13. Manipulating the Divine


Man, proud man,
Drest in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he’s most assur’d,
His glassy essence, like an angry ape,
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven,
As make the angels weep.

~ William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, Act II, Scene II ~

Although Honi the Circle-Drawer is exalted in both sacred and secular literature as a prime example of a Jewish charismatic who performed miracles through pious prayers to God rather than by magical means, the Talmud contains an account of Honi’s famous prayer for rain that paints a very contradictory picture of his approach to God and identifies a manner of speech that is demanding, insistent and regarded as an example of ‘arrogance towards heaven.’[1]When asked by the people to pray for rain, Honi addresses God with the following statement:

           ‘I swear by your great Name, that I will not stir from here 
           until you have compassion on your children!’ (M. Taanit 3:8)

In view of Honi’s impious behaviour towards God, the leader of the Pharisees scolds him and exclaims:

‘You are presumptuous before the Creator and yet he does as you wish,
like a son presumes on his father and he does whatever he wishes.’
(M. Taanit 3.8)

The notion that a human being can influence a divine spirit to obey his will by employing a series of threatening demands may seem incredible to the majority of readers operating under the contemporary Western Christian perception of God as a remote being, far removed from our earthly realm and situated at a distance in the heavens. However, the magicians of antiquity considered their gods to be far more readily accessible and they alleged that it was not only the lesser spirits of the demonic and the dead that were ripe for magical exploitation but also the supreme gods themselves. Consequently the ancient magician would often attempt to command the gods to do his bidding, either by gaining possession of a god or a divine spirit that would work continually under his authority as an assisting spirit, or by persuading a god to grant the magician an equal status so that he too can possess divine powers, or by employing a series of threats to coerce the god to obey the magician’s will and respond whenever he requires the use of the spirit’s power. It is this third and final method that is implied in Honi’s address to God in the quotation above and it is this approach that is ultimately responsible for the caricature of the arrogant, proud magician who threatens and shouts at his god until his demands are met. With all three of these techniques constituting irrefutable evidence of magical practice in the ancient world, the early reader of the Gospels who was accustomed to this type of magical behaviour would surely be surprised to encounter instances in which Jesus appears to behave in this manner, particularly evidence of behaviour which suggests that he was in possession of a divine spirit or that he had a coercive approach to God. Nevertheless, there are occasions in which Jesus admits that a spiritual power is working under his authority and at times it appears that he is seeking to influence the will of God.


When accused by the Pharisees and the scribes of manipulating a demonic spirit and practising magic (Mk. 3:22//Mt. 12:24//Lk. 11:1), the reader would naturally expect Jesus to reject the possibility that he is using a spirit and thereby deny a charge of magic. Surprisingly, although Jesus fervently denies that his powers are fundamentally demonic, his response is not to deny the use of a spirit but to correct the Pharisees’ mistaken identification of it and redirect his accusers to the correct source of his exorcistic power; the Holy Spirit (Mk. 3:28-29//Mt. 12:31-32). Consequently the charge of a spiritual intermediary at work in Jesus exorcistic activities remains intact the question becomes a matter of identifying whether it is Beelzebul or God who is behind Jesus’ actions.

A claim to divine assistance was a common defence used by the magician in antiquity who, when unable to deny a charge of magic, would attempt to justify his activities to opponents who accused him of using demonic powers by indicating that heavenly spirits were in operation or that a god had aided him in his activities. However this divine damage limitation exercise was not without fault. By identifying the spiritual power behind his operations as a divine spirit or even a deity itself, the magician often incurred fresh charges of blasphemy from his opponents. This defensive measure appears to be present in Jesus’ response in Mk. 3:28-29//Mt. 12:31-32: ‘whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.’ Although this response successfully counters an accusation of collusion with demonic spirits, it is also a candid confession that Jesus is using a spirit-authority to carry out his exorcisms and, since the argument prior to this statement is concerned with ‘having’ spirits and employing them to perform miracles, the Gospel authors obviously intend Jesus’ statement to correctly identify the spirit that is in his possession.

The versions presented in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew clearly identify the Holy Spirit as the operative element in Jesus’ exorcisms (Mk. 3:29//Mt. 12:31-2) and the Matthean version even reaffirms and reinforces the presence of the Holy Spirit by inserting an additional passage earlier into the account in which Jesus states ‘if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons’ (Mt. 12:28). Since the implied manipulation of the Holy Spirit in this passage could easily warrant a charge of magic, this statement was, rather unsurprisingly, a cause for alarm for the author of Luke who prefers to replace the Matthean expression πνευμα του θεου (‘Spirit of God’) with the Old Testament phrase δακτύλω θεου (‘finger of God’, Lk. 11:20) and resituate mention of πνεύμα later in the story at Lk. 12:10. As Luke regularly uses the terms δύναμις and πνεύμα in close relation to one another and makes constant reference to the Holy Spirit throughout his Gospel, some commentators suggest that it is unlikely that he would have altered this reference in his source. Consequently, the originality of Luke’s δακτύλω θεου could be proposed on the basis that Matthew may have found a change to πνεύμα more palatable to avoid anthropomorphism and associate Jesus’ miracles more directly with the Holy Spirit. However, Luke also includes the expression ‘hand of the Lord’ many times in Acts as a replacement for ‘Spirit’ (cf. Acts 4:28-30, 11:21, 13:11), therefore the ‘finger of God’ may have been understood by the early readers of Luke as being synonymous with ‘Spirit of God’. Similarly, the expression ‘finger of God’ is understood in the same way as the ‘hand of God’ in the Old Testament and both were phrases commonly used to describe the power of God. [7] It has also been proposed that the Luke’s alteration was made in order to draw out parallels between the release of the demon-possessed in this passage and the release of the captives in Exodus 8 in which the magicians tell Pharaoh ‘this is the finger of God’, Ex. 8:19). I would suggest, however, that the author of Luke may have been particularly reluctant to retain Matthew’s pneu,ma in this instance as it gives the impression that Jesus was performing exorcisms by manipulating the Holy Spirit.

