The Witch of Endor
The Witch of Endor is well known by Christians and Jews and is mentioned in 1st Samuel chapter 28. Besides the storyline given in the text little is said about her or where she came from leading many to wonder who this witch was.
She is called in biblical Hebrew אֵשֶׁת בַּעֲלַת־אֹוב בְּעֵין דֹּור (’êšeṯ ba‘ălaṯ-’ōḇ bə-‘ên dōr) “a woman, possessor of an ’ōḇ at Endor” and in the Septuagint, she is called ἐγγαστρίμυθος ἐν Αενδωρ (engastrímythos en Aendōr), while the Latin Vulgate as pythonem in Aendor. The Hebrew word אֹ֖וב (’ōḇ) most likely refers to a ritual pit used to summons the dead although it is usually translated as “familiar spirit”. Other Ancient Near East and Mediterranean cultures have very similar magical ceremonies and the word ’ōḇ has cognates in other ANE languages, Sumerian ab, Akkadian âbu, Hittite a-a-bi, Ugaritic ib, and the witch of Endor’s ritual has parallels in Babylonian and Hittite magical texts as well as the Odyssey.
Many have suggested the woman of Endor was not a true witch, because she screams in horror at seeing the apparition of Samuel, however, I suggest she was a true necromancer and her reason for screaming in horror was because she realized after Samuel appeared that she was also in the presence of Saul, who had killed the magicians and witches of Israel as the law sated Exodus 22:18
18 Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.Exodus 22:18
She was afraid of what Saul might do to her, but she continued to help Saul. What I would like to point out next is missing from most translations. Most translations of 1 Samuel 28:13 say “And the king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What did you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I saw a spirit ascending out of the earth.”. But what is actually said in Hebrew is “The king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What do you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I see an Elohim coming up out of the earth.”. This is because despite what you may have learned, Elohim does not translate to God. In the ancient Hebrew mindset and Elohim was a spiritual being, A being that inhabits the spiritual world. Elohim is also used as a plural in the Hebrew text, also the Shedim (Hebrew: שֵׁדִים) are spirits or demons are called Elohim. Surely the biblical writers didn’t equate spirits of the dead or demons to Elohim the god of Israel. So it is important to understand, that YHWH is an Elohim, but no other Elohim is YHWH.
There is a tradition, as mentioned in The Yalkut Shimoni that this witch is actually the mother of Abner, the cousin of King Saul, and the commander-in-chief of his army (1 Samuel 14:50, 20:25). Although this woman was a witch, the Bible does not depict her as a despicable or evil character. and her feminine virtues were still prominent, for when she discovered Saul’s identity and heard Samuel pronounce his doom, she tried to assist and comfort the distracted king prostrate on the ground before her after hearing of his fate. She demonstrated her sympathy for Saul by having his servants lay him on her own bed, and insisting that he eat, prepared an abundant meal for him and his servants.
So while many may criticize this witch of Endor, and will use harsh words about her status, I would point out her kindness. Even knowing that what she was doing carried a death sentence she helps and even tries to comfort Saul. Today witches are not under a death penalty inmost civilized counties, they are still however looked upon in mistrust or outright disgust. So when you next come across a witch, look at her as a compassionate woman, like the witch of Endor, who even though was in fear for her life was helping and compassionate.
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