THE WITCH AND THE GHOST        1 Samuel 28

    CONTEXT:  Necromancy was widely known in the ancient world.  The Hebrew terms ov, אוב, (pl. ovot) and yid’oni, ידעוני, clearly refer to the practice but cannot be readily defined. The first seems to mean “leather water bottle” and possibly refers to an implement or a sound image associated with contacting the dead.  I leave the word untranslated.  The second derives from the word for “know.” It is sometimes translated as “familiar spirit,” but I think that comes from the medieval and later practice of necromancers who relied on the aid of some spiritual being that could appear in the form of an animal or person and contact the departed on behalf of the practitioner. More likely, the word refers to the practitioner and I translated it as “wizard,” which itself derives from “wise.”
    Isaiah, in the mid 8th century BCE, refers to necromancy three times in the negative context of seeking aid from the dead rather than God (8:19; 19:3; 29:4). Deuteronomy, 7thth century BCE, lists necromancy is one of several practices said to have been followed by the indigenous population of the land. Such practices angered God so that he drove them out to be replaced by Israel (18:9-12). If v3 is correct, King Sha’ul would be the first to have prohibited necromancy. Note the absence of reference to Torah.
    The usual, accepted means of communication from God were dreams, prophecy, and priestly divination by means of urim and tumim,sometimes rendered in English as Urim and Thummim, which the Yale coat of arms renders, speculatively, “Lux et Veritas,” = “light and truth.” This text mentions only urim. Neither device is anywhere described or pictured.
    The brief appearance of David, in his uncomfortable position with the P’lishtim, sets the scene for the doom of Sha’ul that follows. David’s next entrance will be in ch29. ‘”The Witch and the Ghost” digresses from
 David focus but for vs16ff, an interpolation by a prosaic copyist who added lines for the ghost to make sure the reader grasps the moral of the story. The four sentences clash with the otherwise curt dialogue and they use a different divine name. In this case I have removed them from the tightly written narrative and set them in a footnote. v3 is probably also a gloss providing backstory but in so doing it does not interrupt the flow.

    1It happened in those days that the P’lishtim gathered their camps’ forces  into an army to war with Yisrael. Achish said to David: “Know for sure that you go and camp with me, you and your men.”
    2David replied: “That way you will know what your servant does.”
    Achish said: “That way I’m going to make you my permanent bodyguard.”

    (3Sh’muel had died. All Yisrael had wailed for him. He had been buried in Ramah, his city.
    Sha’ul had removed from the land the ovot and wizards.)

    4The P’lishtim gathered and camped at Shunem, [in the hills just north of Emek Yizrael.] Sha’ul gathered all Yisrael and camped at Gilboa, [just south of the Emek.] 5When Sha’ul saw the P’lishti camp he was afraid, his heart beat fast. 6He asked of Yahh but Yahh would not answer him, either by dreams, by [a priest’s] urim, or by prophets.
    7So Sha’ul said to his servants: “Find me a woman, an ov master, so that I can go to her and seek what I need to know.”
    His servants said: “Well, there is a woman, an ov master in Eyn Dor, [which lies four miles north of Shunem.]”
    8Sha’ul disguised himself by wearing other clothes.  He went, with two men, and came to the woman at night.  He said: “Please divine for me with the ov and raise for me one whom I shall tell you.”
    9The woman said to him: “Well you know what Sha’ul did, how he cut off the ovot and the wizards from the land. So why are you wrecking my life, to get me killed?”
    10Sha’ul swore to her: “By Yahh’s life, you won’t be charged with a crime in this matter.”
    11“Whom shall I raise for you?”
    “Raise me Sh’muel.”
    12The woman saw Sh’muel, and cried in a loud voice. Then she said, “Why did you deceive me?  You being Sha’ul!”
    13The king said to her: “Fear not. But what did you see?”
    “I saw gods! Rising from the ground!”
    14“What’s his appearance?”
    “An old man, coming up.  He’s wrapped in a cloak.”
    Then Sha’ul knew it was Sh’muel and he bowed face to the ground and worshiped.
    15Sh’muel said to Sha’ul: “Why have you agitated me, bring me up?”
    Sha’ul said: “I am very sorry, but the P’lishtim are warring against me and God has turned away from me and no longer answered me, neither by the hand of the prophets nor by the dreams. So I have called upon you to let me know what I should do.”
    16And Sh’muel said: “* Tomorrow you and your son are with me. 19And further, Yahh shall give the Yisrael camp into the hand of the P’lishtim”
    20Sha’ul made haste and fell full length onto the ground.  He was very frightened by S’hmuel’s words. He also had no strength for he hadn’t eaten bread all day and all night.
    21Then the woman came to Sha’ul and saw that he was much dismayed.  She said to him: “All right, your maidservant listened to you and I took my life in my hands and obeyed your words – which you spoke to me. 22Now you listen to the voice of your maidservant. I am setting a loaf of bread before you. Eat. Strength will come back to you so you go the way.”
    23He refused: “I won’t eat.”
    His servants along with the woman urged him and he listened to them. He rose from the ground and sat at the divan. 24The woman had a calf penned up at her house and she made haste and slaughtered it. She took flour, kneaded and baked matsot.  25She served Sha’ul and his servants and they ate. They rose and left that night.

(*16And Sh’muel said: “So why do you ask me if Yahh has turned away from you and gone with your friend.17Yahh will do for him as He spoke by my hand.  He shall rip the kingship from your hand and give it to your friend, to David. 18Because you did not obey the voice of Yahh and did not act on his anger with Amalek, Yahh has done to you this thing on this day.)

© Rabbi David L. Kline  

© Rabbi David L. Kline  

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