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?


8 Answers 8


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.
  • 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. Commented Oct 31, 2011 at 22:15
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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? Commented Mar 2, 2012 at 21:14
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    @false0start, But what is Sheol?
    – Amichai
    Commented Mar 2, 2012 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. Commented Mar 2, 2012 at 23:25
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    +1 Good answer. It seems logical to me that Yahweh enabled Samuel to make an appearance, for the purpose of scaring the pants of the woman and Saul, and to leave further evidence for readers that Saul still didn't comprehend the existence of Yahweh, which is why he was rejected as king. The text indicates that Saul bowed down to Samuel.
    – enegue
    Commented Oct 22, 2016 at 4:53

In answering this question we have at least two possibilities:

  1. The Samuel that Saul saw was real

If the Samuel that Saul saw was real, ie, a spirit or soul of Samuel in heaven, then,

  • according to this chapter, heaven is under the earth because, the text repeatedly says that Samuel was "brought UP' out of the earth, V8, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15. See appendix 2.
  • an illegal witch (Lev 19:31, Deut 18:9-12, Isa 8:19, 29:4) can command the presence of a dead prophet. Necromancy and witchcraft was strictly forbidden in Israel. Deut 18:9-14. Therefore, an illegal and immoral witch could NOT command the presence of Samuel's "spirit". See appendix 1 below.
  • Saul prostrated himself before "Samuel" (1 Sam 28:14) - another illegal act because of the first and second commandments as well as, 34:14; Deut 8:19, 2 Kings 17:35-38 commanding people to worship only God. I note that "Samuel" did not object as other did under similar circumstances, eg, Acts 10:25, 26, Rev 19:10, 22:8, 9.
  • It is extremely unlikely that when God refused to answer Saul by the usual (legal) methods, 1 Sam 28:6, that God would then allow an illegal method for answering Saul!
  1. The Samuel that Saul saw was a demonic trick to deceive Saul

By contrast, if what Saul saw was a demonic trick, apparition to deceive him, then Samuel's prophecy is simply stating what was rather obvious - Saul would die in battle the following day.

It did not take divine intelligence to be able to predict this.

Further, according to Jesus, (John 3:13) - "No one has ascended into heaven except the One who descended from heaven—the Son of Man."

Therefore, what Saul saw was either the result of the witch's trickery or, more likely, an apparition of demonic spirits pretending to be Samuel.

APPENDIX 1 - Deut 18 - Sorcery and Necromancy forbidden

9 When you enter the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. 10 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire,a practices divination or conjury, interprets omens, practices sorcery, 11 casts spells, consults a medium or spiritist, or inquires of the dead. 12 For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD. And because of these detestable things, the LORD your God is driving out the nations before you.

13 You must be blameless before the LORD your God. 14 Though these nations, which you will dispossess, listen to conjurers and diviners, the LORD your God has not permitted you to do so.

APPENDIX 2 - Hades and the Bosom of Abraham

There are some who believe the unbiblical concept of the Bosom of Abraham being Hades, below the earth somewhere. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bosom_of_Abraham.

Under such a scheme, Hades is divided into two, four or six different regions to house the dead depending how they are classified and whose mythology one consults. Such an idea is not taught in the Scripture.

In the OT, Hades, or She'ol is uniformly the place of the dead and entirely dark and is the destination of all people regardless of the life they have lived. It is only in post-Babylonian mythology that this idea arises.

