Monday, September 4, 2017

Witches, Poisoners, and the book of Exodus

When Jewish scholars translated the Tanakh into Greek over 2000 years ago (resulting in the Setptuagint, aka "LXX"), they translated the 18th verse of the 22nd chapter of the Book of Exodus as:

φαρμακοὺς οὐ περιποιήσετε 


The original Hebrew for this verse (which, just to make things even more potentially confusing, in modern Jewish versions, whether in Hebrew or in translation, is invariably numbered as verse 17, not 18), is:

מְכַשֵּׁפָה, לֹא תְחַיֶּה.


For comparison we can also look at Jerome's Vulgate translation of this verse:

Maleficos non patieris vivere.

And then there is also Luther's German translation:

Die Sauberinnen sollst du nicht leben lassen.

So, just what do these four words (  מְכַשֵּׁפָה, φαρμακοὺςmaleficos and Sauberinnen ) mean? The King James Bible gives the English equivalent as, simply, "Witch", as in "Thou shalt not suffer a Witch to live."

Here are three modern Jewish translations of this verse into English:

1. "Thou shalt not suffer a sorceress to live."
Mechon Mamre:

2. "You shall not allow a sorceress to live."
JPS Tanakh, 1917:

3. "You shall not allow a sorceress to live."

Below is an excellent overview of the meaning of these tricky words which nicely deals with the silly and completely unfounded claim that the passage in Exodus is only referring to "poisoners". This overview is from Frank Luke who posted it to the Biblical Hermeneutics section of Stack Overflow (link):

Forms of the Hebrew word כַשֵּׁף are translated into Greek with equivalent forms of pharmakous: Exodus 7:11, Exodus 22:18, Deuteronomy 18:10, 2 Chronicles 33:6, Isaiah 47:9, Isaiah 47:12, Jeremiah 27:9, Daniel 2:2, Malachi 3:5. As you said, most of these places rule out poisoner from the context. Poisoner simply cannot work in them. The LXX also uses pharmakous in these verses:
  • Exodus 9:11 The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for boils were on the magicians and on all the Egyptians. (for the Hebrew chartim, an occult magician)
  • Psalm 58:6 that does not respond to the magicians, or to a skilled snake-charmer. (for lachash and then cheber)
Then three times in the Aramaic sections of Daniel (2:27 - ashaph conjurer, and 5:7 and 5:8 - chartim, occultist). In writings original to Greek, forms of pharmakous are also found.
  • Wisdom 12:4 whom you hated for deeds most odious-- Works of witchcraft and impious sacrifices; (NASB)
  • Wisdom 18:13 For though they disbelieved at every turn on account of sorceries, at the destruction of the first-born they acknowledged that the people was God's son. (NASB)
  • Galatians 5:20 idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions,
  • Revelation 18:23 Even the light from a lamp will never shine in you again! The voices of the bridegroom and his bride will never be heard in you again. For your merchants were the tycoons of the world, because all the nations were deceived by your magic spells!
  • Revelation 21:8 But to the cowards, unbelievers, detestable persons, murderers, the sexually immoral, and those who practice magic spells, idol worshipers, and all those who lie, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur. That is the second death."
  • Revelation 22:15 Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the sexually immoral, and the murderers, and the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood!
The Greek lexicons give these defintions:
  • Liddell, Scott, Jones: links it to magic from drugs and specifically states using poisons.
  • Friberg: one who prepares and uses drugs for magical purposes or ritual witchcraft
  • United Bible Society: sorcerer, one who practices magic or witchcraft
  • Lou-Nida: sorcerer
  • Thayer: pertaining to magical arts. And points out how it is used for kashaph.
  • Lust, Eynikel, Hauspie: mixer of magical potions, sorcerer, magician
  • Gingrech: magician
Only one of the major lexicons mentions "poisoner" as a meaning of the Greek word, several point out the drug use, but all agree that it is magical. There was also the cult of Pharmakos which used drugs on their ritual victims.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

"Many sides" in Late Antiquity?

