On all the actions that allegedly take place due to Godʼs personal decisions see Israelʼs Theological Worldview
Divination in the Hebrew Bible
Despite officially condemning all magicians and divinatory practitioners, the Bible is replete with references to divination… Examples of native magical practitioners and techniques abound in the Hebrew Bible: kings and priests have access and recourse to magic and divination, for example in their consulting oracles, and casting lots in times of crisis
Jacob in his sneaky manipulation of sticks to ensure the multiplication of his flocks, Genesis 44;
Davidʼs oracular consultations in times of military crisis, 1 Samuel 22.13-15, 23.2-4 and 9-12, 2 Samuel 2.1.
Moses and Aaron are similarly not above using magic rods in Exodus 7-10 and 14.
Ordinary people use them too–notably to aid fertility (for example Leah and Rebekah in their fertility contest, Genesis 30).
Dreams, another form of supernatural communication, are dreamt by characters beyond foreign suspicion: Jacob again (Genesis 28), Joseph (Genesis 37.5, 40.9ff.), Solomon (1 Kings 3) and Daniel (Daniel 2).
- hydromancy, and
to cite a few examples, are all witnessed in ancient Israelite society. These examples show that the ancient Israelites were no different from their ancient Near Eastern neighbors. Also, we should note that divinatory practices are associated with men whose allegiance to and active participation in Godʼs plan cannot be faulted.
Divination through the examination of the liver: Leviticus 3:3-4.
Divination technique involving the manipulation of rods or arrows (belomancy): Hosea 4:12; Ezekiel 21:21.
Divination through lot casting: Jonah 1:7.
Divination by gazing at the water: Genesis 44:5-15; 1 Kings 1:9; Numbers 5:9-28.
Divination from the configuration of the stars: Judges 5:20; Joshua 10:12-13; Amos 5:26; Isaiah 47:12-15.
For an overview of the history of interpretation, see F.H. Cryer, Divination in Ancient Israel and its Near-Eastern Environment: a Socio-Historical Investigation (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994)
Ann Jeffers, Magic and Divination in Ancient Palestine and Syria (Leiden: Brill, 1996) And see her paper in this anthology.
A list of authoritative titles on Ancient Biblical Divination & Magic in the Old Testament
When the Bible Says “No Divination” It Really Means…”Some Divination.”
According to Deuteronomy 18:10,12, “There shall not be found among you anyone who…uses divination…For whoever does such things is detestable to the Lord.” However, didnʼt the Hebrew patriarch, Joseph, practice “divination?” He practiced the ancient magical art of lecanomancy, otherwise known as “cup-divination.”
Is not this [cup] it in which my lord drinketh, and whereby indeed he divineth?…And Joseph said unto them, What deed is this that ye have done? Do you not know that such a man as I can certainly divine?
- Gen. 44:5,15
By means of cup-divination a person could supposedly foretell the future and find lost objects. Neither was Joseph condemned in the Bible for being a cup-diviner. Go figure.
And… didnʼt both the Hebrews and Christians practice the ancient magical art of cleromancy, otherwise known as “casting lots to divine the will of Providence?” (How different is that from tossing Chinese I Ching sticks to find out what Providence has in mind?) As it says in the Bible, “The lot is cast into the lap; but its decision is from the Lord.” (Prov. 16:33) “The lot puts an end to contentions, and decides between the mighty.” (Prov. 18:18) Numerous examples of this magical practice of divining Godʼs will can be found in the Bible:
The tribes of Israel divided the “promised land” by “casting lots.” (Num. 26:52-56; 33:54; 36:1-2; Joshua 13:6; 14:1-2; 15:1; 16:1; 17:1-2,14-17; 18:6-11; chapters 19,21,22,23; Isa. 34:17; Ezk. 45:1; 47:22; 48:29)
Hebrew kings were chosen and tactical decisions in battle were decided by “lot.” (1 Sam. 10:20-23; 14:41-42; Judges 20:9) Also chosen by “lot” were “governors” for each “ward,” and for the house of God. (1 Chron. 24:5-7,31; 25:8-9; 26:14-16)
Saul, by drawing lots, found that his son Jonathan had eaten honey (1 Kings 14:58)
Jonah, when fleeing from the face of the Lord, was discovered and thrown into the sea by lot (Jonah 1:7)
People were chosen to receive special favors by “lot” (Lev. 16:8-10; Mic. 2:5; Neh. 10:34; 11:1)
The guilt of people was judged and confirmed by casting lots. (Josh. 7:13-18; the Hebrew word ‘lakad’ translated ‘taken,’ means ‘chosen by lot;’ Jonah 1:7)
According to the New Testament, Zacharias was chosen by lot to offer incense (Luke 1:9); and after the apostle Judas committed suicide the early church chose between two replacement candidates by “lot.” (Acts 1:23-26)
Theologians debated the practice of “casting lots” for centuries. The Catholic theologian, Thomas Aquinas, quoted several of their views in his Summa Theologica in a “Question” titled, “Whether Divination By Drawing Lots is Unlawful?” He warned that the practice of casting lots could be relied on too heavily, thus “tempting God;” or, demons might interfere with the outcome if the lots were cast without prior prayer. He found the casting of lots to be lawful in cases where making choices was especially difficult and when due reverence was observed, “If… there be urgent necessity it is lawful to seek the divine judgment by casting lots, provided due reverence be observed.” See Question 95, Article 8, 2nd Pt of the 2nd Pt of Aquinasʼs Summa Theologica.
