March 1 - August 31, 2006
Gideon Bohak (Tel Aviv University)
Yuval Harari (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)
Shaul Shaked (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Magic is a notoriously ambiguous term to define and set apart, but magical texts seem to display a remarkable degree of similarlity in different cultures, languages and historical periods. If the study of Babylonian, Greek, Jewish and Muslim magical texts raises many recurrent problems, the solutions offered in one discipline can often prove worthwhile in other disciplines as well. By focusing on cultures that are geographically related, and between which there existed some channels of cross-cultural transmission, we can trace not only phenomenological similaries, but also geographical and historical continuities and transformations over long periods of time.
One thing shared by all the cultures covered by members of our group is the assumption that there are many occult powers out there (be they demonds, angels, gods, natural forces etc.)|, and that some men and women are better equipped than others to approach these forces and use them for their own aims. Moreover, members of all these cultures took it for granted that there is a body of knowledge (of special rituals, powerful incantations and so on) that can be mastered by competent individuals and that enable them to use these occult forces more effectively. This body of knowledge, and the social tensions involved in using it, are the main focus of all the group's members and the basis of our comparative efforts.