Witch of Endor

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Witch of Endor
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In the Hebrew Bible, the Witch of Endor is a woman Saul consulted to summon the spirit of prophet Samuel in the 28th chapter of the First Book of Samuel in order to receive advice against the Philistines in battle after his prior attempts to consult God through sacred lots and prophets had failed. Samuel's spirit appears to Saul, however, the witch screams and is frightened by Samuel’s appearance because God is the one who summons his spirit in order to confront Saul for his disobedience against God.Barton, John, and John Muddiman, eds. The Oxford Bible Commentary. Oxford University Press, 2007, 213.1 Samuel 28:3-25 The witch is absent from the version of that event recounted in the deuterocanonical Book of Sirach (46:19–20).Later Christian theology found trouble with this passage as it appeared to imply that the witch had summoned the spirit of Samuel and, therefore, necromancy and magic were possible.File:Witch of Endor by Elsheimer.jpg|thumb|Witch of Endor by Adam ElsheimerAdam ElsheimerFile:1675 Ehinger Saul spricht mit Samuels Geist anagoria.JPG|thumb|Saul speaking to Samuel's spirit at the Witch of Endor 1675 by Gabriel Ehinger, Städelsches KunstinstitutStädelsches KunstinstitutFile:endor.jpg|thumb|The Witch of Endor: from the frontispiece to Saducismus Triumphatus by Joseph GlanvillJoseph Glanvill


She is called in Biblical Hebrew אֵ֥שֶׁת בַּֽעֲלַת־אֹ֖וב בְּעֵ֥ין דֹּֽור (’êšeṯ ba‘ălaṯ-’ōḇ bə-‘Êndōr), "a woman, possessor of an ’ōḇ at Endor". The word אֹ֖וב ’ōḇ has been suggested by Harry Hoffner to refer to a ritual pit for summoning the dead from the netherworld, based on parallels in other Near Eastern and Mediterranean cultures. The word has cognates in other regional languages (cf. 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.JOURNAL, Hoffner, Harry A., 1967, Second Millenium Antecedents to the Hebrew 'Ôḇ, 3262793, Journal of Biblical Literature, 86, 4, 385–401, 10.2307/3262793, BOOK,weblink Life in Biblical Israel, King, Philip J., Stager, Lawrence E., 2001, Westminster John Knox Press, 9780664221485, en, Other suggestions for a definition of ’ōḇ include a familiar spirit, a talisman,Emil G. Hirsch (1911). "Endor, the witch of". Jewish Encyclopedia. wineskin, or a reference to ventriloquismBOOK, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 307, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, D. E. Aune, 1959, ... of 'ob (RSV 'medium'). According to one view it is the same word that means a 'bottle made out of skins' ('wineskin,' Job 32:19). The term would then refer to the technique of ventriloquism or, more accurately, 'belly-talking'., Medium, based on the Septuagint translation.The witch also claims to see "elohim arising" (plural verb) from the ground, using the word typically translated as "god(s)" to refer to the spirits of the dead. This is also paralleled by the use of the Akkadian cognate word ilu "god" in a similar fashion.BOOK,weblink Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible, Walton, John H., 2006-11-01, Baker Academic, 9781585582914, en, In the Greek Septuagint, she is called ἐγγαστρίμυθος ἐν Αενδωρ engastrímythos en Aendōr, while the Latin Vulgate as pythonem in Aendor, both terms referencing then-contemporary pagan oracles.


