In the name of God: Jesus, Christianity and ritual incantation of magical words with secret power

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Another trend that is necessary to understand in the formation of Christianity is the widespread use of magic – most exceptionally divination. “I see no race of men,” wrote Cicero, “however polished and educated, however brutal and barbarous, which does not believe that warnings of future events are given and may be understood and announced by certain persons.” (qtd. Glover 16)

Famous oracles such those at Delphi were esteemed and consulted by Emperors and the state before making big decisions in policy, or generals before beginning a war. A formal argument, attributed by Cicero to the Stoics in his treatise on divination, is a rigorous example of classical logic:

If there are gods and they do not declare the future to men; then either they do not love men; or they are ignorant of what is to happen; or they think it of no importance to men to know it; or they do not think it consistent with their majesty to tell men; or the gods themselves are unable to indicate it. But neither do they not love men, for they are benefactors and friends to mankind; nor are they ignorant of what they themselves appoint and ordain; nor is it of no importance to us to know the future – for we shall be more careful if we do; nor do they count it alien to their majesty, for there is nothing nobler than kindness; nor are they unable to foreknow. Therefore no gods, no foretelling; but there are gods; therefore they foretell. Nor if they foretell, do they fail to give us ways to learn what they foretell; nor, if they give us such ways, is there no divination; therefore, there is divination. (De divination, i, 38, 82, 83, qtd. Glover, 16-17)

Besides divination, the most common magical practice consisted in ‘demonology’ – which meant calling on ‘daimons’ (which were not evil, but rather various kinds of spiritual beings) or gods or goddesses to obtain your desired result. Integral to this practice was the belief that each spirit or god had a secret, magical name. Simply by discovering this name you would have the power to control them; to force them to do your bidding. These magical names were commonly invoked to improve romance, business, or health; aid in legal matters or political conflicts; or seek revenge or justice.

These names were considered to be both powerful and secret; they were difficult to discover and kept from the public. In the following Egyptian hymn, one of these names is

…Amun, who keep himself concealed from them, who hides himself from the gods, no one knowing his nature. He is more remote than heaven, he is deeper than the underworld. None of the gods knows his true form; his image is not unfolded in books; nothing certain is testified about him. He is too secretive for his majesty to be revealed; he is too great to be inquired after, too powerful to be known. People fall down immediately for fear that his name will be uttered knowingly or unknowingly. There is no god able to call him by it. He is ba-like, hidden of name like his secrecy. (Hymn 200, Cited 197 Assman.)

This powerful, remote secrecy of God is not unknown to the Jewish tradition:

Every taboo has a reason. In ancient times, names had power. If you knew the real name of an entity, you had power over it. Often, an entity had two names, one widely-known and one secret. It is quite possible that in the very early stages, Yahweh was God’s secret name and was used to influence or even control Him. (http://www.pantheon.org/articles/y/yahweh.html)

So how can these powerful names be discovered? In one story, Isis tricked the great god Re into giving up his name by making a snake out of his own spit and clay, which bit him. She promised to remove the poison if he revealed his name to her.

The spell itself, as spoken by ‘the great lady, the mistress of the gods’, possessed its own efficacy, for by it Isis had acquired the name of the Almighty – his most important talisman – and so had made herself mistress of the earth. (Witt 193)

Magical practitioners, likewise, believed that by using the true name of Re, they could, like Isis, conquer the world.

To know the true name and to utter it aloud was as important for the conjurer in addressing either the disease directly or its agents as it had been for Isis herself in her dealings with Re. (Witt 193)

As these names grew more and more complex, they became magical formulas or codes, imbued with tremendous powers.

Hear me, lord, whose name is ineffable. The demons, hearing it, are terrified – the name BARBAREICH ARSEMPHEMPHROOTHOU – and because of hearing it the sun, the earth, are overturned; Hades, hearing, is shaken; rivers, sea, lakes, springs, hearing, are frozen; Rocks, hearing it, are split. (Greek magical papyri, no.12, 238-245 (cited Assman 204)

As conjurers and magicians faced increasing competition from new and foreign gods, spells grew in complexity. Rather than relying on just one name, magicians could call out a whole list of names for gods or spirits they wished to command, for example in this common love spell:

I conjure you by the ___, according to Artemis. Ephesia Grammata – most magical words. Artemis, Hekate, Persephone, and Ereschigal – help seducing an unwilling lover – these goddesses have ‘keys to the fort of hades’ and therefore authority over the underworld gods and demons. (Arnold 24)

Practitioners would face competitors by combining names, in a trend towards monotheism. A newly ‘discovered’ name could include all previous names. Foreign gods would be assimilated or blended together. Magicians and mystics proclaiming their god would claim that theirs was the highest power; the one god that conquered, surpassed (and yet included) all other gods. It was like spiritual “one-stop shopping”; you could get anything you needed, from one powerful god who could do anything.

