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Ethnomedicine of the Magical Papyri Eldor, Ole

Abstract

Many aspects of the relations among medicine and religious ideas in late antiquity remain to be explored from a fresh perspective, particularly regarding those ideas classed as so-called "magic." Much of the previous scholarship of these relations was doubly-biased by the ethnocentrism of the Western biomedical model and a traditional societal prejudice against private ritual . The successful application by John Pilch of anthropological concepts and models to the healings in the New Testament showed an ideal way for similar analyses to other texts from the same world. This study is an attempt to apply Pilch's method to the so-called "Magical Papyri" and overcome these biases. In this aim it was successful by showing that these methods do bear out on the papyri. This study proved the fruitfulness of this methodology by succeeding in highlighting a series of symbolic healings among the rituals in the corpus with aspects that under examination appear to have been a complex, powerful, and likely very effective combination of therapy and ritual that was the product of a carefully-developed traditional system. This work takes some first steps towards using the papyri to show how the medical system was related to the religious system to which it was attached in late antique Egyptian society. It shows that Egypt, perhaps unusually among traditional societies, had a class of symbolic healers who operated in the professional sector of the health care system; it thus begins to account for aspects of the healing system or systems represented in the papyri.

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