If the author of Luke replaced the Matthean πνεύμα with the expression δακτύλω θεου in order to distance Jesus from the implied manipulation of the Holy Spirit, then he does more to compound the problem of magical technique in this passage than to diffuse it. The expression ‘finger of God’ does feature significantly in ancient magic; for example, the phrase δακρύλου [sic] του θεου appears in a binding charm on an ostracon translated by Karl Preisendanz in which the magician states ‘I swear to you with the finger of God.’[11] Furthermore, the ‘finger of God’ was closely associated with Egyptian magical ritual and when examining the use of the phrase ‘finger of god’ in Exodus 8:19, Thomas Römer comments:

‘This expression, attested in Egyptian magical formulas, undoubtedly
points to Aaron’s stick, whose superiority the sorcerers acknowledge.[13]

Since Aaron was recognised by the Egyptian magicians as a superior magician due to his use of a powerful stick or rod known as the ‘finger of God’, could it be possible to apply a parallel interpretation to Luke’s use of δακτύλω θεου in this passage as suggestive of a similar magical tool being used by Jesus? If so, then perhaps it is within this passage that the early Christian artists who depicted Jesus as using a wand found their muse.

In addition to a term referring to a magical tool, the title ‘the finger of God’ is a name that is given to a supernatural power in many ancient magical texts. Marvin Meyer observes that the name ‘Orphamiel’ is ‘well known from other Coptic texts of ritual power and is commonly associated with the index finger of god’s right hand.’[14] To illustrate the association between Orphamiel and God’s finger, Meyer cites from an ancient ostracon invoking Orphamiel which states: ‘You are Orphamiel, the meaning of which is: the great finger of the father.’[15] This name appears yet again in a spell from the London Oriental Manuscript 6796 (dated by Walter Crum ‘about the year 600’) which casts out unclean spirits ‘in the power of Orphamiel, the great finger of the right hand of the father!’ [16] Later in the same text the exorcist demands: ‘I adjure you, father, by…Orphamiel, that is the great finger of your right hand, that you send me Jesus Christ’.[17] However, Orphamiel is not the only spiritual power to be associated with the finger of God. An amulet to bind a dog (i.e. to keep a dog silent) from the London Oriental Manuscript 1013A invokes ‘the great finger Nathaniel’ to bind a subject:

‘I adjure [you], I place you under oath, by the great finger, Nathaniel: Bind, bind, bind, unbreakably!’[18]

This particular text was most likely used by a thief to restrain a dog so that he could steal from a house (coincidentally, Luke’s δακτύλω θεου appears in close proximity to the binding terminology used by Jesus and the metaphor of a plundered house in the parable of the strong man in Mk. 3:27//Mt. 12:29//Lk. 11:21-22).

The originality of the Lukan δακτύλω θεου or the Matthean πνεύμα does not ultimately determine the presence of magical connotations within this passage since both carry serious implications of magical techniques at work in Jesus’ exorcisms. If we accept Hull’s suggestion that Matthew altered his received Lukan version of the story from δακτύλω θεου to πνεύμα then this may indicate that Matthew was sensitive to the suggestion that a magical technique or a magical tool was employed by Jesus in his exorcisms. Alternatively, if the author of Luke has altered the Matthean account then it is unlikely that he would consciously include a reference to δακτύλω θεου as this phrase carries such a strong magical subtext and great care has been taken by all three Synoptic writers to remove traces of magic from elsewhere in the Gospels. However, Luke may have felt a change was necessary in order to avoid the implication that Jesus had control over the Holy Spirit and that he was able to manipulate it in order to produce miracles, particularly since Matthew does not place evidence of magical spirit manipulation in the words of Jesus’ opponents in this instance, but in the words of Jesus himself.

The identification of Jesus’ empowering spirit as the ‘Holy Spirit’ does not discount the possibility of magical practice since divine or ‘holy’ spirits were commonplace in the ancient world and they were frequently employed by magicians as supernatural assistants. The magical papyri provide numerous examples of rites that can be performed to achieve the possession of a divine spirit and it is by closely examining these instructions that we can rightfully judge whether Jesus’ conduct in the Gospels is similar to the behaviour of a magician in possession of a holy spirit. To begin, we can compare the accounts of a magician’s acquisition of a divine spirit that are provided in the magical papyri to the moment in the Gospels in which this spiritual power initially appears to Jesus. Although we have previously considered Jesus’ baptism as the moment of passive spirit-possession, we must now reconsider the baptism narratives as an account of his reception of a divine familiar spirit.


Although Celsus is particularly keen to stress the influence of Egyptian magic on Jesus’ activities, he argues that the coming of the dove and the voice at Jesus’ baptism has its parallels in Egyptian magical rituals that anyone could learn to perform.[20] The absence of ritual elements in the baptism narratives contradict Celsus’ allegation. However, since the Gospel reports of Jesus’ healings and exorcisms have been edited to remove physical or verbal techniques that could be misconstrued as having parallels to magical behaviour, we must regard with suspicion the absence of baptismal words or ritual and consider the possibility that we have an abridged version. If the details of the baptismal rite itself would have been inoffensive to the early reader, then the omission of this material in all three Synoptic accounts is inexplicable. By removing these seemingly harmless details the Gospel authors suggest that they were in some way detrimental to their evangelical objectives. If Smith is correct when he suggests that the details of the baptismal ritual have been removed, then there are three possible reasons for why this may have occurred. The first possibility is that the evangelists simply considered these details to be unnecessary and superfluous clutter in the story and therefore they chose to give preference to the unusual motifs of the dove and descending spirit. Second, the original story may have contained additional factors that were considered to be contentious due to their bizarre imagery. However, as the redactors retain material which uses unusual or mythological language elsewhere in the Gospels, such as in the temptation narrative, we must assume that peculiar or symbolic imagery would not have been a deterrent to the redactor. Finally, since the Gospel writers continually remove potential indicators of magical technique, there is a strong possibility that the ritual elements of the baptism were thought to resemble illicit or magical procedures and they were consequently removed on this basis. If certain elements of the baptism accounts were considered by the evangelists to be too reminiscent of magical practice, then the dove-motif may have been salvaged from a broader chain of events on the basis that it was regarded by the Gospel authors to be a useful device through which to represent the coming of the Holy Spirit to Jesus.

