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ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 50, 2002

H.-J. Klauck, Magic and Paganism in Early Christianity: The World of the Acts of the Apostles (Edinburgh: T.& T. Clark, 2000). Pp. xii + 132. £18.95.

This book had its origin as a lecture presented in English at several South African locations in 1994. The published form of the lecture appeared in Neotestamentica 28 (1994) 93-108.The study subsequently developed into a German book, Magie und Heidentum in der Apostelgeschichte des Lukas (Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1996). The text has been completely revised for the present English edition; and the secondary bibliography up to 1999 has been taken into account. Structurally, the chapters and their sections remain the same as in the German edition.

The limited scope of the book is better indicated by the German title, “Magic and paganism in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles”. And the book still reads more like an extended essay than a monograph: there is less documentation and less argumentation than is normally supplied in a commentary. For instance, H.-J. Klauck’s claim, that Luke’s idealized portrayal of Athens is the work of “an author, who was more familiar with the literature about Athens than with the real city” (p. 81), may be correct, but it is not supported by evidence. Moreover, evidence cited (such as the quotations from Dio Chrysostom on p. 110) does not always support the point at issue. The author does not aim to provide a detailed examination of magical practice nor of Gentile culture in the Mediterranean world of the time of Acts. Rather, he presents a sequential discussion of Acts as a writing and focusses exegetically on those passages in which magic or the encounter with Gentile culture is particularly prominent.

The book also has a modern pastoral purpose. In the opening quotation (p. 1), Cumont in 1906 had asked his readers to imagine modern European Christians abandoning their churches for Far Eastern religions and philosophies. A century later, Klauck finds Cumont’s vision prophetic. Earliest Christianity was living in a “multi-cultural and multi-religious society” (p. 1). Modern Christians should exploit the “hermeneutical potential” (p. 2) of the analogous ancient and modern situations. This pastoral purpose comes to the surface occasionally in the course of the book; and is especially concerned with “(the tension) between inculturation and evangelisation” (pp. 94, 121).

The book has concise indexes of texts, ancient persons, places and subjects; but not all quoted texts are included. The bibliography is equally concise and does not include all works cited. The book is well bound and appears to be free of misprints. The translation is generally fluent and accurate. However, some translated ancient sources are less satisfactory. The English translator works from the German. Consequently, a passage from Philo on p. 16 (for example) loses the contrast between “genuine magic” and “a counterfeit of this”, since the term “magic” is introduced into the second limb of the comparison. A more awkward problem of translation occurs on p. 51, where “Felix” (procurator of Judaea from 52 CE) is wrongly brought in to the English translation of a section concerned with Sergius Paulus (governor of Cyprus, according to Luke’s narrative in Acts 13). The translator seems to have stumbled over a German idiom (including the term Felle, “skins”), which means “to see one’s plans being wrecked”.

Despite such technical blemishes, the book is a readable discussion of significant components of the cultural setting of Acts both at the time of is characters and at the time of its composition. And this setting is not irrelevant to the situation of modern Christianity in the twenty-first century.

Review by
Darryl W. Palmer
Centre for Archaeology & Classics
The University of Melbourne