The first record of this question being asked was traced back to the Celsus, a Greek Philosopher and vocal opponent of Christianity.
He was the author of a book written circa 174 to 177 CE called “On the True Doctrine,” which was the first criticism of Christianity that we know about. Celsus was very interested in “Ancient Egyptian Religion.”
Celsus claims that the use of sorcery performed the miracles of Jesus.
So here we have the first claim that Jesus was a magician, made by a proponent of Ancient Egyptian Religion who is out to sabotage the early Christian Church. Not really an unbiased viewpoint.
This question has come to the fore in modern times primarily due to Professor Morton Smith, an American Professor of Ancient history at Columbia University, who died in 1991.
The professor announced that the historical Jesus was a magician who originated from Galilean Paganism who believed in the region’s old religions before Judaism.
Several scholars claim that Morton’s works based on his ideas were actually forgeries, suggesting that Morton himself forged them.
Was Jesus Just A Magician? The idea of Jesus being just a magician was promoted by opponents of Jesus and Christianity in general that claimed that the miracles of Jesus were just intricate magic tricks and illusions. There is no real evidence to support this. Jesus was not just a magician.
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Were The Miracles That Jesus Performed Just Magic Tricks?
We have some stories about the miracles that Jesus performed, which you read in the Bible.
Read them without letting any religious views interfere, and I can see why people might think he was a magician.
They are kind of like the tricks that a brilliant illusionist might perform.
I want to change topics for a moment. Please bear with me.
For many years there were wonderful stories about the Indian Rope Trick that came out of India.
Reporters came across many people who claim to have seen it performed (the original trick where a boy supposedly climbs the rope and disappears, later falling to the ground in pieces and then is reassembled by the magician).
These stories described various versions of this trick, but there was one common feature.
The longer the time between when they supposedly saw the trick and when they told the story directly connected with how the story was told.
The longer it was, the more spectacular the story. People embellish the original story as they retell it, sometimes quite innocently.
OK, back to Jesus, the original eyewitness accounts of the disciples were not written down for many years after they occurred, no doubt after the story had been retold many times, each time becoming more embellished.
The actual miracles were far less impressive than the related stories, and Jesus had performed a stunning magical illusion that was transformed by the retelling.
Another explanation in a similar vein might be connected with raising the dead. I
t is a scientific fact that in more recent times in Europe, medical knowledge was such that occasionally people were declared dead and buried when, in reality, they were actually still alive in a coma.
They have found scratch marks on the inside of coffin lids made by people who later woke to find themselves buried alive.
Could it be that a clever man, such a Jesus, could have recognized when people were actually alive and found ways to revive them (apparently raising the dead)?
That could explain what people actually saw.
Opinion Of The Magician
Andre Kole is a world-famous magician, but even better known as a consultant who works with other magicians in creating illusions. He has worked with the seven top magicians in the world.
David Kole has worked with the master of large-scale illusion David Copperfield in creating some of the world’s most famous large scale illusions, like making the Statue of Liberty disappear, so if anyone could work out how Jesus the magician could pull off the miracles, it’s him.
A point that Andre made on one of the miracles, walking on water, is very relevant.
Andre himself has performed this trick for the BBC and Discovery Channel.
It says it took him months to prepare and involved three diesel trucks full of equipment to perform the trick, using technology that would not have been available to Jesus.
Davis Copperfield, a friend of Andre Kole and probably the world’s greatest illusionist agrees with Kole and says that there is no way that Jesus could have performed his miracles using magic.
Remember, David Copperfield is Jewish and is not a believer in Christ, so he has no agenda.
As a supplement to this section, after investigating this theory about whether Jesus was a magician, Andre Kole was forced to accept in his own mind that since they could not have been magic tricks that they were evidence of the divinity of Jesus, and Andree became a Christian.
To sum up. We have the early opponents of Christianity claiming it’s just trickery.
These opponents were the established Jewish Leaders who Jesus was overthrowing and Greek believers in another religion.
Not exactly an unbiased set of witnesses.
We then have Professor Moreton floating the idea that Jesus was a magician, based on documentation that he had found from the time, which many other historians claim were a fake.
Again not exactly the best of witnesses.
We then consider that perhaps something happened, something a magician might have been able to do, but that these simple illusions were exaggerated over the years until we have the miracles’ current stories.
It’s possible, but it is just a theory with no evidence presented.
Finally, we talk to real-life illusionists who have created the biggest illusions in history.
They agree that the miracles could not have been performed as illusions in a sophisticated magic act.
It looks like calling Jesus a magician is just a nice idea, an interesting talking point, and nothing more.
Playing around with the idea that Jesus was a magician was an interesting diversion, an amusing idea, but I am afraid there is very little evidence that supports it.
If the greatest illusionists of the day flatly deny it could have been possible for Jesus to pull of illusions of that magnitude, then I think it is the final verdict – Jesus was not just a magician.