While the dove-motif may have initially proven valuable in representing the bestowal of divine approval upon Jesus, the symbol of the descending dove has since been unable to elude its associations with magic and it is possible that the accusations of spirit manipulation and demonic empowerment made by Jesus’ opponents had their foundation in, or were influenced by, the story of a spirit descending to Jesus in the baptismal accounts. Charges of spirit manipulation may have been founded upon the Markan baptism narrative in particular as the Spirit which descends onto Jesus and drives him into the wilderness is simply referred to as an anonymous πνεύμα (Mk. 1:10, 12). This interpretation is wisely avoided by both the authors of Matthew and Luke. The Spirit that descends to Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel is clearly identified as ‘the Spirit of God’ (πνευμα του θεου, Mt. 3:16-17), although the Spirit which drives him into the wilderness is once again the simple Markan πνεύμα (Mt. 4:1). The author of Luke’s Gospel ensures that the Spirit is linked unequivocally with God by having the ‘Holy Spirit’ (πνεύματα ἁγίου, Lk. 3:22) descend to Jesus and although it is again a general πνεύμα that drives Jesus into the wilderness, the evangelist inserts a line before Jesus’ expulsion to remove any doubt concerning the identity of the Spirit: ‘and Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit’ (πνεύματα ἁγίου, Lk. 4:1). The author of the Gospel of John may have been acutely aware that the pericope had the potential to form the basis of a polemical attack against Jesus or his followers as he retains the story, possibly because it was too well known to be omitted, but changes the story into a vision received by John the Baptist (Jn. 1:32-24).

Alternatively, rather than being the original source of these allegations, it is entirely reasonable to conclude that this story was constructed as a response to claims from those hostile to Jesus’ mission that there was a demonic spirit at work in his healing and exorcistic ministry, hence the great emphasis placed in the Matthean and Lukan accounts on the divine origin of the Spirit present at Jesus’ baptism. However, I would suggest that it is highly unlikely that the evangelists deliberately invented the appearance of a spirit as this would have given significant weight to the opponents’ claims that Jesus derives his miracle-working abilities from the manipulation of a spiritual power. Furthermore, it is particularly unlikely that they would have chosen the motif of a descending spirit since aerial spirits were closely associated with magical practice in the ancient world.

Augustine addressed the existence of aerial spirits at length in his City of God and these spirits appear frequently throughout the Greek magical papyri.[23] In the ‘Spell of Pnouthis for acquiring an assistant spirit’ (PGM I.42 -195), the magician is addressed as ‘O friend of aerial spirits’ (ἀερίων πνευμάτων, I. 50) and later in the same manuscript the magician asks to be protected ‘against all excess of magical power of aerial daimon’ (δαίμονος ἀεριου, PGM I. 216). Similarly in a ‘bear charm’ (PGM VII. 686 - 702) the magician encounters a spirit who is addressed as ‘O aerial one’ (VII. 699). In addition to spirits that have their natural domain in the air, the descent of a spirit from above is a common occurrence within the magical papyri and this is often the manner in which a familiar spirit appears to a magician. For instance, a magical text entitled ‘a tested charm of Pibechis for those possessed by daimons’ (PGM IV: 3007-86) reads ‘let your angel, the implacable, descend and let him assign the daimon flying around this form’ (IV. 3025-6). Occasionally the familiar spirit appears in the form of a bird; for example in the ‘letter of Nephotes to Psammetichos’ (PGM IV. 154-221) there is a description of a ‘divine encounter’ in which ‘a sea falcon flies down and strikes you on the body with its wings’ (IV. 209-211). As the decent of the spirit at Jesus’ baptism is so extensively paralleled within the magical tradition, Morton Smith asks why this passage was allowed to remain in the Gospels when it could clearly be used as a charge of magic. He states:

‘objectively there is no more likelihood that the Lord of the Air came down
to a magician than there is that the holy spirit came down to Jesus.’ [24]

Although the evangelists emphasise that the spirit in the baptism accounts has a divine nature (Mt. 3:16//Lk. 3:22), this does not conclusively rule out implications of magical practice since ‘holy spirits’ also feature prominently within the magical papyri.[25] For example, the incantation in the fragmented text of PGM II. 282-409 (a ‘rite for foreknowledge’) is addressed to a ‘holy spirit’ (ἅγιον πνευμα, II.393). Similarly, in the love charm entitled ‘lunar spell of Claudianus’ (PGM VII. 862 – 918) the goddess is able to send out an angel or a ‘holy assistant’ (πάρεδρον ὅσιον) to attract the desired lover to the magician since ‘no aerial or infernal daimon’ can ignore the wishes of the goddess’ (PGM VII. 894). In addition, the title Αγαθός Δαίμοων (Agathos Daimon) appears in a ‘spell to Helios’ (PGM IV. 1596-1715) and a ‘ring blessing’ (PGM XII. 244) and the variant ‘Agathodaimon’ is used in PDM XIV. 605. Although not all familiar spirits in the Greek Magical Papyri were given a title indicating their holy status, many were considered to be of divine origin. Leda Jean Ciraolo reveals in her study of the paredri in the Greek magical papyri that ‘in the overwhelming majority of instances the paredros may be considered a divine being’ and that ‘the term which is used most commonly to refer to the paredros is theos, meaning a god or a goddess.’[26]

The fourth-century spell entitled ‘the Spell of Pnouthis’ (PGM I. 42 -195) is of particular importance in this instance since many elements within this text parallel the events described in the baptism accounts of the Gospels. First, a spirit descends from heaven in the form of a bird (‘a falcon will [fly down and] stand in front of you’, I. 65-66) and this spirit is later identified as a godly ‘aerial spirit’ (‘it is acknowledged that he is a god; he is an aerial spirit which you have seen’ I. 96). This assisting spirit has many beneficial abilities that are closely paralleled with the miraculous powers attributed to Jesus in the miracle stories of the Gospels:

‘he frees from bonds…he opens doors, he causes invisibility…he brings water,
wine, bread and whatever you wish in the ways of foods…he will quickly freeze
rivers and seas and in such a way that you can run over them firmly…’ (PGM I.

Although the parallels between this magical text and the ministry of Jesus in the Gospels appear to suggest that the author of this spell was aware of the Gospel tradition, the manifestation of food, freedom from bondage and the granting of invisibility were all magical skills accredited to various magicians within the ancient world. For example, Celsus states that the Egyptian magicians were able to call forth the illusion of a grand banquet[27], Lucian’s Hyperborean magician has the power to walk upon water[28] and Apollonius of Tyana was thought to have vanished from a courtroom.[29]

When the magician dies, the author of this rite states that the spirit will wrap up his body and ‘carry it into the air with him’ (I. 178) and during his lifetime, as a direct result of the possession of this assisting spirit, the magician is promised: ‘you will be worshipped as a god since you have a god as a friend’ (I. 191). As this final line indicates, the close bond established between a magician and his assisting spirit was thought to induce ‘god-like’ qualities within the magician, although his new divine status could also be illusionary. Since an assisting spirit worked through the magician and at his immediate behest, it would appear to observers that the magician was performing these miracles by his own personal powers and hence his naïve audience would consider him to be a god.

