Miracle workers and magicians in the first century A.D. (Luke 19)

Some historians have argued that Jesus was just one among many miracle workers operating during the first century A.D. While Jesus Himself admitted that there were effective Jewish exorcists, and we have a few scattered reports of rabbis performing miracles, the evidence for miracle workers on a par with Jesus is minimal. For example, Apollonius of Tyana, a first century sage, is sometimes claimed to have been Jesus’ equal in this regard. In the fullest account of his life (published long after his death), Apollonius is credited with only a few amazing feats, generally involving his ability to foresee the future or to perceive demonic activity. His most striking “miracle”, raising a girl from her funeral bier, was doubted even by his most loyal followers, who suspected that the young woman was not actually dead but that Apollonius had revived her from near death.

There were certainly “magicians” both within and outside of Judaism during the first century. Archaeologists have discovered numerous papyri and amulets with magical formulas for gaining the love of a man or woman, exacting vengeance on an enemy or even winning at horse races. Frequently these magicians would use natural objects in the course of performing their magical acts. Some critics have suggested that Jesus’ use of saliva and mud in a few of His healings (Mark 8:33, John 9) points to magical rituals. But this conjecture misinterprets what Jesus was doing. For example, the use of mud in John 9 was intended to recall God’s creation of humankind from the dirt: Jesus was symbolically recreating this man’s eyes. In terms of the number and magnitude of His miracles, Jesus undeniably stands alone in the ancient world.

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