Translating "witch"

minnow at minnow at
Mon Feb 23 06:06:07 EST 2004

Charlie on the white charger wrote:

>> Has someone got access to the Vulgate, just for starters?  What does
>> *that* have for the two places where the King James has "witch"?
>No sooner said than summoned!

'S better than rubbing a lamp!

>Exodus 22.18: maleficos non patieris vivere
>Deut 18.10-11 (I slopped into the next verse as it provides an interesting
>list of similar bods): nec inveniatur in te qui lustret filium suum aut
>filiam ducens per ignem aut qui ariolos sciscitetur et observet somnia atque
>auguria ne sit maleficus ne incantator ne pythones consulat ne divinos et
>quaerat a mortuis veritatem
>So Jerome was using 'witch': but whether he meant the same thing by it that
>we do, or the original writer of the Hebrew did, who knows?

Gulp.  I just looked in a dictionary of classical latin, and that word
isn't there meaning "witch".  That throws the *whole* thing, because in
400-or-so AD when Jerome was around, he would have been using the classical
meaning, surely.  Which seems not to be specifically "witch" at all, but
more generally  "evil-doer" (malefactor, I suppose).

The latin words this classical dictionary offers for "witch" are "saga" and
"venefica"; "saga" is translated back as "prophetess" or "soothsayer" in
the L->E bit, "venefica" is translated back as "sorceress", "witch" and
"poisoner", which may possibly explain your having heard that poisoner was
what the word ought to be.

Except that Gili says the Hebrew word used there means "witch".

Gili, are you sure it has always meant witch, and never changed meaning?

Oh, another possibility: if the Vulgate you had there was not the original
from 400 but the revised Clementine text of 1600 or so, that throws
everything into a *different* confusion.  Because in that case the word may
have been changed in the Clementine to one which *then* meant "witch", from
the one that meant either sorceress or poisoner.  To clarify the matter,

(My brain hurts)

Was it definitely Jerome's Vulgate, not the later version?


To unsubscribe, email dwj-request at with the body "unsubscribe".
Visit the archives at

More information about the Dwj mailing list