However the magician’s divine status was not always a charade. Many rites in Hellenistic magic, known specifically as ‘deification’ rites, promise to join the magician so closely to a divine spirit or god that his soul will become divine and he will rightfully identify himself as a god. Since the baptism accounts in the Gospels closely resemble the descent of a divine familiar spirit and deification was often the direct consequence of the possession of a divine spirit, we must seriously consider deification as a valid interpretation of the processes described within the baptism narratives.


The serpent in the Garden of Eden tempts Eve with the promise that if she eats the fruit from the tree of knowledge then she ‘will be like God’ (Gen. 3:5). The serpent’s promise that a human being can achieve a divine status was an appealing prospect in the ancient world and many religious communities and magical practitioners believed that by participating in a deification ritual they could experience a physical and spiritual regeneration which would result in their transformation into a god-like being. Consequently, rites of deification were extremely commonplace in the ancient world. Attaining a divine status was considered to be a central objective of theurgy (‘divine work’, from θεὀς ‘God’ and ἔργον ‘work’) and many theurgists in the Hellenistic world of the late second and early third centuries CE professed the ability to establish a direct link of communication between themselves and the gods. A close involvement with the operations of the divine ensured that the theurgists were considered to be practising a higher, more benevolent form of magic than inferior magic such as goetia and henceforth the rituals of theurgy were adopted by leading Neoplatonic philosophers seeking to distance themselves from the negative stigma associated with magic.

Many examples of deification rites are found within the Greek magical papyri and the most widely recognised of these is the ‘Mithras Liturgy’ in the Great Magical Papyri of Paris (PGM IV. 475-829). This ritual promises the magician that he will attain immortality and be transformed into ‘a lord of a godlike nature’ (PGM IV. 220). To indicate the transition of the magician’s soul from a mortal to divine state, he is required to announce during the ritual:

‘for today I am to behold, with immortal eyes – I, born mortal from mortal
womb, but transformed by tremendous power’ (PGM IV. 516).

Although many deification rituals claim to produce a genuine change in the participant’s status, it is often difficult to distinguish between occasions in which a legitimate spiritual transformation has occurred resulting from the successful completion of a deification ritual and the magician’s deceptive declaration that he is to be identified with a god in order to gain power and authority over the spirits that he is attempting to manipulate. Often the magician in the Greek magical papyri will identify himself using an ‘I am’ formula coupled with the name of a deity or a biblical individual of powerful status. For example, the performer of the rite in PGM III. 145 states ‘I am Adam the forefather’ and similarly in PGM V. 109 we read ‘I am Moses’. In later magical manuscripts we find ‘I am Jesus Christ’ (‘Spell to cast out every unclean spirit’, London Oriental Manuscript 6796 (4), 6796). This manner of self-identification with a god is generally considered to be Egyptian in origin and this is supported by the prevalence of Egyptian names within the magical papyri. For instance, the magician in PDM XIV. 239-95 declares ‘I am Isis; I shall bind him. I am Osiris; I shall bind him. I am Anubis; I shall bind him’ (XIV. 255) and PGM I. 247-62 (‘a tested spell for invisibility’) reads `I am Anubis, I am Osir-phre…I am Osiris whom Seth destroyed.

Witnesses to these statements could easily confuse the magician’s claim to an alter-identity with the alter-persona speech typically associated with spirit-possession and thereby conclude that the magician is possessed by the spirit of a god or powerful individual who is reaffirming his identity through the speech of the possessed magician. If a genuine transformation of the participant has occurred then we can allow the possibility that a new persona is present and therefore the spirit-possession model can be rightfully applied. However, although a declaration of a divine status made within the magical papyri may be an authentic indication that the magician has achieved a divine-state through the successful completion of a deification rite, it is most often the case that by making these bold statements the magician is aware that an identity change has not occurred and he is simply adopting an alter-identity in order to accord himself a greater status and thereby add power to his spell. Since these ‘I am’ statements are almost invariably made when addressing a spirit over which the magician is seeking to gain control, it appears that these statements are a sort of ‘play-acting’ in which the magician simply pretends that he has a superior status and no real psychological transformation has taken place. Therefore when the magician announces ‘I am…’ we should not immediately assume that this indicates that a change of persona has occurred and that the magician is now possessed by an imposing spiritual force. Consequently we must be suspicious of individuals in antiquity who make forthright statements such as ‘I am the Son of God’ or who profess to have obtained a divine status and we must consider whether these individuals genuinely believe that they have been transformed into a god-like being or whether they are simply making an arrogant claim to superiority such as those made by the magicians in the magical papyri.


All four Gospel writers indicate that Jesus’ claim to a divine status was a major contributing factor towards his eventual execution (Mk. 14:61-64//Mt. 26:63-65//Lk. 22:70). For instance, in the trial narrative of John’s Gospel a charge of blasphemy is made against Jesus on the basis that has assumed a divine-like nature:

‘This was why the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he not only
broke the Sabbath but also called God his Father, making himself equal with
God.’ (Jn. 5:18)

‘the Jews say “it is not for a good work that we stone you but for blasphemy;
because you being a man, made yourself God.”’ (Jn. 10:33)

‘the Jews answered him, “We have a law, and by that law he ought to die,
because he has made himself a Son of God.”’(Jn. 19:7)

