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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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A comparison of the words used in different versions of the Scriptures to indicate the various practices and practisers of divination-using that word in its very widest sense-shows how indefinite was and is the significance attached to all these, and intensifies the desire that research may speedily classify them and determine the exact meaning of each. The English word ‘soothsay’ strictly means ‘to tell authoritatively the truth.’ The phrases ‘sooth to say,’ ‘in good sooth’ show the primary meaning. Men are especially anxious regarding the future; hence a soothsayer is a sayer of truth as regards the future.

‘Soothsayer’ is used in Joshua 13:22 (Authorized Version and Revised Version ; AVm [Note: Vm Authorized Version margin.] ‘diviner’) to translate קוֹסֵם, Qal pt. act. of קָסַם, which, with its kindred terms, is translated ‘divine’ in Numbers 22:7; Numbers 23:23, Deuteronomy 18:10; Deuteronomy 18:14, 1 Samuel 28:8, 2 Kings 17:17, Isaiah 44:25, Ezekiel 12:24; Ezekiel 13:6-7; Ezekiel 21:21-23, Micah 3:6-7, the Septuagint in all these cases employing μάντις and its cognates. But in 1 Samuel 15:23 the same Hebrew word is translated ‘witchcraft’ (Authorized Version and Revised Version ; marg. [Note: margin.] ‘divination’), the Septuagint using οἰώνισμα; in Proverbs 16:10 the word is translated ‘a divine sentence’ (Authorized Version and Revised Version ; marg. [Note: margin.] in all three ‘divination’), the Septuagint using in this case μαντεῖον. Finally, in Isaiah 3:2 it is translated ‘the prudent’ in Authorized Version , but ‘diviner’ in Revised Version , and the Septuagint translates by στοχαστήν. ‘Soothsayers’ is the translation in Isaiah 2:6 of עֹנְנִים, Qal pt. act. of עָנַן in Authorized Version and Revised Version , the Septuagint employing κληδονισμῶν, while in Isaiah 57:3 עֹנְנָה is translated ‘sorceress,’ possibly because ‘soothsayeress’ is an impossible word; but the Septuagint renders ‘ye sons of the sorceress’ by υἱοὶ ἄνομοι. ‘Soothsayers’ is the translation in Micah 5:12 of מְעוֹנְנִים (Authorized Version and Revised Version ), the Septuagint in this case rendering the word by ἀποφθεγγόμενοι. In Daniel 2:27; Daniel 4:7(4), Daniel 5:7; Daniel 5:11 ‘soothsayers’ is the translation of participles of the verb גְּוַר, ‘to cut,’ ‘to decree,’ ‘to decide,’ the Septuagint employing participles of a verb which is evidently a mere transliteration of the Hebrew. [Note: Augustine, de Civ. Dei, iii. 11. 17.]

In Acts 16:16 the word μαντεύομαι is used to indicate the art of the pythoness of Philippi. The girl’s work was to predict accurately, and hence the word is here used in its strict English sense. ‘Soothsayer,’ then, is used of one who professes to indicate the future truthfully by a writer who does not believe that the soothsayer possesses such a power. In Hermas (Mand. xi. 2) the man who has the Divine spirit is differentiated by his life from the ψευδοπροφήτης to whom doubters go as a μάντις. The latter exalts himself, is bold, impudent, talkative, luxurious, and without reward gives no predictions. The soothsayers would appear, at least at a later time, to have been superior to and more skilful than the augurs. Perhaps part of their success lay, as in the famous case of Pyrrhus, in the cleverness with which they gave deliverances so worded that whatever happened their reputation did not suffer. [Note: For functions of the Semitic soothsayers see EBr11 xxii. 319b. On Babylonian soothsaying see ERE ii. 316b, 319b.]

Literature.-E. B. Tylor, PC [Note: C Primitive Culture (E. B. Tylor).] 4, London, 1903, i. 145, 147; Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) v. 145, 618a n. [Note: . note.] , and the literature under Divination and Python.

P. A. Gordon Clark.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Soothsaying'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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