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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Magic, Divination, And Sorcery

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MAGIC, DIVINATION, AND SORCERY. Magic, divination, sorcery, and witchcraft are all connected with belief in superhuman powers, and are methods whereby men endeavour to obtain from these powers knowledge of the future, or assistance in the affairs of life. Belief in magic and divination is most prevalent in the lower stages of civilization and religion. The arts of the magician and the diviner were founded upon the same logical processes as have issued in the development of modern science; but the limits within which deduction would be valid were disregarded, and the data were frequently imperfect. Accidental coincidence was often confused with causal sequence. (See Hastings’ DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] , art. ‘Divination’). Magic and divination were derived from attempts at reasoning which were very often erroneous; but from such crude beginnings science has slowly grown.

In their beginning these arts were associated with religion; and diviners and magicians were those thought to be most intimately connected with the Deity, and, owing to their superior knowledge of Him and His ways, best able to learn His secrets or secure His aid. Among the Arabs the priest was originally also the soothsayer ; the Heb. kôhçn , ‘priest,’ is cognate with the Arab. [Note: Arabic.] kâhin , ‘soothsayer’; the primitive priest had charge of the shrine of the god, and both offered sacrifices and gave responses. In this manner classes of professional diviners and magicians arose, as in Egypt ( Genesis 41:8 , Exodus 7:11 ), in Babylon ( Daniel 2:2 ), in connexion with Baal ( 1 Kings 18:19 ), and even among the Israelites in the lower rank of professed prophets ( Micah 3:5-11 ; see G. A. Smith, Twelve Prophets , Introd.). Such officials were set apart for their office by some rite specially connecting them with the god, as the eating of a particular food, or the wearing of a sacred dress (cf. 2 Kings 1:8 , Zechariah 13:4 ). The animism, in which magical arts had their root, soon passed beyond the simple belief that Nature was peopled with spirits, and began to distinguish between good and evil spirits. When that distinction had been attained, the art of the magician and diviner also became subject to moral distinctions, according to the character of the spirit whose aid was sought and the purpose in view. This diversity in the moral characteristics of magic and divination is illustrated in the history of Israel; for divination is akin to some of the institutions sanctioned by God, such as the Urim and Thummim ( Exodus 28:30 , Leviticus 8:8 ), and it includes, at the other extreme, such necromancy as that of the witch of Endor. Among Semitic races and by the Egyptians, magic and divination were associated with the worship of various gods and the belief in the existence of a vast number of demons. With the gradual rise of religion in Israel under the teaching of God, early modes of prying into the future, and magical methods of seeking superhuman help, were slowly abandoned, and, as revelation became clearer, they were forbidden. The teaching of the inspired prophets of Jehovah was very different from that of the merely professional prophets and from the religion of the common people. Throughout pre-exilic times there was a struggle in Israel between the pure worship of Jehovah alone as inculcated by the great prophets, and the worship of ‘other gods,’ such as the local Canaanitish Baalim and idols in the homes of the people. In process of time magic and divination became closely linked with these illicit cults, and were consequently denounced by the great prophets; but at the same time the desire of the human heart to learn the future and to secure Divine help (which lies at the root of magic and divination) was met by God, purified, elevated, and satisfied by the revelation of His will through the prophets. God’s revelation was suited to the stage of spiritual development to which the people had attained, hence His prophets sometimes employed methods similar to those of divination; consequently some forms of divination are allowed to pass without censure in many passages of the Bible, but these were gradually put aside as the people were educated to a more spiritual conception of religion. On the other hand, as men sought to prognosticate the future by illicit commerce with false gods and spirits, magic and divination became generally degraded and divorced from all that is right and good. This explains the increasing severity with whic magic and divination are regarded in Scripture; nevertheless we find it recorded, without any adverse comment, that Daniel was made head of the ‘wise men’ of Babylon although these included magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and ‘Chaldæans’ ( Daniel 2:2 ; Daniel 2:48 ); and that the wise men ( Matthew 2:1 ) were magi . (See Grimm-Thayer’s Lex . p. 385.) In explanation it may be said that reliance upon divination is a moral evil in proportion to the religious light vouchsafed to the individuals concerned; and God accommodated the methods of His teaching to the condition of those to whom He revealed Himself.

General course of the history of magic and divination in Israel. Several sources can be traced from which the Israelites derived their magical arts, and different periods are apparent at which these influences were felt.

