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Jesus the Magician (1978)

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Jesus the Magician will either fascinate or annoy depending on one`s view of orthodox Christology. Yet, its scholarship, while seemingly arbitrary in spots, argues well overall. Morton Smith certainly did his homework.

The central thesis here is that Jesus` central mission was not that of ‘messiah’ or as Paul would have it, the singular Son of God sacrificed to atone for Adam`s original transgression. Rather, Smith offers up an alternative portrait that is both intriguing and elusive, that of a Palestinian ‘magician.’ Smith`s notion of a magician is one who used special skills, acquired through initiation, to affect ‘miracles,’ such as those attributed to Jesus in the Gospels, calming storms, walking on water, feeding the masses and most of all, healing the afflicted.

Jesus as magician was most effective as a healer, curing the blind, the lame, the deaf and dumb, cleansing those blighted with skin diseases. Yet, Smith argues that such ‘cures’ need to be explained and put in proper context. What Jesus ‘cured’ Smith argues is the hysteria brought about by shame and social isolation.