International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
1. Meaning and Use of the Words
2. Biblical Usage
3. Common Elements in Witchcraft and Ancient Oriental Magic
4. Rise, Spread and Persecution of Witchcraft
1. Meaning and Use of the Words:
The word "witch" seems to denote etymologically "one that knows." it is historically both masculine and feminine; indeed the Anglo-Saxon form wicca, to which the English word is to be traced, is masculine alone. "Wizard" is given as masculine for witch, but it has in reality no connection with it. Wright (English Dialect Dictionary, VII, 521) says he never heard an uneducated person speak of wizard. When this word is used by the people it denotes, he says, a person who undoes the work of a witch. Shakespeare often uses "witch" of a male (compare Cymbeline, I, 6, l. 166: "He is .... a witch"). In Wycliff's translation of Acts 8:9 Simon Magus is called "a witch" ("wicche"). Since the 13th century the word "witch" has come more and more to denote a woman who has formed a compact with the Devil or with evil spirits, by whose aid she is able to cause all sorts of injury to living beings and to things. The term "witchcraft" means in modern English the arts and practices of such women.
2. Biblical Usage:
Since the ideas we attach to "witch" and "witchcraft" were unknown in Bible times, the words have no right place in our English Bible, and this has been recognized to some extent but not completely by the Revisers of 1884. The word "witch" occurs twice in the King James Version, namely, (1) in Ex 22:18, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch (the Revised Version (British and American) "a sorceress") to live"; (2) in Dt 18:10, "or a witch" (the Revised Version (British and American) "or a sorcerer"). The Hebrew word is in both cases the participle of the verb (kishsheph), denoting "to practice the magical article." See MAGIC, V, 2. In the first passage, however, the feminine ending (-ah) is attached, but this ending denotes also one of a class and (on the contrary) a collection of units; see Kautzsch, Hebrew Grammar 28, section 122,s,t.
The phrase "the witch of Endor" occurs frequently in literature, and especially in common parlance, but it is not found in the English Bible. The expression has come from the heading and summary of the King James Version, both often so misleading. In 1 Sam 28, where alone the character is spoken of, English Versions of the Bible translates the Hebrew 'esheth ba`alath 'obh by "a woman that hath a familiar spirit." A literal rendering would be "a woman who is mistress of an 'obh or ghost," i.e. one able to compel the departed spirit to return and to answer certain questions. This woman was therefore a necromancer, a species of diviner (see DIVINATION, IV; ENDOR, WITCH OF; FAMILIAR), and not what the term "witch" imports.
The word "witchcraft" occurs thrice in the King James Version in 1 Sam 15:23, "the sin of witchcraft" should be as in the Revised Version margin, "the sin of divination," the latter representing the Hebrew word qecem, generally translated "divination".
See DIVINATION, sec. VII, 1.
The phrase "used witchcraft" (of Manasseh, 2 Ch 33:16) is properly rendered in the Revised Version (British and American) "practised sorcery," the Hebrew verb (kishsheph) being that whence the participles in Ex 22:18 and Dt 18:10, translated in the King James Version "witch," are derived (see above). The word translated in the King James Version "witchcraft" in Gal 5:20 (pharmakeia) is the ordinary Greek one for "sorcery," and is so rendered in the Revised Version (British and American), though it means literally the act of administering drugs and then of giving magical potions. It naturally comes then to stand for the magician's art, as in the present passage and also in The Wisdom of Solomon 12:4; 18:13; and in the Septuagint of Isa 47:9, where it represents the Hebrew noun keshaphim, translated "sorceries"; compare the Hebrew verb kishsheph; see above.
The plural "witchcrafts" (in the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American)) stands for the Hebrew noun just noticed (keshaphim) in 2 Ki 9:22; Mic 5:12; Nah 3:4, but in all three passages a proper rendering would be "sorceries" or "magical arts." "Witchcrafts" is inaccurate and misleading.
The verb "bewitch" occurs in Acts 8:9,11 the King James Version (of Simon Magus bewitching the people) and in Gal 3:1 ("O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you?"). In the first context the Greek verb is existemi, which is properly rendered by the Revisers "amazed"; in 3:13 the passive of the same verb is translated "he was amazed" (the King James Version "He wondered"). In Gal 3:1, the verb is baskaubaino, which is used of a blinding effect of the evil eye and has perhaps an occult reference, but it has nothing whatever to do with "witch" or "witchcraft."
