Research Project


"… habent sua fata libelli: Negotiating Fate in Late Antique Magic, Sethian, and Manichaean Books"

Dr. Eduard Iricinschi

My research at the IKGF Friedrich Alexander University Erlangen, titled “… habent sua fata libelli: Negotiating Fate in Late Antique Magic, Sethian, and Manichaean Books,” analyzed attempts to modify perceptions of “fate” in ritual and religious texts as ways of coping with the future. The project considered the potential of late-antique magic writings and apocalypses to provide risk management strategies through various reinterpretations and manipulations of the notion of “fate.” I did this by investigating the relations between books as artefacts, religious literacy, and notions of fate in three different corpora of late-antique texts stretching from the second to the eighth centuries CE. First, I analyzed perceptions of “fate” in Greek and Coptic magical papyri, collected in PGM (“Papyri Graecae Magicae”) paying special attention to “The Eighth Book of Moses” (PGM XIII, P. Leiden I. 395), which is a handbook of magic recipes. Second, I pursued the connecting nodes between astral fatalism, redeeming knowledge, and book culture in various early Christian texts, such as the Valentinian collection of texts known as Extracts of Theodotus (late second century CE), or the following Nag Hammadi texts: “On the Origin of the World” (NHC II, 5; NHC XIII, 2); “The Secret Book of John” (NHC II, 1; NHC III, 1; NHC IV, 1; BG 8502,2); “The Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth” (NHC VI, 6); “The Gospel of Truth” (NHC I, 3; NHC XII, 2). Finally, the project analyzed the use of the literary motif of “fate” in a Manichaean apocalypse, the Sermon on the Great War (a text which is part of the Manichaean Homilies), used to convey a positive image of social and cultural reconstruction through the images of a resurrecting Manichaean book culture.

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