Wheeler, Prayer, Magic, And the Stars in the Ancient and Late Antique World...
Scott Noegel, Joel Walker, and Brannon Wheeler, Prayer, Magic, and the Stars in the Ancient and Late Antique World Prayer, Magic, and the Stars in the Ancient and Late Antique World by Scott Noegel, ; Joel Walker, ; Brannon Wheeler, Review by: Hans Dieter Betz The Journal of Religion, Vol. 85, No. 2 (April 2005), pp. 347-350 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/430564 . Accessed: 14/07/2012 10:31 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp
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Book Reviews analyzes some of the newly developed key philosophical terms informing Guo’s thought. Among the more important of these is the complex notion of traces, ji, literally footprints, referring to the mental content or models which are handed down from the past, and which inform such things as the teachings of the Sages, laws, rites, music, and even notions of the self. Ziporyn elucidates Guo’s ideas about traces, explaining Guo’s claims that they compel imitation and thus falsification, produce systems of valuation, and cause people to lose track of their own ziran or spontaneity. Conversely, sages, or those who do not adhere to traces, are described as vanishing into things directly without obstruction by mental models and their associated valuations. Guo characterizes this superior mode of action by the term duhua, which Ziporyn translates as “lone-transformation.” In the latter parts of the book, Ziporyn relies on his earlier explications of Guo’s terms to carry out his detailed study of Guo’s philosophy as a whole. Without pursuing a detailed analysis of the many vistas of Guo’s thought so marvelously explored by Ziporyn, this book provides an engaging study of post–Warring States Daoist philosophical thought and demonstrates the richness of one Chinese thinker’s engagement with that tradition. Ziporyn’s book, nonetheless, is very difficult to read at times for three reasons. First, in part because Ziporyn is so aware of the intricacies of Guo’s thought, he gives repeated explanations of each of Guo’s major terms at every turning point of the study. Second, Ziporyn deals with Guo’s thought as an almost timeless entity, virtually without any regard to the historical environment in which Guo wrote. Finally, Ziporyn pays only scant attention to the Zhuangzi writings and does not seem to take Guo’s commentarial approach to the Zhuangzi as a central issue in interpreting Guo’s text. For these reasons, Ziporyn’s work demands a tremendous amount of previous knowledge on the part of the reader and could result in his book not receiving the kind of attention it would otherwise deserve. THOMAS MICHAEL, George Washington University. NOEGEL, SCOTT; WALKER, JOEL; and WHEELER, BRANNON, eds. Prayer, Magic, and the Stars in the Ancient and Late Antique World. University Park: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003. xi⫹255 pp. $22.50 (paper). This volume originated at an international conference held at the University of Washington, March 3–5, 2000. While the title of the book indicates the wide range covered, thirteen substantial investigations of specialized topics are grouped under four major headings, to which the editors have added a richly annotated introduction (1–17). Part 1 presents the keynote address by Jonathan Z. Smith, entitled “Here, There, and Anywhere” (21–36). As he points out, the phenomena of magic are found in a vast array of different forms, times, and places. But rather than disputing sweeping definitions, theories, and methodologies, the better way to obtain insights is by specific probes such as the volume contains. Part 2 (“Prayer, Magic, and Ritual”) begins with Ian Moyer’s examination of a crucial text attributed to a Greek scholar of botany, Thessalos of Tralles (“Thessalos of Tralles and Cultural Exchange,” 39–56), who travels to Egypt to learn about the secrets of plants from Egyptian priests. Under Moyer’s guidance the tale, fragmentary as it is, opens up the multiple intricacies involved
The Journal of Religion in the relationship between Thessalos and the priest who finally agrees to reveal to him the mysteries of his religion. This transaction amounts to a cultural exchange at various levels, among them the transformation of “religion” into a commodity called “magic.” Marvin Meyer pursues pertinent questions in connection with this earlier work on the Coptic Prayer of Mary, a version of which became part of a parchment codex, in his study, “The Prayer of Mary in the Magical Book of Mary and the Angels” (P. Heid. Inv. Kopt. 685; pp. 57–67). This text raises the question, what is prayer, and what is magical prayer? He concludes that this question can best be answered on a case-by-case basis. There are several prayers of Mary, some of which became magical by way of ritual usage or inclusion with other material. Cultural contexts are as determinative as language and ritual usage. At least in ancient Coptic Christianity magical prayers can be as religiously serious as nonmagical ones. As earlier Egyptian religion continues to