Sacred ceremony and magical praxis in Jewish texts of early and late antiquity
The thesis examines texts that indicate how Jews of Early and Late Antiquity dealt with a world ruled by an omnipotent God who governed a cosmos where disorder vied with order. God's bounty reflected his good will towards those faithful to his laws, and disobedience resulted in the infliction of misfortune. A state of disorder, labelled “the ways of the Emorites”, was perceived by Judaeans as the realm of superstition and foreign practices, typified by idolatry, incest and bloodshed. Sacrifice in the Temple allowed people to fulfil God's commandments, drawing near to him by means of animal or cereal offerings. When the Temple was destroyed, prayer rituals replaced the sacrifices. The absence of priestly authority allowed Rabbis to take control of everyday religious laws and customs. Concepts such as the sacred and mundane, and ritual purity and impurity, are integral to the scriptural texts. Later texts retained paradoxical notions relating to these older traditions concerning ambiguity or ambivalence associated with purification and pollution, and these notions remained within the ambit of the rabbinic purview. The transformation of public sacrifice into communal prayer was accompanied by aspirations to draw near to God, no longer simply as an act of obedience, but to attain aspects of his wisdom and power. God was no longer present in his Temple, but had taken on the role of King of Heaven, seated upon his Throne in the celestial heights, and the power attained by some Rabbinic sages in mystical ascents enabled them to perform miraculous feats. Ideas of the sacrificial cult and notions of ritual purity retained their influence in prayers, and esoteric Rabbinic traditions were appropriated by exponents of private magical rituals. Angels and demons inhabited the Talmudic cosmology, and angelic forces summoned in God's name might control the misfortune resulting from demonic intrusions.