I've been wondering how silver cups could have been used to practice divination. It was practiced in Egypt according to the following passage.

Gen 44:5

Isn’t this the cup my master drinks from and also uses for divination? This is a wicked thing you have done.

This was what the Joseph's servant told his brothers when the silver cup was found in Benjamin's sack.


I want to know how Egyptians and other cultures of that era practiced divination using cups, silver cups in particular.

  • Is this on topic? It seems like a question about Egyptian history rather than a question about Biblical Hermeneutics.
    – Alex
    Jul 8 '18 at 2:45
  • @Alex Yes it is on topic. Sometimes we need extra biblical information in order to better understand scriptural narratives. Silver is of deep symbolic meaning in the Bible. In the law it was used as money and for redemption( which was what it symbolised). Some articles were made of gold and others of silver, others of bronze. So I want to understand how and why it had to be a silver and not a golden or brazen cup used for divination. I hope you get it now.
    – user20490
    Jul 8 '18 at 7:15
  • @Alex looks like a good question to me, too. +1
    – Dan
    Jul 10 '18 at 7:02

The commentaries I consulted did not have an authoritative answer nor a convincing suggestion. I suspect that what was being referred to is "scrying":

Scrying (Wikipedia)

One looks intently at any of a variety of reflective surfaces such as a metal cup, a crystal ball, a chicken's liver, obsidian stone (such as arrow heads), a pond, etc. and interprets the obscure reflections therein.

Since Joseph had earned a reputation of accurately interpreting dreams he may have been esteemed as a diviner and used his reputation to lend credence to his fabricated story to his brothers:

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary 5. Is not this it in which my lord drinketh—not only kept for the governor's personal use, but whereby he divines. Divination by cups, to ascertain the course of futurity, was one of the prevalent superstitions of ancient Egypt, as it is of Eastern countries still. It is not likely that Joseph, a pious believer in the true God, would have addicted himself to this superstitious practice. But he might have availed himself of that popular notion to carry out the successful execution of his stratagem for the last decisive trial of his brethren.

Micah 3 seems to suggest that some prophets in Israel were "diviners":

NIV Micah 3: 5This is what the Lord says: “As for the prophets who lead my people astray, they proclaim ‘peace’ if they have something to eat, but prepare to wage war against anyone who refuses to feed them. 6Therefore night will come over you, without visions, and darkness, without divination. The sun will set for the prophets, and the day will go dark for them. 7The seers will be ashamed and the diviners disgraced. They will all cover their faces because there is no answer from God.” 8But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin.

Micah does not condemn the practice explicitly but he does attribute his own success to power and virtue from God.

  • 1
    Thanks ruminator. A very useful answer, the scrying aspect.
    – user20490
    Nov 26 '17 at 16:47
  • Tea leaves perhaps? Feb 9 '18 at 17:20
  • @JamesShewey 😂😂😂 tea leaves??
    – user20490
    Feb 9 '18 at 18:18
  • 1
    I guess the technical name is Tasseography but it looks to be a later practice. Feb 9 '18 at 18:41

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