Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Prophet and the Necromancer: Women's Divination for Kings

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Prophet and the Necromancer: Women's Divination for Kings

Article excerpt

It was for a long time the norm for scholars to discuss "prophecy" and "divination" as if the two were separate and opposing categories. It is now increasingly recognized that prophecy is simply one type of divination. A study of the full range of biblical portrayals of women engaging in divinaton activity-introduced ever so briefly here-offers a different picture than can be provided by considering any one type in isolation. This article demonstrates the point through a case study. It was common throughout Israel and the rest of the ancient Near East for kings to consult diviners, and we see many stories reflecting this in the Bible. There are only two stories, however, in which kings consult female diviners. Because one of these involves a necromancer and the other a prophet, they have not been treated as generically related. Reading the two stories together, as different expressions of the same broader phenomenon, offers a new perspective on each.

It was for a long time the norm for scholars to discuss "prophecy" and "divination" as if the two were separate and opposing categories. This was a reflection of two interrelated methodological problems. The first was a scholarly tendency to accept at face value certain biblical polemics referring to "divination" as false and foreign, in spite of other biblical traditions that present numerous forms of divination as authentic, Israelite, and legitimate.1 The second problem was the lingering influence of outdated theories of religion-themselves no doubt stemming from the above polemic-according to which "magic" was defined negatively in contrast to "religion."2 "Prophecy" was seen as a religious phenomenon, while "divination" was considered magical. Divination, however, is an umbrella term, which I will define as a type of action culturally understood to allow acquisition of knowledge otherwise restricted to the divine realm, whether through technical skill (e.g., extispicy or other omen reading) or the divine granting of special direct communication (e.g., spontaneous prophecy and some dreams or dream interpretation). It is now increasingly recognized that prophecy is simply one type of divination.* * 3

Work on the female prophets, however, despite a growing interest in the topic, has not been primarily concerned with exploring the broader category of divination.4 There is not yet any study of the full range of biblical portrayals of women who engage in different types of divination.5 We need now to broaden our scope and consider the fuller picture of the divinatory activity of women in the Hebrew Bible. In short, we must redefine the area of study.6

Women are depicted as accessing or displaying divine knowledge in many ways. Characters associated with divination include Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Noadiah, and the unnamed woman of Isa 8:3, each of whom is called a prophet, though they engage in radically different activities; the mysterious women who hunt souls (Ezekiel 13); the necromancer of En-dor; Rebekah, who "inquires" of Yhwh, who in response grants her special knowledge about the twins in her womb; and the "wise women" of Tekoa and Abel.7 There are also some brief references, such as the pronouncement that the sons and daughters will prophesy in Joel 3:1, and several uses of divination imagery as insult: the use of "sons of a soothsayer" in parallel with "son of an adulterer" in Isa 57:3 (or in the vernacular, "sons of witches" and "son of a bitch" or "bastard"), the same set of associations in Nah 3:4, and the image of the woman who hunts nepes in Prov 6:26.8

These texts represent a variety of perspectives. There are positive and negative portrayals, stories associated with royalty and with village life, with the martial and the marital. There are women associated with male prophets (living or dead), women acting independently, and, depending on how one interprets Ezekiel 13, possibly women divining in groups. This array of depictions, examined together, reveals less concern with the form of divination itself than with other aspects of the presentation of each diviner. …

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