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 is just that - a parable steeped in Jewish mythology. Despite all this, many still believe that the parable of the rich man and Lazarus as told by Christ in Luke 16:19-31 is a literal representation of heaven and hell after death. This view has some serious problems, for example:

  1. If this parable is understood literally, are we to interpret all parables literally? Did the trees in Judges 9:8-15 really hold a political conference? Is the shrewd (and dishonest) manager a real model of behaviour in Luke 16:1-8? Will the angels actually use scythes to gather the righteous “harvest” into the kingdom as explained in Matt 13:24 - 30? Will we all wear “wedding garments” in heaven, and will there be a few who accidentally get in who shouldn't have as in Matt 22:1-14? Rather, parables must be understood as teaching by analogy (that is the meaning of the Greek word parabole). In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus the point of the story is given in the text, “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” Luke 16:31.
  2. If this parable is understood literally, will it really be possible for the suffering of those in Hades to be relieved by a single drop of water (Luke 16:24)? Do the saints actually live in “the bosom of Abraham,” (Luke 16:22)? Are the sections of Hades so close that it is possible to have a conversation between the inhabitants of each despite the chasm between? Will the rest of the righteous in Hades be somehow enhanced by the spectacle of a numberless mass writhing in agony? It is at this point that a literal interpretation collapses under the weight of its own absurdities!
  3. There are yet more problems with the literal understanding of this parable. The word for hell here is Hades (Luke 16:23). All other references to Hades in the New Testament show Hades to be a place of unconsciousness and darkness; never with fire. Gehenna is the place of fiery destruction. This provides another clue to the correct allegorical interpretation.
  4. A literal interpretation of this parable would have people judges as righteous or wicked and receive their reward immediately at death. This contradicts the plain teaching of Scripture that man receives his reward at the resurrection, see Rev 22:12, “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.” Luke 14:14 says: “Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” 2 Tim 4:8 says: “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” See also 1 Cor 15:51-54.

In short, as Dr William Smith (Dictionary of the Bible, vol 2, p.1038) insists: “It is impossible to ground the proof of an important doctrine on a passage which confessedly abounds in Jewish metaphor.”

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    What about a third option: Samuel was brought up from Abraham's bosom (in Sheol), which is not the same as heaven?
    – user38524
    Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 22:08
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator - then you would need to produce evidence that Abraham's bosom was in Hades - an impossible task. In common Jewish mythology, Abraham's bosom is in paradise/heaven.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 22:08
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    See Luke 16 and the book of Enoch
    – user38524
    Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 22:10
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator - Luke 16 also suggests that the poor man was in Abraham's bosom and by contradistinction, the rich man was in Hades with a great chasm between.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 22:12
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    @NihilSineDeo - agreed. The disguise may have been for the public. However, I still agree histrionics is more likely.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 3:56

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).


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.


I'll suggest 3 possibilities:

Where did Samuel come from?

  1. Sheol
  2. The witch's imagination
  3. A diabolical counterfeit

1. Sheol

This chapter is sometimes used to argue for the consciousness of the dead--while I agree that verse 19 does suggest a contemporary worldview that the dead were conscious--I believe this chapter is overall a weak presentation of post-mortal consciousness.

As already noted by Dottard, if God was unwilling to answer Saul through approved means, why would He permit Saul to receive the answer through forbidden, diabolical means? (see Deut. 18). This would appear to be rewarding bad behavior.

The plausible counter-argument is that God allowed this to happen as both a warning & a punishment to Saul for his wickedness. I don't find this argument compelling, but some do.

2. The witch's imagination

The witch may have made it all up. She was apparently already known as a necromancer (see verse 7), meaning she had done this kind of thing before. So either she was regularly in communion with evil spirits, or she was a really good (and dishonest) storyteller. In the latter case, Samuel came from nowhere but her imagination.

3. A diabolical counterfeit

That evil spirits can communicate (at least in some circumstances) with the living is attested by Mark 5:7-13. We are given precious little detail on how this works, except that necromancy is strictly prohibited by God (again see Deut. 18).


In my view, the explanation that requires the fewest assumptions is #2, that the witch made everything up. Although we may not be able to entirely rule out the other possibilities, any other explanation requires the witch to be a trustworthy source.

Though we are told "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart" (see Proverbs 3:5), we are never told "trust in evil spirits because they know what they're talking about". I do not take a professional counterfeiter's word at face value.


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.

  • 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. Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 5:09

Since the first day of the serpent in the garden it was so the scripture not given to private interpretation here a little there alitte God is all

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    – Community Bot
    Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 3:07

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? Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 22:23

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