When Samuel dies, he is buried in Ramah. Saul, the current King of Israel, seeks wisdom from God in choosing a course of action against the assembled forces of the Philistines. He receives no answer from dreams, prophets, or the Urim and Thummim. Having driven out all necromancers and magicians from Israel, Saul searches for a witch anonymously and in disguise. His search leads him to a woman of Endor, who claims that she can see the ghost of Samuel rising from the abode of the dead.Geza Vermes (2008) The Resurrection. London, Penguin: 25–6The voice of the prophet's ghost at first frightens the witch of Endor, and after complaining of being disturbed, berates Saul for disobeying God, and predicts Saul's downfall. The spirit reiterates a pre-mortem prophecy by Samuel, adding that Saul will perish with his whole army in battle the next day. Saul is terrified. The next day, his army is defeated as prophesied, Saul is fatally wounded by the Philistines, and in two different tellings of the event, commits suicide by using his own sword, or asks a youth to strike him down.Although Saul is depicted as an enemy to witches and diviners, the Witch of Endor comforts Saul when she sees his distress and insists on feeding him before he leaves.Since this passage never states that the witch was responsible for the appearance of Samuel's spirit, and it states the witch made a loud cry in fear when she saw Samuel's spirit, scholars believe that the witch had actually never acted as a medium between Saul and Samuel and summoned Samuel's spirit to begin with but, rather, this was the work of God in the passage.Beuken, Willem. "I Samuel 28: The Prophet as "Hammer of Witches"." Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 3.6 (1978): 8-9.Keil, Carl Friedrich, and Franz Delitzsch. Biblical Commentary on the Books of Samuel. Eerdmans, 1956, 262. Joyce Baldwin writes that "The Incident does not tell us anything about the veracity of claims to consult the dead on the part of mediums, because the Indications are that this was an extraordinary event for her (the woman), and a frightening one because she was not in control."Baldwin, Joyce. 1 and 2 Samuel: An Introduction and Commentary. 1989, 159.In the German language-translation by Martin Luther (Luther Bible), which is based on Hebrew and Greek texts, a different interpretation is given. It is implied that the woman screams because she realizes that she is talking to the king who recently outlawed all forms of wizardry, but not because she is startled by a spirit ("Als nun das Weib merkte, daß es um Samuel ging, schrie sie laut..." , translation: "When the woman realized that it was about Samuel, she cried with a loud voice...") Die Bibel - nach Martin Luthers Übersetzung, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart 1985, p. 316.



The Yalkut Shimoni (11th century) identifies the anonymous witch as the mother of Abner.Yalḳ, Sam. 140, from Pirḳe R. El. Based upon the witch's claim to have seen something, and Saul having heard a disembodied voice, the Yalkut suggests that necromancers are able to see the spirits of the dead but are unable to hear their speech, while the person for whom the deceased was summoned hears the voice but fails to see anything.Antoine Augustin Calmet briefly mentioned the witch of Endor in his Traité sur les apparitions des esprits et sur les vampires ou les revenans de Hongrie, de Moravie, &c. (1759):BOOK, Calmet, Augustin, (Traité sur les apparitions des esprits et sur les vampires ou les revenans de Hongrie, de Moravie, &c., Treatise on the Apparitions of Spirits and on Vampires or Revenants: of Hungary, Moravia, et al. The Complete Volumes I & II.) 2016, 978-1-5331-4568-0, 47;237,


The Church Fathers and some modern Christian writers have debated the theological issues raised by this text. The story of King Saul and the Witch of Endor would appear at first sight to affirm that it is possible (though forbidden) for humans to summon the spirits of the dead by magic.File:Witch of Endor (Nikolay Ge).jpg|right|thumb|Witch of Endor by Nikolai GeNikolai GeIn the Septuagint (2nd century BC) the woman is described as a "ventriloquist",BOOK, Hans-Josef, Klauck, Brian, McNeil, Magic and Paganism in early Christianity: the world of the Acts of the Apostles, 66, 2003, A classical example is King Saul's visit to the witch of Endor: The Septuagint says once that the seer engages in soothsaying and three times that she engages in ventriloquism (1 Sam 28:6–9)., possibly reflecting the consistent view of the Alexandrian translators concerning "demons ... which exist not".BOOK, Milian Lauritz, Andreasen, Isaiah the gospel prophet: A preacher of righteousness, 2001, 345, The Septuagint translates: They burn incense on bricks to devils which exist not., However, Josephus (1st century) appears to find the story completely credible (Antiquities of the Jews 6,14).King James wrote in his philosophical treatise Daemonologie (1597) arguing against the ventriloquist theory, stating that the Devil is permitted at times to put himself in the likeness of the Saints, citing 2 Corinthians 11:14 that Satan can transform himself into an Angel of light.BOOK, King James, Annotated Daemonologie. A critical edition in modern English, 2016, 9–10, 1-5329-6891-4, James describes the witch of Endor as "Saul's Pythonese", likening her to Pythia from the Greek mythology of Python and the Oracle. It was the belief of James that the witch of Endor was an avid practitioner of necromancy:BOOK, King James, Annotated Daemonologie. A critical edition in modern English, 2016, 9, 1-5329-6891-4, Other medieval glosses to the Bible also suggested that what the witch summoned was not the ghost of Samuel, but a demon taking his shape or an illusion crafted by the witch.ENCYCLOPEDIA,weblink Catholic Encyclopedia, Necromancy, 5 Sep 2012, Martin Luther, who believed that the dead were unconscious, read that it was "the Devil's ghost", whereas John Calvin read that "it was not the real Samuel, but a spectre."BOOK, J.M., Buckley, Faith Healing, Christian Science and Kindred Phenomena, 221, 2003, The witch of Endor – The account of the "Witch of Endor" is the only instance in the Bible where a description of the processes and ... Luther held that it was "the Devil's ghost"; Calvin that "it was not the real Samuel, but a spectre".,


