Friday, August 18, 2017

Witches in the Bible?

DANGEROUS PHILOLOGY: Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Witch to Live: A Murderous Mistranslation? Not everybody agrees that the biblical reference in Exodus is to 'witches' as we understand them (Elizabeth Sloane, Haaretz).
“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” - Exodus 22:18 (22:17 in Hebrew)

This quote, found in the King James Version of the Bible, has been widely held responsible for the witch burnings that plagued Europe, and later America, in the Early Modern Period (1450 C.E. – 1750 C.E.). But the murderous practice may have all been the result of a Biblical mistranslation.

The original Hebrew word used in Exodus, translated as "witch," is mekhashepha. But what that word actually meant when Exodus was written thousands of years ago, we cannot know, leaving us with only modern interpretations.

I'm not sure that ancient Israelites would have made a sharp distinction between a "poisoner" and a "sorceror." In any case, there don't seem ever to have been many, if any, "witches" in the sense of people who practice magic to do evil. "Witchcraft" has functioned more as a social tool to use as an accusation against religious intermediaries who became troublesome in some way to the authorities.

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