Holy Spit And Magic Spells: Religion, Magic And The Body In Late Ancient Judaism, Christianity, And Islam

Other Titles
Abstract
This dissertation examines the ways that bodies are used in defining the boundaries between pious 'religion' and illicit 'magic' in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic literatures of the fifth to ninth centuries of the Common Era. Drawing upon narratives and legal discussions both of exceptional bodies (of martyrs, saints, rabbis, and prophets) and of average laypeople's bodies, this dissertation suggests that ritual usage of the body functions in these literatures as a site for the rhetorical construction of religious identity through the differentiation of acceptable bodily practices from those defined as unacceptably sectarian or 'magical.' By reading discussions of 'magical' bodies and bodily rituals, we see that late ancient ideas of the body's inherent power simultaneously enforced and violated the constructed boundaries between religious communities. Devoting particular attention to the usage of spittle and hair in discussions of magic and the power of the body, this project illustrates that the body was an important yet paradoxical site for the performance of religious identity and for the construction of religious difference in late antiquity. While late ancient sources draw upon the discourse of 'magic' to define as illicit those bodily performances understood as problematic and insufficiently 'orthodox,' these same bodily articulations or pieces (such as spittle and hair) might also be called upon to display ritual authority and concentrations of power in certain individuals. Spitting could signal holiness and healing, but could also be marked as an act of sectarian practice or sorcery. Hair could be a source of divine blessing, or a material for sorcerous cursing. The different valences ascribed to spittle and hair display the ambiguity of these distinctions between religion and magic in late antiquity, as well as the power placed in even these most effluvial bodily parts. Late ancient sources map a variety of discursive categories onto these bodily pieces and the distinctions between religion and magic, or orthodoxy and heresy, often hinge on variant usages of these corporeal items. The efforts to define the proper usages of the body-including even spittle and hair-highlight the late ancient image of the body as standing on the edge of religion and magic, holiness and heresy, health and illness, power and weakness.
Journal / Series
Volume & Issue
Description
Sponsorship
Date Issued
2015-05-24
Publisher
Keywords
Early Islam; Religion and Magic; Body
Location
Effective Date
Expiration Date
Sector
Employer
Union
Union Local
NAICS
Number of Workers
Committee Chair
Haines-Eitzen,Kimberly Joy
Committee Co-Chair
Committee Member
Brann,Ross
Powers,David Stephan
Degree Discipline
Near Eastern Studies
Degree Name
Ph. D., Near Eastern Studies
Degree Level
Doctor of Philosophy
Related Version
Related DOI
Related To
Related Part
Based on Related Item
Has Other Format(s)
Part of Related Item
Related To
Related Publication(s)
Link(s) to Related Publication(s)
References
Link(s) to Reference(s)
Previously Published As
Government Document
ISBN
ISMN
ISSN
Other Identifiers
Rights
Rights URI
Types
dissertation or thesis
Accessibility Feature
Accessibility Hazard
Accessibility Summary
Link(s) to Catalog Record