3. Common Elements in Witchcraft and Ancient Oriental Magic:
Though the conceptions conveyed by the English word "witch" and its cognates were unknown to the Hebrews of Bible times, yet the fundamental thought involved in such terms was familiar enough to the ancient Hebrews and to other nations of antiquity (Babylonians, Egyptians, etc.), namely, that there exists a class of persons called by us magicians, sorcerers, etc., who have superhuman power over living creatures including man, and also over Nature and natural objects. This power is of two kinds: (1) cosmic, (2) personal. For an explanation see MAGIC, II. it is in Assyrio-Babylonian literature that we have the completest account of magical doctrine and practice. The words used in that literature for the male and female magician are ashipu and ashiptu, which correspond to the Hebrew mekhashsheph and mekhashshephah in Dt 18:10 and Ex 22:18 (see 2, above) and are cognate to 'ashshaph (see Dan 1:20; 2:2,10, etc.), which means a magician (the Revised Version (British and American) "enchanter"). Other Babylonian words are kashshapu and kashshaptu, which in etymology and in sense agree with the Hebrew terms mekhashsheph and mekhashshephah mentioned above. But neither in the Babylonian or Hebrew words is there the peculiar idea of a witch, namely, one who traffics with malicious spirits for malicious ends. indeed the magician was a source of good (male and female) as conceived by the Babylonians, especially the ashipu and ashiptu, to the state and to individuals, as well as of evil, and he was often therefore in the service of the state as the guide of its policy. And the same applies to the magician as the Hebrews regarded him, though the true teachers and leaders in Israel condemned magic and divination of every sort as being radically opposed to the religion of Yahweh (Dt 18:10 f). Of course, if a Babylonian magician used his art to the injury of others he was punished as other criminals, and in case of the death of the victim he was executed as a murderer. It is, however, noteworthy in its bearing on "witchcraft" that the female magician or sorceress played a larger part in ancient Babylonia than her male counterpart, and the same is true of the Greeks and other ancient people. This arose perhaps from the fact that in primitive times men spent their time in fighting and hunting; the cooking of the food and the healing of the sick, wounded, etc., by magical potions and otherwise, falling to the lot of the woman who stayed at home. In the early history of the Hebrews inspired women played a greater role than in later time; compare Miriam (Ex 15:20 f; Nu 12); Deborah (Jdg 5:12); Huldah (2 Ki 22:14 ff). Note also the 'ishshah chakhamah, or "wise woman" of 2 Sam 14:2 ff; 20:16.
The first two sections of the Code of Hammurabi are as follows: "1. If a man has laid a curse (kispu = keshaphim) upon (another) man and it is not justified, he that laid the curse shall be put to death. 2. If a man has put a spell upon (another) man and it is not justified, he upon whom the spell is laid shall go to the holy river; into the holy river shall he plunge. If the holy river overcome him (and he is drowned), the man who put the spell upon him shall take possession of his house. If the holy river declares him innocent and he remains unharmed the man who laid the spell shall be put to death. He that plunged into the river shall take possession of the house of him who laid the spell upon him." Not a word is said here of a female that weaves a spell, but probably the word "man" in the Babylonian is to be taken as including male and female (so Canon C. H. W. Johns in a private letter, dated December 22, 1912).
4. Rise, Spread, and Persecution of Witchcraft:
In the early and especially in the medieval church, the conception of the Devil occupied a very important place, and human beings were thought to be under his dominion until he was exorcised in baptism. It is to this belief that we owe the rise and spread of infant baptism. The unbaptized were thought to be Devil-possessed. The belief in the existence of women magicians had come down from hoary antiquity. It was but a short step to ascribe the evil those women performed to the Devil and his hosts. Then it was natural to think that the Devil would not grant such extraordinary powers without some quid pro quo; hence, the witch (or wizard) was supposed to have sold her (or his) soul to the Devil, a proceeding that would delight the heart of the great enemy of good always on the alert to hinder the salvation of men; compare the Faust legend. For the conditions believed to be imposed by the Devil upon all who would be in league with him see A. Lehmann, Aberglaube und Zauberei2 (1908), 110 ff.
