Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins

an Interdisciplinary Humanities Seminar
in its twenty-fifth year under the auspices of
The University of Pennsylvania
Department of Religious Studies
Philadelphia PA

PSCO Minutes

Discussion with Morton Smith

(See the preceeding presentation by Morton Smith.)

Question: I wonder if you could elaborate on the last example you used. First of all the guy who is being told to arouse his daimon, I wondered what significance that terminology has, "the daimon of the god"?

Response: I suppose the daimon of the god is his daimon. I don't suppose that God is being asked to arouse himself there. I think he has a daimon and he is being asked to arouse it.

Question: When you commented on the reference to Ephesisans, clearly Ephesians seems to refer to a spiritual type of experience, where this experience is being invoked with a personal spiritual gain in mind. And the same thing seems to be true of the Papyrus. But I didn't hear too much of that going on with the rest of your talk, that is cases of daimones or magical procedures being used for personal spiritual gain. I wonder if that was unusual or what you have to say on that.

Response: The use of daimones most of the time was for practical gain, not for spiritual gain. It might be termed psychological betterment, since spiritual can be a trick word. Of course, all daimons are spiritual so there is no question that this is a spiritual transaction. So what you're really asking, if I understand the question correctly, is to what extent is magic interested in moral improvement or intellectual improvement? Moral improvement is one of Christianity's long suit sand magic's short suit. But it has a few passages so it is not completely lacking. If one goes through the Magical Papyri, one can find a few passages in which the magicians pray to be noble and purified. But these prayers mostly don't involve the use of daimon but rather are addressed to the deity. Many of these prayers are addressed to Phoebus or Helios because they are the gods of light. For some reason light and moral improvement have been associated. So some of the magical passages that seek moral improvement are addressed to the gods that are identified in other contexts as daimons, Phoebus is an example. But the daimonic aspect is not introduced in the vocabulary when you are asking for the good.

Question: It's obviously a stereotype that magic is Satanistic. However it is striking that if the PGM represents a somewhat unbroken tradition through the fourth and fifth century, that it doesn't seem to reflect that at the same time daimon is being used not only in the secular but in the general Christian environment as a negative term for the local gods. What is the significance of the very flexible connotation of daimon when daimon in Christian areas is blantly negative?

Response: I think the significance is that historically, the magical tradition was pre-Christian, and while it had strong ties with the Israelite tradition. There is a lot of Israelite Old Testament material in the Magical Papyri, but very little inter-testamental material and almost nothing of the developed prophetic Judaism and very little Christianity. There are a few passages in which Jesus appears as a God but they are not developed with Christian history. I have given you one example, the passage in which the Holy Ghost is mixed up with the only begotten. The development of the various figures of the Old Testament and the New Testament that eventually get used in the medieval figure of Satan in the position of commander of daimones is a very gradual procedure. Also, the acceptance of the Apocalypse contributed . I think what we have is that magic went its way and Christianity went their way. And while some Christians practiced magic and some magicians became Christians, there is no massive contamination of the developed forms which leads me to believe that the many parallels to magic you find in the New Testament particularly in the stories of Jesus come from original Palestine practice and not from secondary contamination.

Question: Is this PGM 4:3007, this famous one that you find in various handbooks about Piticus' child casting out demons very unique in this material or it looks like the Jewish and Christian names are being brought into play against the demons of which someone might be inhabited?

Response: There are many of them. But I did say that the name of Jesus and references to God the Father are noncogent simply because God the Father is a father figure all over the thought of Greece and the ancient world. The notion that there is one great God who is the creator of all and father of all and so forth is, by early Christian times, commonplace in much philosophical preaching. So to find a figure like that in magical papyri tells you nothing of its background. The only thing that becomes peculiar is when you get specific references to Jesus.

Question: I meant the opposite, the casting out of demons by these names. The demons now become something you want to get rid of now rather than something you are invoking on your side.

Response: The Magical Papyri is full of casting out of demons. These demons are these beings that are on the earth, in the sea, underground, they are frequently malicious, they take possession of people and the Magical Papyri is fully aware people operating by indwelling demons. This is the common way of dealing with insanity in ancient society, is by the casting out of demons. Jesus does it, the Magical Papyri do it. The Magical Papyri do it without reference to Jesus. But in one or two their spells they refer to the fact that they have a Hebrew tradition or they may simply refer to their great god as Jesus with a string of deities. That just means that the man who put that spell together had heard about Jesus, knew that he had a reputation for casting out demons and used it.

Question: Is there a thought that in the casting out of demons who happened to take over people in the malicious aspect of demons. To what extent is it about doing the right thing, getting the proper authorization to cast out those demons. Is there a line that you must walk in order to have control or to be controlled?

Response: Yes, "Paul I know and Jesus I know but who are you?". The demon controlling that man, jumped on them and drove all seven of them out even with their clothes torn. If it works it works. If it doesn't work, you might be in trouble. This type of demonic possession is accompanied with extraordinary physical powers. So people who are in this type of state become so violent that two or three people have to hold them. And if you go around trying to exorcise them and your exorcism doesn't happen to work, you might find yourself hospitalized.

Question: Why is it that in magical formulas people are identified by their mother's name?

Response: There is no question as to who you are talking about if you specify their mother.

Question: I'm somewhat familiar with the NN clause in literature, invoking a god or a demon. The idea of names or titles and the NN clause is by whatever name you may be called. I was wondering if you saw that in the PGM material?

Response: Yes, there are a great many cases in which the invocation of a demon is followed by, "And whomever you may be."

(See the ensuing discussion.)

For related materials, consult other PSCO presentations and discussions on the topic for the 1987-1988 seminar, "Principalities and Powers: Demons and Angels in the World of Late Antiquity".