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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Divination

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1. Definition.-Primitive man, under the influence of animatism and animism, came to think of himself as surrounded by in numerable spirits. These in course of time became differentiated into gods, goddesses, demons, ghosts, etc. These beings could influence, enter into, and animate not only each other, but human beings, beasts, and things. Man gradually realized that it was his duty to discover and cultivate relations, friendly or defensive, with these-a duty intensified by his covetousness of good and his aversion to calamities or privations. Some of the methods he employed for doing this became regulated and systematized into forms of worship, i.e. approved methods of approaching and propitiating the spirits. As these forms became more and more universally recognized, they acquired a sacred character, which differentiated them from, and placed them on a higher level than, other ceremonies. Still the latter continued to be practised, because the forms of worship did not meet all men’s necessities. Unusual circumstances occurred through which, or on account of which, the divinities communicated with men, or by reason of which men felt the need of communicating with those beings in whose hands lay the destinies of their lives. These survivals of the lower culture, from which the regular forms of worship had shaken themselves free, may be grouped under the name ‘Divination.’

The Latin name for a divine being was deus. Divus indicates the quality possessed by a thing which makes it ‘godlike’; divinus rather the qualities which mate a being ‘divine’; divinitas means ‘the divine nature’; divinare, ‘to see like a god’; and divinatio, ‘the power of seeing like a god.’ This came to be confined, in ordinary use, to the power of foreseeing. But the word has a much wider meaning. To Chrysippus and the Stoics, ‘divination’ was the means of communication between the gods and men. Cicero (de Div. i. 38) argues that, if there are gods, there must be men who have the power of communicating with them. In English ‘divination’ has the wider meaning akin to the original significance. Divination then rests on the idea that, apart from forms of worship, a divinity and a human being can, when necessary, come into living touch with each other, the divinity acting on or through the man, thus revealing his mind to him; or the man by approved methods so revealing his mind to the divinity that the latter acts on or through him.

2. Divination and magic.-Just as worship, by becoming systematized, left behind it the forms of communication called ‘divination,’ so divination, as it became more regulated and elaborated in the hands of professional diviners, left behind it cruder and lower forms of communication which may all be included under the term ‘magic.’* [Note: C. Haddon, Magic and Fetishism, 1906; F. B. Jevons, Comparative Religion, 1913.] The distinction between divination and magic may be briefly and not inaccurately stated thus: the diviner is in touch with the divinities because he is their servant; the magician, because, for the time being, he is their master. Thus, each of these forms of communication, though existing alongside of each other and accepted by the same people, has its own distinctive features.

3. Development.-If we think of the above three methods of communication between the divinities and men as existing, in embryo, in the earliest ages, we can realize how they were each developed by such great races as the Semites and the Aryans, and how the common inheritance of each of thesis was developed along distinctive lines by the different nations springing from them. Thus, to confine our attention to divination, we have that of the Semites,* [Note: Robertson Smith, RS2, 1894; Th. Nöldeke, Sketches from Eastern History, Eng. tr., 1892; ERE i. 390; J. E. Carpenter, Comparative Religion, 1913; HDB v. 83 ff. and the Literature there mentioned.] developing into that of the Mesopotamians,† [Note: E. Carpenter, op. cit.; A. H. Sayce, Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 1887; G. Maspero, Dawm of Civilization2, 1896; Stephen Langdon, ‘Private Penance,’ in Transactions of the Third International Congress for the History of Religions, 1908, p. 249; L. W. King, Bab. Magic and Sorcery, 1896, Bab. Religion and Mythology, 1899; L. R. Farnell, Greece and Babylon, 1911; ERE i. 316, iv. 783, and Literature there mentioned; R. C. Thompson, The Report of the Magicians and Astrologers of Nineveh and Babylon, 1900, also The Devils and Evil Spirits of Babylonia, 1903-04.] Persians,‡ [Note: ERE iv. 818; J. H. Moulton, Early Religious Poetry of Persia, 1911.] Jews,§ [Note: ERE iv. 806; S. A. Cook, The Religion of Ancient Palestine, 1908: T. W. Davies, Magic, Divination, and Demonology among the Hebrews and their Neighbours, 1898; HDB i. 611 ff.] and Arabians;|| [Note: | ERE i. 659.] and that of the Aryans,¶ [Note: v. lhering, The Evolution of the Aryan, tr. Drucker, 1897; I. Taylor, The Origin of the Aryans, 1889; ERE i. 11 and the Literature there mentioned.] developing into that of the Vedas,** [Note: * Ib. iv. 827.] Greeks,†† [Note: † W. R. Halliday, Greek Divination, 1913; ERE iv. 796, vi. 401; Gilbert Murray, Four Stages of Greek Religion, 1912.] Romans,‡‡ [Note: ‡ W. Warde Fowler, The Religious Experience of the Roman People, 1911; ERE iv. 820.] Celts,§§ [Note: § Ib. iii. 277, iv. 787.] Teutons,|||| [Note: ||| Ib. iv. 827.] and Lithuanians;¶|¶ [Note: |¶ Ib. iv. 814.] while that of the Egyptians strongly influenced and was influenced by many of these.*** [Note: ** Ib. vi. 374; F. Cumont, The Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism, Eng. tr., 1911, p. 73 ff.]

