Grenville Kent – “Call Up Samuel”: Who Appeared to the Witch at En-dor? (1 Samuel 28:3-25)

Boy: Are you a good witch or a bad witch?
Endora: Comme çi, comme ça.
-TV series Bewitched

The dark narrative of Saul’s night visit to the witch at En-Dor has intrigued readers for millennia. One key interpretive question is the identify of the figure who appeared to the medium and spoke to Saul. Was it the post mortem Samuel or a demon impersonating Samuel in order to deceive Saul? Historically, Jewish and Christian interpreters have been divided on the question.

The view that the figure was Samuel has been held by one group of interpreters at least since Joshua ben Sirach: “And after this he [Samuel] slept, and he made known to the king, and shewed him the end of his life, and he lifted up his voice from the earth in prophecy to blot out the wickedness of the nation” (Ecclesiasticus 46:16-23). Arnold observes that some of this group regarded Samuel as a “disembodied soul” while others thought he had a “resuscitated physical body.” “Some of the interpreters in this category appear to have worked from a specifically dualist anthropology, but others apparently assumed a resuscitated physical body, perhaps not unlike the resurrection body of Jesus.” For example, Josephus thought only the soul of Samuel appeared from Hades, equating the Greco-Roman view of the underworld with the Sheol of the Old Testament while Augustine, by contrast, compared Samuel’s appearance at En-Dor to that of Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration. Many commentators today see the apparition as Samuel, present at the medium’s seance but actually sent by God.

A second group of interpreters saw the figure as a demoniic inpersonator giving a false prophecy calculated to deceive and destroy Saul. For example, Tertullian thought the apparition was a demon, applying the apostolic warning about Satan masquerading as an angel of light and his servants as servants of righteousness (2 Cor 11:14-15). Many commentators in this group argued that it was “impossible for a holy prophet to be disturbed and raised from the dead by necromantic rituals. Saints may be able to exorcize evil spirits, but the reverse is not true—demons are not able to call up dead saints.” Smelik finds that historically this group “seems to have been the most authoritative.”

This paper will argue that the exegetical evidence favours the second view.

To continue reading Grenville Kent’s article, click here.

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