Wizards, necromancers and soothsayers (oh my!)

Posted: 22nd June 2007 by ElShaddai Edwards in Translation
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Rick Mansfield has begun to assemble an exhaustive list of changes made to the revised ESV (2007) from the earlier edition (2001), a list which includes the attention-grabbing change from “wizards” to “necromancers” in Leviticus (19:31, 20:6), 2 Kings (21:6) and 2 Chronicles (33:6). In response, Peter Kirk has tongue-in-cheek lifted the penalty of death by stoning on Harry Potter, Dumbledore and Gandalf, though not Voldemort and Saruman, of course.

Somewhat seriously, I was curious about the change and not being overtly familiar with the word “necromancer”, decided to dig deeper with the help of Webster:

Wizard: “one skilled in magic”; or one who practices sorcery: “the use of power gained from the assistance or control of evil spirits especially for divining”

Necromancer: “(one who practices) the conjuration of the spirits of the dead for purposes of magically revealing the future or influencing the course of events”

So the change in the ESV would seem to narrow the Biblical condemnation to the specific use of the dead to divine future events. That seems appropriate in these verses given the parallel references to mediums in the above passages – whereby mediums are the channel through which necromancers conjure the spirits. The most famous account, of course, was Saul’s “conjuring” of Samuel through the medium of Endor.

Riding on the bus to work this morning, one of my other personal interests collided with this topic and I was reminded of the musical passage “Herod and the Soothsayers” from Hector Berlioz’ oratorio, “L’Enfance du Christ”.

Soothsayer: “a person who predicts the future by magical, intuitive, or more rational means”

So not specific to conjuring the dead, but still along the lines of magic and divination. The broader question then remains, if not these verses, where does the Bible explicitly condemn the broader use of spiritual power gained from sources not of God, Christ or Holy Spirit? And if the revised ESV cannot be counted on by evangelicals to condemn Harry Potter, what good is it, really? <wink>

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