Spiritualists have taken the story as evidence of spirit mediumship in ancient times. The story has been cited in debates between Spiritualist apologists and Christian critics. "The woman of Endor was a medium, respectable, honest, law-abiding, and far more Christ-like than" Christian critics of Spiritualism, asserted one Chicago Spiritualist paper in 1875.NEWS, The Religion of Ghosts, Spiritualist at Work, 1, 19, 24 April 1875, Chicago, 1, Calmet states,BOOK, Calmet, Augustin, Traité sur les apparitions des esprits et sur les vampires ou les revenans de Hongrie, de Moravie, &c., Treatise on the Apparitions of Spirits and on Vampires or Revenants: of Hungary, Moravia, etc., I & II, 2016, 978-1-5331-4568-0, 237,

Cultural references

  • The Martha Graham Dance Company premiered The Witch of Endor in 1965 at the 54th Street Theater in New York. A one-act work, it had choreography and costumes by Martha Graham, music by William Schuman, sets by Ming Cho Lee, and lighting by Jean Rosenthal.
  • In Endor by Shaul Tchernichovsky, describing King Saul's encounter with the Witch of Endor, is considered a major work of modern Hebrew poetry. Tchernichovsky particularly identified with the character of Saul, perhaps due to his own name, and the poem expresses considerable empathy to this King's tragic fate.
  • An episode in the 1932 radio program NBC Mystery Serial written by Carlton E. Morse was called The Witch of Endor, and included a character who said she was a witch; the story was set in "a sparsely populated residential district in the suburbs of San Francisco called Endor Park".NEWS, Today's Radio Program,weblink San Bernardino Sun via the California Digital Newspaper Collection, 18 April 1932, 5, WEB, Radio history of The NBC Mystery Theater,weblink, 23 January 2017,
  • A ship named the Witch of Endor was also featured in the Horatio Hornblower book "Flying Colours". The cutter, with an armament of 10 guns, was used by Hornblower to escape from France after he was captured.
  • The Witch of Endor is a ship in Babylon's Ashes, the sixth book of The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey. She is destroyed early in book six on the orders of Marco Inaros, chief antagonist of the books five and six (Nemesis Games and Babylon's Ashes) for mutiny.BOOK, Corey, James S. A., James S. A. Corey, Babylon's Ashes,weblink 2016, Orbit, 978-0-316-21763-7, 305,
  • Endora from the hit TV series Bewitched was named after the Witch of Endor to appease Christians who may otherwise have been critical of the program's occult themes. {{citation needed|date=January 2019}}
  • Massachusetts playwright Jon Lipsky's 1978 play Beginner's Luck is based on King Saul's encounter with the Witch of Endor in the Bible.A Short Biography of Jon Lipsky, written by Jonah Lipsky for The Plays of Jon Lipsky: A Two-volume Collection
  • "Witch of Endor" is the first track on the self-titled 2012 debut album of American occult rock band Bloody Hammers.
  • The Witch of Endor is a modern day character in Michael Scott's novel, "The Alchemist: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel." (2007,Delacourt Press) In it, she is described as "not just a witch. She is the original Witch."
  • “Lover, Leaver (Taker, Believer)”, featured as the fifth track on the modern rock band Greta Van Fleet’s debut (“Anthem of the Peaceful Army”) album in 2018, references the Biblical tale of the Witch of Endor.

Dramatic representations



Further reading

  • BOOK, Greer, R.A., Mitchell, M.M., 2007, The "Belly-Myther" of Endor: Interpretations of 1 Kingdoms 28 in the Early Church, Society of Biblical Literature, Society of Biblical Literature writings from the Greco-Roman world, 978-1-58983-120-9,weblink

External links

{{Wikisource|Bible (King James)/1 Samuel#Chapter 28|1 Samuel 28}}{{Commons category}} {{witchcraft}}

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