The practice in commanding these demons or powers through ritual magic was universal – even (or especially?) among the Jews.

One aspect of Asia Minor Judaism that stands out in the first century is a lively demonology. It appears that these Jews of the diaspora utilized a number of magical practices, including a solomonic magical tradition, to cope with the “powers” in their daily existence. (Arnold 34)

In turn, the ancient tradition of Judaism gave prestige to the god of the Jews, who was likewise invoked – apparently even by pagan practitioners. “Quickly quickly” was a common magical expression to convey immediacy.

I conjure you all [i.e. the angels] by the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that you obey my authority completely…and give me …favor, influence, victory, and strength before all, small men and great, as well as gladiators, soldiers, civilians, women, girls, boys, and everybody, quickly quickly, because of the power of SABAOTH, the clothing of ELOE, the might of ADONI. (PGM XXXV.15-23)

This Jewish form of magical blended so completely with non-Jewish practices that is difficult to separate the two; indeed, with growing interest in new and foreign gods, there was no need to separate them.

Numerous strands of evidence point to the fact that the Judaism of the Hellenistic period had been heavily permeated by contemporary magical beliefs… It is often difficult to decide what is distinctively Jewish magic as opposed to syncretistic pagan magic which invokes Sabaoth or uses other Jewish motifs. (Arnold 31)

In the immediate environment surrounding the appearance of the character of Jesus, therefore, we have a philosophical synthesis of Platonism and Judaism in Alexandria, as well as a synthesis of pagan and Judaic demonology and magical practices. These two movements began before Jesus Christ and continued for several centuries – both inside and outside what became known as the Christian church.

Philo and his school, however, had already attempted a synthesis between Platonism and Judaism in Alexandria. The same work was taken up by the Gnostics, especially Basilides and Valentinus and their followers in the second century. It was to be brought to fruition in the interests of orthodoxy by Clement and Origen. (Frend 368)

It can be argued, therefore, that the ideas behind Christianity began before Jesus and were developed after him – without his influence. Thus, while it is possible that he was a unifying literary symbol, it is unlikely that he was a teacher with unique or revolutionary ideas.

***The following will make more sense if you first read the post on Sarapis and the created story***

Jesus Christ – a created name with magical power

Starting from around 230BC, the land of Israel fell under Roman rule. The Roman policy was to conquer, improve public facilities, collect taxes, and have people honor the emperor. While many communities lived peacefully under foreign rule, the Jews believed that Israel was given to them by God and could not be taken from them. They considered themselves a holy people, and thought that they were to stay pure by separating themselves from the world in dress, custom and diet.

When Romans began to raise temples and statues to Roman gods in Jerusalem, it presented Jews with a theological problem. They reasoned that either they had forgotten to fulfill their religious duties, and were being punished, or that God was expecting them to fight back against Rome and reclaim their homeland. There were many rebellions during this period, but every uprising against the Romans finished in heavy losses for the Jews.

Taking pieces from their scriptures which spoke of a future prophet or king and weaving them together, they formed a description of a savior figure that would liberate them from Roman rule. They pictured a powerful ruler from Israel’s royal dynasty, the line of David, who would unify the country, restore the tribes of Israel, and defeat the Romans in a final holy war. Kings were always anointed on the forehead, so they referred to this messiah as The Christ, which means “anointed one.”

At the same time, Jews who lived outside of Jerusalem sometimes became less austere with their dress and customs, assimilating into their new surroundings. Some became educated in Greek thought and language, and no doubt they came in contact with mystery religions and sun gods through public festivals and holidays. Some may have even become initiates themselves, but even if they didn’t, Greek philosophers spoke plainly about concepts like Sophia and Logos and it would have been impossible not to learn something about them.

Around 2,000 years ago, probably in Alexandria, someone began writing a Jewish version of the Greek mysteries. Maybe someone found in them some pearl of wisdom they wished to share with their people. Or perhaps they felt guilty for allowing themselves to become involved with Pagan culture and were trying to justify their actions through a Yahweh centered version of the Logos myth. Like other mysteries, it would have centered around a passion play of a suffering god, been full of magical ritual, Greek philosophy of Logos and salvation, and Stoic philosophy of brotherly love and ethics.

Such a story could easily have been created by an Alexandrian Jew like Philo; but it could also have been crafted by someone like Seneca, who wanted to create a new tragedy play based on a crucified Jewish rebel-king. It may have been a clever money-making scheme, forged by an entrepreneur seeking to attract new initiates with a novel mystery. It could even have been – like Sarapis – commissioned by Roman authorities in an attempt to placate rebellious territories. Given the atmosphere of the spiritual environment, any of these is likely.