Blasphemy is divided into three categories in the Talmud; the first is insulting god, the second is idolatry and the third is ‘stretching out the hand to God’.[38] This third category forbids individuals from assuming a god-like nature or considering themselves to be equal with the divine and it appears to be on this particular indictment that Jesus’ opponents seek to impose a charge of blasphemy. When we consider the fact that magicians in the ancient world were actively seeking ways in which to attain a divine status or transform themselves into gods, then it is clear that the Jewish people not only charge Jesus with blasphemy but also with practicing magic. In addition, John 19:7 explicitly states that the Jews sought to execute Jesus because he ‘made himself a Son of God.’ Although the emphasis placed upon Jesus’ sonship throughout John’s Gospel is indicative of the high christological objectives of its author, the title ‘Son of God’ is also closely associated with the person of Jesus in the Synoptics and often appears in connection with supernatural events (cf. Mk. 3:11; Mt. 4:3, 14:33). At the risk of oversimplification, New Testament academia commonly interprets the Father-Son terminology used by the Gospel authors as indicative of a parent-child or dominant-subordinate relationship, illustrating the hierarchical relation between Jesus and God. The word ‘son’ has a similar usage in the magical papyri since it is generally used as an affectionate term for an initiate or pupil. For example, in the ‘spell of Pnouthis’ (PGM I. 42-195) the magician is forbidden from sharing the magical instructions detailed in the text with anyone ‘except [your] legitimate son’ (I. 193). Similarly, in PGM IV. 2505-2517 the author urges the performer to ‘keep it secret, son’ (IV. 2517) and Betz writes in his comments on this statement that ‘the term ‘son’ seems to indicate the magician’s apprentice.’ [40] However, a claim to sonship is also made by a magician engaging in the alter-persona play-acting encountered above. For instance, a parallel to the statement ‘I am the son of god’ (Jn. 10:36) occurs in the Mithras Liturgy (PGM IV. 475-829) during which the magician asks that ‘the holy spirit (ἱερὸν πνευμα[41]) may breathe in me’ (IV. 510) and he subsequently declares ‘for I am the son’ (IV. 535). This ‘son’ terminology also appears in the Demotic Magical Papyrus of London and Leiden, in which the magician states: ‘I am the son of the living god’ (DMP XX.33). In order to demonstrate how other statements concerning Jesus’ divine origin resemble the outlandish claims made by the magicians in the magical papyri, Morton Smith draws attention to the similarity between passages in John’s Gospel and the magical papyri; for example, ‘I am the one come down from heaven’ (Jn. 6:51) is identical to ‘I am the one come forth from heaven’ (PGM IV. 1018) and ‘I am the truth’ (Jn. 14:6) is identical to ‘I am the truth’ (PGM V. 148).[42]

The magician who declares ‘I am the Son of God’ suggests to his audience that either his soul has been deified through the possession of a divine spirit or upon completion of a deification rite and he is now to be identified as a divine being, or that he is pretending to be associated with a god, or to be the son of a god, in order to elevate his magical authority within the spiritual realm. Either option clearly indicates that the individual has engaged in, or continues to engage in, magical activities that were commonplace within the first centuries. Magicians who had successfully gained control over divine powers, either by harnessing the obedience of a god, being in possession of a divine spirit or even possessing divine powers themselves, were often recognised by their wild claims that the boundaries of their powers are unlimited and that they are able to behave like the gods, performing miracles at will and achieving wonders no matter how impossible the task. Therefore an overriding confidence in the strength and potency of the magician’s own will was a major indicator of spiritual manipulation in the ancient world.


Simon Magus in the pseudo-Clementine Recognitions brags that ‘whatever I will to do I shall be able to do’.[43] This egotistical boast was echoed in the words of many magicians in antiquity who believed that their authoritative command alone would suffice to produce immediate wonders and spectacle. In both the magical papyri and the fictional literature describing the exploits of the magicians in antiquity, it is frequently uncertain whether the magician’s ability to perform ‘whatever he wills’ is drawn from the strength of his own powers, which are effective independently of spiritual assistance, or from the immediate compliance of a spiritual being over which the magician has assumed command at an earlier occasion. A magician who deems himself capable of bringing down the moon without the need for spiritual intervention, as described in the example above, must believe that the strength of his power is situated in his own personal, manistic powers. It is the magician’s self-sufficient ability to perform miracles by his actions alone, particularly spoken ones, that is addressed by Apuleius who states: ‘a magician (magum) is a person who… is able, by a certain incredible power centred in his incantations, to do everything he wills’.[45] Similarly, the application of the magician’s will independently of spiritual assistance is addressed by John Hull who comments:

‘the strongest magic seems to be that effect caused merely by the will of
the operator; so strong is that will that it needs no extra help…it cannot
be interrupted or delayed because its triumph is its immediate attainment
of its objective.’[46]

Conversely, the ability to perform miracles seemingly at will and without the need for external assistance was also accredited to magicians who had acquired the assistance of a spirit or god which would react immediately to the magician’s summons, thereby giving the impression that the magician himself was the instigator and executor of the impossible task. An example of this method is found in the ‘Spell of Pnouthis’ (PGM I. 42- 195) which instructs the magician that he need not offer lengthy petitions or perform complicated rites whenever he wishes to perform an impossible task since the spirit is bound to help him immediately whenever he wills it (PGM I. 180 -187). Therefore, to his audience, the resulting action will appear to have been achieved without the aid of a spiritual intermediary.

With the possession of an assisting spirit and the magician’s overriding confidence in the strength of his own will constituting clear indications of magical practice in antiquity, it was essential that miracle-workers demonstrated that their miracles resulted not from their own personal power or from the assistance of a compelled spirit, but from their prayers to God who ultimately had the final word in whether the requested task would be carried out. For this reason, the miracle-workers and their followers were keen to point out that the only method used in their wonder-working was faithful and pious prayer and hence they were devout worshippers of God rather than magicians.[47] If the evangelists were equally keen to represent Jesus as an obedient worshipper of God then it is surprising that there is no record of a prayer to God during the healing or exorcism accounts in the Gospels.

Although prayers are noticeably absent in the healing miracles, the reader is made acutely aware that Jesus can obtain immediate help from God. This is the functional understanding of Jesus’ power that is provided by Martha who states: ‘even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you’ (Jn. 11:22). As we have discovered when investigating the healing of the woman with the haemorrhage in Mk. 5:25-34//Mt. 9:18-22//Lk. 8:43-48, various attempts have been made to explain the continual absence of Jesus’ request for assistance from God by suggesting that the evangelists understood that Jesus had achieved such a close union with God that a request was unnecessary since God was simply ready and willing to help. It is this immediate nature of God’s power that has led some scholars to conclude that Jesus was a charismatic type. However, an absence of prayer and the expectation of an immediate result also implies an arrogance regarding Jesus’ spiritual power-source that was typical of a magician actively manipulating divine powers in the ancient world. The magician in possession of a divine spirit was assured that the spirit operating under his authority would react immediately to perform a miracle at his request, therefore protracted prayers or incantations were unnecessary. Equally, the magician who claimed that he had achieved a divine status believed that an appeal to an external power-source was redundant as the strength of his will alone could perform miracles. Jesus fits comfortably into both of these magical frameworks in the account of the cursing of the fig tree in Mk. 11:12-24//Mt. 21:18-22. The autonomy of Jesus’ power-source is severely questioned in this passage and Jesus shifts from the embodiment of a miracle-worker at the mercy of higher divine power to that of a magician, frivolously exploiting his divine powers and bragging that the strength of his will alone can suffice to produce miracles.


