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Appropriate to today, I was thinking about the time when Saul visited the Medium of En-dor in 1 Samuel 28:8-14 (ESV):

So Saul disguised himself and put on other garments and went, he and two men with him. And they came to the woman by night. And he said, “Divine for me by a spirit and bring up for me whomever I shall name to you.” The woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the necromancers from the land. Why then are you laying a trap for my life to bring about my death?” But Saul swore to her by the LORD, “As the LORD lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.” Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” He said, “Bring up Samuel for me.” When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul.” The king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What do you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I see a god coming up out of the earth.” He said to her, “What is his appearance?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage.

Where did the woman bring Samuel from and are there any other passages in the Tanakh that give us an indication of what sort of existence people have after death?

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It's important to realize that Saul is unambiguously violating a biblical prohibition in seeking out Samuel:

There shall not be found among you any one who maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or who useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, mediums, necromancers or a doresh el hametim. —Deuteronomy 18:10-18 (mostly KJV)

  • The Hebrew words for “mediums and necromancers” in Deuteronomy 18 are the same words used in 1 Samuel 28:9 as a description of the profession this woman is illegally engaging in.

  • "Doresh el hametim" is translated in various ways, but the literal translation is “seeker of the dead” which is exactly what Saul intends to do here.

From “Net Notes” on doresh el hametim in the NET Bible Study Environment:

20 tn Heb “a seeker of the dead.” This is much the same as “one who conjures up spirits” (cf. 1 Sam 28:6-7).

What exactly transpires between Saul, the medium and the spirit of Samuel is a well debated issue among commentators. I prefer the opinion that says the woman was a charlatan and a quack, much like the fortune tellers and palm readers of our own time.

Saul has visited this woman because God has been ignoring him:

And when Saul inquired of the LORD, the LORD did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets. (1 Samuel 28:6 ESV)

Saul has tried to communicate with God through the efficacious and legally prescribed channels. God's silence has made Saul so incredibly anxious that he has now turned toward prohibited and false modes of superstition.

With this background, we can understand why Saul tells the woman “do not be afraid.” Apparently, the medium did not expect Samuel to appear to her and when Samuel actually does appear as prophetic vision, the woman freaks out, and understandably so.

Where did the woman bring Samuel from and are there any other passages in the Tanakh that give us an indication of what sort of existence people have after death?

My answer:

  • The Tanakh has nothing specific to say about what happens to people after they die.
  • The woman Saul was dealing with had no real knowledge about what happens to dead people or how to contact them.
  • Don't try this at home. Contacting the dead through mediums and other types of pseudo-religious superstitions are explicitly prohibited in the Bible. Most people who claim to have the ability to tell the future or speak to the dead are liars.
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I wholeheartedly agree with your final point (and much of the rest of the answer). It does seem likely that the woman never saw anything like what happened when Samuel approached her. – Jon Ericson Oct 31 '11 at 22:15
If so, how come the women give a very accurate prophecy? Also who wrote that part of the bible anyway given that Saul is doing it secretly. Is his autobiographer nearby? – Jim Thio Nov 19 '11 at 14:07
"The Tanakh has nothing specific to say about what happens to people after they die." Doesn't this statement sort of fly in the face of the idea of Sheol littered throughout the Hebrew Scriptures as the place of the dead? – false0start Mar 2 '12 at 21:14
@false0start, But what is Sheol? – Amichai Mar 2 '12 at 21:50
It is the land of shadow where all the departed souls go. It is analogous to the Greek conception of Hades (the Septuagint simply substitutes the word "Hades" for "Sheol"). It was initially a place where all went and was separated in Second Temple Judaism into two parts, one for the righteous and one for sinners. Hence NT references to the Bosom of Abraham as in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. – false0start Mar 2 '12 at 23:25

Notice that the Soul of Samuel still is aware of what will happened in the future:

The Lord will deliver both Israel and you into the hands of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me.

I think he is in the Bosom of Abraham, a place where Lazarus was taken after he died (see Luke 16:19-31).

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