Jesus as Sorcerer

Exploring Some Aspects of the Controversy between Celsus and Origen


  • Benjamin Bevc Pontifical Gregorian University, Faculty of Theology, Rome



Celsus, Origen, witchcraft, miracles, anti-Christian polemics, Christian apologetics


The thaumaturgic and exorcistic activity of Jesus of Nazareth has been interpreted by some opponents of Christianity as witchcraft. This is particularly true of the pamphlet The True Word, written around 180, in which a Middle Platonic philosopher, Celsus, claims that Jesus was a γόης, that is, a sorcerer. On the basis of the extant fragments of The True Word, the article first presents Celsus’ accusations of sorcery and then discusses Origen’s refutation of these accusations in his treatise Against Celsus. Whereas Celsus identifies wonder-working with sorcery, Origen presents a set of criteria that enables one to discern between the two. The existence of these criteria shows that Origen implicitly acknowledges the ambivalence of wonder-working. Nevertheless, the criteria also reveal that the concept of witchcraft is highly relational.


Download data is not yet available.


Arnold, Johannes. Der Wahre Logos des Kelsos: Eine Strukturanalyse. Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum, Ergänzungsband 39. Münster: Aschendorff, 2016.

Bader, Robert. Der ΑΛΗΘΗΣ ΛΟΓΟΣ des Kelsos. Tübinger Beiträge zur Altertumswissenschaft 33. Stuttgart in Berlin: W. Kohlhammer, 1940.

Bardy, Gustave. »Origène et la magie.« Recherches de science religieuse 18 (1928): 126–142.

Burkert, Walter. »Γόης. Zum griechischen ‘Schamanismus’.« Rheinisches Museum für Philologie, Neue Folge 105 (1962): 36–55.

Delling, Gerhard. »Γόης.« V: Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament, ur. Gerhard Kittel, zv. 1, 737–738. Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer 1933.

Dillon, John. »The Magical Power of Names in Origen.« V: Origeniana tertia, ur. Richard Hanson in Henri Crouzel, 203–216. Roma: Edizioni dell’Ateneo, 1985.

Fédou, Michel. Christianisme et religions païennes dans le Contre Celse d’Origène. Théologie historique 81. Paris: Beauchesne, 1988. DOI:

Gallagher, Eugene V. Divine Man or Magician?: Celsus and Origen on Jesus. Society of Biblical Literature Dissertation series 64. Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1982.

Goulet, Richard in John Whittaker. »Celsus.« V: Dictionnaire des philosophes antiques, ur. Richard Goulet, zv. 2, 253–256. Paris: CNRS Éditions, 1994.

Maier, John P. A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. Zvezek 2: Mentor, Message, and Miracles. New York, London, Toronto, Sydney in Auckland: Doubleday, 1994.

Marcovich, Miroslav, izd. Origenes: Contra Celsum libri VIII. Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 54. Leiden, Boston in Köln: Brill, 2001. DOI:

Mosetto, Francesco. I miracoli evangelici nel dibattito tra Celso e Origene. Biblioteca di Scienze Religiose 76. Roma: LAS, 1986.

Neusner, Jacob. »Introduction.« V: Religion, Science, and Magic: In Concert and in Conflict, ur. Jacob Neusner, Ernest S. Frerichs in Paul V. McCracken Flesher, 3–7. New York in Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Niehoff, Maren R. »A Jewish Critique of Christianity from Second-Century Alexandria.« Journal of Early Christian Studies 21 (2013): 151–175. DOI:

Norelli, Enrico. »La tradizione sulla nascita di Gesù nell’ Ἀληθὴς λόγος di Celso.« V: Discorsi di verità: Paganesimo, giudaismo e cristianesimo a confronto nel Contro Celso di Origene, ur. Lorenzo Perrone, 133–166. Studia Ephemeridis Augustinianum 61. Roma: Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum, 1998.

Remus, Harold. »ʻMagic’, Method, Madness.« Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 11 (1999): 258–298. DOI:

Ressa, Pietro. »Introduzione.« V: Origene: Contro Celso, izd. Pietro Ressa, 11–79. Letteratura cristiana antica, Nuova serie 33. Brescia: Morcelliana, 2000.

Sfameni Gasparro, Giulia. »Origene e la magia: teoria e prassi.« V: Origeniana octava: Origen and the Alexandrian Tradition, ur. Lorenzo Perrone, zv. 1, 733–756. Bibliotheca ephemeridum theologicarum Lovaniensium 164. Leuven: Leuven University Press – Uitgeverij Peeters, 2003.

Smith, Morton. Jesus the Magician: Charlatan or Son of God? London: Victor Gollancz, 1978.





I. “We Have Bound Hostile Tongues ”: Superstition and Witchcraft in Antiquity

Most read articles by the same author(s)