( a ) From patriarchat times up to Israel’s contact with Assyria , most of their occult arts were the outcome of the beliefs common to Semitic peoples. Although their sojourn in Egypt brought them into contact with a civilized nation which greatly practised divination and sorcery, we cannot trace any sign that they borrowed many magical arts from the Egyptians at that time. In this early period of Israelitish history we find divination by teraphim , the interpretation of dreams, and necromancy, besides the authorized means of inquiry of God. The very earliest legislation enacts that witchcraft shall be punished by death ( Exodus 22:18 [JE]); and we read that Saul put to death ‘those that had familiar spirits and the wizards ’ ( 1 Samuel 28:3 ).

( b ) Under the influence of the Assyrian advance southward , the small States of Palestine were driven into closer relations with one another, owing to the necessity of united opposition to the common foe. This was prejudicial to religion, through its rendering Israel more tolerant towards the gods of their allies ( e.g . the worship of the Phœnician Baal, fostered by Ahab), and by its favouring the introduction of methods of magic and divination in use among their neighbours (cf. Isaiah 2:6 , Jeremiah 10:2 ). This evil tendency was encouraged by Manasseh ( 2 Kings 21:6 ), but in the reformation of Josiah, idolatry, witchcraft, and the use of teraphim were suppressed ( 2 Kings 23:24 ) in accordance with Deuteronomy 18:10-12 (D [Note: Deuteronomist.] ).

( c ) The Captivity brought Israel into contact with a much more fully developed system of magic and divination than they had known before. In Babylon, not only were illicit magical practices widely indulged in, but the use of such arts was recognized by their being entrusted to a privileged class ( Daniel 2:2 ). The officials are here denominated ‘ magicians ’ ( chartummîm , scribes who were acquainted with occult arts), ‘ enchanters ’ ( ’ashshâphîm , prob. a Bab. [Note: Babylonian.] word meaning ‘those who used conjurations,’ but its derivation is uncertain), ‘ sorcerers ’ ( mĕkashshĕphîm , in its root-meaning perhaps indicating those who mixed ingredients for magical purposes [LXX [Note: Septuagint.] pharmakoi ], but this is not certain), and ‘ Chaldæans ’ ( kasdîm , a name which, from being a national designation, had come to mean those who were skilled in the occult lore of Babylonia and could interpret dreams). Recent discoveries have revealed that the Babylonians believed in a vast number of demons who could be compelled by proper spells; also they practised astrology ( Isaiah 47:12-13 ), augury from the inspection of victims ( Ezekiel 21:21 ), the tying of magic knots, and the designation of fortunate and unfavourable days.

( d ) Egyptian influences were strongly felt in the century before, and the one following, the Christian era. The Mishna shows the presence of a very strong tendency to occult sciences, and in the NT we find examples of Jews who practised them in Simon Magus ( Acts 8:9 ) and Elymas ( Acts 13:8 ). Among the Alexandrian Jews, and later by the Alexandrian Gnostics, magic was much used, and the name of Jehovah in various forms entited into their spells and the inscriptions upon their amulets. Books of incantations , reputed to have been the work of Solomon, were extant, and the Babylonian Talmud is full of superstition (Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] ii. iii. 152). Such books and charms were burnt at Ephesus when their owners became Christians ( Acts 19:19 ). So celebrated was Ephesus for its magic, that ‘Ephesian letters’ was a common name for amulets made of leather, wood, or metal on which a magic spell was written (Farrar, St. Paul , ii. 26).

A. Distinguishing divination , in which prominence is given to the desire to know the future, from magic , which has for its object power to do something by supernatural aid, we have now to inquire into the modes of divination and magic which appear in the Scriptures.

