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Man, by nature, longs to know what the future holds for him, either out of inherent curiosity or in order to anticipate the dangers that await him. Therefore, in all ancient civilizations - and even in some cultures of today - there were diviners who used various methods to predict the future. It is possible to distinguish between practitioners who use external means to guess the future and persons who perceive the future simply through their own awareness. The prediction of the future through technical means is closely akin to *magic, and the line between them is sometimes blurred. What distinguishes the one from the other is that divination only attempts to predict future events, while magic also professes to influence and change them for good or bad. In any case, man believed that prediction of the future was possible, and that it was bound up with superhuman, demonic, or divine powers, from which the diviner received his knowledge either directly or indirectly. This belief rested on the assumption that there were powers - spirits or gods - that knew the future and with which man could communicate in order to receive this knowledge. It was believed that some men have a natural talent for receiving revelations, either in a waking state or in dreams, and in the manner in which the future is revealed to them, such men resemble the prophets, at least outwardly. Others, who predict the future through signs, had to learn the signs and the means by which to interpret them. Divination was of both general and individual concern. In Mesopotamia fortunetellers first appear in the service of the community. Egyptian documents indicate that diviners served the needs of the country and the king, as well as the everyday needs of the individual. This is also the case in the biblical world. The Bible mentions that the *Urim and Thummim were consulted on the needs of the community (Num. 27:21; I Sam. 14:41; et al.), and the prophets for a prediction of the future (I Kings 22:5ff.; II Kings 3:11ff.); prophets were also sought after for the needs of the individual (I Sam. 9:10, 19). Among the masses, it was a widespread practice to seek false prophets and fortune-tellers, as is known from the polemics of the true prophets against them (Ezek. 13:17ff.; Micah 3:11; et al.).

The Prophet as a Mantic

There is a certain relationship, at least externally, between the mantic, who foretells the future by means of internal awareness, and the prophet (see *Prophets and Prophecy). Knowledge of mantics is drawn from Greek and Roman literature. The mantic achieved ecstasy through music, by use of intoxicating drugs, and by other means. Sometimes he ate the principal organs of a living animal upon which a magical act had been performed. Of all these methods only the use of music is found among the prophets, and that only twice: Saul is told that he will meet a band of prophets "with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre before them, raving" (I Sam. 10:5); and when Elisha was asked to prophesy about the results of the war with Moab, he requested a minstrel – "And when the minstrel played, the power of the Lord came upon him" (II Kings 3:15). In some cases, the prophet performs the functions of the mantic. In Deuteronomy it is stressed that the prophet is to take the place of various types of fortunetellers (Deut. 18:14ff.). The criterion given for distinguishing between true and false prophets is the fulfillment of the prophecy or its non-fulfillment (18:20–22). The prophets were also consulted on mattersof a type that a mantic would answer. In the story of Saul and the asses, the servant says of Samuel the seer: "All that he says comes true" (I Sam. 9:6), i.e., the seer envisions the future and does not err. Jeroboam sent his wife to Ahijah of Shiloh to inquire whether his son would live (I Kings 14:1ff.), Jehoshaphat asked the prophets to tell him the outcome of the battle at Ramoth-Gilead (22:5ff.), and Elisha was asked to predict the outcome of the war with Moab (II Kings 3:11). This consultation of the prophets replaced the consultation of the *ephod found in earlier periods (cf. I Sam. 23:2–6, 9–12). Following Kuenen and Wellhausen, current theories hold that the early Israelite seer resembled the pre-Islamic Arab priest (kāhin), who understood omens and had dreams, but was not an ecstatic prophet. However, there is no evidence in the Bible that the Israelite men of God were ever guided by omens, and even the false prophets were not accused of this (although their prophecy is contemptuously called divination; Ezek. 13:7, 23; Micah 3:6, 7). The seer (Heb. ro'eh, as in I Sam. 9:9; I Chron. 9:22; II Chron. 16:7, 10; et al.; or ḥozeh, as in II Sam. 24:11; et al.) did not use technical means, although their use was customary among the priests, who wore the ephod under the breastplate upon which the Urim and Thummim were placed (see below).

