Thursday, March 5, 2009
Necromancy in the Temple?
Necromancy--summoning the spirits of the dead to receive secrets or prophecies--was widespread in ancient and medieval times. In the Bible the most famous case was when Saul consulted the "witch of Endor" to summon the spirit of the dead prophet Samuel (1 Sam 28:7). In Hebrew, the "witch" was called a baʿalat ʾôv, literally one who controls or possesses a spirit. It is often translated as "one who has a familiar spirit" in the KJV. In modern terms it could be translated as a spiritual medium or a necromancer.
This type of spirit conjuring in condemned in the Bible (Lev 20:27). Manasseh, king of Judah, described as an apostate, was said to have consulted necromancers (2 Kgs 21:6, 2 Chr 33:6). Although the text does not explicitly state that Manasseh consulted them in the temple, it is implied, since it mentioned in the context of other abominations he practiced in the temple in the verses immediately preceding and following this verse. His son Josiah abolished necromancy in his temple reforms (2 Kg 23:24).
In the Talmud (Sanhedrin 65b) it states, "There are two kinds of necromancy: the one where the dead is raised by naming him, the other where he [the dead] is invoked by means of a skull." The reason I raise this issue is that the latest issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review has an article by Dan Levene entitled "Rare Magic Inscription on Human Skull" (March/April 53/2 (2009):46-50), which describes a newly discovered skull with an Aramaic inscription that was presumably used for necromancy. It may thus be a late relic representing a type of necromancy that might have been used in the temple during the apostasy of Manesseh.