Friday, November 03, 2006

Witchcraft prohibition

Exodus 22:18 famously reads, in the King James Version "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." We hear that this passage was a central reason for the witchtrials craze of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. However, it is interesting to compare it with the Latin Vulgate which was the one that would have been familiar in the Middle Ages and to Catholics. It reads "Maleficos non patieris vivere." which means, "You will not allow a practioner of harmful magic to live." It is interesting that the Vulgate is narrower than the King James Version in its definition of the prohibited activity.

Could this be part of the reason for the Catholic Church's unwillingness to launch an assault on magic in the Middle Ages? Certainly the Vulgate understands the distinction between good and bad magic and stipulates punishment only for the latter. And how much effect did the King James Version's translation have in English speaking countries. Certainly, it was the one that the burghers of Salem would have had to hand. The Greek Old Testament uses a word that Liddell and Scott define as "a poisoner, sorceror, magician... a general term of reproach." Does anyone know what the Hebrew term used is?

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Ignorance said...

The Hebrew text reads at Exodus 22: 17 (the numbering differs a little, verse 18 in the Torah is actually "Everyone who sleeps with animals (or: cattle) shall be killed") mkhashshepha lo thchayye. The crucial word mkhashshepha is a female participle with the verb meaning "to practice sorcery" according to good old Brown-Driver-Briggs. The meaning of the participle is thus something like "sorceress". Brown-Driver-Briggs notes it is linked to diviners in Exodus 7:11 and to diviners, interpreters and conjurers (or necromancers?) in Daniel 2:2. So it's connotation likely has to do with divination, though it might be more sinister. I can look it up in some more recent references later if you want.

James said...

Interesting that it is a feminine word. Most interesting, thank you. So the KJV might be more accurate than the Vulgate, with potentially unfortunate consequences.