The cursing of the fig tree in Mk. 11:12-24//Mt. 21:18-22 combines a powerful demonstration of Jesus’ evxousi,a with an apparently destructive misuse of his miracle-working powers, all directly linked with a teaching regarding the potency of the operator’s will. The harmful application of Jesus’ power in this passage stands in sharp contrast to the compassionate use of his abilities throughout the rest of the Synoptics and theories which appeal to Jesus’ benevolent motives in his miracle-working as a major defence against magical practice are herein presented with a serious stumbling block.[50] The first half of the story goes as follows: Jesus encounters a fig tree on the way to Jerusalem that is not bearing fruit and since he is hungry, he curses the tree. In the Matthean account the tree withers on the same day (Mt. 21:19), perhaps in order to enhance the strength of Jesus power, however in the Markan version the disciples and Jesus do not notice that the tree has withered until they pass by the next morning (Mk. 11:20). As the author of Mark tells us that ‘it was not the season for figs’ (Mk. 11:13), the reader is made aware that the absence of figs on the tree is natural and explicable and that the tree is not dead or failing. Since the tree cannot be held accountable for its lack of fruit, Jesus’ anger is purely the result of his hunger and personal need. Jesus wants and the tree cannot provide, therefore it is destroyed.

Various explanations for this tantrum-like behaviour have been proposed. Some suggest that the withering of the tree is a pedagogical device and that it demonstrates the importance of bearing good spiritual ‘fruit’. Others suggest that the story has developed out of a parable. The most widely accepted interpretation of the passage in New Testament scholarship is that the fig tree is a symbol for Israel and that by cursing it, Jesus is foreshadowing the destruction of the temple. Regardless of the motives underlying the inclusion of this story, the tantrum-like behaviour of Jesus within this passage has caused a considerable degree of discomfort and controversy for both ancient redactor and modern scholar alike (this, incidentally, favours its authenticity). Certainly Jesus appears in this passage more like the image presented of him as a child in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, reacting violently to incidents which offend him by using his powers for destructive means (which, incidentally, on one occasion involves ‘withering’ another child (3:1-4)). That the power-authority which Jesus and his disciples share can be used for destructive purposes is clearly how it is understood by James and John who ask Jesus in Lk. 9:54 when confronted with the rejection of the Samaritans: ‘do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?’.

It is possible that the authors of Mark and Matthew found the violence within the fig tree pericope to be disagreeable but felt that the event was too well known or important to be left out. Unsurprisingly, the author of Luke does not include the incident in his Gospel and this omission may be based on his sensitivity to the negative implications of this seemingly random act of destruction. Certainly the destructive use of Jesus’ power conjures up the unpleasant caricature of a magician who uses his abilities to bring physical, psychological or financial harm to his neighbours. It must also be noted that the act of ‘withering’ was closely associated with magic in the ancient world. Morton Smith observes that ‘some spells intend their victims to ‘wither,’ ‘consume,’ ‘burn up’’ and therefore ‘magic has probably had some influence here’.[57] Since ‘withering’ was particularly associated with the ‘evil eye’, it is perhaps within this context that we can understand the influence of magic upon this passage in the Gospels. For instance, Eric Eve calls the destruction of the fig tree ‘an act of thaumaturgical vandalism’ which ‘in that culture might very well be ascribed to the use of the evil eye’[58] and he supports this observation with a quotation from Regina Dionisopoulos-Mass’ study into the use of the evil eye in witchcraft:

‘A tree or vine that suddenly withers is certainly the victim of the eye…There
are many tales of trees and vines that were green and strong in the morning
but that had withered and died from a passing envious eye by nightfall.’[59]

In addition, the statement ‘may no fruit ever come from you again’ (Mt. 21:19//Mk. 11:14) is similar to the binding curses found within the magical papyri which read, for example, ‘may NN not be able…’ or ‘let him not speak’ (cf. PGM V. 321f). Therefore we should not ignore the possibility that Jesus’ words are to be understood as a magical binding curse. This destructive use of Jesus’ power and the numerous parallels to the magical act of ‘withering’ are not the sole contributing factors to the emergent figure of Jesus as a magician in this passage. In addition, there is a significant underlying current of magical technique that is present in the subsequent prayer teaching in Mk. 11:22-24//Mt. 21:21-22. Most studies of the fig-tree incident limit their attention to the implied symbolism of the fig tree and fail to realise that the destruction of the tree is clearly intended to illustrate the subsequent prayer teaching in which Jesus teaches the disciples that they will be able to perform whatever they wish if they pray correctly and with sufficient faith (Mk. 11:22-24//Mt. 21:21-22). In the Matthean version of the prayer teaching, the endowment of power through prayer is dependent upon the pi,stij (‘faith’) of the pray-er, therefore Jesus states ‘whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive if you have faith’ (Mt. 21:22). Faith is also the essential element of prayer in an earlier passage in Mt. 17:20:

‘Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain
of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, `Move from here to there,' and
it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.’

Due to the ambiguous use of πίστις in both Mt. 17:20 and 21:22, it is unclear whether these passages teach the importance of faith in oneself or faith in God. Since the prayer is addressed to the mountain in both Mt. 17:20, 21:21 and Mk. 11:23 rather than to God, this suggests that God does not have a role in the process and consequently the faith that is required is the pray-er’s faith in his own skills and abilities. Similarly, as the tree uproots itself directly in obedience to the pray-er in the Lukan version of the mustard seed teaching, this clearly suggests that it is the pray-er himself who has the ability to uproot the sycamine tree and that this miracle can be achieved independently of a higher spiritual power:

‘if you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine
tree ‘be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.’
(my emphasis, Lk. 17:6).