Forms of divination mentioned in the Bible

( a ) The casting of lots . The casting of lots was founded on the belief that God would so direct the result as to indicate His will ( Proverbs 16:33 ). It was employed: (1) In crises in national history and in individual lives . Most scholars consider that the phrase ‘enquire of God’ refers to the use of Urim and Thummim , which seems to have been of the nature of drawing lots. This occurs in the arrangements for the conquest of Canaan ( Judges 1:1 ), in the campaign against the Benjamites ( Judges 20:27 ), in David’s uncertainty after the death of Saul ( 2 Samuel 2:1 ), and in war ( 2 Samuel 5:19 ; 2 Samuel 5:23 ). The Phœnicians cast lots to discover the cause of the tempest ( Jonah 1:7 ). (2) In criminal investigation . It was employed to discover the wrongdoer in the cases of Achan ( Joshua 7:14 ) and Jonathan ( 1 Samuel 14:41-42 ). (3) In ritual . Lots were cast in reference to the scapegoat ( Leviticus 16:8 ). Two goats were brought, and lots were cast; one goat was offered as a sin-offering, and the other was sent away into the wilderness. (4) In dividing the land of Canaan ( Numbers 26:55 ; Numbers 33:54 ; Numbers 34:13 , Joshua 21:4 ; Joshua 21:6 ; Joshua 21:8 ). (5) In selecting men for special duties : the election of Saul ( 1 Samuel 10:20 ), the choice of the men to attack Gibeah ( Judges 20:9 ), the division of duties among the priests ( 1 Chronicles 24:5 ).

In most cases the method of casting the lot is not stated. Several ways were in use among the Israelites, some of which were directly sanctioned by God as a means of Divine guidance suited to the degree of religious knowledge attained by the people at the time. The following methods can be distinguished:

(i.) By Urim and Thummim . Although not certain, it is believed by most scholars that the Urim and Thummim were two stones which were carried in a pouch under the breastplate of the priest, and which were drawn out as lots (see Hastings’ DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] s.v . ‘Urim and Thummim’). In connexion with this the ephod is mentioned. In some passages this evidently means a priestly dress ( e.g . 1 Samuel 2:18 ; 1 Samuel 22:18 ), but in other references it is considered by some to have been an image of gold representing Jehovah ( Judges 8:25 ; Judges 8:27 ; Judges 18:14 [see Harpers Amos and Hosea , p. 221]) or the gold sheathing of an image ( Isaiah 30:22 ), although in this passage some understand it as being a garment. The use of the ephod in connexion with the Urim and Thummim is not known. The employment of the Urim and Thummim for consulting God disappeared before the clearer guidance received through the inspired prophets. Apparently it had ceased by the time of Israel’s return from the Captivity ( Ezra 2:63 ). Inquiry respecting the future was also made of heathen deities ( 2 Kings 1:2 f.), and their responses were probably given by the drawing of lots.

(ii.) By belomancy and in other ways . The word qâsam (which is specially applied to the drawing of lots as with headless arrows) is used of divination generally and frequently translated ‘to divine.’ It is generally referred to unfavourably (except Proverbs 16:10 ). Arrows are once specified as the means by which the lot was cast ( Ezekiel 21:21-22 ). This practice is found among the Arabs, and was also used in Babylonia. Arrows with the alternatives written upon them were shaken in a quiver at a sanctuary, and the first to fall out was taken as conveying the decision of the god. Nebuchadnezzar is represented as deciding in this manner his line of march ( Ezekiel 21:21 ), and, as the result of casting the lot, holding in his hand ‘the divination Jerusalem,’ i.e . the arrow with ‘Jerusalem’ written upon it (see Driver, Deut . p. 224).

Without any indication of the method of divination, operations denoted by the word qesem appear among the Moabites (Balaam, Numbers 23:23 , payment being made for the service, Numbers 22:7 ), among the Philistines ( 1 Samuel 6:2 ), and among the Babylonians ( Isaiah 44:25 ). It also appears as a method of the lower rank of prophets in Israel ( Micah 3:8-11 , Ezekiel 13:6 ; Ezekiel 13:9 ; Ezekiel 22:28 ). Prophets are named in connexion with diviners ( qôsĕmîm , Jeremiah 27:9 ; Jeremiah 29:8 ). The word is used in relation to necromancy and the consultation of teraphim ( 1 Samuel 15:23 ; 1Sa 28:8 , 2 Kings 17:17 , Zechariah 10:2 ). The practice is forbidden in Deuteronomy 18:10 .

(iii.) By rhabdomancy . This is alluded to in Hosea 4:12 . Probably pieces of stick were used for drawing lots, as in the case of divination by arrows.

