This represents my own original research and none of it was taken from the works or suggestions of others. While on the one hand it has not been peer-reviewed, on the other it does represent a somewhat fresh look at the topic.
Today I was searching for the intent behind Exodus 22:18 in order to discover what the Hebrew’s really meant by the KJV translation of “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”. Not to act as an apologist for witchcraft, although I sometimes lean in that direction based upon my disdain for superstition and the persecution of those who hold opposing, minority views. But really just to get a clear idea of what was going on.
Our English word “Witch” has its origins in the Old English word wicce, meaning “female magician or sorceress”, but this was later expanded to indicate “a woman supposed to have dealings with the devil or evil spirits and to be able by their cooperation to perform supernatural acts.” Perhaps it would help us to understand that this “expanded version” has no connection to what the people who lived in the Middle East during the time when the Bible was being written would have understood.
Their idea of a sorceress was one who whispered or murmured (in secret) – and who had access to ancient knowledge, most of it hidden from the public. It was this access to hidden knowledge that comprised her principal value to the tribe as a whole. She would not have been associated in any way with the devil or evil spirits, unless you consider the truth and history to represent “evil spirits”, which some unfortunately do. Or at least they appear to do so in modern times, when those that cannot recall the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat them.
Since the Hebrew’s did not have this same term of “Witch” they employed a commonly used term (throughout the Holy Lands and Egypt) which the early Church scholars translated as “sorceress”.
I was confused because, on the one hand, Exodus tells us not to suffer a sorceress to live, but on the other hand we find Saul consulting the sorceress known today as the Witch of Endor to summon the spirit of the prophet Samuel, and obtain advice on how to defeat the Philistines in battle.
The Witch of Endor was called in Hebrew “she who commands the ob of Endor”. She was a woman who, according to the Hebrew Bible, was consulted by Saul to summon the spirit of the prophet Samuel. Saul wished to receive advice on defeating the Philistines in battle, after prior attempts to consult God through other means had failed. When summoned, however, the spirit of Samuel only delivers a prophecy of doom against Saul. This event is outlined in the First Book of Samuel.
So what was this “ob of Endor” that she controlled? Endor was simply the name of a Canaanite village or city; one that the Israelites did not control. Endor is located between the Hill of Moreh and Mount Tabor in the Jezreel Valley. The nearest town to Mount Tabor (on old maps of ancient Galilee that I have consulted) is listed as Nazareth.
We learn from our translators of Hebrew that the ob of Endor is a type of ritual pit used for summoning the dead from the netherworld. But here I believe that our scholars have simply confused the technical means with the subject itself, since the word ob has cognates in other regional languages (cf. Sumerian ab, Akkadian âbu, Ugaritic ib). In the ancient Ugaritic or Canaanite language, ob was written ib, and meant “a divine ancestor”. And in the Sumerian it was written as ab, meaning “elder, grandfather, witness”. The Akkadian abu has the same meaning as the Sumerian, and in ancient Hebrew ob meant “a spirit of the dead” but of course these would be their own ancestors or elders that they spoke of and not just any of the deceased.
So for the Hebrews the ob of Endor would be a ritual pit where those who were enlightened were able to communicate with the elder ones in spirit form, and receive their advice and wisdom. However to the other people of the area it would simply represent elder or ancient wisdom.
If they had possessed extra-Biblical reliable historical records on how to do this, (since the Biblical texts forbade communicating with the dead) then perhaps they would not have needed a sorceress. But then again, history is only composed of one part as a record of past events, with the other, perhaps more important part consisting of advice on how this should best be applied in the future when the same events repeated.
So was the Witch of Endor actually physically contacting the spirits of departed ancestors or did she simply consult some of her tribes hidden ancient scrolls outlining the history of the locals along with suggestions in the form of psalms or tidbits of knowledge? Was she a historian or a necromancer? Five thousand years before Saul was born the people in that region were recording historical precedents along with knowledge, so it is not impossible that she was simply being slandered when called a necromancer.
In the field of linguistics, when studying a writing we sometimes come upon a ‘hapax legomenon’, which is a transliteration of the Greek words meaning “being said once.” These are words or expressions that occur only once within a context, either in a written record of an entire language, the works of an author, or in a single text. We have several (114) examples of these hapax legomenon in the Biblical texts, and especially in the Old Testament. And not one but two of them are included in just one verse of the Proverbs, and one which applies to sorcerers or whisperers!
When I studied their appearance in the Biblical text, it struck me that there was perhaps a reason for these words only appearing one time. Perhaps they merely borrowed a word that did not exist in Hebrew, and in some cases that might be correct. But in other examples the words used represent a common theme, and so there really was no apparent reason for their choice. Why not simply use the Hebrew term? Unless, that is, the ‘reason’ was the ‘message’. That is, the message is important and it is using the evidence of a substituted foreign term to show this to us – as a sort of identifier if you will. And perhaps the lesson that they were showing us is equally applicable in today’s world.
