Friday, April 21, 2017

Saul and Samuel

With whom did the spirit medium of Endor get in touch?
Did King Saul visit with Samuel after Samuel’s death? This account is presented in 1 Samuel 28:3-19. In it, Saul is seized with panicked fear over his impending doom at the hands of the Philistines. As his pleas for help were going unheard, in palpable desperation he turned to a “spirit medium” called the “Witch of Endor.” What made this especially ironic was that King Saul had just executed a purge in the land of the very type of person he was now so desperately seeking. (1 Samuel 28:3) Interestingly, a NET Bible footnote for verse 3 describes the scene of Saul’s meeting with the witch:
The Hebrew term translated “mediums” actually refers to a pit used by a magician to conjure up underworld spirits (see 2 Kgs 21:6). In v. 7 the witch of Endor is called the owner of a ritual pit.
So in this ritual pit, a representation of the dead Samuel is manifested, and is called in Hebrew elohim, gods. (1 Samuel 28:13) On this point, the NWT-Ref note says:
Heb., ʼelo·himʹ, pl., evidently to denote excellence and applying to an individual even though the verb “coming” is pl., for the woman saw only the form of an old man come up.
And the NET Bible footnote similarly says in part:
Heb “gods.” The modifying participle (translated “coming up”) is plural, suggesting that underworld spirits are the referent. But in the following verse Saul understands the plural word to refer to a singular being. The reference is to the spirit of Samuel.
So even though plurals are used, it refers to a singular manifestation of someone. But the salient question is, was it really Samuel or an impostor? While the text does not say outright that it was an imposture, is it at all implied?

The following explanation from Insight on the Scriptures, vol. 2 pp. 1027-1028 under “Spiritism” successfully unravels this enigma:
King Saul’s visit to a medium. When Saul went to the medium, Jehovah’s spirit had for some time been removed from him, and in fact, God would not answer his inquiries by means of dreams or by the Urim (used by the high priest) or by the prophets. (1Sa 28:6) God would have no more to do with him; and God’s prophet Samuel had not seen Saul for a long period of time, from before David’s being anointed to be king. So it would be unreasonable to think that Samuel, even if still alive, would now come to give Saul advice. And God would certainly not cause Samuel, whom he had not sent to Saul before his death, to come back from the dead to talk to Saul.—1Sa 15:35.
That Jehovah would in no way approve of or cooperate with Saul’s action is shown by his later statement through Isaiah: “And in case they should say to you people: ‘Apply to the spiritistic mediums or to those having a spirit of prediction who are chirping and making utterances in low tones,’ is it not to its God that any people should apply? Should there be application to dead persons in behalf of living persons? To the law and to the attestation!”—Isa 8:19, 20.
Therefore, when the account reads: “When the woman saw ‘Samuel’ she began crying out at the top of her voice,” it obviously recounts the event as viewed by the medium, who was deceived by the spirit that impersonated Samuel. (1Sa 28:12) As for Saul himself, the principle stated by the apostle Paul applied: “Just as they did not approve of holding God in accurate knowledge, God gave them up to a disapproved mental state, to do the things not fitting … Although these know full well the righteous decree of God, that those practicing such things are deserving of death, they not only keep on doing them but also consent with those practicing them.”—Ro 1:28-32.
The Commentary on the Old Testament, by C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch (1973, Vol. II, First Samuel, p. 265), refers to the Greek Septuagint at 1 Chronicles 10:13, which has added the words “and Samuel the prophet answered him.” (Bagster) The Commentary supports the view that is implied by these uninspired words [that is, attested only] in the Septuagint, but it adds: “Nevertheless the fathers, reformers, and earlier Christian theologians, with very few exceptions, assumed that there was not a real appearance of Samuel, but only an imaginary one. According to the explanation given by Ephraem Syrus, an apparent image of Samuel was presented to the eye of Saul through demoniacal arts. Luther and Calvin adopted the same view, and the earlier Protestant theologians followed them in regarding the apparition as nothing but a diabolical spectre, a phantasm, or diabolical spectre in the form of Samuel, and Samuel’s announcement as nothing but a diabolical revelation made by divine permission, in which truth is mixed with falsehood.”
In a footnote (First Samuel, pp. 265, 266), this Commentary says: “Thus Luther says … ‘The raising of Samuel by a soothsayer or witch, in 1 Sam. xxviii. 11, 12, was certainly merely a spectre of the devil; not only because the Scriptures state that it was effected by a woman who was full of devils (for who could believe that the souls of believers, who are in the hand of God, … were under the power of the devil, and of simple men?), but also because it was evidently in opposition to the command of God that Saul and the woman inquired of the dead. The Holy Ghost cannot do anything against this himself, nor can He help those who act in opposition to it.’ Calvin also regards the apparition as only a spectre … : ‘It is certain,’ he says, ‘that it was not really Samuel, for God would never have allowed His prophets to be subjected to such diabolical conjuring. For here is a sorceress calling up the dead from the grave. Does any one imagine that God wished His prophet to be exposed to such ignominy; as if the devil had power over the bodies and souls of the saints which are in His keeping? The souls of the saints are said to rest … in God, waiting for their happy resurrection. Besides, are we to believe that Samuel took his cloak with him into the grave? For all these reasons, it appears evident that the apparition was nothing more than a spectre, and that the senses of the woman herself were so deceived, that she thought she saw Samuel, whereas it really was not he.’ The earlier orthodox theologians also disputed the reality of the appearance of the departed Samuel on just the same grounds.”
Thus, there is historical president for seeing the conjured spirit Samuel as a demonic imposture. Additionally, The Jewish Study Bible in a note on verses 12-14 states that
The Bible believes in the possibility of sorcery, soothsaying and necromancy, but prohibits them as heathen practices (Deut. 18.9-14).
Therefore, why would Samuel if still alive reward irreverent Saul by submitting himself to the control of a heathen spiritist? This question reveals the inherent weakness of the position that it really was a postmortem appearance of Samuel. Additionally, the understanding that it was a demonic imposture of a dead Samuel is supported in the first demonic lie in Eden of not dying. (Genesis 3:4) Lastly, are we to derive correct doctrine on the condition of the dead from the infernal witch? This is the last place to derive such doctrine from. Thus, understanding this as the authentic Samuel is intellectually problematic and theologically disastrous.