( b ) Dreams and visions . Numerous instances occur in which Divine intimations were communicated to men by dreams and visions. (1) In so far as these were spontaneous and unsought, they do not properly belong to the domain of divination. Such occur in Genesis 20:8 ; Genesis 28:12 ; Genesis 31:10 ; Genesis 31:24 ; Gen 37:5 , 1 Kings 3:5 , Matthew 1:20 ; Matthew 2:12 ; Matthew 27:19 . Dreams are spoken of as a legitimate channel for God’s communications to His prophets and others ( Numbers 12:6 , 1 Samuel 28:6 , Job 33:15 , Joel 2:28 ). (2) But the belief in Divine warnings through dreams came very near to divination when Interpreters were sought to make clear their meaning, as in Egypt ( Genesis 40:5 ff; Genesis 41:1 Peterharaoh calls the chartummîm a word used only in the sense of scribes possessed of occult knowledge), among the Midianites ( Judges 7:13 ), and in Babylon ( Daniel 2:2 ). (3) Dreams were sought by the prophets of a lower order in Israel, and it is known that among the Egyptians and other ancient nations special means, such as fasting or drugs, were used to induce them, from the belief that they were Divine communications. In Egypt it was a common practice for worshippers to sleep within the precincts of the temples in order to obtain intimations by dreams, and some devotees lived by the rewards received by them for recounting the dreams which had come to them in the temple. References to misleading divination by dreams occur in Deuteronomy 13:1-5 (prophets were to he judged by the character of their teaching and to be put to death if they favoured idolatry), Jeremiah 23:25-28 ; Jeremiah 27:9 ; Jeremiah 29:8 , Zechariah 10:2 .

Vision ( châzôn , with its cognate words) has a similarly wide application, extending from the God-given experiences of the higher prophets to the misleading predictions of false prophets. Instances of its highest signification occur in Isaiah 1:1 ; Isaiah 2:1 , Amos 1:1 , Micah 1:1 . The word is used respecting the deception practised by lower prophets, as in Numbers 24:3 ; Numbers 24:16 , where reference is apparently made to the seer receiving the intimation in a trance, but the interpretation is not quite certain (see Gray, Numbers , p. 361); other physical phenomena appear in connexion with prophesying ( 1 Samuel 10:10 ; 1 Samuel 19:18-24 ; see G. A. Smith, Twelve Prophets , i. p. 21). The word also appears in connexion with false prophets ( Isaiah 28:7 ; Isaiah 30:10 , Lamentations 2:14 , Ezekiel 12:24 ; Ezekiel 13:6 , Ezekiel 13:16 , 28; Ezekiel 21:29 ; Ezekiel 22:28 , Zechariah 10:2 ).

( c ) Observation of omens ( augury ). nâchash , tr. [Note: translate or translation.] ‘to divine’ or ‘to use enchantments,’ the agent being called ‘an enchanter’ ( Deuteronomy 18:10 ), means ‘to learn by means of omens.’ Very probably the expression is derived from nâchâsh , ‘a serpent,’ with the underlying idea that the intimation was obtained by the worshipper through the assistance of the serpent-god; another, but less likely, derivation is from the ‘hissing’ or ‘whispering’ tones of the diviner. The word is very frequently used with a bad sense attaching to it.

Words were sometimes taken as omens of the future (1 Kings 20:33 RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ‘took it as an omen,’ also 1 Samuel 14:16 ). The movements of animals also constituted omens. It was considered by the Arabs that some animals, under the influence of a higher power, could see what was invisible to men, and consequently their action became an omen. It would be quite in accordance with this that Balaam’s ass should see what was hidden from her master ( Numbers 22:27 ); a similar belief in the significance of the movements of animals is shown in the lords of the Philistines watching the way the kine took with the ark of God ( 1 Samuel 6:12 ).

