• Religion in the Coptic Magical Papyri

    Religion in the Coptic Magical Papyri IX: Judaism and Coptic Magic

    The Jewish people – the ethno-religious group who trace their origins to the kingdoms of Israel and Judah – have a long relationship with their larger neighbour, Egypt, even leaving aside the complicated questions of the historicity of the Exodus story and the pre-exilic kingdoms. In the fifth and sixth centuries BCE there was a significant Judaean community in the city of Elephantine in the far south of Egypt, many of whose members served as soldiers in the army of the Persian kings who then ruled Egypt. This city was even home to a second Jewish temple – one of two attested in Egypt before the destruction of the main…

  • Case Study

    Giant Fish and Judicial Prayers: Jonah in Coptic Magic

    The story of Jonah, in its general outlines, is probably one of the best known in the Bible. Jonah was an Israelite prophet commanded by God to go to the people of Nineveh in Assyria to warn them that their wickedness had doomed them to divine punishment. For reasons explained at the end of the story, Jonah decided to disobey, and fled to the city of Joppa (modern Tel Aviv-Yafo). Here he boarded a ship bound for Tarshish, identified by modern scholars as southern Spain. As Herman Melville has a preacher tell it in Moby Dick (1851): With this sin of disobedience in him, Jonah… flouts at God, by seeking…

  • Religion in the Coptic Magical Papyri

    Religion in the Coptic Magical Papyri VII: Monks and Magic

    Two weeks ago we discussed a book of amulets which showed how “magical” practices could be entirely Christian, and we noted that the book’s format suggested it might even have been produced by monks. The idea that monks played a prominent role in the practice of magic in late antique Egypt has been promoted recently by David Frankfurter, whose book Christianizing Egypt argues that most of the surviving magical texts that we have were copied by monks. We do indeed have several texts which seem to come from monasteries or monastic cells, although many more have no clear provenance, and, as we saw in the case of the ancient town…

  • Coptic Magic

    What is Coptic Magic?

    For our first ever blog post we thought it might be useful to introduce what exactly we mean by those three words, “Coptic Magical Papyri”. “Coptic” is the simplest to define. Coptic is the latest written stage of the Egyptian language – the descendant of the older stages (Old, Middle, Late and Demotic Egyptian) in much the same way that modern Italian is the descendant of Latin. While the earlier stages of Egyptian were written in hieroglyphic, hieratic, and demotic scripts, Coptic was written using a modified version of the Greek alphabet, which became standardised in the third century CE. Something close to Coptic was probably the main spoken language…