At any rate, the new, Jewish version of the mysteries offered diaspora Jews a way to integrate culturally while preserving their own theological heritage. These stories were written by people who had most likely never been to Israel, and like the Egyptians used locations metaphorically to describe the sun’s ascent and descent.

Using a number substitution code, a common practice among the Greek mysteries and Jewish mystics, they created a name for this new Jewish-Greek-Egyptian synthesis, with special mathematical significance.

This figure was not only a sacred number, it was also a pictograph of the nature of God. 8 turned on its side becomes the symbol of eternity. Three 8’s show the three identical persons of the eternal trinity. The numbers 888 can also be reversed, flipped, and substituted with each other without causing any change in their nature, reflecting the unchanging constancy of God.

The principles behind this equation were well known in the first few centuries AD, and the church father Iraneaus, although he doesn’t seem to believe it himself, can clearly do the math involved.

This is the name of Jesus; for this name, if you reckon up the numerical value of the letters, amounts to eight hundred and eighty eight. Thus, then, you have a clear statement of their opinion as to the origin of the super celestial Jesus. Wherefore, also, the alphabet of the Greeks contains eight Monads, eight Decads, and eight Hecatads, which present the number eight hundred and eighty-eight, that is, Jesus, who is formed of all the numbers; and on this account He is called Alpha and Omega, indicating his origin from all. (Iraneaus, Against the Heresies[D1] )

It was truly, a divine name; a magical name. Jesus is superior to other gods, not because he is different from them, but because he has a more powerful name:

God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow. (Philippians 2:9)

The concept of the Logos, represented by the divine number 888, was combined with the image of the awaited messiah and became the title “Jesus Christ”. It was an attempt to bridge Greek salvation philosophy with Jewish religious history, and is a literary construction which does not refer to a historical person.

This helps us to understand the often quoted biblical passages which stress that the name of Jesus is unique; that only through Jesus can we be saved. It is not Jesus the historical man who held the key to salvation, but the Logos and his innate relationship with the Father and original unity.

I am the Way; I am Truth and Life. No one can come to the Father except through me. (John 13:14)

Magic, divination and Names of Power in Christianity

Christian communities were well versed in magic and had no difficulty in using this new magical phrase. The author of Ephesians lists an expansive collection of spirits and daimons conquered by Jesus Christ, who is “far above every principality, ruling force, power or sovereignty, or any other name that can be named” (Eph. 1:20-1:22). While Sarapis was greater than 10,000 names, Jesus becomes greater than any name that can be named.

“Every name that is named” is encompassed in the mighty reign of the Lord Jesus Christ – no conceivable power is outside the dominion of Christ. This particular phrase is loaded with significance for exorcism and magical incantation both in Judaism and the pagan world. (Arnold 54)

Like other magical names listed above, with power over nature (hearing them, sun and earth are overturned; Hades is shaken; rivers, sea, lakes and springs are frozen; rocks are split) the name of Jesus gives you unlimited magical ability.

If you ask anything in My name, I will do it. (John 14:14)

Similar to passages in the Egyptian book of the dead, the secret to immortality in the early church lay in knowing God’s true name, almost like a secret password. It was the name Jesus itself, and not just the person or function of Jesus, that held power. Like abracadabra, Jesus was a special word, that when pronounced properly could produce marvelous effects – and it was understood as such by early Christians, who tried ‘pronouncing’ the name ritualistically:

But some itinerant Jewish exorcists too tried pronouncing the name of the Lord Jesus over people who were possessed by evil spirits; they used to say, ‘I adjure you by the Jesus whose spokesman is Paul.’ (Acts 19:11)

Although for Greeks this new mystery was just one among hundreds, to some Jews this may have been their first glimpse of the mystery salvation philosophy. The permanence of the soul in particular may have been an attractive idea for them, and a community grew up around these stories. These groups taught the Greek mysteries in a Jewish framework, and offered Diaspora Jews the opportunity to become initiates without feeling guilty for abandoning their own culture.

They taught the mystery of “Christ in you, the hope and glory” (Col. 1:27), and “the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ” (Col 2:2).

Rather than believe the Messiah to be a historical figure, they imagined that he was the Logos, who gave mankind internal salvation. Paying taxes and living under Roman law was inconsequential after having been saved by the Logos, and even death held no power over those saved. Instead of depending on external forces to liberate them, initiates believed each person could become their own messiah. Because of this, they called themselves anointed ones, or “Christians”.