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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? – user4951 Nov 19 '11 at 14:07
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    "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
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    @false0start, But what is Sheol? – Amichai Mar 2 '12 at 21:50
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    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
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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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The King James Bible frequently refers to "ghosts" as "familiar spirits" which tells us that they are not in fact the spirits of the departed but spirits that are familiar with them, so when Mediums claim they are contacting a dead person, Scripture is explicit that this is not the case. So with that being said, it could be suggested that the Medium sought by Saul had absolutely nothing to do with raising Samuel from the grave. In fact, it could be proposed that it was in fact God who raised Samuel - who spoke the prophesy from his own lips as opposed to being heard through the Medium - which may may explain why she was so terrified.

By doing this, God is in no way encouraging seeking Mediums - in fact, quite the opposite happens in this instance since the prophesy spoken by Samuel came to pass, which therefore had to be from God Himself.

As for Samuel coming up from the ground, this is not surprising since prior to the burial and resurrection of Christ, Paradise (also referred to as Abrmahams bosom) was located in the Sheol (the belly of the earth) and both righteous and unrighteousness were separated by a chasm as spoken of in Luke 16:19-31.

Mediums are usually "channellers" of spirits and such spirits are deceptive, again, the fact that Samuels prophesy that Saul and sons would be dead came to pass, is persuasive in telling us that this not only was (a) the real prophet Samuel speaking, but (b) a prophetic judgement from God brought upon Saul by himself.

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  • Naomi - "The King James Bible frequently refers to "ghosts" as 'familiar spirits.'" This claim, along with others, are "presumptuous" and appear untrue. It would be more helpful if you started the question from a "text" - to establish the merit of the question. Otherwise, it seems that you are misleading people to respond to a question based on faulty premises - which, ultimately, does not add any interpretive value. – elika kohen Jul 20 '17 at 5:09
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1 Samuel 28:8-14 describes the witch of Endor practicing necromancy in order to reveal the future outcome of Israel's war with the Philistines to King Saul. This practice was considered to be an abomination unto to the LORD and it's practitioners were to be executed.

The Israelites originally believed that all the souls or shades of the dead, whether righteous or evil, went to Sheol. In this place the dead didn't know anything, they didn't have knowledge, it was void of light and sound, and they were completely cut off from God. (See Job 10:21-22, Psalms 94:17, Psalms 6:5, Ecclesiastes 9:10)

But this story of a witch summoning Saul's shade represents a shift in thinking about the state of the dead and Sheol. They're not really dead, they can be contacted, and they do have knowledge because they know the future.

So since necromancy is the magical art of talking to the dead and since the dead were believed to be in Sheol located under the earth, it can only be assumed that the author of 1st Samuel wants us to believe that Samuel's shade was summoned up from Sheol. After all, the witch asked Saul, 'Who shall I bring up'

Isaiah 8:19 is another verse that shows that the Israelites believed the dead could be contacted by using magic.

Isaiah 8:19 (NIV) When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?

In magical theory, whispering, muttering, chirping, and the making of other animal sounds were necessary to contact the dead.

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The Lord uses the evil spirits to do as they will in order to teach people the effects of choosing that kind of life, this is apparent as you read the bible about the Israelites when they chose to disobey the lord, this is true today. No doubt "Samuel" when he was "brought up" was an evil spirit.

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    This doesn't seem to answer my question. Could you explain in more detail where you see in the text that the apparition wasn't Samuel, but an evil spirit? – Jon Ericson Mar 20 '18 at 22:23

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