In western discourse "magic" carries various negative connotations that stem from its use in ancient polemic and are reinforced by post-enlightenment biases against so-called primitive religious practices or superstitions. For this reason some scholars recommend dispensing with the term altogether (Janowitz: 1-8). Others see it as a potentially useful heuristic device if applied critically, noting the possibility that magic can be considered a source of power or prestige in certain societies (J. Z. Smith: 17). This article examines the ambivalent attitude toward magic in rabbinic discourse and argues that diverging portraits of it in rabbinic literature reflect different attitudes toward ritual power in Palestine and Babylonia. In other words, rabbinic writings indicate that magic could carry positive as well as negative connotations in certain parts of the ancient world and demonstrate the need to conceive of "magic" more broadly as a discourse of power - situating discussions of it in particular social contexts. Furthermore, this article seeks to illuminate the relationship between attitudes toward magic and social structure by delineating the evolving role of magic in rabbinic ideology and self-representation.
Journal of the American Academy of Religion
College of the Humanities

Stratton, K. (2005). Imagining power: Magic, miracle, and the social context of rabbinic self-representation. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 73(2), 361–393. doi:10.1093/jaarel/lfi040