Drug Abuse in Scripture and Other extra-Biblical Writings
THE MEDIEVAL CONCEPT
- Thou shalt not suffer a Witch to live -
Exodus 22:18 KJV - Hebrew - Greek LXX - NIV
The terms witch and witchcraft have no universal definition, and the words, at different times and in different cultures have developed different meanings. As such it is initially important to note that not all ‘witches’ (from the Old English wicca, prob. ‘interwoven’) as the practitioners of the remnants of pagan folklore or other traditional religion do not necessarily practice diabolism, that is, the worship of evil for Evil’s sake.
In the English Bible sorcery and witchcraft - generally from the
original Hebrew כשף kashãph, the magical plant ‘off cutter’ of herbal abuses, (and hence again the LXX/NT φαρμακούς pharmakús, the literal ‘drug enchanter’) - is condemned at Exodus 22:18. In later times, from the edict of Pope Alexander IV of 1258 and through the Renaissance and the Bull of Pope Innocent VIII in 1484 when witchcraft was seen as heresy and devil worship, the word came to mean: ‘A Witch’ One (usually a woman) in league with evil spirits [diabolism] who practices witchcraft, sorcery, and divination’. (Confer e.g. Compton’s Commentary).
Woodcut: Innocent VIII, Pope from 1484-1492. Public domain
In the Biblical term the concept of diabolism is derived from Isaiah 28:15-18 q.v. and the Greek cognate διάβολος diabolos ‘the devil’, ‘a slanderer’, in Hebrew שטן Sâtân, ‘an enemy’, ‘accuser’. Etymologically the Greek is derived from διά dia ‘through’ and διαβέβολα, perf. mid. of βάλλω bállo ‘to throw’ - the slander, the lie, the disinformation etc. See also Hebrews 2:14 (RSV).
Confer e.g. the ISBE vol iii pp.2693-6 for a further Greek and Hebrew etymology of these words. Also The Analytical Greek Lexicon (Wigram) p.90 (Free Download PDF) + Dawson’s Greek Lexicon
From what is undoubtedly a dubious exposition of Galatians 3:1, and not apparently from any exegesis of the the original Scriptures at Galatians 5:20 or Revelation 17:5-18:23, according to the medieval torture manual Malleus Malificarum (the legislative ‘Witch Hammer’ of 1486) a chief weapon in the armoury of the witches was not the herbal or the drug hex as such, though to some degree, from classical literature, it was acknowledged, but was more ‘a certain fascination cast by the eyes’ (M.M. part 1, q.2, p.1) and many as such, usually women, (the Hebrew פה מכש root kashãph KJV ‘a witch’ at Ex. 22:18, is feminine) - at the whim of the misogynist, predator, or other capricious were often accused of diabolism as the league of Satan and enemies of God with all its terrible and tragic consequences.
It is sometimes claimed that over nine-million souls perished in the witch trials. column right.
Some maintain that much Medieval witch-hysteria, including the Salem Witch Trials, was a result of inadvertent ergot ingestion and the lysergic (LSD) induced ‘bewitchment’ or paranoia of Saint Anthony’s Fire symptomatic of ergot poisoning. The theory is however still much disputed and serious medical and demographic flaws have been pointed out, not least the absence of any reported gangrenous symptoms usually associated with outbreaks of ergotism (Wikilink). It has also been pointed out that it is highly unlikely that any residual lysergic acid could survive the heat of the bread oven if ergot infected rye was used for bread making. It is true however that infected rye was termed temulentum or ’drunken’ where it is evidential that the effects of ergot poisoning were known from early times. The Assyrians are said to have poisoned wells with ergot in times of war.
(See page The Biblical Tare for a synopsis of Ergot in New Testament Times)
THE WITCH HAMMER
Although the Canon Episcopi of 906 AD had spoken against the erroneous notions associated with witchcraft, with similar admonitions from the age of Charlemagne, the Bull of Innocent VIII in 1484, the Summis desiderantes affectibus ‘Desiring with supreme ardor’ effectively launched the medieval torture manual Malleus Malificarum, the legislative ‘Witch Hammer’ of Henrich Kramer and James Sprenger with the full Inquisitorial powers of the Inquisition throughout Europe in 1486. It survived for over 200 years. It is now generally believed - though not by all - that at least part of the official Letter of Approbation which the Inquisitors attached to the Hammer and which apparently conferred the support of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Cologne, is fraudulent.
Kramer (Institorus) was appointed Inquisitor for Tyrol and other provinces in 1474 but later dismissed by the Bishop of Brixen on fraudulent means in order to torture. Also, his use of unethical legal procedures is said to have brought a further condemnation from the Cologne Faculty in 1490.
And yet, unlike the Spanish Inquisition (apparently on grounds of credibility in 1538) there is apparently no evidence that the Papal Inquisition ever cautioned against or placed the Malleus Maleficarum on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum or ‘List of Banned Books’ the first Index of which appeared in 1559.
