The practice of healing people by bringing them into contact with the remains of dead saints was justified in the years around 400 C.E. with the text in 2 Kings 13:20-21. The whole business of relics seems superstitious and unsupportable to me. I mean, it seems improbable that in Augustine’s time they actually had the bones of St. Stephen. How would they know?
Well, I’m sure that the test was whether actual miracles happened. I’m not a total skeptic about miracles. I’ve seen unexplainable things happen, but never in connection with the bones of the dead. So, since these things seem to happen in the church anyway, how would you know if they happened because of someone’s bones?
Nevertheless, I am glad that Bynum’s book called my attention to 2 Kings 13. The story there is obscure and pretty funny. You could call the chapter, “Three funerals and a resurrection.” The chapter reports the deaths and burial in Samaria of kings Jehoahaz and Johash (vs. 9 and 13. Then Elisha, the prophet, also dies. It says he was buried, but it doesn’t say where (Gilgal? 2 Kings 4:38). But wherever it was, another funeral was held there sometime later. But as the pallbearers were carrying the deceased to his resting place, a band of Moabite raiders appeared on a ridge.
Apparently, the funeral procession scattered as everyone ran for cover, perhaps within the gates of a nearby village. The pallbearers just pitched the body into the nearest grave. It happened to be where the bones of Elisha rested. I can only imagine what happened then. Maybe the supposed corpse also ran for cover, which would have made the others run even faster : )
I can imagine this actually happening. The man may not have really been dead. The dead were buried soon after death, so the likelihood of this was higher in that culture. The folklore element would have been the connection to the bones of Elisha. The story provided a good illustration for the scribe of 2 Kings, who wanted to lift up the power of the God of Elisha as the hope of Israel.
So even if relics had something to do with healing, good theology would give credit to the God of the saint, not to magic inherent in the relics themselves.