Translating "witch" (was RE: The Potterverse)

minnow at minnow at
Sun Feb 22 11:14:55 EST 2004

>Charlie hinted and Sally wheedled:  and Gili replied:
>> (Taking 'Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live' though: to be fair, I've
>> heard the Hebrew word can actually be translated differently, as
>> Oh for a Hebrew translator! (hint))
>Not by any usage that's familiar to me, nor anything I've been able to find
>in a dictionary. "Mechashefa lo techayeh" (Exodus) is the Hebrew for  'Thou
>shalt not suffer a witch to live' , and "mechashefa" has as far as I know
>always meant witch in Hebrew.

Interesting.  So now what we need is to discover what "witch" meant in
[whenever Exodus was written] to the people of the time.

I had heard of it as that the word now used loosely to be "witch" then
meaning specifically "one who poisons wells", not just any old poisoner nor
yet one who has a familiar spirit or does magical stuff (for which there
are other words, as I understand it and as Gili seems to be saying about
the "Witch" of En-dor).  In a desert land not suffering
someone-who-did-that to live would be very basic common-sense indeed.  To
destroy a water-source in such conditions is pretty-much unforgivable, and
certainly ought to be prevented at all costs.

>The witch of Endor on the other hand, was not
>called "mehashefa" in Hebrew but "ba'alat ov", a necromancer, if I remember
>correctly. Saul goes to her to summon the spirit of the prophet Samuel,
>which arouses the wrath of the Lord, and his punishment is that both he and
>his son Jonathan die in battle and David is made king. But I haven't really
>read the books of Samuel since studying them in 8th grade, so don't hold me
>to it. Though I must say, some of the best stories in the bible are in
>Samuel and early Kings - best as in interesting plots on a human level.

That's the story I find in 1 Samuel 28.  Y'know what I think interesting
there?  That we call her the Witch of Endor, whereas that word is *not*
used in the King James (nor in the New English) any more than it apparently
is in the original.  She's called "a woman who had a familiar spirit".  So
when and from where did she get the title "witch" tacked on to her?  She
also doesn't seem to be even slightly villainous: she does as she is begged
to do even though it puts her at risk, and raises Samuel's spirit for the
king, and then she feeds Saul because he is fainting from hunger.  Quite a
good sort, on the basis of her actual behaviour as recorded.

In that same chapter, people other than her are described as "wizards" in
the King James, and as "those who traffic with ghosts and spirits" in the
NE.  Would that be "ba'alat ov" in each case, Gili?


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