The methods of divination by omens are often unexpressed, as Genesis 30:27 , Leviticus 19:26 , 2Ki 17:17 ; 2 Kings 21:8 , 2 Chronicles 33:6 . The following practices in divination by omens appear: (i.) By hydromancy ( Genesis 44:5 ). In Egypt it was common to attempt to divine the future by the appearance of the liquid in a goblet or dish. (ii.) By the observation of the clouds . The clouds were carefully studied by diviners among the Chaldæans, and the word ônçn seems to indicate this practice as existing among the Hebrews and Philistines ( Isaiah 2:5 ; see Cheyne, Isaiah , vol. i. p. 17). Driver, however, leaves the kind of divination undecided, and suggests a derivation from an Arabic root meaning ‘to murmur’ or ‘whisper,’ the reference being to the mutterings of the soothsayer ( Deut . p. 224). Perhaps it meant the bringing of clouds by magic arts, as in Jeremiah 14:22 (see Delitzsch on Isaiah 2:6 ). It has also been suggested that the word is a denominative from ayin (‘eye’), and means ‘to glance with an evil eye.’ This form of augury was forbidden ( Leviticus 19:26 , Deuteronomy 18:10 ), and those practising it were denounced ( Micah 5:12 , Jeremiah 27:9 ). Manasseh fostered it ( 2 Kings 21:8 , 2 Chronicles 33:6 ). (iii.) By astrology . The stare were very early believed to have an influence on the fortunes of men ( Judges 5:20 , Job 38:33 ). Professional astrologers were prominent among the Assyrians and Babylonians, among whom a standard astrological work was constructed as early as the 16th cent. b.c. (Cheyne, Isaiah , vol. i. p. 310). Babylonian astrology, with its announcement of coming events and notification of favourable and unpropitious days (such as are now extant on Babylonian clay tablets), is mentioned in Isaiah 47:13 ; but astrology does not seem to have been practised by Israel in early times; Jeremiah speaks of it as ‘the way of the nations,’ and warns the people against it. In later times astrology was regarded by the Jews in a less unfavourable lignt: e.g . Daniel 2:48 , where Daniel is made chief of ten wise men who included astrologers (cf. Matthew 2:1-23 , where the wise men, who appear to have been astrologers, were met by God in their darkness, and led to the infant Saviour [Edersheim, LT i. 202]). (iv.) By inspecting victims . Forecasting the future from the appearance of the livers of victims is mentioned in Ezekiel 21:21 . This was common in Babylon (Diod. Sic. ii. 29) and also among the Romans (Cic. de Divin . ii. 12). It does not appear to have been in use among the Israelites; the sacrifices of Balaam ( Numbers 23:1 ; Numbers 23:14 ) were not for this purpose, but to propitiate the deity consulted.

Connected with the use of omens is the appointment of ‘ signs ’ by prophets to assist their consultors in believing what they predicted. Signs were given by God and His prophets as well as by false prophets; these were exhibitions of Divine power in smaller matters by which men might be enabled to trust God in things of greater moment ( Judges 6:36 ); or they were Instances of truth in small predictions, to awaken confidence in greater promises or threatenings ( Exodus 4:8 ; Exodus 10:2 , Isaiah 7:11 ); or they were simply the attachment of particular meaning to ordinary facts to remind men of God’s promises or threats ( Genesis 9:12 ; Genesis 17:11 , Isaiah 8:18 , Ezekiel 12:11 , Zechariah 3:8 ). In the time of Christ such signs were demanded by the Jews ( Matthew 12:38 ; Matthew 16:1 , Luke 11:16 , John 4:46 , 1 Corinthians 1:22 ). Cf. art. Sion.

( d ) Necromancy and familiar spirits. Of these there were two kinds: (1) A spirit (primarily a subterranean spirit, ’ôb ) was conceived as dwelling in a human being ( Leviticus 20:27 ), most commonly in a woman. Those thus possessed were sometimes called ’ôbôth ( Isaiah 8:19 ), or the woman was denominated ba‘alath’ôb ( 1 Samuel 28:7 ). Another explanation (H. P. Smith, Samuel , p. 239) makes the ’ôb a sort of idol, on the ground that Manasseh ‘made’ an ’ôb ( 2 Kings 21:6 ) and that it is classed with teraphim ( 2 Kings 23:24 ). These necromancers professed to have the power of calling up the dead ( 1 Samuel 28:11 , Isaiah 8:19 ). Of their method of procedure we know nothing. In the Interview with the witch of Endor , it appears that Saul was told by the witch what she saw, but the king himself entered into the conversation. Necromancers seem to have deceived their Inquirers by speaking in a thin weak voice to make it appear that it was the spirit speaking through them ( Isaiah 8:19 ; Isaiah 29:4 ). The LXX [Note: Septuagint.] generally represents them as ventriloquists, engastrimythoi (cf. goçtes , 2 Timothy 3:13 ). A similar belief that a spirit might dwell in a human being and give responses appears in Acts 16:16 ; this opinion was common in heathendom. The Jews had similar views respecting the indwelling of demons in cases of demoniacal possession.

