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Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 111

The Bible and Magic

The earliest Biblical account of anything supposed to be connected with magic, is to be found in the history of Rachel. When with her sister Leah, and her husband Jacob, she had left the house of her father. "Rachel had stolen the images that were her father's.... Then Laban overtook Jacob ... and Laban said ... yet wherefore hast thou stolen my gods?... and Jacob answered and said, With whomsoever thou findest thy gods, let him not live: before our brethren discern thou what is thine with me, and take it to thee. For Jacob knew not that Rachel had stolen them. And Laban went into Jacob's tent, and into Leah's tent, and into the two maid-servants' tent, but he found them not. Then went he out of Leah's tent and entered into Rachel's tent. Now Rachel had taken the images, and put them in the camel's furniture and sat upon them. And Laban searched all the tent, but found them not.[Pg 267] And she said to her father, Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise up before thee.... And he searched, but found not the images." This passage has given no little trouble to commentators; but most of them seem to consider these teraphim or images as something of a magical nature.

The Speaking Head

The targum of Jonathan Ben Uzziel gives the following version: "And Rachel stole the images of her father; for they had murdered a man, who was a first-born son, and, having cut off his head, they embalmed it with salt and spices, and they wrote divinations upon a plate of gold, and put it under his tongue and placed it against the wall, and it conversed with them, and Laban worshipped it. And Jacob stole the science of Laban the Syrian, that he might not discover his departure."

The Persian translation gives us astrolabes instead of teraphim, and implies that they were instruments used for judicial astrology, and that Rachel stole them to prevent her father from discovering their route. At all events the teraphim were means of divination among believers and unbelievers; they were known among the Egyptians and among Syrians. What makes it extremely probable that they were not objects of religious worship is, that it does not appear from any other passage of Scripture that Laban was an idolater; besides which Rachel, who was certainly a worshipper of the true God, took them, it seems, on account of their supposed supernatural powers. It must, however, be observed that some have supposed these teraphim to have been talismans for the cure of diseases; and others, that being really idols, Rachel stole them[Pg 268] to put a stop to her father's idolatry. There is a not very dissimilar account related (Judges xviii) of Micah and his teraphim, which seems sufficient to prove that the use of them was not considered inconsistent with the profession of the true religion.

Gods once Demons

Many of the Babylonian gods retained traces of their primitive demoniacal characteristics, and this applies to the great triad, Ea, Anu, and En-lil, who probably evolved into godhead from an animistic group of nature spirits. Each of these gods was accompanied by demon groups. Thus the disease-demons were 'the beloved sons of Bel,' the fates were the seven daughters of Anu, and the seven storm-demons the children of Ea. In a magical incantation describing the primitive monster form of Ea it is said that his head is like a serpent's, the ears are those of a basilisk, his horns are twisted into curls, his body is a sun-fish full of stars, his feet are armed with claws, and the sole of his foot has no heel.


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