Death-Dealing Witchcraft In The Bible? Notes On The Condemnation Of The ‘Daughters’ In Ezekiel 13:17-23 -- By: John F. Evans
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In The Bible?
Notes On The Condemnation Of
The ‘Daughters’ In Ezekiel 13:17-231
The essay proposes a new reading of Eze 13:17-23, drawing on ancient Near Eastern materials to argue that the exiled ‘daughters’ were likely not practising the binding magic of the kaššāptu (Akk.) ‘witch’ but a defensive, even therapeutic, binding magic similar to that of the Babylonian āšipu ‘exorcist’. Through their magic-bands Ezekiel’s female opponents are said to bring ‘death’ (v. Eze 13:19), but this is best explained as either the women’s prophetic declaration of who was to live or die, or as the judgement of Yhwh upon those in the community who believed their ‘lies’ and ‘false visions’, refusing to heed Ezekiel’s warnings. Deception by unauthorised prophecy, divination, and magic is the key issue.
In Africa Eze 13:17-23 arouses great interest because many Bible readers see practices there akin to what they term witchcraft, and some claim the text proves that witchcraft can kill people.2 There are
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discussions in East Africa as to whether Eze 13 substantiates people’s fears of uchawi (witchcraft) as a deadly menace. Certainly it is widely suggested, occasionally even in the Church, that killing accused witches can be justified for the sake of protection on account of texts such as Ex 22:18. One finds this news distressing, especially in light of the murder of over a thousand accused witches across Africa each year.3
From the standpoint of Old Testament scholarship, the oracle against the ‘daughters’ attracts attention because it is so enigmatic, touches on ancient magic (a growth-industry in OT and ANE studies today), and is one of the few texts in all the Old Testament prophetic literature that condemns the sins of women. An increasing number of recent studies also contend that the oracle represents a ‘demonisation’ of Ezekiel’s female competitors among the religious specialists in the exilic community and aims to marginalise them as unauthorised.4
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