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Familiar Spirit

FAMILIAR SPIRIT (אוֹב, H200, RSV medium). The spirit of a dead person which a medium, in the form of magic known as necromancy, claimed to summon to consultation (Deut 18:11). In necromancy, in which the dead were consulted about the future, it was believed that either a spirit dwelt in the controlling medium (Lev 20:27), who was most commonly a woman, or that the medium had fellowship with a spirit from whom she could receive information. The word “familiar” in this term has the sense of belonging to one’s family, and so to oneself; ready to serve one as a servant.

Mediums seem to have deceived their inquirers by speaking in a thin weak voice, as though it came from the ground or from a bottle (Isa 8:19; 29:4). The LXX generally represents them as ventriloquists. Nothing is known of their method of procedure.

The Mosaic law forbade the consulting of familiar spirits, and mediums were commanded to be put to death (Lev 19:31; 20:6, 27; Deut 18:11).

King Saul put away the mediums early in his reign, but, greatly worried about the outcome of his last battle, he consulted the witch of Endor and asked to speak to the prophet Samuel (1 Sam 28:3, 7, 8, 9; 1 Chron 10:13). It appears that Saul was told by the witch that she saw Samuel, and Saul himself entered into the conversation with the prophet. King Manasseh also fell into the sin of consulting mediums (2 Kings 21:6; 2 Chron 33:6); but his grandson Josiah put them out of the land (2 Kings 23:24).

Belief in the possibility of communing with the spirit of the dead was common in ancient heathendom. The Gilgamesh Epic, Tablet XII, gives evidence of it; and Acts 16:16-18 tells of a slave girl who was a medium and brought her owners much gain by her divination.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

See Familiar; Divination; PYTHON.