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The Sages and the Occult

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Chapter Summary

This chapter explains ancient Jewish magic and its place within the broad spectrum of Jewish culture in Palestine and Babylonia, in the Mishnah and the Talmud period. Two principal factors are pointed out: a growing stream of publications of primary sources from Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages; and a re-examination of the rabbinic discourse on magic that has increasingly been based on methodology found in the fields of the social sciences, cultural studies, gender studies, and comparative religion. The study of the rabbinic 'discourse of the occult' in recent decades is characterized by an approach that rejects its subordination to the religious-moral-ideological message as the one and only key to its explication. As with sorcery, the textual evidence associated with demons and the evil eye is so extensive, that one must re-evaluate rabbinic texts in this light. Inductive divination and intuitive divination are documented in the rabbinic literature.

Keywords: ancient Jewish magic; Babylonia; Palestine; rabbinic literature



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