Witchcraft in the Bible

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The best-known Biblical text referring to witchcraft is verse 18 in the twenty-second chapter of Exodus, which states:

“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”

It is printed on the title-page of The Discovery of Witches by Matthew Hopkins, the notorious Witch-Finder General.

His book was published in 1 647, “For the Benefit of the Whole Kingdome”.

This supposed portion of the word of God has been the pitiless death-warrant of thousands.

Yet it is nothing but a false translation.

The Authorised Version of the Bible was produced in the time of King James I, a monarch who fancied himself as an authority on witchcraft, while at the same time being much afraid of it.

To gratify the King, numerous references to witchcraft were worked into the translation, which the original does not justify.

This particular text, the most useful of all to the witch-hunters, does not in fact refer to witchcraft at all.

The word translated as ‘witch’ is the Hebrew chasaph, which means a poisoner.

In the Latin version of the Bible called the Septuagint, this word is given as veneficus, which also means a poisoner.

Another well-known supposed reference to witchcraft in the Bible is the story of the so-called ‘Witch of Endor’ (I Samuel, Chapter 28.)

However, the actual text refers to her simply as “a woman that hath a familiar spirit”.

She seems to have been a clairvoyant or medium, and a genuine one ; though we are not told precisely how the apparition of the deceased prophet Samuel took place.

Apparently, the woman saw him first, and then his message was conveyed to Saul ; but it is not clear whether Saul could see him too, or
whether he “perceived that it was Samuel” from the woman’s description.

The whole episode is reminiscent of Spiritualistic practices today.

It is notable that the woman had been driven into hiding, and was in fear of persecution when Saul consulted her.

She may have been a priestess of an older, pagan faith, outlawed by the monotheistic, patriarchal creed of the followers of Yahweh.

Hence the two most famous references to witchcraft in the Bible, though often quoted, do not in fact have quite the meaning usually given to them.