This idea of a covenant with the Devil is wholly absent from the early heathen conception of magic; nor do we in the latter read of meetings at night between the magicians and the demons with whom they dealt, such as took place on the Witches' Sabbath. The witches were believed to have sexual commerce with devils and to be capable only of inflicting evil, both thoughts alien to oriental and therefore to Biblical magic.
The history and persecution and execution of women, generally ignorant and innocent, supposed to have been guilty of witchcraft, do not fall within the scope of this article, but may be perused in innumerable works: see "Literature" below. In Europe alone, not to mention America (Salem, etc.), Sprenger says that over nine million suspected witches were put to death on the flimsiest evidence; even if this estimate be too high the actual number must have been enormous. The present writer in his booklet, The Survival of the Evangelical Faith ("Essays for the Times," 1909), gives a brief account of the defense of the reality of witch power by nearly all the Christian theologians of the 17th century and by most of those living in the early 18th century (see pp. 23 ff). See also MAGIC, and The Expositor T, IX, 157 ff.
In addition to the literature cited under articles DIVINATION and MAGIC (which see), the following worlds may be mentioned (the books on witchcraft proper are simply innumerable): Reginald Scot, The Discovery of Witchcraft (aimed at preventing the persecution of witches, 1584; republished London, 1886); reply to the last work by James I of England: Daemonologie, 1597; Casaubon, On Credulity and Incredulity .... A Treatise Proving Spirits, Witches and Supernatural Operations, 1668; Joseph Glanrill, Saducismus Triumphatus: Full and Plain Evidences concerning Witches and Apparitions (the last two books are by theologians who class with "atheists"--a vague word in those times for unbelief--all such as doubt the power of witches and deny the power of devils upon human life). For the history of witchcraft and its persecutions see howard Williams, The Superstitions of Witchcraft, 1865, and (brief but interesting and compact) Charles Mackay, Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions (2 volumes, 1851, 101-91). See also Sir W. Scott, Demonology and Witchcraft, 1830; W. R. Halliday, Greek Divination: A Study of its Methods and Principles, London, Macmillan (important); and article by the present writer in The Expositor, January, 1914, on "The Words Witch and Witchcraft in history and in Literature." For a full account of the witch craze and persecution at Salem, near Boston, U.S.A., see The Wonders of the Invisible World by Cotton Mather, D. D., with a further account by increase Mather, D. D., and compare Demon Possession by J. L. Nevins, 303-10.
T. Witton Davies
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'witch; witchcraft'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". bible-history.com - ISBE
; 1915.Copyright Information
© International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE)
ISBE Bible Encyclopedia Home
Bible History Online Home
Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE)
Online Bible (KJV)
Naves Topical Bible
Smith's Bible Dictionary
Easton's Bible Dictionary
Schaff's Bible Dictionary
Fausset's Bible Dictionary
Matthew Henry Bible Commentary
Hitchcock's Bible Dictionary
Related Bible History
Popular and Trending:
Meaning of the name Alexander, Alexander the Great, Alexander the Coppersmith,
Syria and Bible Prophecy, Bible Study about Syria, What the Bible Says about Syria and Damascus, Isaiah 17,
The Bible and Palm Trees, Bible Study about the Palm Tree,
The Righteous Will Flourish like a Palm Tree Psalm 92:12
Definition of Paraclete, Bible study about the Holy Spirit and the Paraclete, Paracletus in the Greek,
Games in the Bible, What Games Did Kids Play in Biblical Times? Which Kinds of Games Existed in the Time of Jesus?,
The Church at Thyatira, What Was the Message to Thyatira, Revelation 2 and Thyatira, history of Thyatira,
David and Goliath, How Tall Was Goliath, Archaeological Discoveries and Goliath, Goliath And Philistine History,
Who Was Titus in the Bible, Paul's Letter to Titus, Bible Study Lessons in Titus,
Meaning of the Name Tanner, Bible Study about Simon the Tanner, Acts 10:6 Peter Was Staying at the
House of Simon the Tanner, What Was a Tanner