Lee Jefferson is the Nelson D. and Mary McDowell Rodes Associate Professor of Religion at Centre College. His book, Christ the Miracle Worker in Early Christian Art (Fortress Press, 2014), concerns the early images of the miracles of Jesus. His second book, a collection of essays including a chapter he authored, co-edited with Robin M. Jensen, is entitled The Art of Empire: Christian Art in Its Imperial Context (Augsburg Fortress, 2015). His current volume is an edited collection of essays in honor of Robin M. Jensen, Death and Rebirth in Late Antiquity (Lexington Books/Rowman and Littlefield, 2022). He is a contributor to the Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception (DeGruyter) and the Brill Encyclopedia of Early Christianity (Brill).
Bible & Archaeology Fest XXV, October 8 & 9, 2022
Was Jesus a Magician? Wands, Wizards, and Magic in Early Christianity
In many of the earliest examples of early Christian art, Jesus is depicted performing miracles and feats of wonder, such as raising the dead, dividing loaves, and changing water into wine (Cana). What perplexes viewers is what Jesus is holding in his hand in the performance of his miracle: he wields a type of tapered instrument. And to many eyes, it appears Jesus is using a magic wand. Such an iconographic clue leads viewers to assume that the early Christian understanding of Jesus is that he was some type of magician or wizard. Images such as these have led several scholars to arrive at the same conclusion. But what did magic look like in antiquity? And what would it mean for Jesus to be a magician? This talk will explore the context of magic and sorcery in the time of Jesus and beyond and unpack artistic examples of Jesus holding a wand in an attempt to answer the question: was Jesus a magician?