By: Kaufmann Kohler
The forecasting of the future by certain signs or movements of external things, or by visions in certain ecstatic states of the soul (see Dreams and Prophecy). Divination rests on the belief that spirits inhabit the various elements of life and are able to impart the knowledge of the future to man, and it is, like all idolatrous practises, forbidden by the Law. "Neither shall ye use enchantments nor practise augury." "Turn ye not unto them that have familiar spirits nor unto the wizards" (Lev. xix. 26, 31, Hebr.). "There shall not be found with thee . . . one that uses divination, one that practiseth augury, or an enchanter, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or a consulter with a familiar spirit, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For whosoever doeth these things is an abomination unto the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee" (Deut. xviii. 10, 11, Hebr.).
The general term for "divination" in Hebrew is (Deut. l.c.; I Sam. vi. 2, xv. 23 [A. V. "witchcraft"], xxviii. 8: , "divine unto me by the familiar spirit"; Ezek. xii. 24; Isa. iii. 2 [A. V. "prudent"); Zech. x. 2; and elsewhere). Balaam used divination (Num. xxii. 7, xxiii. 22; Josh. xiii. 22 [A. V. "soothsayer"]). For the original meaning or etymology of reference has been made to Ezek. xxi. 26 (21), where Nebuchadnezzar is represented as standing at the parting of the ways and shaking the arrows to and fro to determine which way he should go, whether to Jerusalem or to the capital of the Ammonites. Accordingly "Ḳasam" is explained after the Arabic "istaḲsam" (to obtain a divine decision), from "Ḳasam" (distribute, or divide), as signifying the casting of lots by throwing the arrows from the quiver, a practise familiar to the Arab Bedouins (see Jerome to Ezek. l.c.; Herodotus, iv. 67; Gesenius, "Thesaurus," s.v.; W. R. Smith, in "Journal of Philology," xiii. 276; Wellhausen, "Skizzen und Vorarbeiten," 1887, pp. 126 et seq.).
Specific forms of divinations are mentioned in Lev. xix. 26 (, "enchantments"); Deut. xviii. 10, 14 (R. V. "augury"); Judges ix. 37 (Hebr. "the soothsayers' terebinth"); II Kings xxi. 6; Isa. ii. 6 ("the Philistines are filled with [probably to be emended to = "divination"] and soothsayers"); Isa. lvii. 3 (, A. V. "ye sons of the sorceress"); Jer. xxvii. 9; Micah v. 11 (12). The real meaning and etymology of the word are obscure. Smith (l.c.) explains it from the Arabic "'ann" (to murmur, or hum hoarsely), this being the practise of the Arabic soothsayer. The explanation suggested by the Hebrew and adopted by most commentators and lexicographers is "the observation of the movements of the clouds" (; compare Jer. x. 2; Josephus, "B. J." vi. 5, § 3). Lenormant("Magie und Wahrsagekunst," p. 456), quoting a Babylonian rule, "When bluish dark clouds rise on the horizon the wind will blow during the day," and a divination from the movement of the clouds from the time of the Byzantine emperor Leo I. favors this explanation of , offered also by Ibn Ezra on Lev. ad loc. Also the "terebinth of the sooth-sayers" (Judges l.c.; compare II Sam. v. 24) indicates "the practise of divination from the movements of air-currents (see Baudissin, "Studien zur Deutschen Religionsgeschichte," 1878, ii. 226). Luther's translation, "Tageswächter" (Observer of Auspicious Times; see Rashi ad loc.), rests on an etymological combination with (= "time").
(lit. "he that observes the movement or the hissing of the serpent," ; see Baudissin, l.c. i. 287) is a term used in general for one who observes omens (Gen. xliv. 5, 15, A. V. "divineth"; Lev. xix. 26, A. V. "augury"; Num. xxiii. 23, xxiv. 1; II Kings xvii. 17, xxi. 6, A. V. "enchantments"; compare Gen. xxx. 27; I Kings xx. 33). The term is applied in the story of Joseph (Gen. l.c.) to the observation of figures formed by water or oil in a cup, called by the Greeks "hydromancy." It was known also to the Romans, who ascribed its origin to the Persians, with whom the practise was especially in vogue, as may be learned from the cup of Jemshid in the Shah Nameh. But the Chaldeans and Arabians were also familiar with it (see Lenormant, l.c. pp. 463 et seq.; Lane, "Customs and Manners of the Modern Egyptians," ii. 362). Another form of divination is the' casting of rods (see Hosea iv. 6): "My people ask counsel at their stock, and their staff declareth unto them"—a practise called "rhabdomancy" or "xylomancy" by the Greeks, and similar to the casting of arrows mentioned above (see the commentaries ad loc. and Wellhausen, l.c.).
(Ezek. l.c.), "looking in the liver," is the Greek "hepatoscopy." (See Lenormant, l.c. p. 453, for the Chaldean, Phenician, Greek, and Roman practises.) The convulsive motions of the lung and liver when taken from the sacrificial victim (the liver was regarded as the seat of life, Prov. vii. 23) were watched as a means of forecasting the future.
- Cheyne and Black. Encyc. Bibl. s.v.;
- Smith, Dictionary of the Bible, s.v.;
- Winer, B. R.;
- Hamburger, R. B. T. s.v. Wahrsagerei;
- Schenkel, Bibel-Lexikon, s.v. Zauberei;
- Lenormant, Magie und Wahrsagekunst der Chaldäer, Jena, 1878.