Witchcraft, Biblical Mention of

Witchcraft, Biblical Mention Of

1. The word "witchcraft" occurs in the A.V. as a translation of כֶּשֶׁŠ, kesheph (but only in the plur.), in 2Ki 9:22; Isa 47:9,12; Mic 5:12; Na 3:4 (Sept. φαρμακεία, φάρμακα; Vulg. veneficium, maleficium). In the Apocrypha "witchcraft," "sorcery," occur as renderings of φαρμακεία (Wisd. 12:4; 18:13), and in the New Test. (Ga 5:20; Re 9:21; Re 18:23). As a verb כַּשֵּׁŠ, kishsheph, " he used witchcraft," occurs in 2Ch 33:6 (Sept. ἐφαρμακεύετο; Vulg. maleficis artibus inserviebat). This verb, in Arabic, signifies "to reveal" or " discover;" in Syriac ethpaal, according to Gesenius, "to pray;" but this word, he observes, like many other sacred terms of the Syrians, as בעל כמרים, etc., is restricted by the Hebrews to idolatrous services; hence כשŠ means "to practice magic," literally, "to pronounce or mutter spells." The word φαρμακός is connected with φαρμακεύω, to administer orapply medicines as remedies or poisons, to use magical herbs, drugs, or substances, supposed to derive their efficacy from magical spells, and thence to use spells, conjurations, or enchantments; hence φαρμακός means, in the classical writers, preparer of drugs, but generally of poisoner or drugs that operate by the force of magical charms, and thence a magician, an enchanter, of either sex. It occurs in the latter sensein Josephus (Ant. 17:4, 1), and is applied by him to a female, τὴν μητέρα αὐτοῦ φαρμακὸν καὶ πόρνην ἀποκαλέσαι (ibid. 9:6, 3). This word also answers in the Sept. to חרטמים, "magicians " (Ex 9:11), φαρμακοί, malefici. The received text of Re 21:8 reads φαρμακεύς; but the Alexandrian, and sixteen later MSS., with several printed edi-tions, have φαρμακός, a reading embraced by Wetstein, and by Griesbach received into the text. Φαρμακεύςoccurs in the same sense as φαρμακός in Lucian (Dial. Deor. 13:1; Joseph. Life, § 31). The word φαρμακεία is used of Circe by Aristophanes (Plut. page 302), and in the same sense of enchantment, etc., by Polybius (6:13, 4; 40:3, 7). It corresponds in the Sept. to לטים, להטי, "enchantments" (Ex 7:11,22). The verb. φαρμακεύω is employed in the sense of using enchantments by Herodotus (7:114), saying that when Xerxes came to the river Strymon, the magi sacrificed whitehorses to it.

Some other mis-translations occur in reference to this subject. In 1Sa 15:23, "rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft," should be of "divination." In De 18:10, the word מכִשֵּׁŠ, mekasshsheph, does not mean. "witch," but, being masculine, "a sorcerer." In Ac 8:9, the translation is exceedingly apt to mislead the mere English reader: "Simon used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria" — Σίμων προϋπῆρχεν ἐν τῇ πόλει μαγεύων καὶ ἐξιστῶν τὸ ἔθνος τῆς Σαμαρείας — i.e., "Simon had been pursuing magic, and perplexing (or astonishing) the people," etc. See also verse 11, and comp. the use of the word ἐξίστημι, Matthew 12. In Ga 3:1, "Foolish Galatians," τίς ὑμᾶς ἐβάσκανε, "who hath fascinated you?" (For the use of the words βασκανία and φαρμακεία in magic, among the Greeks, see Potter, Archaeologia Graeca [Lond. 1775], volume 1, chapter 18, page 356, etc.). It is considered by some that the word "witchcraft" is used metaphorically for the allurements of pleasure (Na 3:4; Re 18:23), and that the "sorcerers" mentioned in 21:8 may mean sophisticators of the truth. The kindred word φαρμάσσω is used by metonomy, as signifying "to charm," "to persuade by flattery," etc. (Plato, Sympos. § 17), "to give a temper to metals " (Odyss. 9:393).