After the rise of Protestant churches, denominations like the Puritans cast lots to determine Godʼs will—which made them outlaw less serious uses of “dice” in games or gambling because the casting of dies or lots should be reserved only for divining Godʼs will. Besides the Puritans, the famed Christian Evangelist and founder of Methodism in the 1700s, Rev. John Wesley, justified his actions as being the will of God on the basis of having “cast lots,” a practice which he later renounced. Tunker Baptists (also known as Tumbler Baptists) were another group from the 1700s who “cast lots,” for example, to determine who should be the church administrator. In the 1780s there were also “Sandemanian” Christians (one famous member being the scientist, Joseph Priestly) who “cast lots” to determine Godʼs will.
If anyone knows of cases in the twentieth century in which churches have “cast lots” to determine future church locations; church administrators; how best to distribute church funds; or determine the salaries of mega-church preachers, please let me know!
Not Only Did the Hebrew Lord “Play Dice,” But He Also Changed His Mind (Or “Repented” of His Previous Actions). The Bible Says He Did It So Often He Grew “Weary of Repenting.” But if God Knows the Future, Why Should He Ever Have to Change His Mind?
The Lord repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.- 1 Samuel 15:35 (But the Lordʼs “dice” had chosen Saul to be king in the first place!)
And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.- Genesis 6:6-7 (see also Deut. 32:36 & Ps. 135:14)
And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it: and as he was destroying, the Lord beheld, and he repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed, It is enough, stay now thine hand.- 1 Chronicles 21:15
Did he not fear the Lord, and besought the Lord, and the Lord repented him of the evil which he had pronounced against them?- Jeremiah. 26:19
God told Moses He was going to let His people, the Israelites, die in the desert and make a new nation out of Mosesʼs children alone. But Moses talked Him out of that plan, “And the Lord repented of the evil the he thought to do unto his people.”- Exodus 32:14
Compare the above scene with Genesis 18:23-33, where Abraham gets God to change his mind about the minimum number of righteous people in Sodom required to avoid destruction, bargaining God downwards from fifty to ten. (An omniscient God must have known that He was toying with Abrahamʼs hopes for mercy—He destroyed the city anyway.)
And the Lord repented of the evil that he had said he would do unto them; and he did it not.- Jonah 3:10
I [the Lord] am weary of repenting.- Jeremiah 15:6
Evangelical Christians of the “Open Theism” school of theology point to the above depictions of God “repenting,” and argue that God does “change his mind” in response to the arguments or actions of human beings. “Open Theists” assert that God does not know everything there is to know about the future. However, the majority of Christians continue to believe that God already knows the future and they explain away the above verses as mere “metaphors” of how God “appears” to act from our point of view. So, these different Evangelical Christian theologians canʼt agree on whether to understand the above stories metaphorically or literally. They make their own choice as to what they think the Bible “really” teaches, which is something they blame “liberals” and “humanists” for doing. Some “Open Theism” Evangelicals have even had to leave the Christians colleges where they had been teaching.
More “Godly” Divination: The Urim & Thummim
Another magical way to divine Godʼs will was via the “Urim and Thummim.” Those two objects were connected with the breastplate worn by the high priest (Ex. 28:30) but it is not known what the Urim and Thummim were. Were they gems kept in a pouch worn on the high priestʼs chest? Were they engraved with symbols that reflected a divine “yes” and a divine “no?” Were they like the ancient Assyrian “Tablets of Destiny” that were tossed to determine the will of ancient Near Eastern gods like Marduk or Bel? We donʼt know. But such prominent figures as Aaron (Ex. 28:30) and Joshua (Num. 27:21), and the Hebrew tribe of priests, the Levites (Deut. 28:8), used the Urim and Thummim to divine Godʼs will.