In the Markan version of the fig tree pericope, the πίστις of the pray-er is understood unequivocally as having faith in one’s own words and actions and these are the factors that are required to achieve a miracle. The author of Mark states that a miracle will occur if the pray-er ‘does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass’ (Mk. 11:23). The obvious connotations of magical instruction that are present this statement are softened by the evangelist who introduces the importance of prayer in the following verse (11:24), however the confidence in the operator’s ability to receive miracle-working power through his will alone is made increasingly explicit in the second half of the verse which states that the pray-er must simply ‘believe that you have received it, and it will be yours’. This confidence in a guaranteed response from God is also echoed elsewhere in the Gospels in the statement ‘ask and it will be given you’ (Lk. 11:9, Mt. 7:7), a phrase which Morton Smith claims has parallels within the magical papyri.[63]

The words of Jesus in Mk. 11:23 have a certain arrogance to them that imitates those of the ancient magician who believes that his words alone will suffice to produce miracles and that the gods are bound to his every whim. Having refused in the temptation narratives to perform magical feats for self-gain or to test the potency of his powers (Mt. 4:3-11//Lk. 4:3-13), here we have Jesus boasting to the disciples that he can do whatever he wills to do and actively using his power to achieve frivolous results. Equally, having taught the disciples ‘do not rejoice that the spirits are subject to you’ (Lk. 10:20) in an attempt to subdue their enthusiasm concerning their new found abilities, here Jesus appears to be randomly exploiting his powers for his own amusement. Furthermore, by having Jesus instruct the disciples regarding the technicalities of his own abilities to perform miracles (hence the physical display of his power by withering the fig tree) the author of Mark implies that this miracle-working power can be shared by anyone who is instructed in the methodology and technique used by Jesus. Not only does the transferable nature of this power carry serious implications for magical practice but since Jesus’ instructions to his disciples are typically carried out in secret throughout the Gospels, we may ask whether previous occasions in which Jesus has withdrawn with his disciples to impart secret knowledge to them involved the teaching of similar magical techniques.

If the reader of the Gospels is to understand that an impossible task, such as moving a mountain, can be achieved on the strength of will alone, then is the reader to assume that equally impossible tasks that are reported in the ministry of Jesus, such as healing the sick, walking on the water and transforming water into wine, were also performed on the strength of Jesus’ will? While certain ‘impossible’ miracles attributed to Jesus in the Gospels have clear parallels within the magical tradition[65], there are undoubtedly instances in which a healing appears to take place simply because Jesus wills it to happen. For example, the leper who approaches Jesus to be healed begs ‘if you will, you can make me clean’ and Jesus’ healing command in all three Synoptics is simply ‘I will (θέλω); be clean’ (Mk. 1:40-45//Mt. 8:2-4//Lk. 5:12-16). The healing potency of Jesus’ will in this instance is made more explicit in the account provided in the Egerton Gospel which omits the mention of touch:

‘“If, therefore, you are willing, I am cleansed.” The Lord said to him, “I am
willing; be cleansed.” And immediately the leprosy left him.’[66]

If in order to perform a miracle, the disciples must simply ‘believe that you have received it, and it will be yours’ (Mk. 11:24) then this could account for occasions within the Gospels whereby an individual’s faith in a cure appears to be the effective factor in their salvation. For instance, the haemorrhaging woman in Mk. 5:28//Mt. 9:21 believes that if she can just touch Jesus’ clothing then she will be healed and this confidence facilitates her healing, which appears to be achieved independently of a bestowal of power from Jesus. Similarly, Jesus tells the possessed boy’s father in Mk. 9:23 that ‘all things are possible to the one who believes’ and when Peter begins to sink in the water when attempting to walk on the sea, Jesus says to him ‘O man of little faith, why did you doubt?’ (Mt. 14:31).

The possibility that a strong personal will is the sole prerequisite for the performance of a miracle is rejected by the author of the Gospel of John who is particularly eager to stress that Jesus does not have autonomy in the application of his spiritual power and prefers instead to repeatedly emphasise Jesus’ dependence on God’s will. The statement ‘I can do nothing on my own authority’ reoccurs frequently throughout the Gospel of John (5:30, 8:28, 14:10, cf. also 5:19) and the onslaught of passages in which Jesus reaffirms that he is subject to God’s will is occasionally so intense that it arouses suspicion as to whether this material is magic apologetic (cf. Jn. 4:34, 7:17). The highest concentration of these anti-magical assertions is found Jn. 6:38-40:

‘For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of
him who sent me; and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose
nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. For this
is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him
should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.’ (my emphasis)

This relentless importance placed on Jesus’ submission to the will of God suggests that the author of John is attempting to suppress implications that Jesus had complete autonomy in the use of his miracle-working powers. However, dependence upon a higher spiritual power contradicts the observations made by Jesus’ followers and opponents alike that he has total authority over the application of these powers, especially those made by the centurion in Mt. 8:5-13//Lk. 7:1-10 (See Chapter 10). Furthermore, episodes in which Jesus states ‘I can do nothing on my own authority’ stand in complete contrast to the prayer teaching in Mk. 11:22-24//Mt. 21:21-22 in which it is the pray-er himself who initiates the miracle and achieves the final result. The conflict between the Johannine emphasis on Jesus’ submission to the will of God and the arrogant will of Jesus in the Synoptics (as encountered in the fig tree pericope) is clearly apparent in Jn. 5:19-21 in which Jesus meekly states ‘the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing’ (Jn. 5:19) only to have the egotistical nature of the magician resurface in the very next sentence: ‘Even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it’ (Jn. 5:21).

Since an arrogant faith in one’s own will and the assurance of a guaranteed response are both states of mind that were typically associated with the magician in the ancient world, by teaching that his words and actions can bring about guaranteed results or that God will respond immediately to his summons, Jesus steps very firmly into the realm of magic and begins to speak like a magician. As a sharp distinction is often drawn between the religious man who reveres his god and entrusts his prayers to the will of the deity and the magician who makes egotistical and coercive attempts to petition his god to accomplish whatsoever he desires immediately and automatically, evidence in the words of Jesus himself, as provided by the evangelists, which could be construed as being directly coercive towards God would be valuable confirmation of a magical mind-set. The likelihood of discovering such evidence in the Gospels is very doubtful, especially since Jesus’ prayers to God are often shrouded with a secretive and mysterious quality (see Chapter 4) and any material which implies spiritual manipulation would most certainly have been edited out by the evangelists. Nevertheless, one passage in the Gospels that offers a rare glimpse into Jesus’ communication with God is the prayer scene in Gethsemane. Not only does this passage contain traces of spiritual coercion, but it also heralds the dramatic failure of the prayer teaching in Mk. 11:22-24//Mt. 21:21-22 and raises questions concerning a power struggle between Jesus and his spiritual power-source.