On the other hand, it has been observed that the conjured Samuel was privy to what the historical Samuel knew from God, as seen in his message in 1 Samuel 28:17-19. On this basis it has been claimed that this demonstrates that it was actually Samuel speaking. Notice however that the information in verses 17-18 was already known to Saul and the general population, so it would be no surprise that a demon would also be aware of it. (1 Samuel 13:14; 15:9-23, 28; 16:13; 24:20) The only unique information is in verse 19, and contrary to the objection, this was not revealed to the historical Samuel prior. However, this prediction proved to be inaccurate, ironically revealing that it was not the real Samuel but a demonic impostor, as well as exposing this objection as suffering from poor reading comprehension.

One journal presented the following reason why the conjured Samuel was an impostor, asking: “what was the message?” It answered:
Israel would be given into Philistine hands, and the next day Saul and his sons would be with “Samuel,” indicating that they would die while fighting the Philistines. (1 Samuel 28:4-19) Is that what happened?

Not exactly. Saul was severely wounded in battle with the Philistines, but he died a suicide. (1 Samuel 31:1-4) And contrary to the prediction suggesting that all Saul’s sons would die with him, his son Ish-bosheth survived him.—The Watchtower, January 15, 1988. Do They Really Speak With the Dead? (under What Happened in Saul’s Case?) pp. 3-4.
In all fairness, in response it could be said that this prophecy includes the Divine Name, something a demon would conceivably not use, and that Saul was still in the “Philistines’ hand” even though he died from his own hand, and that Ish-bosheth was not on the battlefield. In response to my response, the demon impostor was impersonating Samuel, thus he had to use the Divine Name to sound consistent. Additionally, to save the prophecy we would need the qualifiers that it would be his sons on the battlefield who would die, and that his death would be dishonorable; failing to include these makes the prophecy imprecise and objectionable.

1 Samuel 28:19 then is a proof-text that it was not the authentic Samuel but a demonic impostor speaking out of imprecise, impotent guesswork. While the understanding that the witch successfully conjured up a disembodied Samuel may enjoy a measure of popularity in academia, it suffers from not recognizing this penetrating point that nails the coffin shut on Samuel.

