Necromancy in the Bible
In the Bible necromancy is mentioned chiefly in order to forbid it or to reprove those who have recourse to it.
The Hebrew term 'ôbôth (sing., 'ôbh) denotes primarily the spirits of the dead, or "pythons", as the Vulgate calls them (Deuteronomy 18:11; Isaiah 19:3), who were consulted in order to learn the future (Deuteronomy 18:10, 11; 1 Samuel 28:8), and gave their answers through certain persons in whom they resided (Leviticus 20:27; 1 Samuel 28:7), but is also applied to the persons themselves who were supposed to foretell events under the guidance of these "divining" or "pythonic" spirits (Leviticus 20:6; 1 Samuel 28:3, 9; Isaiah 19:3).
The term yidde 'onim (from yada, "to know"), which is also used, but always in conjunction with 'obôth, refers either to knowing spirits and persons through whom they spoke, or to spirits who were known and familiar to the wizards.
The term 'obh signifies both "a diviner" and "a leathern bag for holding water" (Job — xxxii, 19 — uses it in the latter sense), but scholars are not agreed whether we have two disparate words, or whether it is the same word with two related meanings.
Many maintain that it is the same in both instances as the diviner was supposed to be the recipient and the container of the spirit. The Septuagint translates 'obôth, as diviners, by "ventriloquists" (eggastrimthouoi), either because the translators thought that the diviner's alleged communication with the spirit was but a deception, or rather because of the belief common in antiquity that ventriloquism was not a natural faculty, but due to the presence of a spirit.
Perhaps, also, the two meanings may be connected on account of the peculiarity of the voice of the ventriloquist, which was weak and indistinct, as if it came from a cavity. Isaias (8:19) says that necromancers "mutter" and makes the following prediction concerning Jerusalem: "Thou shalt speak out of the earth, and thy speech shall be heard out of the ground, and thy voice shall be from the earth like that of the python and out of the ground thy speech shall mutter" (xxix, 4).
Profane authors also attribute a distinctive sound to the voice of the spirits or shades, although they do not agree in characterizing it. Homer (Iliad, XXIII, 101; Od., XXIV, 5, 9) uses the verb trizein, and Statius (Thebais, VII, 770) stridere, both of which mean "to utter a shrill cry"; Horace qualifies their voice as triste et acutum (Sat., I, viii, 40); Virgil speaks of their vox exigua (Æneid, VI, 492) and of the gemitus lacrymabilis which is heard from the grave (op. cit., III, 39); and in a similar way Shakespeare says that "the sheeted dead did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets" (Hamlet, I, i).
The Mosaic Law forbids necromancy (Leviticus 19:31; 20:6), declares that to seek the truth from the dead is abhorred by God (Deuteronomy 18:11, 12), and even makes it punishable by death (Leviticus 20:27; cf. 1 Samuel 28:9).
Nevertheless, owing especially to the contact of the Hebrews with pagan nations, we find it practised in the time of Saul (1 Samuel 28:7, 9), of Isaias, who strongly reproves the Hebrews on this ground (8:19; 19:3; 29:4, etc.), and of Manasses (2 Kings 21:6; 2 Chronicles 33:6).
The best known case of necromancy in the Bible is the evocation of the soul of Samuel at Endor (1 Samuel 28). King Saul was at war with the Philistines, whose army had gathered near that of Israel. He "was afraid and his heart was very much dismayed. And he consulted the Lord, and he answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by priests, nor by prophets" (5, 6). Then he went to Endor, to a woman who had "a divining spirit", and persuaded her to call the soul of Samuel. The woman alone saw the prophet, and Saul recognized him from the description she gave of him. But Saul himself spoke and heard the prediction that, as the Lord had abandoned him on account of his disobedience, he would be defeated and killed.