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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Sorcery

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The indefiniteness attaching to the meaning of words connected with divination, noticed in the article Soothsaying, is quite as applicable to sorcery. From sors, ‘a lot,’ come sortiri, ‘to cast lots,’ and sortiarius, ‘one who foretells fortunes by lots.’ To enable the foreteller to do his work, assistance was gained from spirits; and the latter conception gradually banished the idea of lots, confined now to ‘sortilege,’ and sorcery came to mean accomplishing one’s object by means of evil spirits. It is applied to making the wind blow in a certain direction, causing storms and disasters; bringing on darkness; manipulating the rain-clouds, etc. [Note: Exp, 8th ser., vii. [1914] 21; The Book of Ser Marco Polo, tr. by H. Yule2, London, 1875, i. 99, 108, 175, 178, 292, 300, 339; ii. 399.]

From the word בִּשׁף, not used in the Qal, but evidently meaning ‘to pray,’ we have the Piel בּשֵף, which means ‘to pray intensely and effectively.’ This word, which has no connexion with lots, is used in an anti-religious sense, and in 2 Chronicles 33:6 is translated ‘used witchcraft’ (Authorized Version ), ‘practised sorcery’ (Revised Version ); and in the Septuagint ἐφαρμακεύετο. [Note: Exp, 8th ser., vii. 24; EBi iii. 2900.] The participle of this word מְבַשֵׁף means one who by intense prayer, or spell, achieves supernormal results. It is translated in Exodus 7:11, Daniel 2:2, Malachi 3:5 ‘sorcerers’ (Authorized Version and Revised Version ), and in Septuagint φαρμακός, while the feminine מְכַשֵׁפִה in Exodus 22:17 (18) is translated by ‘witch’ (Authorized Version ), ‘sorceress’ (Revised Version ), [Note: Exp, 8th ser., vii. 22, 23.] in Septuagint φαρμακούς. מְבַשֵׁף itself in Deuteronomy 18:10 is translated by ‘witch’ (Authorized Version ); clearly it should at least he ‘wizard,’ unless ‘witch’ is here used as a word of common gender; by ‘sorcerer’ in Revised Version , while in this case the Septuagint uses οἰωνιζόμενος. [Note: Exp, 8th ser., vii. 22; W. R. Smith, JPh xiii. [1884-85] 273 ff., xiv. [1885] 113.]

In Jeremiah 27:9, כַּשָׁפֵיכֶם, the practisers of the article is translated ‘your sorcerers’ in Authorized Version and Revised Version , while the Septuagint uses φαρμακῶν, (Jeremiah 34:9). The noun בָּשָׁף in Isaiah 47:9; Isaiah 47:12 is translated by ‘sorceries (Authorized Version and Revised Version ), and by φαρμακεία in the Septuagint ; but in 2 Kings 9:22, Micah 5:11 (12), Nahum 3:4 it is translated by ‘witchcrafts,’ Septuagint φάρμακον, where clearly the right translation is ‘magic arts.’ [Note: Exp, 8th ser., vii. 25; EBi iii. 2900.] But in Isaiah 57:3 the phrase בְּנֵי עֹנְנָה is rendered in Authorized Version and Revised Version ‘sons of the sorceress,’ and in Septuagint by υἱοὶ ἄνομοι. In Daniel 1:20; Daniel 2:2; Daniel 2:10; Daniel 2:27; Daniel 4:4(7) Daniel 5:7; Daniel 5:11; Daniel 5:15 the word אַשָׁף, which is translated ‘astrologers’ in the Authorized Version , is rendered ‘enchanters’ in Revised Version , and in the Septuagint by μάγοι. Herodotus (i. 101) uses this word to indicate the Magi, one of the six tribes of the Medes, who were probably a sacred priestly class, devoted to astrology, divination by dreams, and the practice of magic generally. [Note: HDB iii. 203; J. H. Moulton, Early Religious Poetry of Persia, Cambridge, 1911, p. 75; G. Maspero, The Passing of the Empires, London, 1900, pp. 452, 577, 595, 783. The Rabmag (Jeremiah 39:3; Jeremiah 39:13) was probably the (or a) chief of this tribe who may have been either the chief physician attached to the Court or, more probably, a high official charged with the care of the horse and chariotry (see A. II. Sayce, The Higher Criticism and the Verdict of the Monuments, London, 1894, p. 456; Records of the Past, 2nd ser., ii. [London, 1889] 182; C. H. W. Johns, Babylonian and Assyrian Laws, Contracts, and Letters, Edinburgh, 1904, p. 375).] This word is applied by the writer of the First Gospel to the men from the East who visited the cradle of Jesus (Matthew 21:1; Matthew 21:7; Matthew 21:16), but that incident throws no light either on their status, the rites which they practised, or the country from which they came.

