The Witch of Endor is a woman who, according to the Hebrew Bible, was consulted by Saul to summon the spirit of prophet Samuel in order to receive advice against the Philistines in battle, after prior attempts to consult God through sacred lots and prophets had failed (First Book of Samuel; ). The Witch of Endor is absent from the version of that event recounted in the deuterocanonical Book of Sirach (46:19-20).
Later Christian theology found trouble with this passage[clarification needed] as it appeared to imply that the Witch had successfully summoned the spirit of Samuel, therefore giving credence to the idea that necromancy and magic were possible.
She is called in biblical Hebrew ? ? ('ê?e? ba'?la?-' b?-'ên d?r), "a woman, possessor of an ' at Endor". The word ' has been suggested by Harry Hoffner to refer to a ritual pit for summoning the dead from the netherworld, based on parallels in other Near Eastern and Mediterranean cultures. The word has cognates in other regional languages (cf. Sumerian ab, Akkadian âbu, Hittite a-a-bi, Ugaritic ib) and the witch of Endor's ritual has parallels in Babylonian and Hittite magical texts as well as the Odyssey. Other suggestions for a definition of ' include a familiar spirit, a talisman, wineskin, or a reference to ventriloquism based on the Septuagint translation.
The witch also claims to see "elohim arising" (plural verb) from the ground, using the word typically translated as "god(s)" to refer to the spirits of the dead. This is also paralleled by the use of the Akkadian cognate word ilu "god" in a similar fashion.
When Samuel dies, he is buried in Ramah. Saul, the current king of Israel, seeks wisdom from God in choosing a course of action against the assembled forces of the Philistines. He receives no answer from dreams, prophets, or the Urim and Thummim. Having driven out all necromancers and magicians from Israel, Saul searches for a witch anonymously and in disguise. His search leads him to a woman of Endor, who claims that she can see the ghost of Samuel rising from the abode of the dead.
The voice of the prophet's ghost at first frightens the witch of Endor, and after complaining of being disturbed, berates Saul for disobeying God, and predicts Saul's downfall. The spirit reiterates a pre-mortem prophecy by Samuel, adding that Saul will perish with his whole army in battle the next day. Saul is terrified . The next day, his army is defeated as prophesied, Saul is fatally wounded by the Philistines, and in two different tellings of the event, commits suicide by using his own sword, or asks a young Amalekite to give him the coup de grâce .
Although Saul is depicted as an enemy to witches and diviners, the Witch of Endor comforts Saul when she sees his distress and insists on feeding him before he leaves .
Since this passage states the witch made a loud cry in fear when she saw Samuel's spirit, some interpreters reject the suggestion that the witch was responsible for summoning Samuel's spirit; instead, this was the work of God. Joyce Baldwin writes that "The Incident does not tell us anything about the veracity of claims to consult the dead on the part of mediums, because the Indications are that this was an extraordinary event for her (the woman), and a frightening one because she was not in control."
In the German language-translation by Martin Luther (Luther Bible), which is based on Hebrew and Greek texts, a different interpretation is given. It is implied that the woman screams because she realizes that she is talking to the king who recently outlawed all forms of wizardry, but not because she is startled by a spirit ("Als nun das Weib merkte, daß es um Samuel ging, schrie sie laut..." , translation: "When the woman realized that it was about Samuel, she cried with a loud voice...").
The common Spanish translations as well make it rather clear that the sorceress was frightened at knowing the man that had come to her was Saul; indeed, it is Saul who comforts the woman saying no harm will come to her (for using witchcraft on his behalf), upon which the witch returns to calm demeanor ("But you are Saul! Why have you tricked me?" "You have nothing to fear", answered the king).
The Yalkut Shimoni (11th century) identifies the anonymous witch as the mother of Abner. Based upon the witch's claim to have seen something, and Saul having heard a disembodied voice, the Yalkut suggests that necromancers are able to see the spirits of the dead but are unable to hear their speech, while the person for whom the deceased was summoned hears the voice but fails to see anything.
