27th International Congress of Papyrology, Warsaw, 29 July–3 August 2013
MAGICAL DISCOURSES, RITUAL COLLECTIONS: CULTURAL TRENDS AND PRIVATE INTERESTS IN EGYPTIAN HANDBOOKS AND ARCHIVES
While many scholars (e.g. Ritner 1995; Pernigotti 1995) have recognised the important continuities in Egyptian magico-religious practice from the Pharaonic through to the Coptic period, others have noted the equally striking differences in the types of rituals attested by the surviving evidence. Assmann (1994-1995) comments that the Greek and demotic papyri from the Roman period contain a “magical discourse” which is “fundamentally different from that of the tradition- al Egyptian sources”, and similar observations have been made by Borghouts (1974), Brashear (1995), Frankfurter (2000) and Dielemann (2003), among others. These commentators note the more “aggressive” nature of the Roman-period material, consisting largely of love spells, divination procedures and curses in contrast to the generally apotropaic and medical character of Pharaonic rituals, linked perhaps to a shift from the temple to the private sphere. Similarly, a fur- ther change seems to take place within Coptic texts, in which we find less of a focus on divination relative to the Roman-period, and a greater attestation of practices such as exorcism. These generalisations hold true for the largest English language collections from the three periods – Borghouts (1978) for Pharaonic, Betz (1992) for Roman, and Meyer and Smith (1999) for Coptic – but the contents of these three collections are all to some extent affected by the accidents of sur- vival and the selection criteria of their respective editors; in particular, we might note that three quarters of the material in Betz may derive from a single archive. This paper will critically examine the question of changing ritual practice in Egypt by analysing the contents of ritual collections constituted in antiquity – archives and handbooks on papyrus and parchment – in order to understand how far these may reflect the tendencies of their period on the one hand, and the personal interests of their authors and owners on the other.