(2) Other diviners represented themselves as having fellowship with a spirit from whom they could receive intimations. These spirits were called yidd e ‘ônîm , the meaning being either that the spirits were wise and acquainted with the future, or that they were known to the wizards and had become ‘ familiar spirits ’ to them. The word occurs only in conjunction with ’ôb , as in Leviticus 19:31 ; Leviticus 20:5 , Deuteronomy 18:11 .

( e ) Divination by teraphim . The teraphim were images in human form (cf. Michal’s stratagem, 1 Samuel 19:13 ), and they were worshipped as gods ( Genesis 31:19 ; Genesis 31:30 , Judges 18:24 ), but in later times they seem to have been degraded to magical uses.

Some suppose them to have been the remains of a primitive ancestor-worship, and connect the word with rephâ’îm which means ‘ghosts’ (root râphâh , ‘to sink down’; ‘to relax’). Some Jewish commentators (cf. Moore, Judges , p. 382) have suggested that they were originally the mummied heads of human beings, and that images of wood or metal were substituted for these in later times.

Teraphim were used for divination by Israelites and Aramæans ( Genesis 31:18 ), and Nebuchadnezzar is represented as consulting them ( Ezekiel 21:21 ). Josiah abolished teraphim as well as other methods of illicit divination ( 2 Kings 23:24 ), but they subsequently reappeared ( Zechariah 10:2 ). The use of the teraphim in divination is not stated, but it was probably somewhat similar to the consulting of familiar spirits, namely, the diviner gave the response which he represented himself to have received from the teraphim .

B. Magic, like divination, had both legitimate and illicit branches. The moral character of the attempt to obtain supernatural aid was determined by the purpose in view and the means used to attain it. Witchcraft , which sought to injure others by magical arts, has always been regarded as evil and worthy of punishment among all nations. Invocation of aid from false gods (who were still regarded as having real existence and power) and from evil spirits has been generally denounced. But there was also a magic, which has been denominated ‘white magic,’ having for its object the defeat of hostile witchcraft and the protection of individuals from evil influences.

1. Magic employed to counteract the work of evil spirits or the arts of malicious magicians. This kind of magic was extensively practised among the Assyrians and Babylonians, and was the kind professed by the wise men who were under the patronage of Nebuchadnezzar ( Daniel 2:2 ). It also appears in the ceremony of exorcism . In Babylonia illness was traced to possession by evil spirits, and exorcism was employed to expel them (see Sayce, Hibbert Lecture ). Exorcism was practised by the later Jews ( Acts 19:13 , Matthew 12:27 ).

The method of a Jewish exorcist, Eleazar, in the time of Vespasian is described by Josephus ( Ant . VIII. ii. 5). He placed a ring containing a magical root in the nostril of the demoniac; the man fell down immediately, and the exorcist, using incantations, said to have been composed by Solomon, adjured the demon to return no more.

This kind of magic is also exemplified in the use of amulets and charms , intended to defend the wearer from evil influences. These derived their power from the spells which had been pronounced over them (thus lâchash , which began with the meaning of serpent-charming, came to mean the muttering of a spell, and from that it passed to the meaning of an amulet which had received its power through the spell pronounced over it), or from the words which were inscribed upon them, or the symbolic character of their form. They were used by all ancient peoples, and were opposed by the prophets only when they involved trust in other gods than Jehovah. Probably the earrings of Genesis 35:4 and Hosea 2:13 were amulets; so also were the moon-shaped ornaments of Judges 8:21 ; Judges 8:26 and Isaiah 3:18 ; their shape was that of the crescent moon which symbolized to the Arabs growing good fortune, and formed a protection against the evil eye (see Delitzsch on Isaiah 3:18 ). Perhaps the ‘whoredoms’ and ‘adulteries’ of Hosea 2:2 were nose-jewels and necklaces which were heathen charms. Written words were often employed to keep away evil. The later Jew, understanding Deuteronomy 6:8-9 In a literal sense, used phylacteries ( Matthew 23:5 ), to which the virtue of amulets was attributed, although their origin apparently was mistaken exegesis rather than magic. The use of such charms was very prevalent in the early centuries of the Christian era among the Alexandrian Jews and the Gnostics.