2. The precise idea, if any, now associated with the word "witch," but, however, devoutly entertained by nearly the whole nation in the time of our translators, is that of a female, who, by the agency of Satan, or, rather, of a familiar spirit or gnome appointed by Satan to attend on her, performs operations beyond the powers of humanity, in consequence of her compact with Satan, written in her own blood, by which she resigns herself to him forever. Among other advantages resulting to her from this engagement is the power of transforming herself into any shape she pleases, which was, however, generally that of a hare, transporting herself through the air on a broomstick, sailing "on the sea in a sieve," gliding through a keyhole, inflicting diseases, etc., upon mankind or cattle. The belief in the existence of such persons cannot be traced higher than the Middle Ages, and was probably derived from the wild and gloomy mythology of the Northern nations, among whom the "Fatal Sisters," and other impersonations of destructive agency in a female form, were prominent articles of the. popular creed. This comparatively modern delusion was strengthened and confirmed by the translators of the Bible into the Western languages — a popular version of the original text having led people to suppose that there was positive evidence for the existence of such beings in Scripture. Bishop Hutchinson declares that our translators accommodated their version to then terminology of king James's Treatise on Demonologie (Encyclop. Metropolitana, art. "Witch," etc.).

3. A very different idea was conveyed by the Hebrew word, which probably denotes a sorceress or magician, who pretended to discover, and even to direct, the effects ascribed to the operation of the elements, conjunctions of the stars, the influence of lucky and unlucky days, the power of invisible spirits, and of the inferior deities (Graves, Lectures on the Pentateuch [Dublin, 1829], pages 109, 110). Sir Walter Scott well observes that " the sorcery or witchcraft of the Old Test. resolves itself into a trafficking with idols and asking counsel of false deities, or, in other words, into idolatry" (Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft [Lond. 1830], let. 2). Accordingly, sorcery is in Scripture uniformly associated with idolatry (De 18:9-14; 2Ki 9:22; 2Ch 33:5-6, etc.; Ga 5:20; Re 21:8). The modern idea of witchcraft, as involving the assistance of Satan, is inconsistent with Scripture, where, as in the instance of Job, Satan is represented as powerless till God gave him a limited commission; and when "Satan desired to sift Peter as wheat," no reference is made to the intervention of a witch. Nor do the actual references to magic in Scripture involve its reality. The mischiefs resulting from the pretension, under the theocracy, to an art which involved idolatry, justified the statute which denounced it with death; though instead of the unexampled phrase לא תחיה, " thou shalt not suffer to live," Michaelis conjectures לא תהיה, "shall not be" (Ex 22:18), which also better suits the parallel, "There shall not be found among you, etc., a witch " (De 18:10). Indeed, as "we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one" (1Co 8:4), we must believe all pretensions to traffic with the one, or ask counsel of the other, to be equally vain. Upon the same principle of suppressing idolatry, however, the prophets of Baal also were destroyed, and not because Baal had any real existence, or because they could avail anything by their invocations.

It is highly probable that the more intelligent portion of the Jewish community, especially in later times, understood the emptiness of pretensions to magic (see Isa 45:25; Isa 47:11-15; Jer 14:14; Jon 2:8). Plato evidently considered the mischief of magic to consist in the tendency of the pretension to it, and not in the reality (De Leg. lib. 11). Diviniation of all kinds had fallen into contempt in the time of Cicero: "Dubium non est quin haec disciplina et ars augurum evanuerit jam et vetustate et negligentia" (De Leg. 2:13). Josephus declares that he laughed at the very idea of witchcraft (Vit. § 31). For the very early writers who maintained that the wonders of the magicians were not supernatural, see Universal Hist. (8vo ed.), 3:374. It seems safe to conclude from the Septuagint renderings, and their identity with the terms used by classical writers, that the pretended exercise of this art in ancient times was accompanied with the use of drugs, or fumigations made of them. No doubt the skilful use of certain chemicals, if restricted to the knowledge of a few persons, might, in ages unenlightened by science, along with other resources of natural magic, be made the means of extensive imposture. The natural gases, exhalations, etc., would contribute their share, as appears from the ancient account of the origin of the oracle at Delphi. SEE PYTHON. The real mischiefs ever effected "by the professors of magic on mankind, etc., may be safely ascribed to the actual administration of poison, Josephus states a case of poisoning under the form of a philter or love-potion, and says that the Arabian women were reported to be skilful in making such potions (Ant. 17:4, 1). Such means doubtless constitute the real perniciousness of the African species of witchcraft called Obi, the similarity of which word-to the Hebrew כַָ, inflation, is remarkable. Among the Sandwich islanders, some, who had professed witchcraft, confessed, after their conversion to Christianity, that they had poisoned their victims. The death of sir Thomas Overbury is cited as an instance in England, by sir Walter Scott (ut sup.). There was, indeed, a wide scope for the production of very fantastic effects, short of death, by such means. SEE MAGIC.

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