Naming the Witch: Magic, Ideology, and Stereotype in the Ancient World
New York: Columbia University Press, 2007 pp. xviii + 189. $45.00
Gender, Theory, and Religion
Description: Kimberly B. Stratton investigates the cultural and ideological motivations behind early imaginings of the magician, the sorceress, and the witch in the ancient world. Accusations of magic could carry the death penalty or, at the very least, marginalize the person or group they targeted. But Stratton moves beyond the popular view of these accusations as mere slander. In her view, representations and accusations of sorcery mirror the complex struggle of ancient societies to define authority, legitimacy, and Otherness. Stratton argues that the concept "magic" first emerged as a discourse in ancient Athens where it operated part and parcel of the struggle to define Greek identity in opposition to the uncivilized "barbarian." The idea of magic then spread throughout the Hellenized world and Rome, reflecting and adapting to political forces, values, and social concerns in each society. Stratton considers the portrayal of witches and magicians in the literature of four related periods and cultures: classical Athens, early imperial Rome, pre-Constantine Christianity, and rabbinic Judaism. She compares patterns in their representations of magic and analyzes the relationship between these stereotypes and the social factors that shaped them.
Subjects: Methods, Social-Scientific Approaches
Review by Thomas J. Kraus
Citation: Thomas J. Kraus, review of Kimberly B. Stratton, Naming the Witch: Magic, Ideology, and Stereotype in the Ancient World, Review of Biblical Literature [http://www.bookreviews.org] (2008).
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