exert influence, later Christian prayer and magical prayer may be indistinguishable. That does not mean, however, that all Coptic prayers follow the same path or that Christian prayers in other cultural contexts should be judged in the same way. Gideon Bohak analyzes the sometimes obsessive tendency in research on magical “words” (voces magicae) to look for Hebrew origins (“Hebrew, Hebrew Everywhere? Notes on the Interpretation of Voces Magicae,” 69–82). This study critically assesses the methodological presuppositions, redirects such research and raises further pertinent questions. Michael G. Morony reviews the current studies on the famous magical bowls and their Aramaic, Syriac, and Mandaean inscriptions (“Magic and Society in Late Sasanian Iraq,” 83–107). The central issue here is the ritual function of these bowls in the religious life of the communities involved. Part 3 turns to another important area, “Dreams and Divination.” Kasia Szpakowska discusses the topic of “The Open Portal: Dreams and Divine Power in Pharaonic Egypt” (111–24). While in the Old Kingdom communication with the deities was a privilege of the Pharaoh only, in the New Kingdom dream visions, dream books, and letters to the dead became the common people’s venues for directly encountering the gods as well as the dead. The growing popularity of dream visions then flows into the broad stream of later ancient dream divination. Peter Struck’s illuminating study, entitled “Viscera and the Divine: Dreams as the Divinatory Bridge between the Corporeal and the Incorporeal” (125–36), focuses on the impact of dreams on the inner life of the human body. Selected examples show that dream divination functions in different ways during therapeutic incubation in the cult of Asclepius, in Hippocratic medicine (On Regimen), and in Plato’s philosophy (Timaeus). Incubation reports show that Asclepius appears in dream visions to reveal healing procedures, while in Hippocratic medicine the internal world of the body mirrors universal cosmology, so that human illnesses are presumed curable through the body’s own natural forces. According to Plato, the divine forces of the cosmos exert their power in the body through the indwelling immortal soul. Jacco Dieleman examines the influence of Hellenistic astronomy and astrology on Egyptian religion in the Ptolemaic era, “Stars and the Egyptian Priesthood in the Graeco-Roman Period” (137–53). He compares the description of an Egyptian procession by Clement of Alexandria (Stromateis VI, 4, 35–36), in which a priest called horoskopos marches along, with a biographical inscription for a priest named Harkhebi (second century BCE), and a bilingual Demotic and Greek papyrus from the Roman period (PDM xiv.93–114). These meticulously interpreted texts demonstrate how, on the one hand, the priestly office
Book Reviews and ritual continue in the older tradition, while, on the other hand, they are adapted to the newer Hellenistic astronomy and astrology. Complex cultural and linguistic transformations simply occur, apparently without distress. Michael D. Swartz’s essay, “Divination and Its Discontents: Finding and Questioning Meaning in Ancient and Medieval Judaism” (155–66), explores the relationship between forms of divination and scriptural exegesis. Historically, Judaism has a long tradition of various forms of divination, but it also knows of forbidden magic (the so-called ways of the Amorites); moreover, the rabbis perceive a tension between divinatory techniques and textual scholarship. Rabbinic hermeneutic of reading the Torah as the world is in conflict with divination techniques that read the cosmos as a book. How to resolve this conflict by corresponding validation is the aim of special divination books. Part 4 (“The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars”) finally turns to astrology in its various forms. Francesca Rochberg’s description of ancient Mesopotamian celestial divination is lucid and insightful, “Heaven and Earth: Divine-Human Relations in Mesopotamian Celestial Divination” (169–85). The interplay between mythology, rituals, and celestial order establishes a kind of flexible system that accommodates priesthood, social-political hierarchy, and “scientific” cosmology. Understandably, this unified worldview was able to impress GraecoRoman philosophy and religion. Mark S. Smith’s essay concerns itself with the so-called West Semitic religion, “Astral Religion and the Representation of Divinity: The Cases of Ugarit and Judah” (187–206). Reporting on a rather esoteric debate among specialists, Smith pursues the theory that an earlier astral religion was subsequently displaced by the development of divine families of gods (El, Yahwe, Baal). Nicola Denzey’s paper, “A New Star on the Horizon: Astral Christologies and Stellar Debates in Early Christian Discourse” (207–21), focuses on the account of the star of Bethlehem (Matt. 2:1–10) in the discussions among the second- to fourth-century church fathers. As the canonical Scriptures reject astrology, the story of the star of Bethlehem seems to provide an opening for astrological explanations, implying that