The Witch of Endor: Samuel or a Demon?
Conjuring up the dead?
Here’s an interesting passage in 1 Samuel 28 (1) that I’d like us to look at today, the story of the witch of Endor. (Make sure to read this passage carefully before you continue reading) Years ago, I took the common position that this account, was of a witch conjuring up a demon. After-all, people can’t conjure up the dead, right? Well, kinda sorta. Before we get into this particular text, I’d like us to look at another passage in Deuteronomy.
(NASB) Deuteronomy 18:10-11 There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead
This text is of one where the people of Israel were forbidden to have dealings with divination of any kind–including not conjuring up the dead. (2) Wait, what? This dead (3) just means demons, no? Well, that’s not what the text actually says. Furthermore, the Hebrew word used here for the dead (H4191 מוּת – mûth), in some cases, is different from other dead (4) listed in scripture–the rephaim–that will not rise. (5)
A literal reading
If we were to read this passage at face value, it didn’t tell them not to consult the dead because they couldn’t, they were told not to because they could! One could supplant the idea, that consulting the dead equals talking to demons only, but you have to eisegete that in, to get this meaning.
Moving back to the text of 1 Samuel, there’s several reasons why I now believe that this witch conjured up Samuel, rather than just another demon.
4 Reasons Why It Was Samuel
- The witch was shocked about what happened: Her response makes no sense if it were just another demon. Conjuring demons would’ve been a common thing for her.
- Samuel wasn’t happy with the act: The response from Samuel was one of great condemnation. Given what we know about deceiving spirits, I don’t think this reaction fits the bill for a demonic encounter.
- Samuel prophesies correctly: If you study the text, and see all of what Samuel foretold, it came to pass exactly as was spoken.
- That’s what the text actually says: This is the most obvious, and an oversight for many but this is what the text actually says, that it was Samuel. (6)
Having given my reasons above, I do think that this account is likely an unique case of a deceased human being conjured. (All the rest would be demonic in my assessment) Nowhere else in scripture–that I recall–do we have anything resembling this story.
- (KJV) 1 Samuel 28:11-20
11″ Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up Samuel.
12 And when the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice: and the woman spake to Saul, saying, Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul.
13 And the king said unto her, Be not afraid: for what sawest thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods ascending out of the earth.
14 And he said unto her, What form is he of? And she said, An old man cometh up; and he is covered with a mantle. And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground, and bowed himself
15 And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? And Saul answered, I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do.
16 Then said Samuel, Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing the Lord is departed from thee, and is become thine enemy?
17 And the Lord hath done to him, as he spake by me: for the Lord hath rent the kingdom out of thine hand, and given it to thy neighbour, even to David:
18 Because thou obeyedst not the voice of the Lord, nor executedst his fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore hath the Lord done this thing unto thee this day.
19 Moreover the Lord will also deliver Israel with thee into the hand of the Philistines: and tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me: the Lord also shall deliver the host of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.
20 Then Saul fell straightway all along on the earth, and was sore afraid, because of the words of Samuel: and there was no strength in him; for he had eaten no bread all the day, nor all the night.”
2. Some translations render this as “spirits of the dead”. (GNB for example)
3. The Septuagint (LXX) in this passage uses the word “nekros” for dead (Gk. νεκρός) which is used throughout the Bible in the general terms of the dead/deceased.
4. Douay-Rheims Bible Isaiah 26:14 Let not the dead live, let not the giants rise again: therefore hast thou visited and destroyed them, and best destroyed all their memory. (emphasis added)
The Douay-Rheims seems to understand that these were no ordinary dead!
5. If you’d like to do some digging, check out what these dead or râphâ‘ (rephaim) were, I highly recommend it. Here’s something to consider: rephaim were giant clans, yet this is also a Hebrew word for the deceased. Fascinating!
6. Justin Martyr took this position also. Justin Martyr, Dialogus cum Tryphone, Judaeo 105 (Pg. 6,721)