In Acts 13:6; Acts 13:8 the name μάγος is applied to the Jew Bar-Jesus of Paphos. It is translated ‘sorcerer’ by Authorized Version and Moffatt, and also by the Revised Version , with ‘Magus’ in the margin. The further designation ψευδοπροφήτης would indicate that he was by profession a prognosticator, probably of fortunes or events, but this is the only hint given of his arts or pretensions. [Note: W. M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, London, 1895, p. 76.] In Acts 8:9; Acts 8:11 Simon of Samaria is spoken of as μαγεύων, and the art which he practised is named μαγείαι. These are translated in Authorized Version and Revised Version ‘used sorcery’ and ‘sorceries,’ but Moffatt’s translations, ‘practised magic arts’ and ‘skill in magic,’ are much truer to the Greek and to the facts so far as we can judge. The writer of the Apocalypse, to describe a sin or set of sins, falls back on the Septuagint , and uses words connected with φάρμακον. This word means a drug which can be given to a person, or used magically by one person on another to produce an effect hurtful or the reverse. φαρμακεία is the practice of this art, and φαρμακός is the practitioner. In the apostolic writings these are used in a bad sense. In Revelation 9:21 the unrepentant are grouped into those who have not forsaken four vices, one of which is φαρμακεία (the variant readings in this and the following cases do not affect the sense). The word is translated in Authorized Version and Revised Version ‘sorceries,’ by Moffatt ‘magic spell,’ and by Weymouth ‘practice of magic.’ The place of the word and the well-known custom of the time suggest that the true meaning, in conformity with the original designation of the word, is ‘poisoning.’ In the condemnation of Babylon (Revelation 18:23) it is said: ‘all nations were seduced, ἐν τῇ φαρμακείᾳ.’ This is translated in Authorized Version ‘sorceries,’ in Revised Version ‘sorcery,’ by Moffatt ‘magic spell,’ by Weymouth ‘magic thou didst practice’; the Twentieth Century New Testament has come nearest to the right translation in ‘magical charms,’ i.e. charms not natural, but produced by magic; but the true meaning seems to be ‘magical love philtre.’ One class of those who are to be cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 21:8) is that of the φαρμακεύς, which is translated ‘sorcerers’ by Authorized Version and Revised Version and Moffatt, while Weymouth’s version ‘those who practise magic’ might be improved by translating ‘those who practise poisoning.’ Outside the Holy City are the φαρμακοί (Revelation 22:15), concerning whom the remarks just made apply. In Galatians 5:20, among the deeds of the flesh is φαρμακεία, which is translated in Authorized Version ‘witchcraft,’ in Revised Version ‘sorcery,’ and by Moffatt ‘magic.’ Among the clauses of the second commandment of the Didache are οὐ μαγεύσεις, οὐ φαρμακεύσεις, which H. D. M. Spence [Note: The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, London, 1885, ch. ii.] translates, ‘thou shalt not practise magic’ and ‘thou shalt not use enchantments.’ But the other sins mentioned naturally suggest that the latter command is, ‘thou shalt not practise poisoning.’ Sorcery in one form or another is practised in all the religions of the lower culture. [Note: See, e.g., G. T. Bettany, Primitive Religions, London, 1891, pp. 20, 36, 90, 113; ERE ii. 362b.] It long survived among Western Christians, if it does not still survive. ‘A prefect of Honorius (a.d. 395-423) proposed to employ the Tuscan sorcerers, who offered the aid of their arts against Alaric, and Litorius, fighting against a successor of Alaric in Gaul, consulted the pagan seers before the last battle, under the walls of Toulouse. In the last years of the Western Empire, the diviners of Africa were practising their arts among the nominal Christians of Aquitaine.’ [Note: Samuel Dill, Roman Society in the Last Century of the Western Empire2, London, 1905, p. 5.] In the Armenian Church there are still ‘good sorcerers, who are quite disposed, with the aid of supernatural powers, to render service to human beings.’ [Note: ERE i. 806.]

Literature.-See under the articles Divination and Exorcism.

P. A. Gordon Clark.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Sorcery'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/s/sorcery.html. 1906-1918.

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Thursday, November 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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