Christ’s birth is subject to astral fatalism. Counteracting christologies argue by identifying Christ with the appearing star. As the lord of the universe the new star is in control of the entire astral world, and his reign is not that of fate but has transformed the entire cosmic world into a salvation order. The final essay by Radcliffe G. Edmonds III, “At the Seizure of the Moon: The Absence of the Moon in the Mithras Liturgy” (223–39), makes two important observations. In the Mithras Liturgy, the favorable time for beginning the magician’s ascension through the celestial spheres to meet the god Helios Mithras is set “at the seizure of the moon,” that is, at the time of the new moon when it is absent from the heaven (PGM IV.751–62). While during his ascension the magician encounters all kinds of hostile astral forces, the moon is absent. This first leads the author to a second observation: the distribution of “sun spells” and “moon spells” within the corpus of spells in the Great Magical Papyrus of Paris as a whole. His suggestive thesis is that the papyrus is arranged in such a way that spells invoking the beneficial sun are found in the earlier parts, while the spells invoking the hostile moon are put toward the end. Since no previous work has been done on the composition of the entire papyrus, the author’s thesis would require a fuller investigation of the redactor’s overarching cosmology. Taken as a whole, the volume impresses through the scholarly quality of the essays. Each in its own way, the studies are based on primary and secondary
The Journal of Religion sources, and they contribute original insights as well. A useful index concludes this valuable volume. HANS DIETER BETZ, University of Chicago. WHEELER, BRANNON M. Prophets in the Quran: An Introduction to the Quran and Muslim Exegesis. Comparative Islamic Studies. London: Continuum, 2002. vii⫹391 pp. $105.00 (cloth); $49.95 (paper). In a field in which the publication of a book on the Quran in Oxford University Press’ Very Short Introduction series attracts scholarly attention (The Koran: A Very Short Introduction [Oxford, 2000]), Brannon Wheeler’s book on the prophets in the Quran and Muslim exegeses is most welcome. Wheeler has provided an important service by compiling and translating from Arabic an impressive selection of quranic, exegetical, historical, and hagiographical texts that help explain Muslim understandings of prophethood. This, however, is only part of the motivation behind Wheeler’s translations. The other is to facilitate and encourage the comparative study of scripture and its interpretation in the development of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim understandings of their respective traditions. Indeed Wheeler identifies “an opportunity [in his work] to ask how the Bible and its interpretation defines Christianity and Judaism, and how this is challenged by Muslim appropriation of both the Bible and its interpretation for Islam’s own self-definition” (14). Despite the above aim, there are no Jewish or Christians texts on prophets in this book; Wheeler seems to assume readers’ familiarity with these sources. There is also no analysis of the translated texts. For biblical accounts and analysis of Quran exegesis, readers have to follow the suggestions for further reading on “Quranic Studies,” “Stories of the Prophets,” “Bible and Ancient World,” “Judaism,” and “Christianity” provided at the end of the book, which include Wheeler’s own analysis of the topic in Moses in the Quran and Islamic Exegesis (London, 2002). Here readers only have a pithy fourteen-page introduction to quranic studies and exegesis to guide them through the translated sources. The book is divided into thirty-one chapters dealing with prophetic figures mentioned or alluded to in the Quran. Among them are well-known figures, such as Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, lesser-known figures, such as Elisha, Salih, and Dhu al-Kifl, and some figures whose prophetic status is disputed, such as Khidr, or who are not prophets themselves but are important to stories of prophets, such as Dhu al-Qarnayn and the People of the Well. With the exception of the chapter on Daniel where the Quran is not cited, within each chapter, quranic verses related to the figure(s) in question are cited followed by selected passages from interpretive works. The selections from interpretive works are attributed to individual authorities rather than to books. This makes it difficult to trace the selections back to the original texts and for reviewers to spot-check the translations. The few translations I was able to check in the chapters on Moses were generally accurate. and the translations as a whole are very readable. The lack of citation to books also leads to confusion regarding the historical context of some of the exegetical texts. Exegeses attributed to individuals such as Ali b. Abi Talib (died 660) and Hasan al-Basri (died 728) are given without any reference to the original text in which they were cited. This conceals the actual work being cited, and there is always the question of whether what an