First let’s examine the word that KJV translates as “witches” and which the contemporary people understood as “sorceresses”. Strong’s concordance lists its number H(for Hebrew)3785 as PShK or kesheph, and defines it as sorcery or witchcraft. But it is actually written as M-KSPH, so let’s break it down. Some of you may know that the Hebrews had meanings for each of the letters of their ancient alphabet, and that they often composed their own words in consideration of those meanings.
Here are the meanings behind each of the letters of Mem Kaph Shin Pey Hey, which is the feminine form of Kaph Shin Pey or sorcerer:
1 ] Mah ( modern term is Mem). The Early Semitic pictograph for this letter is m a picture of waves of water. This pictograph has the meanings of liquid, water and sea, mighty and massive from the size of the sea and chaos from the storms of the sea. To the Hebrews the sea was a feared and unknown place, for this reason this letter is used as a question word, who, what, when, where, why and how, in the sense of searching for an unknown. So a search for the unknown who or what is indicated here.
2 ] Kaph. The Ancient form of this letter is k the open palm of a hand. The meanings of this letter are bend and curve from the shape of the palm as well as to tame or subdue as one who has been bent to another’s will. Later we see this idea in the readers of palms, but the meaning here is to “tame or subdue” or “one who has been bent to another’s will”. We see here, I believe, the theme of one who is able to use or apply what has been uncovered, and to use that to bend current events to match those of historically affirmative outcomes.
3 ] Shin. The Ancient picture for this letter is s, a picture of the two front teeth. This letter has the meanings of teeth, sharp and press (from the function of the teeth when chewing). If we understand that ancient people understood those “long in the teeth” to be those who had been around for awhile, then the idea of ancient knowledge is also contained in this letter.
4 ] Pey. The Semitic word “pey” means a “mouth”. The South Arabian pictograph for p closely resembles a mouth and is similar to the later Semitic letters for the letter “pey”. This pictograph has the meanings of speak and blow from the functions of the mouth as well as the edge of something, as the lips are at the edge of the mouth. Here we have the murmurs, the whispers, and the sharing or revelation of (hidden) knowledge in its physical form.
5 ] Hey. The original pictograph for this letter is e, a man standing with his arms raised out. The Hebrew word “hey” means “behold”, as when one is looking at a great sight. This word can also mean “breath” or “sigh” as one does when looking at such a great sight. The meaning of the lettere is behold, look, breath, sigh and reveal or revelation from the idea of revealing a great sight by pointing it out. Again this confirms a revelation of knowledge.
To recap we have: “The unknown who or what, if we uncover or subdue the understanding of the ancient ones, can then be whispered or mouthed in revelation; behold the greatness of it!”
So that’s exactly what the Hebrew’s meant by a sorceress, letter for letter from the original Mesoretic text itself. And again, I submit that this more properly indicates an historian than a practitioner in devilish spells or magical arts.
Now let’s look at the whisperer example that contains two words that are each only found one time (in this verse) in the entire Old Testament:
Proverbs 26:22l, (English Standard Version) tells us: “The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.”
In examining the original Hebrew in the Masoretic text, I would amend this slightly to be:
“The words of a whisperer (talebearer, slanderer, gossiper, rumor monger) are gulped; they are swallowed greedily, and they go down into the innermost chambers of the belly.”
And the two examples of hapax legomenon from that verse are:
aham Strong’s Hebrew 3859 gulp greedily, to swallow greedily
nirgan Strong’s Hebrew 5372 whispers, slander, talebearers, gossipers
So, were these ancient authors warning us that “to greedily swallow the gossip and slanders of talebearers” will “go down into the innermost parts of our body”, or will be consumed and tend to feed our thoughts and actions in those directions?
Because it seems to me that almost as soon as anyone posts any type of gossip or slanderous tales about any subject at all on the internet dozens, if not hundreds of others, both mimic the communication and add their own enhancements and versions or interpretations of it. And many of those additions or amendments later turn out to be simply “made up”. And this form surely more closely resembles, in concept if not in actuality, the works of “devilish communication with evil spirits”, rather than simply a recital of history.
Did the Biblical authors, some three thousand or more years ago, reach out to warn us of this in our own time? And were they additionally warning us that this type of dangerous, slanderous activity tends to be accepted in the inner hearts of humanity and to then become fuel for even further expression of the same?
I suspect so, but I can’t prove it. But one thing that I do know is that those who were indeed merely the verbalizers of history, and who were later slandered as “witches”, certainly did not deserve that appellation.