Books by Richard Smith

Released: May 1, 1994

Meyer (The Secret Teachings of Jesus, 1984) and Smith (The Nag Hamadi Library, not reviewed) provide literate and entertaining translations of a variety of early Christian magical incantations. For too long, the editors contend, scholars have tended to draw distinctions between what is called ``religion'' and what is termed mere ``magic.'' In an effort to help reverse this trend, they have assembled a large number of texts from ancient Egypt that were purported by their Christian users to have ritual power. Relying on the latest theories concerning ritual studies, these scholars demonstrate not only the falsity of this dichotomy but also the incredible diversity of expressions in an early Christianity that is too often thought to have been monolithic. The spells and formulae in the volume perform a number of different functions, from healing for specific physical ailments to the securing of love and sex. There is also a collection of curses, including the interesting and vituperative curse by a mother upon a younger woman who had captured her son's affections. The most important part of the volume deals with various rites practiced by the Gnostics (a catch-all appellation for disparate groups of Christian heretics who believe in salvation through secret, mystical knowledge), including an initiation and a spell for ascending through the heavens. The final section of the work offers selections from various magic handbooks of the ancient world. The book could have benefited from some attention to Tom Driver's recent The Magic of Ritual (not reviewed). Though primarily of interest to religious scholars, there is enough here to entertain interested lay readers as well. Read full book review >