Methods of Foretelling the Future in the Bible

In the Bible *dreams and consultation of the Urim and Thummim were considered valid means of inquiring into the future. The dream as a source of divine revelation was widespread in all ancient civilizations, and there are even books of dreams from Egypt and Mesopotamia. The dream informs the dreamer of what awaits him in the future, as in the examples of the dreams of Joseph (Gen. 37:5–9), the cup-bearer and the baker (40:5ff.), Pharaoh (41:1ff.), and many others; however, it does not explicitly reveal the future, and must be interpreted (41:8ff.). To do this, one must know what the phenomena in the dream symbolize and to what they are directed. Books of dreams were written in Egypt and Mesopotamia for the purpose of teaching the interpretations of dreams according to their symbols, and it is reasonable to assume that a system of dream-interpretation (oneiromancy) was also known in Israel. In some passages the phenomenon of the dream is negatively evaluated: "the dreamers tell false dreams, and give empty consolation" (Zech. 10:2), and "for when dreams increase, empty words grow many" (Eccles. 5:6; cf. v. 2).

The Urim and Thummim, a type of lot oracle, were placed in the breastplate over the ephod of the priest. He who consulted the Urim and Thummim sought to determine between only two possibilities, as in the case of David: "Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down? … And the Lord said, 'He will come down.'" (The Urim and Thummim answer only the second question.) "… Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul? And the Lord said, 'They will surrender you'" (I Sam. 23:10–12). Egyptian documents indicate the manner in which the oracle worked. The appointed priest would call out to the divine oracle two answers to his question, and the god would react to one of them. By another method, the priest would call out a list of names of suspects to the god, who would react to the name of the guilty one. Thus, for example, in a description of consultation of the statue of Pharaoh Amenhotep I, who became a divine oracle after his death, the god is asked to clarify who is guilty of the theft of clothing belonging to thecomplainant. The priest called out the names of all the households in the village before the statue of the god, and the house of the thief was identified (cf. I Sam. 10:19ff.). In Egypt, the reply was given by the idol-bearers, who stepped backward to signify a negative answer, and forward for a positive one. Lucian relates a similar method of replying, in which the statue of Apollo carried in a chariot would gallop forward to indicate a positive answer (De Dea Syria, 36). Several terms for diviners, who are connected with the consultation of the spirits of the dead, appear in the Bible (Isa. 19:3): ʾov, yiddeʿoni, and iṭṭim. The Hebrew word ʾov, which is derived from the Hittite a-a-bi, means the pit from which the spirit of the dead rises, or the spirit of the dead which rises from the pit (cf. I Sam. 15:23; Isa. 29:4). The yiddeʿoni ("wizard") is apparently synonymous with the ba'al ʾov ("medium"), either because of his ability (yadaʿ, "to know") to call up the spirit of the dead or his knowledge of the future. Iṭṭim appears to be a synonym for ʾov, and is explained according to the Akkadian eṭemmu, the spirit of the dead. Consultation of the terafim is also mentioned in connection with divination (Judg. 17:5; 18:14; Ezek. 21:26; Hos. 3:4; Zech. 10:2). The word terafim is derived from Hittite tarpi(sh). The primary sense of the word is "spirit," and from this it came to designate the object that served as the symbol of the spirit, e.g., a statue or statuette. The size of the terafim was not defined. Those which Rachel stole from Laban were small enough to be concealed in a camel-saddle (Gen. 31:34), while those in David's house were large enough for Michal to place in bed and delude Saul's messengers who came in search of David (I Sam. 19:13). Some scholars hold that the meʿonen or ʿonen ("soothsayer"; Deut. 18:10, 14; Isa. 57:3; Jer. 27:9; Micah 5:11) also consults the dead to foretell the future, and they explain the root ʿnn according to the Arabic ʿanna ("to appear"). The meʿonen, therefore, is one who causes the spirit of the dead to appear. However, since the meʿonen and his activity are mentioned a number of times together with divination (the Heb. verb naḥesh and noun naḥash; Lev. 19:26; Deut. 18:10; II Kings 21:6; II Chron. 33:6), the term possibly refers to a special type of divination.