Antoine Augustin Calmet briefly mentioned the witch of Endor in his Traité sur les apparitions des esprits et sur les vampires ou les revenans de Hongrie, de Moravie, &c. (1759):
The Israelites went sometimes to consult Beelzebub, god of Ekron, to know if they should recover from their sickness. The history of the evocation of Samuel by the witch of Endor is well known. I am aware that some difficulties are raised concerning this history. I shall deduce nothing from it here, except that this woman passed for a witch, that Saul esteemed her such, and that this prince had exterminated the magicians in his own states, or, at least, that he did not permit them to exercise their art.-- Calmet, Chapter 7 on Magic
The Jews of our days believe that after the body of a man is interred, his spirit goes and comes, and departs from the spot where it is destined to visit his body, and to know what passes around him; that it is wandering during a whole year after the death of the body, and that it was during that year of delay that the Pythoness of Endor evoked the soul of Samuel, after which time the evocation would have had no power over his spirit.-- Calmet, Chapter 40
The Church Fathers and some modern Christian writers have debated the theological issues raised by this text. The story of King Saul and the Witch of Endor would appear at first sight to affirm that it is possible (though forbidden) for humans to summon the spirits of the dead by magic.
In the Septuagint (2nd century BC) the woman is described as a "ventriloquist", possibly reflecting the consistent view of the Alexandrian translators concerning "demons ... which exist not". However, Josephus (1st century) appears to find the story completely credible (Antiquities of the Jews 6,14).
King James wrote in his philosophical treatise Daemonologie (1597) arguing against the ventriloquist theory, stating that the Devil is permitted at times to put himself in the likeness of the Saints, citing 2 Corinthians 11:14 that Satan can transform himself into an Angel of light. James describes the witch of Endor as "Saul's Pythonese", likening her to Pythia from the Greek mythology of Python and the Oracle. It was the belief of James that the witch of Endor was an avid practitioner of necromancy:
... that how soon that once the unclean spirit was fully risen, she called in upon Saul. For it is said in the text, that Saul knew him to be Samuel, which could not have been by the hearing tell only of an old man with a mantle ... But to prove this my first proposition, that there can be such a thing as witchcraft, & witches, there are many more places in the Scriptures than this (as I said before). As first in the law of God, it is plainly prohibited: (Exod. 22.) But certain it is, that the Law of God speaks nothing in vain, neither does it lay curses, or enjoin punishments upon shadows, condemning that to be ill, which is not in essence or being as we call it.-- Epistemon; Daemonologie, Chapter 1
Other medieval glosses to the Bible also suggested that what the witch summoned was not the ghost of Samuel, but a demon taking his shape or an illusion crafted by the witch. Martin Luther, who believed that the dead were unconscious, read that it was "the Devil's ghost", whereas John Calvin read that "it was not the real Samuel, but a spectre."
Spiritualists have taken the story as evidence of spirit mediumship in ancient times. The story has been cited in debates between Spiritualist apologists and Christian critics. "The woman of Endor was a medium, respectable, honest, law-abiding, and far more Christ-like than" Christian critics of Spiritualism, asserted one Chicago Spiritualist paper in 1875.
The pagans thought much in the same manner upon it. Lucan introduces Pompey, who consults a witch, and commands her to evoke the soul of a dead man to reveal to him what success he would meet with in his war against Cæsar; the poet makes this woman say, "Shade, obey my spells, for I evoke not a soul from gloomy Tartarus, but one which hath gone down thither a little while since, and which is still at the gate of hell."
Oh the road to En-dor is the oldest road
And the craziest road of all!
Straight it runs to the Witch's abode,
As it did in the days of Saul,
And nothing has changed of the sorrow in store
For such as go down on the road to En-dor!
Oh God, hellfire
Witch of Endor raised
Saul would fall to his knees,
Watch the fire blaze
Satan plays his flute for him
The sound, it burns his ears
Watches as the peace of man
Slips and disappears
... of 'ob (RSV 'medium'). According to one view it is the same word that means a 'bottle made out of skins' ('wineskin,' Job 32:19). The term would then refer to the technique of ventriloquism or, more accurately, 'belly-talking'.
A classical example is King Saul's visit to the witch of Endor: The Septuagint says once that the seer engages in soothsaying and three times that she engages in ventriloquism (1 Sam 28:6-9).
The Septuagint translates: They burn incense on bricks to devils which exist not.
The witch of Endor - The account of the "Witch of Endor" is the only instance in the Bible where a description of the processes and ... Luther held that it was "the Devil's ghost"; Calvin that "it was not the real Samuel, but a spectre".