The Gilgamesh Connection
However, there is another historical precedent that demands consideration: an ancient Mesopotamian parallel found in the Epic of Gilgamesh, where Gilgamesh digs a pit into the ground to perform a séance to contact his dearly beloved but deceased companion Enkidu. As one source explains:
Sumerian and Akkadian versions of the Gilgamesh Epic also attest the use of pits or holes in the ground as portals through which the dead could ascend from the underworld; Gilgamesh used such a pit to summon his departed companion Enkidu.[1]
The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (TDOT) explains that these versions of the Gilgamesh Epic present Gilgamesh as digging a pit in the ground and summoning the spirit of Enkidu, and that “the entire episode reminds us of 1 S. 28.14.”[2] The tablet explaining the séance portrays it as successful. It states:
He freed Enkidu to speak once to kin. … Enkidu’s shadow rose slowly toward the living and the brothers, tearful and weak, tried to hug, tried to speak, tried and failed to do anything but sob.

“Speak to me please, dear brother,” whispered Gilgamesh. “Tell me of death and where you are.”

“Not willingly do I speak of death,” said Enkidu in slow reply. “But if you wish to sit for a brief time, I will describe where I do stay.”

“Yes,” his brother said in early grief.

“All my skin and all my bones are dead now. All my skin and all my bones are now dead.”

“Oh no,” cried Gilgamesh without relief. “Oh no,” sobbed one enclosed by grief.[3]
Notice how clear and unqualified the language is. Gilgamesh is portrayed as successfully conjuring Enkidu from the grave and holding a conversation with him. Therefore, what appears here may expose a problem of consistency. That is, if the ones who posit that Samuel really appeared to the witch deny that the other séances in the Ancient Near East were successful, on what basis do they do so? This is inconsistent and falls victim to the logical fallacy of cherry picking. If you believe that it was really Samuel, then you must also believe that it was really Enkidu. If not, then on what basis do you doubt the clear language of the Gilgamesh Epic? On the other hand, if you believe that the witch’s Samuel was a demonic impostor, then you can consistently hold that all other such successful séances were also demonstrating demonic impostures.

In summary, concluding that the conjured Samuel was the historical Samuel is a superficial reading that ignores that it would sully God’s hands and contradict the historical Samuel who had nothing to do with necromancy. Additionally, by being a superficial reading it would also ignore Jesus’ parenthetical admonition to use discernment when reading the scriptures.—Matthew 24:15, Mark 13:14.

[1] The Necromancer from Endor – John Walton and Phil Long.

This reference also states concerning the relationship to the Samuel account:
As regards Saul’s night visit to the necromancer at Endor, opinion is divided over whether the real Samuel appeared or a mere apparition. The startled reaction of the woman in verse 12, her immediate realization that she has been deceived (she is not dealing with her “familiar” spirits), and the narrator’s unqualified statement that the woman “saw Samuel” all suggest that Samuel really appears. That in this instance Yahweh should deign to return Samuel from the grave—to the surprise of the woman and the dismay of Saul—in no way represents a validation either of the efficacy or the acceptability of necromancy.
A number of responses are in order:
  1. Her “startled reaction” was in response to the realization that the disguised man was her mortal enemy King Saul, not about unfamiliar spirits.
  2. The narrator’s unqualified statement obviously recounts the event as viewed by the medium, who was deceived like Eve had been.—Genesis 3:1, 1 Timothy 2:14, Revelation 12:9.
  3. Why would Jehovah who condemned necromancy now cooperate with it? Would that not soil his hands so-to-speak? No, the holy God of Israel would not cooperate with a witch of a conjuring pit. This is a neglected dilemma for those authors who should be concerned with the sanctity of their God.
  4. Lastly: Why did the conjured Samuel impotently pronounce an imprecise prophecy to Saul in verse 19? (And why did Walton and Long fail to address this Achilles heel?)
[2] 1:131-2.

[3] Epic of Gilgamesh Tablet XII, found online here where the rest of the séance can be read if you so desire: What was quoted from it was done so to clearly establish the unqualified language describing an allegedly successful séance.


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Additional reading:

Picture from page 91 of You Can Live Forever In Paradise On Earth (1982).

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