2. Magic in forms generally denounced by the great prophets

( a ) Magic which was apparently dependent upon the occult virtues attributed to plants and other substances The Hebrew term for this was kesheph . The root käshaph means ‘to cut,’ and has been explained as denoting the cutting which the worshipper inflicted upon himself (as 1 Kings 18:28 ), or (by W. Robertson Smith) as the cutting up of herbs shredded into the magic brew; the latter meaning is supported by the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] tr. [Note: translate or translation.] of kesheph by pharmaka , and also by Micah 5:12 , where kĕshäphîm appear to he material things; such a decoction is perhaps referred to in Isaiah 65:4 , and some Jewish commentators consider the sesthing of a kid in its mother’s milk ( Exodus 23:19 ) to refer to a magical broth which was sprinkled over the fields to promote their fertility; this custom is found among other Eastern peoples. A wider signification is, however, possible, as in 2 Kings 9:22 , where keshäphîm has the meaning of corrupting influences (AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ‘ witchcrafts ’). Some derive kâshaph from an Assyr. [Note: Assyrian.] root meaning ‘ to bewitch ’ (see Hastings’ DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] , art. ‘Magic’).

Hebrew magic came to a considerable extent from Assyria and Babylonia, where the art was practised by a class of men specially set apart for it (Daniel 2:2 ; cf. also Isaiah 47:8 ; Isaiah 47:12 , Nahum 3:4 ). Egyptian sorcerers are also noticed ( Exodus 7:11 ), but Egyptian influence in the art was most strongly felt by the Jews in post-exilic times. The belief in the virtue of mandrakes as love-philtres appears in Genesis 30:14 and Song of Solomon 7:13 ( dûdâ’îm , from the root dûd , ‘to fondle’). Sorcerers are frequentlydenounced in the Bible ( Exodus 22:18 , Deuteronomy 18:10 , 2Ki 9:22 , 2 Chronicles 33:6 , Jeremiah 27:9 , Galatians 5:20 , Revelation 9:21 ; Revelation 21:3 ).

( b ) Magic by spells or the tying of knots . The tying of knots in a rope, accompanied by the whispered repetition of a spell , was common in Babylonia (cf. Isaiah 47:9 ; Isaiah 47:12 ) and in Arabia. This practice may he behind the word châbar , Deuteronomy 18:11 (Driver, Deut . p. 225), or the word may refer to the spell only as a binding together of words. châbar is also used with the special meaning of serpent-charming ( Psalms 58:5 ). This art, as now found in India and Egypt, was also denominated by the word lâchash ( Psalms 58:5 , Ecclesiastes 10:11 , Jeremiah 8:17 ); from the muttering of the charm, the word gained the meaning of whispering ( 2 Samuel 12:19 , Psalms 41:7 ), and it is used of a whispered prayer ( Isaiah 26:16 , or, as some understand it in this passage, ‘compulsion by magic’). Magical power was also held to be present in the reiteration of spells or prayers as in the case of the priests of Baal ( 1 Kings 18:26 ), and this repetition of the same words is rebuked by our Lord ( Matthew 6:7 ).

In close connexion with the power of spells is the belief in the efficacy of cursing and blessing when these were uttered by specially endowed persons ( Numbers 22:6 , Judges 5:23 ); also there were magicians who professed to make days unlucky by cursing them ( Job 3:8 ).

An authorized ceremony closely approaching the methods of magicians is found in the ritual for the trial by ordeal of a wife charged with unfaithfulness ( Numbers 5:12-31 ); the woman brought the prescribed offerings and the priest prepared a potion of water in which was put dust from the Tabernacle floor; the curse, which the woman acquiesced in as her due if guilty, was written and washed off with the water of the potion, the idea being that the curse was by this means put into the water, and the potion was afterwards drunk by the woman.

( c ) Symbolic magic . Magicians often made, in clay or other material, figures of those whom they desired to injure, and, to the accompaniment of fitting spells, inflicted upon these models the injuries they imprecated. They believed that in this way they sympathetically affected the persons represented. A trace of this symbolism is to be found in the placing of golden mice and emerods in the ark by the Philistines when they sent it back to Israel ( 1 Samuel 6:5 ); by this means they believed that they would rid themselves of the troubles which the ark had brought to them.

F. E. Robinson.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Magic, Divination, And Sorcery'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/m/magic-divination-and-sorcery.html. 1909.

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