The techniques of divining mentioned in the Bible are with a goblet, with arrows, by attaching a pre-agreed significance to the manner in which one was addressed, by the inspection of a liver (hepatoscopy), and by astrology. Divination by means of a goblet is mentioned in the story of Joseph who divined with his silver goblet (Gen. 44:5). This method was apparently based on the patterns formed by drops of water ina cup of oil (lecanomancy), or by beads of oil in a cup of water; in some cases they also divined from the patterns formed in a cup of wine. This type of divination is known from Babylonian documents dated as early as the 18th century B.C.E. Divination by arrows (balomancy) is explicitly mentioned in Ezekiel 21:26, according to which Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, "shakes the arrows, he consults the teraphim.…" The word qilqal ("shakes, flings") shows that this method of divination involved the shaking of arrows. Mesopotamian documents indicate that it was customary to cast lots by flinging arrows into a quiver. Divination by arrows was practiced by Arab tribes before Islam and was prohibited by the Koran (Sura. 5:4, 92). According to the testimony of scribes, during the "period of ignorance" (jāhiliyya), the Arabs divined with blunt arrows in the sanctuary. They would place the arrows in a quiver and fling it until an arrow fell from it. The first arrow to fall was the one that expressed the will of the god. There is also evidence that the arrows were named according to the answers that they represented, and were cast before the statue of the god. It is possible to interpret the above passage concerning Nebuchadnezzar to mean that he consulted the terafim by casting lots with arrows in front of them. Bronze arrowheads of the 11th–10th centuries B.C.E., on which the word ḥeẓ ("arrow") was written, were found near Betḥ-Lehem, in Galilee, and in the Valley of Lebanon. S. Iwri interprets the word ḥeẓ here as "luck, good luck" (according to Arabic and Ugaritic), but this is only a surmise. The Bible also mentions fortune-telling or divination of the type known in Akkadian as egirru and in Greek as klēdōn, by which an interpretation was given to a conventional word that was seen as a sign. In this way, one can understand the peculiar sign conceived by Jonathan when he went to fight the Philistines: "If they say to us, 'wait until we come to you,' then we will stand in our place, and we will not go up to them. But if they say, 'come up to us,' then we will go up; for the Lord has given them into our hand. And this shall be the sign to us" (I Sam. 14:9–10; cf. v. 12). The same holds for the sign given by the servants of Ben-Hadad when they went to Ahab to beg for the life of their master (I Kings 20:32–33): "… and they went to the king of Israel and said, 'your servant, Ben-Hadad …' and he said, 'Does he still live? He is my brother.' Now the men were watching for an omen … and said, 'Yes, your brother Ben-Hadad.'"

Hepatoscopy and astrology were more advanced methods of divining the future. The study of the liver is mentioned in Ezekiel 21:26. This custom was widespread in Mesopotamia, in the land of Canaan, among the Hittites, Greeks, and Romans, and, in a later period, also among the Arabs. The qualified augur inspected, in an established order, all the internal organs of an animal sacrificed to a god, in particular the liver. According to the signs that he found in the liver, and which were learned in schools established for that purpose, he predicted the future. "The astrologers, the stargazers," are mentioned in the prophecy concerning Babylon in Isaiah 47:13. Some scholars explain the Hebrew word for astrologers hoverei shamayim, according to the Arabic habara ("to cut into large parts"). That would indicate that astrologers divided the sky into star-families, as did Babylonian astrologers, and were identical with stargazers. Others interpret hoverei shamayim according to the Ugaritic hbr ("to bow") and consider hoverei shamayim to be those who bow to the celestial bodies; thus the passage connects the worship of stars with astrology. The observation of celestial bodies or other heavenly signs is referred to in Jeremiah 10:2: "Learn not the way of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens …"

The Biblical Attitude Toward Divination in General

Divination is included among the abominations of the nations which the Israelites were forbidden to learn and practice (Deut. 18:9–11). Leviticus 19:26, 31 also contains the prohibition against the use of magic to tell the future: "You shall not practice divination or soothsaying" and "Do not turn to ghosts and do not inquire of familiar spirits to be defiled by them." The punishment for those who do consult them is excommunication (20:6). However, in response to human nature, the Bible allowed consultation of the Urim and Thummim on the one hand and the prophets on the other, and considered them the only proper means of inquiring into the future. The Book of Deuteronomy designates the prophet to satisfy the needs that were met among the nations by fortunetellers using systems of magic (Deut. 18:14ff.). The dream was also a proper method of prophesying the future (cf. I Sam. 28:6; et al.), since God would often reveal Himself to His chosen ones in a dream (See *Dreams). According to the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, fortunetellers and mantics predicted the future in the name of God (Jer. 27:9–10; 29:8–9; Ezek. 22:28; cf. 12:24; 13:6–9). They probably functioned in the area of popular religion, and the prophets saw them as falsifying the word of God and therefore fought them. That fortunetellers were persecuted is known from the story of the medium and Saul, who removed the mediums and "wizards" and cut them off from the land (I Sam. 28:3, 9). In contrast to Saul's act, which he performed in accordance with the precepts of the Torah, Manasseh, king of Judah, introduced idolatry into Jerusalem: "[he] practiced soothsaying and augury, and dealt with mediums and with wizards" (II Kings 21:6; II Chron. 33:6). The cultic reform of Josiah put an end to these (II Kings 23:24).


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Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.