The word אוּב ôwbh (Strong's #178, x17) is difficult to translate and harder still to tie down its origins. Some such as Hoffner (TDOT I, pp.131-33) have related it to a word not in the Bible but reputedly referring to a "ritual hole in the ground" out of which spirits may have been summoned. Countering this, and suggesting his own solution, Lust (VTSup 26, pp.133-42) temptingly thinks it relates to the Hebrew word for "father" אָב âbh (Strong's #1) and hence may refer to ancestral spirits, the ghosts of ones' forefathers.
Gesenius, in his lexicon, suggests an unused root, related to a kindred Arabic word. He puts forward three root meanings: (1) to return, come to one's senses, (2) to set, as the sun; and (3) to come by night, especially to seek water. The first two may suggest the bringing back of the ghosts of those whose lives have set, but the last meaning may explain the use of the plural word in Job. Indeed, Dr Julius Fürst's lexicon of 1863/71 suggests further that Job's name itself derives from the root "to return" and that this unused root has just two ideas: (1) to be hollow, again shown from a related Arabic term; and (2) to return.
"my belly is like wine that has no vent; It is ready to burst like new wineskins" (Job 32:19)
Fürst's idea of hollowness would fit with Elihu's picture of his belly as a "wineskin", also seen as a seat of thought as well as hunger. "Wineskins" or "bottles" could be seen as useful metaphors for the human body with the wine as the soul within, but it is still awkward to reconcile this meaning with its apparent use in Leviticus and elsewhere for "ghost, medium, spirit". Both Fürst's and Gesenius' thinking concerning a root "to return" might also fit with the idea of something coming up from the world of the dead, indeed, an empty wineskin would be a very appropriate picture.
Fürst's suggested that the word may refer to an ancient idea that the medium actually had a "divining spirit" residing in their hollow belly and which "speaks hollow as if out of the earth". In other words, a form of possession, a divining spirit, that was consulted because of its supposed otherworldly knowledge, but which was not necessarily a spirit of the dead.
The first use is in Leviticus 19:31:
"Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits" (NKJV)
"Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards" (KJV)
"Turn ye not unto the ghosts, nor unto familiar spirits" (JPS)
אוּב ôwbh is the first word in this pair of dodgy dealers and is rendered "mediums, familiar spirits" and "ghosts", yet the second term יִדְּענִי yiddônîy (Strong's #3049, x11) a "knower" is also translated "familiar spirits" as well as its KJV term "wizards".
Leviticus 20:6 calls contact with these people or persons having contact with an אוּב ôwbh "prostitution" or spiritual adultery as if it were idolatry with a pagan or demonic god. The punishment for such contact or for being a medium was death by stoning (Leviticus 20:27), which makes the story of Saul's, first expulsion of all the mediums and then, seeking of the "witch of Endor" all the more heinous and remarkable. This tale is recorded in 1 Samuel 28:3-14 and it is still debated whether he actually made contact with the dead Samuel in Sheol or a "spirit" masquerading as him.
It seems that the word can also refer to tokens or images of the ancestral or demonic spirits, as it appears possible to "make" them (2 Kings 21:6; 2 Chronicles 33:6), although the verb עָשׂןמפָה âsâh (Strong's #6213) here may mean "do, or deal with" rather than "make, create".
Ultimately, the word refers to a banned activity or contact with an otherworldly being that has the idea of "emptiness" or "being brought back" about it. The wineskin use may also refer to the body of the medium and its use by a possessing/divining spirit. The possession element may perhaps be seen by the change in voice (often considered a trick of stage performers and Victorian charlatans) of the medium when speaking as if with the low voice of the dead, "a whisper out of the dust" (Isaiah 29:4).
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