|wich, wich'-kraft ((mekhashshepheh) enchantress, (kishsheph) to practice the magical article)
RELATED: Devil, Divination, Magic, Vision, Wizard
Easton's Bible Dictionary
Occurs only in Exodus
22:18 , as the rendering of mekhashshepheh, the feminine form of the word,
meaning "enchantress" (RSV, "sorceress"), and in Deuteronomy
18:10 , as the rendering of mekhashshepheth, the masculine form of the word,
Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names
Smith's Bible Dictionary
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
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 Exodus 22:18, "Thou shalt not
suffer a witch (the Revised Version (British and American) "a sorceress") to live";
(2) in Deuteronomy 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 Samuel 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 Samuel 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
sec. VII, 1.
The phrase "used witchcraft" (of Manasseh, 2 Chronicles 33:16) is properly rendered
in the Revised Version (British and American) "practised sorcery," the Hebrew
verb (kishsheph) being that whence the participles in Exodus 22:18 and Deuteronomy
18:10, translated in the King James Version "witch," are derived (see above).
The word translated in the King James Version "witchcraft" in Galatians 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 Isaiah 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 Kings
9:22; Micah 5:12; Nahum 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 Galatians 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 Galatians 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:
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 Deuteronomy 18:10
and Exodus 22:18 (see 2, above) and are cognate to 'ashshaph (see Daniel 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 (Deuteronomy
18:10). 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 (Exodus 15:20; Numbers 12);
Deborah (Judges 5:12); Huldah (2 Kings 22:14). Note also the 'ishshah chakhamah,
or "wise woman" of 2 Samuel 14:2; 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,
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.
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). See also MAGIC, and The Expositor T, IX, 157.
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,
T. Witton Davies
bible commentary, bible reference, bible study, define, history of, mekhashshepheh, one that knows, wicca, witch, witchcraft