King Saul consulted the “Urim” but received “no answer.” (1 Sam. 28:6) Maybe the Urim and Thummim were the two most sacred “lots” of Israel, and after you tossed both of them, if one landed on its “yes” side, but the other landed on its “no” side, it was interpreted as God leaving the receiver off the hook?
Behold the Bird of God, Who Takes Away the Mold, Mildew & Leprosy of the World
Weʼve all heard the term “scapegoat,” but did you know it was based on holy commands given in the Hebrew Bible? God commanded that a priest transfer the sins of the people onto a goat, and send the goat into the wilderness, thus carrying away the peopleʼs sins. (Lev. 16:20-22) We remember the scapegoat story, but we forget about the lowly scape-bird, a bird that God commanded a priest to transfer “uncleanness” to, then send flying into the sky. (Lev. 14:4-7,48-53) What kinds of “uncleanness” did the scape-bird carry away with it? Would you believe mold, mildew, and… leprosy?
To the ancient mind discolored splotches of mold and mildew on clothing, leather or the walls of their homes, were lumped with that dreaded disease, leprosy. The same Hebrew word was used to describe them all, despite the tendency of modern Bible translators to make modern distinctions and use the words, ‘mold’ or ‘mildew,’ in cases of clothing and walls. The ancient Hebrews made no such distinctions but used the same word to describe a discolored growth on a wall, on poorly stored clothing, or on the skin of a leper. Consequently, the same remedy was required by Godʼs law.
Get your “scape-birds” here! They remove tough mold and mildew stains, as well as leprosy!
Dave Matson, “Godʼs Ignorance Concerning Leprosy,” Commonsense Versus the Bible [edited, with added comments by E.T.B.]
Spit In Yer Eye?
Magical spit was widely praised in the world of ancient folk medicine for its healing virtues. So widely known was the spit treatment in fact that two Gospel authors included stories about Jesus employing spit to cure the blind and those with impediments of speech (Mark 7:31-37; 8:22-26; John 9:6). Jesusʼs spit miracles mirrored those of his contemporaries and resembled those of a typical ancient wonder worker.
A. J. Mattill, Jr., The Seven Mighty Blows to Traditional Beliefs (enlarged edition)
Those Were the Days!
The days of the cup divination of Joseph, the bronze serpent Moses made that he told people to look at in order to be healed, the consultation of Urim and Thummim by kings of Israel. (The Babylonians would consults “tablets of destiny” that they would toss, to inquire of the divine will.) The casting lots to single people out and parcel out land and determine Godʼs will in the days of Moses and Joshua and Solomon. Jesusʼs own apostles cast lots to pick an apostle to replace Judas.
And hereʼs a nice little reference to arrow divination, or “shuffling arrows” from Ezekiel:
(Ezek. 21:21) that “the king of Babylon stood in the highway, at the head of two ways, seeking divination, shuffling arrows; he inquired of the idols, and consulted entrails.”
Or there are the small gold figures of mice and hemeroids fashioned by the Philistines and sent back with the ark of the covenant to Israel, to try and remove the plague of mice and diseases amongst the Philistines.
Or thereʼs the case of Samson not cutting his hair, for his strength was in his hair.
Or thereʼs the movement of the water in a pool in Jerusalem, moved by angels, mentioned in the Gospel of John (if you were the first to drag yourself into the water when it moved, you were healed).
It was believed that people by the aid of the Devil could assume any shape they wished. Witches and wizards were changed into wolves, dogs, cats and serpents. Within two years, between 1598 and 1600, in one district of France, the district of Jura, more than six hundred men and women were tried and convicted before one judge of having changed themselves into wolves, and all were put to death. This is only one instance. There were thousands.
Robert Ingersoll, “The Devil”
One of the Many Torture Devices Used
The vaginal pear was used on woman who had sex with the Devil or his familiars. The rectal pear was used on passive male homosexuals and the oral pear was used on heretical preachers or lay persons found guilty of unorthodox practices. Inserted into the mouth, anus or vagina of the victim, the pear was expanded by use of the screw until the insides are ripped, stretched and mutilated, almost always causing death. The pointed ends of the ‘leaves’ were good for ripping the throat, intestines or cervix open.
