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Witchcraft and divination in the Hebrew Bible

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William Blake's painting of Saul, the shade of Samuel and the Witch of Endor.

Various forms of witchcraft and divination are mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh or Old Testament), which are expressly forbidden.


Laws prohibiting various forms of witchcraft and divination can be found in the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. These include the following (as translated in the Revised JPS, 2023 :

  • Exodus 22:18 – You shall not tolerate a sorceress.[1]
  • Leviticus 19:26 – You shall not eat anything with its blood. You shall not practice divination or soothsaying.[2]
  • Leviticus 20:27 – A man or a woman who has a ghost or a familiar spirit shall be put to death; they shall be pelted with stones—and the bloodguilt is theirs.[3]
  • Deuteronomy 18:10-11 – Let no one be found among you who consigns a son or daughter to the fire, or who is an augur, a soothsayer, a diviner, a sorcerer, one who casts spells, or one who consults ghosts or familiar spirits, or one who inquires of the dead.[4]

The forms of divination mentioned in Deuteronomy 18 are portrayed as being of foreign origin; this is the only part of the Hebrew Bible to make such a claim.[5] According to Ann Jeffers, the presence of laws forbidding necromancy proves that it was practiced throughout Israel's history.[6]

The exact difference between the three forbidden forms of necromancy mentioned in Deuteronomy 18:11 is a matter of uncertainty; yidde'oni ("wizard") is always used together with ob ("consulter with familiar spirits"),[7] and its semantic similarity to doresh el ha-metim ("necromancer", or "one who directs inquiries to the dead") raises the question of why all three are mentioned in the same verse.[citation needed] The Jewish tractate Sanhedrin makes the distinction that a doresh el ha-metim was a person who would sleep in a cemetery after having starved himself, in order to become possessed.[8]

A prophetic passage in the Book of Micah states that witchcraft and soothsaying will be eliminated in the Messianic Age (Micah 5:12).

Instances in Biblical narrative[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Exodus 22:17". www.sefaria.org. Retrieved 2024-01-30.
  2. ^ "Leviticus 19:26". www.sefaria.org. Retrieved 2024-01-30.
  3. ^ "Leviticus 20:27". www.sefaria.org. Retrieved 2024-01-30.
  4. ^ "Deuteronomy 18:10". www.sefaria.org. Retrieved 2024-01-30.
  5. ^ Cryer, Frederick H. (1994). Divination in Ancient Israel and its Near Eastern Environment: A Socio-Historical Investigation. A&C Black. pp. 231–2.
  6. ^ Jeffers, Ann (1996). Magic and Divination in Ancient Palestine and Syria. Brill. p. 181.
  7. ^ Jeffers 1996, p. 172
  8. ^ "Sanhedrin 65b". Sefaria. Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  9. ^ Jeffers 1996, pp. 62–63
  10. ^ "Divination, magic & occultic activity in the Bible". Religious Tolerance. Retrieved 25 July 2021.
  11. ^ Besterman, Theodore (2005). Crystal-Gazing. Cosimo, Inc. p. 73.

Further reading[edit]