The Pax Romana and the toleration of the Roman Government permitted the cults of innumerable divinities and all these forms of divination to spread throughout the Empire; and Jews, Christians, worshippers of all kinds of Eastern and Egyptian deities, diviners, ‘magicians, astrologers, and wizards jostled each other in a theological confusion to which no parallel can be found’ (K. Lake, The Earlier Epistles of St. Paul, 1911, p. 47).

4. Divination in the Apostolic Age.-It is difficult, but necessary, to realize this amazing profusion of divinities as a distinct feature of the Apostolic Age. Besides mentioning Jahweh, the God of the Hebrews, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, worshipped by the Christians, and some of the innumerable ethnic deities, the literature of the Apostolic Age contains references to angels, archangels, living creatures, Satan, the Devil, the Wicked One, the Antichrist, demons, unclean and evil powers, dominions, principalities, authorities, thrones, and glories.

It is not easy to decide how far belief in these affected the various classes. But practically this is true: each man had his favourite divinity to which all Gentiles added a select group of deities whom they reverenced. Rationalists like the Sadducees denied the existence of ἄγγελοι and πνεύματα (Acts 23:8); many of the more educated viewed the existence of the minor supernatural beings with more or less scepticism; but the mass of people lived in the belief and the fear of these divine beings. In that age men felt themselves surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1), living in a world where the gods appeared (Acts 14:11; Acts 28:6), where Jesus appeared to St. Paul (Acts 9:17; Acts 9:27; Acts 26:16) and to Stephen (Acts 7:56), and His Spirit prohibited action (Acts 16:7), where an itinerant preacher was received as a messenger of God, or even as Christ Jesus re-incarnated (Galatians 4:14); where the Holy Spirit was a distinct living personality, where the assertion that a man was the Son of God made a Roman governor tremble (John 19:8), and the patience of His death caused a Roman centurion to exclaim: ‘This was a Son of God’ (Matthew 27:54). In such a world the Satan fashioned himself into an ἄγγελος φωτός (2 Corinthians 11:14), δαίμονες entered into men, and were cast out by men (Luke 11:19, Mark 9:38), converts to the religion of Jesus who had believed and were baptized proposed to purchase the ability to confer the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:19), the power of the evil eye was exercised (Mark 7:22), and ἀρχαί and δυνἁμεις, ‘principalities’ and ‘powers’ (Romans 8:38), ‘mustered their unseen array.’ Nor must we think that the Christians stood far removed from the common beliefs of the age. This is clear from many things. Think of their belief in the Satan, the antagonist who stood over against God. He was conceived as a huge dragon, or old serpent (Revelation 12:9; Revelation 13:11 [as amended by Charles in his Studies in the Apocalypse, 1913, p. 100] Revelation 20:2), and as such was identified with διάβολος. He was regarded as having his abode in the skies, in which he and his ἄγγελοι had been defeated by an ἀρχάγγελος Michael and his ἄγγελοι, and thrown down on the earth (Revelation 12:7-9) to be flung into the abyss for a thousand years (Revelation 20:3; Revelation 20:7). He had his subordinate spirits. Special mention is made of ‘the Lawless One’ [according to א B] (2 Thessalonians 2:3), and the ἄγγελοι who fought for him (Revelation 12:7-9), and afflicted men’s bodies (2 Corinthians 12:7), and even destroyed them (1 Corinthians 5:5). He himself could masquerade as ἄγγελος φωτός (2 Corinthians 11:14), and could equip his servants with full powers, the miracles and portents of falsehood, and the full deceitfulness of evil (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10). The Satan was the adversary of men; his chief aim was to seduce to wrong (Revelation 20:3; Revelation 20:8; Revelation 20:10, Ephesians 2:2) by tempting to such sins as lying, cheating (Acts 5:3), incontinence (1 Corinthians 7:5, 1 Timothy 5:15), gross sexual excess, ‘his deep mysteries’ (Revelation 2:24, Ephesians 2:3). He gains advantages by clever manœuvres (2 Corinthians 2:11). He is the accuser of the members of the Christian brotherhood (Revelation 12:10). He hinders good endeavours (1 Thessalonians 2:18), but the God of peace crushes him under His people’s feet (Romans 16:20). Jews hostile to the religion of Jesus are thought of by the Christians as his servants who form his synagogue (Revelation 2:9; Revelation 3:9), and in places noted for wickedness he dwells in power as a king on his throne (Revelation 2:13). By a deliberate act of judgment an offender could be consigned to the Satan’s power for the destruction of his body (1 Corinthians 5:5, 1 Timothy 1:20).

