sorcery is kiššēp (Ex 7.11, 22.17; Dt 18.10; 2 Chr 33.6; Dn 2.2; Mal 3.5). That magic was practiced in Israel is clear from the denunciation of it in the Bible. Seemingly there were many varieties of magicians (Lv 19.26; Dt 18.10; 1 Sm 15.23, 28.3; 2 Kgs 17.17, 21.6). There are also references to the practice of magic in Is3.2; Mi 3.11; Jer 27.9 and 29.8; Ez 13.6, 9; 22.28; and Zec 10.2.

Magic played a much less important role in Israel than elsewhere. Yet the many prohibitions of the use of magic by law and the zealous struggle of the Prophets against it show that it had quite a hold on the people (Ez 13.1821; Mi 5.11; Mal 3.5). Saul at one time banished the "mediums and wizards" but later sought their help (1 Sm 28.37). From Is 3.23 it is evident that diviners and magicians were influential on the people of Judah. King Manasseh availed himself publicly of the service of the magicians (2 Chr 33.6). Jeremiah (27.9) warns the people against putting any trust in "diviners, soothsayers and sorcerers." Magic as such was alien to Yahwism; the Israelites were too profoundly aware of God as creator and of their own insignificance and total dependence on Him. In Dt 18.10 mention is made of eight different varieties of magic, all of which were forbidden by Yahweh (Dt 18.14).

The New Testament writers held the same views on magic. simon magus, a raw neophyte (Acts 8.924), and Elymas (BarJesus), a Jewish magician, pretended to foretell the future (Acts 13.612), and reference is made to the legendary magicians of Pharaoh, Jannes, and Mambres, who tried to counteract the marvels worked by Moses (2 Tm 3.8). These are the only magicians mentioned in the New Testament. St. Paul berates Elymas, calling him an "enemy of all justice, full of deceit and villainy" (Acts 13.10), and places the sorcerer with the immoral, the licentious, and the idolatrous (Gal 5.1921); St. John puts him with liars and murderers (Rv 9.21,18.23, 21.8, 22.15).

Bibliography: a. lefÈvre, Dictionnaire de la Bible, suppl. ed. l. pirot et al., (Paris 1928) 5:732739. Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) from a. van den born, Bijbels Woordenboek, 141718. h. gross and j. sint, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche 2, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (Freiburg 195765) 6:127778.

[m. j. hunt]

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