In three centuries (1450 to 1750) more than 100,000 persons, the overwhelming majority of them being women, were tried for the crime of witchcraft, and more than half were executed. The prosecutions by church and governmental authorities often involved the use of torture, and constitute one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in the history of the West.
Witch-hunting in Early Modern Europe, Vol. 3, Articles on Witchcraft, Magic, and Demonology, ed., Brian P. Levack
The “witch-hunting” mania continued until the 18th century. In Scotland, an old woman was burned in 1722 after being convicted of turning her daughter into a pony and riding her into a witchesʼ coven. In Germany, a nun was burned alive in the marketplace of Wurzburg in 1749 after other nuns testified that she climbed over convent walls in the form of a pig. The last legal execution of a witch occurred in Switzerland in 1782. By that time, various scientists and scholars had raised doubt about the reality of witchcraft to bring an end to the madness. [p.78]
A profound irony of the witch-hunts is that they were directed, not by superstitious savages, but by learned bishops, judges, professors, and other leaders of society. The centuries of witch obsession demonstrated the terrible power of supernatural beliefs. [p.79]
James A. Haught, Holy Horrors: An Illustrated History of Religious Murder and Madness (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1990)
For centuries the Catholic Church proclaimed the reality of the crime of “witchcraft,” backed by the Biblical command, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”
The Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, said about witches, “I would burn them all!”
John Calvin stated, “The Bible teaches us that there are witches and that they must be slain… this law of God is a universal law,” and also pleaded in 1545 that the government of Geneva, Switzerland, should “extirpate the race [of witches] from the land” of Peney.
A few centuries later, after the smoke cleared, the famed Christian evangelist, John Wesley, lamented, “The giving up of witchcraft is in effect the giving up of the Bible.” (The Journal of John Wesley, 1766-1768)
The witch text in the Bible remains; the practice of executing them changed. The slavery text in the Bible remains; the practice changed. Infant damnation is gone, but the text remains. Hell fire is gone, but the text remains. More than two hundred death penalties are gone from the law books, but the Biblical texts that authorized them remain.
Is it not well worthy of note that of all the multitude of Biblical texts through which man has driven his annihilating pen he has never once made the mistake of obliterating a good and useful one? It does certainly seem to suggest that if man continues in the direction of enlightenment, his religious practice may, in the end, attain some semblance of human decency.
Mark Twain, “Bible Teaching and Religious Practice”
Modern Day Witch Hunts
In 1928, a Hungarian family was acquitted of killing an old woman they thought was a witch, and as late as 1970s, a poor German woman was suspected of being a witch after the people in the small town ostracized her, pelted her with rocks, and killed her animals. In France, a man was killed for suspected sorcery in 1978, and in 1981 a mob stoned a woman to death in Mexico because they believed that her witchcraft incited an attack on the pope.
W. Sumner David, Th.D., Heretics : The Bloody History of the Christian Church
If a Witch Curses Her Enemies Itʼs Called “Witchcraft.” So If A Christian Invokes God to Curse People, Shouldnʼt That Be Called “Godcraft?”
In 1994 the Capitol Hill Prayer Alert, a Washington D.C.-based prayer group, produced a list of twenty-five Democratic incumbents, and urged prayer partners to petition God to bring evil upon the people on that list. “Donʼt hesitate to pray imprecatory Psalms over them,” wrote one of the groupʼs founders, Harry Valentine, in the groupʼs newsletter. “Imprecatory” means to “call down evil upon.” Such Psalms include: “Let his days be few; and let another take his office. Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.” (Ps. 109:8,9) “Let death seize upon them, and let them go down quick into Sheol.” (Ps. 55:15) “The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance: he shall wash his own feet in the blood of the wicked.” (Ps. 58:10) (How is this different from sticking pins in voodoo dolls, or whipping up a witchʼs brew and mumbling curses? I guess itʼs all right for Christians to “curse” people so long as they use a “Biblically sound” method. But, leaving the “imprecatory Psalms” aside, donʼt these people realize that Jesus commanded his disciples, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you?”—E.T.B.)
Skip Porteous, “Election ʻ94 Observations,” Free Inquiry, Winter 1994/95)
We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to our New England forefathers. For if it hadnʼt been for their amazing wisdom and foresight over two hundred years ago, weʼd be up to our asses in witches.
Cecil Wyche & Tom Weisel
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