Extract from Helen Ingram (2007) Dragging Down Heaven: Jesus as Magician and Manipulator of Spirits in the Gospels, PhD, The University of Birmingham, UK.



[1] Judah Goldin, ‘On Honi the Circle-Maker: A Demanding Prayer’, HTR 56. 3 (1963) p. 234.
[7] For examples of the Old Testament use of ‘finger of God’ cf. Ex. 31:18, Dt. 9:10.
[11] Text 01 in Karl Preisendanz (ed.), Papyri Graecae Magicae: Die Grieschischen Zauberpapyri, Vol II (Stuttgart: Teubner 1974) p. 233.
[13] Thomas C. Römer, ‘Competing Magicians in Exodus 7-9: Interpreting Magic in the Priestly Theology’ in Todd Klutz (ed.), Magic in the Biblical world: From the Rod of Aaron to the Ring of Solomon, JSNTsupp 245 (2003) p. 20. To support this statement, Römer provides reference to a useful study by B. Couroyer entitled ‘Le “doigt de Dieu” (Exode, VIII, 15)’, RB 63 (1956) pp. 481-95.
[14] Marvin W. Meyer and Richard Smith (eds.), Ancient Christian Magic: Coptic Texts of Ritual Power (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999) p. 230.
[15] Tran. Meyer and Smith, Ancient Christian Magic, p. 231.
[16] Meyer and Smith, Ancient Christian Magic p. 279, citing Walter E. Crum Catalogue of the Coptic Manuscripts in the British Museum (London: British Museum, 1905).
[17] Trans. Meyer and Smith, Ancient Christian Magic, p. 290. See also Meyer’s
translation of an amulet to provide protection: ‘I adjure you by Orphamiel, the great finger of the father’ (p. 116).
[18] Trans. Meyer and Smith, Ancient Christian Magic, p. 250.
[20] Origen, Con. Cels. I. 46
[23] Augustine, City of God, particularly VIII. 14-18.
[24] Smith, Jesus the Magician, p. 100.
[25] Morton Smith observes that ‘Holy spirits, with and without the definite article, are familiar in the magical papyri’ (Smith, Jesus the Magician, p. 103) and he provides references to PGM I. 313; III. 8, 289, 393, 550; IV. 510, XII. 174 (Smith, Jesus the Magician, p. 193).
[26] L. J. Ciraolo ‘Supernatural Assistants in the Greek Magical Papyri’ in M. Meyer and P. Mirecki (eds.) Ancient Magic and Ritual Power (Boston: Brill, 1995) p. 280.
[27] Origen, Con. Cels. 1.68.
[28] Lucian, Philopseudes 13.
[29] Philostratus, Life of Apollonius VIII. 5.
[38] This third category of blasphemy and its relevance to the charges brought against Jesus is discussed in Tibor Horvath, ‘Why was Jesus Brought to Pilate?’, NovT 11 (1969) pp. 174-184.
[40] Hans Dieter Betz (ed.), The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation including the Demotic Spells, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (University of Chicago Press, 1992) p. 84.
[41] Betz translate ἱερὸν πνευμα in this passage as ‘sacred spirit’ (Hans Dieter Betz, The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, p. 48).
[42] For further examples see Smith, Jesus the Magician, pp. 125-126.
[43] Clement, Recognitions of Clement, 2:9.
[45] Apuleius, Apologia 26.
[46] J. M. Hull, Hellenistic Magic and the Synoptic Tradition, (SBT, 2nd Series 28; London: SCM, 1974) p. 55.
[47] In his authoritative book on the life of Apollonius of Tyana, G. R. S. Mead writes: ‘Apollonius believed in prayer, but how differently from the vulgar. For him the idea that the Gods could be swayed from the path of rigid justice by the entreaties of men, was a blasphemy; that the Gods could be made parties to our selfish hopes and fears was to our philosopher unthinkable’, therefore ‘we find Apollonius indignantly rejecting the accusation of magic ignorantly brought against him…with such arts he would have nothing to do…but owing to ‘that wisdom which God reveals to the wise’ ([Philostratus, Life of Apollonius] iv. 44)’ (G. R. S. Mead, Apollonius of Tyana: The Philosopher-Reformer of the First Century A. D. (New York: University Books, 1966) pp. 132, 114).
[50] For example, in defending Jesus’ activities against Celsus’ claim that they resemble those of the Egyptian magicians, Origen states that Jesus uses his powers to encourage faith and perform good deeds whereas the Egyptian magicians indulge in deeds of self-interest and evil (Origen, Con. Cels. 1.68, 7.17, 8.43). Similarly, the Sanhedrin stated that an act which has beneficial results cannot be magic (bSanh 67b).
[57] Smith, Jesus the Magician, p. 119.
[58] Eric Eve, ‘Meier, Miracle and Multiple Attestation’, JSHJ 3.1 (2005) p. 33.
[59] Regina Dionisopoulos-Mass, ‘The Evil Eye and Bewitchment in a Peasant Village’, in Clarence Maloney (ed.), The Evil Eye (New York: Columbia University Press, 1976) pp. 49-50.
[63] Smith, Jesus the Magician, p. 131. Smith provides references to PGM IV. 777f: ‘Ask the god whatever you wish and he will give it you’ and PGM IV. 2172: ‘What you ask, you shall receive’ (p. 206).
[65] For example, we have read earlier in this chapter (pg. 285) that the assisting spirit in the Spell of Pnouthis’ (PGM 1.42-195) can make food appear and grant the magician the ability to become invisible and walk on water. We have also considered that some of these skills were attributed to Celsus Egyptian magicians, Lucians Hyperborean magician and Apollonius of Tyana.
[66] Papyrus Egerton 2.2 (trans. Bart Ehrman, The New Testament and Other Early Christian Writings: A Reader (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998) p. 134).

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