Bible Witchcraft

One of histories ironies is the justification of witchcraft on biblical texts, written originally for a religion which had no devil. Catholics and Protestants quoted Exodus xxii. 18, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." But the Hebrew word kaskagh (occurring twelve times in the Old Testament with various meanings) here means, as Reginald Scot pointed out in 1584, "poisoner," and certainly had nothing to do with the highly sophisticated Christian conception of a witch. Yet the domination of Holy Scriptures was such that these mistranslations fostered the delusion. After the execution of Goody Knapp at Fairfield (Kent) in 1653, a neighbor said "it was long before she could believe this poor woman was a witch, or that there were any witches, till the word of God convinced her, which saith, Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live."

Another text which changed the Hebrew meaning — "a woman with a familiar spirit" for "pythoness" — occurred in 1 Samuel xxvii, the miscalled Witch of Endor.

Writers who tried to expose the witchcraft superstition, such as Reginald Scot or Thomas Ady, had to clear up two fallacies: 1The numerous Hebrew words, uniformly translated by veneficus or maleficus or witch, covered many different practitioners of the occult, from jugglers to astrologers. To refer to all of these different classes by one word (witch) was inadequate and erroneous. 2The definition of witch based on the pact with Satan, transvection, metamorphosis, sabbat and maleficia was neither implied or defined anywhere in the Bible. That the Old Testament did not deal with witchcraft is hardly surprising, for witchcraft depended on a Christian demonology. Thus Sir Walter Scott observed:
“It cannot be said that, in any part of that sacred volume [Old Testament], a text occurs indicating the existence of a system of witchcraft, under the Jewish dispensation, in any respect similar to that against which the law-books of so many European nations have, until very lately, denounced punishment. In the four Gospels, the word, under any sense, does not occur.” (Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft)

Lea suggested the biblical denunciations against sorcery were directed almost exclusively against divination. In fact, therefore, while it may discuss magic and occult customs, the Bible has nothing to do with heretical witchcraft.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License