On August 11-12, 2017, torch wielding, sieg-heiling, "Jews will not replace us" chanting, wanna-be Nazi nimrods rioted in the streets of Charlottesville, VA, culminating the the murder of anti-fascist activist Heather Heyer in a vehicular terrorist attack that also left at least 19 others injured. United States President Donald Trump responded by proclaiming: "We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides."

This kind of prevaricating obfuscation is designed, and quite obviously so, to absolve those genuinely responsible for violence by pretending that the victims of violence share, equally (at least), in the blame with those who perpetrated violence upon them. In the case of Trump's response to the events in Charlottesville, this refusal to focus on and hold accountable the swastika-sporting white-supremacists has been, correctly in my opinion, interpreted as symptomatic of Trump's own personal sympathy with the cause of those he cannot bring himself to reproach by name.

This scenario of victim-blaming exculpation should be quite familiar to those acquainted with the modern scholarly field of "late antiquity studies". Indeed, nothing is more characteristic of the period of history labeled as "late antiquity" than the state and church sponsored violence of Christians against Pagans, and nothing is more characteristic of the so-called "scholars" of this period than their Trump-esque (and ever-so-revealing) refusal to acknowledge this violence for what it is, and the perpetrators of the violence for what they are.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Decline and Fall of Late Antiquity Studies

In September of 2015 the Los Angeles Review of Books published an online essay by noted Byzantinist Anthony Kaldellis entitled "Late Antiquity Dissolves." Here are three excerpts to whet your late antiquarian appetite:
1. "there is an imperative to turn the sources toward the study of social and cultural history, specifically to reconstruct the ideological value systems that underpinned groups and communities. Texts, their contents, and their authors are treated as instrumental or exemplary in such broader social processes .... So Prokopios has to be pressed into service as an exponent of imperial ideology; or, if he is allowed to speak against Justinian, he has to be made into the spokesman for a senatorial opposition (whose existence has yet to be proven) or imperial ideology 'in general.'"
2. "Difference, like identity, was but a discursive construct, an artifact produced by texts that ostensibly postulate essences, but we should not be fooled by them, for what they really offer are 'negotiations' among ideological options floating in the common soup of the late antique mentality .... The field also exhibits a Christian bias in the way it reconstructs the generic mentality of late antiquity, treating pagans often as a troublesome inconvenience."
3. "Religious hatred that reached the level of bloodshed is frequently analyzed under the irenic guises of identity construction and discursive negotiation, as if we were dealing with merely textual communities cultivating positive role models along parallel tracks that rarely intersected. But euphemism and discursive amelioration will never fully occlude the fact that the later Roman Empire was the site of tremendous and unparalleled religious conflict, which was accompanied by what seems to be an intensification of state violence too."
Check out the full article here:

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


Sofi Marinova is amazing:


Time of the Gypsies

Sunday, January 15, 2017

EZ PZ Black eyed peas and pintos

1 can pinto beans
1 can black-eyed peas
1 can diced tomatoes

1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/3 - 1/2 teaspoon oregano

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

"Most" Muslims "dislike" Isis. Let's do the math.

When polled, how many Muslims freely acknowledge that they approve of Isis?

4% of Indonesians have a favorable opinion of Isis. That's 250M x 0.04 = 10 million Isis supporters.

8% of Turks have a favorable opinion of Isis. That's 75M x 0.08 = 6 million Isis supporters.

11% of Malaysians have a favorable opinion of Isis. That's 30M x 0.11 = 3 million Isis supporters.

9% of Pakistanis have a favorable opinion of Isis. That's 182M x 0.09 = 16 million Isis supporters.

So, the "good news" is that in just four Muslim majority countries there are 35 million supporters of Isis.

Source (link to to Pew Research website):
In nations with significant Muslim populations, much disdain for ISIS