JESUS THE MAGICIAN by Morton Smith

JESUS THE MAGICIAN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A new view of Jesus--carefully researched, elegantly written, and thoroughly prejudiced. Smith offers a good deal of circumstantial evidence and still more speculation, to prove that Jesus was essentially a goes, or magician. Actually, this is an old view, first espoused by Jesus' enemies, and Smith insists it reflects the facts of history much better than the idealized propaganda in the gospels. He searches the immense body of literature, secular and sacred, of the first two centuries after Christ for parallel personalities (e.g., Apollonius of Tyana) and thaumaturgical practices. On one striking page Smith compares phrases from Matthew and John where Jesus defines himself and his role, with similar passages from the Demotic Magical Papyrus. But instead of using his data to broaden accepted notions of Jesus, Smith maintains, with peevish narrowmindedness, that this is the whole story. His critical method reminds one of Voltaire, in its vigor and clarity, its acerbity and fondness for witty sneers. (""Moses divided the sea and walked through. . . Jesus simply walked over it. . .--another brilliant piece of one-upmanship."") If nothing else, the book sheds light on the many miraculous cures reported in the New Testament. As Smith says, these are a vital, yet neglected aspect of Jesus' career. But if we have learned anything from the age-old quest for the historical Jesus, it is that no one element can explain a figure of such complexity and mysteriousness. Smith has a real and significant part of Jesus in his grasp, but he's missed the whole man.

Pub Date: April 26th, 1978
Publisher: Harper & Row