Mistranslated Bible Quotes: “Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Witch to Live”
What This Phrase Does, and Does Not Mean
Sep 26, 2011
You know that line (Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live), was actually never included in the original Bible.
King James himself, (Who wrote the King James version) was extremely afraid of witches and pagans, and CHANGED the original text to serve his own purposes.
The original line was “Thou shalt not suffer a poisoner to live.” Which means murderer
In the original Hebrew manuscript, the author used the word m’khashepah to describe the person who should be killed.
The word means a woman who uses spoken spells to harm others – e.g. causing their death or loss of property.
Clearly “evil sorceress” or “woman who does evil magic” would be the most accurate phrases in today’s English usage for this verse.
The word witch carries a lot of connotations in this modern, diverse world.
Especially since the new age movement of the 1960s, which gave us both Wicca and the Satanic Bible, the word witch has come to refer to a practitioner of an Earth centric, pagan, typically positive faith. A pretty far cry from the devil-worshiping hags and the horror stories put on record at the Salem Witch Trials and at hundreds of trials before that during the European witch craze.
But the word witch is almost universally female, with the word warlock typically being used to refer to men.
For the explanation of why that is, you’re going to have to go back to Exodus 22:18 in the King James Bible. “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”
That one quote, which shows up this way in the 1500s when the KJB was first put together, reflects the views of Christianity at the time.
The Inquisition had been going on for more than a century, and the witch hunter’s handbook the Malleus Maleficarum had already become one of the first international best sellers thanks to Gutenberg’s printing press.
Thousands had been tried and put to death in witch trials, and fear of any contact with someone who might be a witch hadn’t yet faded from the populace. In fact it wouldn’t be till the close of the 1500s that witch trials became a thing of the past.
So despite other biblical translations reading the word as sorceress or woman that practices magic, the word witch has firmly settled into this quote in most people’s minds.
Here’s where things get hinky with the language.
Obviously just as Jesus was a dark skinned Middle Eastern Jew, the Bible was originally written in Hebrew rather than English.
The Hebrew was translated to Greek or Latin, and then into German by Martin Luther. English translations came later of course.
As anyone who knows a foreign language can tell you, some ideas, words and concepts simply do not cross over well from one language to another.
It’s why the idea of Lucifer as a fallen angel exists, even though it’s nothing more than a translation error.
In fact even in the most painstakingly crafted translations, errors can result in very different meanings. Exodus 22:18 is one such example.
According to Reginald Scot, who wrote a book on this subject in 1580, the word we know as witch was actually chasapah in the original language.
The translation of this word was poorly done, according to Scot, who states that chasapah in Latin is Veneficium which can be a poisoner or one who practices witchcraft. Ignoring that poison is a genuine problem in that period in time, let’s say that evil witchcraft was in fact the original goal.
In Latin the term used rather than Veneficium is maleficos, which is a gender neutral term for witch.
However when it was translated to German the word became Die Zuberinnen. This made the word witch a female term, though it was written in the margin that this could apply equally to a male. But the damage was done.
After Luther’s Bible the notion that witches could be male was paid some attention, but it was generally ignored since the word witch or sorceress was so clearly female in the text. That and because those who became witches were supposed to have sexual consort with the devil, and no one had manufactured the biblical case against homosexuality just yet.
It was the same way that the idea of poisoning was also thrown aside as a potential translation, and of course as a crime that could be proven.
The mistake had become the norm, and that norm was used to persecute women and to feed into the idea that women were somehow a lesser sex that was more base, carnal and prone to corruption by the devil.
And all of that fed into the fears of a changing culture as the Middle Ages slipped into the Renaissance and the church needed a new bad guy to maintain power.
Witches, plague spreaders and demon summoners, were just amorphous enough to stir up a terrified population in the wake of the Black Death, and that fear lasted for several centuries more as the panic spread in ripples from Germany and out into the various corners of the Christian world before, finally, burning itself out.
~~ Or did it burn itself out? The answer to that is NO, there is to this day a form of these thoughts among a surprising number of belief systems & cultures.~~