The natural and inevitable outcome of this multiplicity of divinities was the universal practice of divination. The testimony of history to this fact is fully confirmed by the discovery of contemporary texts, among which are ‘innumerable … horoscopes, amulets, cursing tablets, and magical books.… The whole ancient world is full of miracles’ (Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East2, 1911, pp. 284, 393). Divination and magic were prevalent not merely among sects like the Essenes, but among the Jews generally (Schürer, History of the Jewish People (Eng. tr. of GJV).] II. iii. [1886] p. 151ff., II. ii. [1855] p. 204). The writings of the Apostolic Fathers show the relation of the Christians to these arts. In the Didache among other commandments are these, ‘thou shalt not practise magic, thou shalt not use enchantments,’ οὐ μαγεύσεις, οὐ φαρμακεύσεις (ii.), and this entreaty, ‘become not an omen-watcher, nor one who uses charms, nor an astrologer, nor one who purifies,’ i.e. one who averts disease or removes sin by sacrifices, μὴ γἰνου οἱωνοσκόποςμηδὲ ἐπαοιδὸς, μηδὲ μαθηματικὸς, μηδὲ περικαθαίρων (iii.). Hermas (Mand. xi. 4) cautions Christians not to consult soothsayers (μαντεύονται). The Didache describes the Way of Death as full, among other things, of ‘magical arts and potions,’ μαγεῖαι, φαρμακίαι (v.), while in the Way of Darkness, among other things that destroy the soul, are ‘potions and magical arts,’ φαρμακεία, μαγεία (Ep. Barn. xx.). Ignatius speaks of the birth of Jesus as destroying or making ridiculous every kind of magic, πᾶσα μαγεία (Eph. 19.), and exhorts his readers ‘to flee evil arts,’ τὰς κακοτεχνίας φεῦγε, but all the more to discourse in public regarding them (Ep. to Polycarp, v.). In Ps.-Ignatius, Ep. to the Antiochians, xi., ‘the practice of magic,’ γοητέας, is a vice forbidden even to the Gentiles. Aristides (Apol. xi.) in indicating the things which Christians should not do, omits all reference to divination or magic, and a similar omission is noticeable in Ep. Barn. xix. and in 1 Clement, xxx, xxxv. Hero is warned (Ps.-Ignatius, Ep. to Hero, ii.) to distrust any one teaching beyond what is commanded, even ‘though he work miracles,’ κἄν σημεῖα ποιῆ. In the description which Aristides declares the Greeks give of their gods, he writes that they say some of them were ‘sorcerers,’ φαρμακούς [Apol. viii.), ‘practising sorcery,’ φαρμακείας (xiii.), and he calls Hermes ‘a magician,’ μάγον (x.). But it is noticeable that in Ps.-Ignatius, Ep. to the Antiochians, xii. among the Church officials is ‘the exorcist,’ ἐπορκιστής, and in the Ep. to the Philippians, v., Christ is by way of honour called ‘this magician,’ μάγος οὖτος, while in Ephesians, xx., the sacramental bread is called ‘the medicine of immortality,’ φάρμακον ἀθανασίας. Pagan testimony is to the same effect. The Emperor Hadrian (a.d. 117-138), writing to the Consul Servianus on the state of Egypt, says: ‘There is no ruler of a synagogue of Jews, no Samaritan, no Presbyter of the Christians who is not an astrologer, a soothsayer, a quack [mathematicus, haruspex, aliptes]’ (Script. Hist. August., 1774, ‘Vopisci Saturninus,’ 8).

These supernatural beings communicated with men by means of ἄγγελοι (‘angels’ or ‘messengers’) or prophets, by possession, by means of the hand, tongues, dreams, visions, trances, voices, sounds.

The human beings in touch with these supernatural beings, were variously named exorcists, soothsayers, sorcerers, enchanters; and, lower still, magicians, witches, and wizards. They had various methods of bringing the power of the divinities to act on men, all of which may be classed into two groups: (a) regular: blessing, cursing, pronouncing anathema, invoking the Name, embracing, laying on of hands, shadowing, signs and wonders, as e.g. healing, or smiting with disease such as blindness; (b) exceptional: the lot, the vow, the oath, and committing to Satan.

As religion has become spiritualized, divination has more and more lost its hold on the minds of men. The ultimate end will be reached when worship shall be the approach to the One Father by a man, who, because he is taught and led by the indwelling Spirit of Jesus, needs no divination, and who, because he can proffer his requests to the Father in prayer, scorns all magic. But the end is not yet.

Literature.-There is no book dealing with Divination in the Apostolic Age. Reference to its various phases will be found in modern Commentaries and in works on Comparative Religion, and Anthropology, as those of E. B. Tylor, A. E. Crawley, J. G. Frazer, F.B, Jevons, J. H. Leuba, and R. R. Marett. In addition to these and the authorities cited throughout the article , reference may be made to F. W. H. Myers, on ‘Greek Oracles,’ in Essays, 1883, and to the series of articles in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics vi. 775ff.

P. A. Gordon Clark.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Divination'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/d/divination.html. 1906-1918.

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