Innocent's Bull was in fact reinforced in 1523 by Pope Adrian VI with additional powers which led to the worst outbreaks of witch persecution in the 16th and 17th centuries, and as such the Malleus Maleficarum continued to serve as a prosecutors manual for both Protestant, Catholic, Civil and Ecclesiastical judges alike.1
The legislative Hammer itself, first published along with the Letter of Approbation and Innocent's supportive Summis desiderantes was a refinement of earlier legislation dating from the 13th century, and was compiled, some claim mainly by Kramer for reasons of self-justification or revenge for the earlier dismissal. It continued through multiple editions until as late as the second half of the 17th Century. The Malleus did recognize, though without reference to Biblical text, that certain notorious witches concocted their own poisons for the purpose of maleficia ‘evil-doing’ (media in magic).1 On the other hand the two Inquisitors doubted the legality of using herbs to drive away evil spirits.
Protesters against the witch-trials or underlying theology, for example the showcased Cornelius Agrippa of Cologne, (1486-1535) could be charged as the supporters of heretics, if not with witchcraft itself. Agrippa, one of the few who defended women charged with witchcraft, was banished from all Germany.
Then suddenly and without explanation, in 1657 the Roman Inquisition declared:
‘[T]hat not a single process for a very long time had been rightly conducted. Inquisitors had erred by reckless application of torture and other irregularities’ 2
The final edition of the Malleus appeared 12 years later in 1669.
No apology was ever made until Pope John Paul II’s Millennial Day of Pardon Confessional in 2000.
(In view of further reading this short section was revised and updated July 2015 JHM)
1 The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft, Rosemary Ellen Guiley pp.5, 170-172, 221-222 - First Edition 1989
2 Vicars of Christ The Dark Side of the Papacy, Peter de Rosa, pp.257-266 Corgi Edition 1990
For further info. visit
The atrocities recorded in Scripture and other ancient or medieval documentation cannot preclude however the precept of Isaiah 28:15-18 q.v. and those concepts inextricably linked with the occult and the dark arts.
The Hebrew of Exodus 22:18 translates from the New International Version of 1988
‘Do not allow a sorceress (פה מכש) to live’ again the root is the Hebrew כשף kashãph the magical ‘off cutter’ with drugs.
The Greek of the LXX is explicit:
φαρμακούς ου περιποιήσετε
‘Though shalt not suffer the demon of drug abuse (the φαρμακύς pharmakús) to survive’, literally ‘to have gain or safe acquiring’ (περιποιήσετε)
The Apostolic Bible Polyglot (LXX) (Charles Van der Pool, 1996) translates this verse:
‘[Those who] administer potions you shall not procure’.
The various reading περιβιωσετε ‘preserve alive’ or ’to live’ is marginalized in both the Apostolic Bible and the Vatican printed text of the Septuaginta Seniorum
The academic Grammar of Septuagint Greek p.173 (F.C. Conybeare and St. George Stock, 1905) leaves a translation footnote:
φαρμακούς pharmakoús = ‘medicine-man’, ‘a sorcerer’ to survive. Exodus 22:18
The NET Bible
New English Translation 2005 (NET)
This Major New Translation, with over 63,000 translators’ notes (various readings, textual preferences etc.) also includes an exposition of the Hebrew כשן kasháph =
‘drugs for occult purposes’
at Exodus 22:18 and φαρμακεία pharmakeia or ‘drug enchantment’ in the Apocalypse. This new translation, including eight of the Apocryphal books, is available free from:
With or without a synopsis of the more modern lexicography and translations of the Hebrew and LXX Greek, the Inquisition extermination of witches and witchcraft as a universal diabolism can only be seen as one of the darkest epochs ever recorded against the human mind in history. The Churches, both Catholic and Protestant alike, as much for reasons political as religious, chose at this time not to follow the merciful precepts of God, nor Gospel example, but rather to manipulate unmercifully the context of ancient Hebrew laws that were generally designed in the original against the spectre of endemic or epidemic drug abuse in the ancient kingdoms.
Day of Pardon
On Sunday 12 March 2000, Pope John Paul II celebrated Holy Mass in St Peter's Basilica and asked the Lord's forgiveness for the sins, past and present, of the Church.
Pope John Paul II emphasized
"[W]e cannot fail to recognize the infidelities to the Gospel committed by some of our brethren [...] Let us ask pardon for the divisions which have occurred among Christians, for the violence some have used in the service of the truth".
This would include, as noted by the media, the excesses of the Inquisition.
A full transcript is available from the International Theological Commission Memory and Reconciliation: the Church and the Faults of the Past.
For a further brief introduction to the History of Witchcraft and the corresponding uses and abuses of the medieval herbal, with a more detailed synopsis of the Inquisition pogrom.
FREE eBOOK Drug Abuse in Scripture.
Return to Top