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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Exodus 22:18

I don't speak Biblical Hebrew—no one does any more—but I can read it, and I do speak Israeli Hebrew, which is based on the language of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). Here's what I can tell you about Exodus 22:18, that much-vexed Biblical passage about suffering a witch to live.

Like most ancient languages, ancient Hebrew had lots of words for "magic." (Interestingly, the ancients rarely, if ever, had a generic term—like "magic”—to cover them all; apparently they didn't perceive them as belonging to the same category.) In Hebrew, one kind of magic is késhef (kaf-shin-fe, for those of you with a reading knowledge of the alef-beit); a woman who practices keshef magic is a mkhashefá, which in the KJV is rendered "witch." Unfortunately, at this remove of time we simply don't know what made keshef distinctive from other forms of magic. To read it as herb-craft is nothing but a guess, or at best a back-reading from Septuagint Greek pharmakos and Vulgate Latin venefica.

Since a standard definition of "witch" in English is "a woman who practices magic,” personally I would say that rendering mkhashefa as "witch" is actually a pretty fair translation. Why it should surprise anyone that the Tanakh is anti-magic (or anti-witch, by any definition) is what puzzles me.

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  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    Thanks for that discussion. In these days when the Catholics have a new pope who is parading Satan and exorcism, and Islam is tak

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