There’s a lot of terms for people who do various kinds of magic in verses 10-11. In the NRSV, we have people diviners, soothsayers, augurs, sorcerers,spell-casters, people who consult ghosts or spirits, and necromancers. “Divination” is fortunetelling by various means, including astrology and palm-riding. Soothsayers are more like oracles, with spontaneous utterances. Augurs are diviners who use animal entrails – specifically, they’re a Roman institution. Sorcerers and spell-casters in modern English are the same thing, but “sorcerer” is related to “sortilege,” divination by casting lots, so maybe that’s what’s intended here. Meanwhile I’m not sure how consulting ghosts and dead people are different.

The original Hebrew for some of these terms include kasam, nachash, me-onan, chover chaver, ov, and yedoni. One Jewish translation I found rendered these verses as “who practices stick divination, who divines auspicious times, who divines by omens, who practices witchcraft, who uses incantations, who consults mediums and oracles, or who attempts to communicate with the dead.” Another had “a soothsayer, a diviner of [auspicious] times, one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, a pithom sorcerer, a yido’a sorcerer, or a necromancer,” doing the thing I sometimes see Jewish translations do, i.e. leaving words in Hebrew when they’re not certain of a good English equivalent.

The Japanese, meanwhile, has its own set of terms: uranaishi, bokusha, ekisha, jujutsushi, jumon o tonaeru mono, kuchiyose, reibai, shisha ni ukagai o tateru mono. The first two terms are more or less synonyms. By digging into the Japanese wikipedia page for uranai, I came across a distinctive meaning for boku in bokusha. The article has virtually no citations, so I’m not sure where this idea comes from, but boku seems to refer to occasional prophecy (i.e. what do I do right now?), while the character in uranai is more for your whole life, like a horoscope. An ekisha is someone who divines consulting the Ekikyou, better known by its Chinese name, the I Ching. Jujutsushi (“magic master”) is a magician who casts spells, which can be positive. Jumon o tonaeru mono (“one who chants curses”) is fairly obviously negative. A kuchiyose (“give one’s mouth”) is someone who is possessed and channels a spirit or a ghost, and a reibai (“spirit mediator”) is basically the same, a spirit medium. And shisha ni ukagai o tateru mono means “one who consults the dead” is self-explanatory.

So in general, you’re not supposed to turn to any of the following for guidance: people who try to predict the future using divination, people who try to tell you the right thing to do by divination, anyone who casts spells or curses, and anyone who consults dead people or other gods. All of these are considered “abhorrent practices” (NCT: “customs that should be hateful to you”) done by their predecessors, as bad as sacrificing their children (v 10). That might seem a bit extreme – aren’t fortunetellers just harmless cranks? – but then again, people have made a lot of bad decisions off bad astrology throughout history. The important thing to the author of Deuteronomy is that they’re foreign, things that their neighbors do that they must not do because they are not what God intends.

Who, then, are they supposed to turn to for guidance once Moses is gone? Obviously the priests and the law itself are options. But this chapter goes into some detail (v 15-22) about the arrival of prophets like Moses. Apparently the number in Hebrew is unclear, since my footnotes keep giving the plural as an option. Nonetheless, in verse 19 it uses “he” rather than “they.” Is Deuteronomy talking about all the various prophets of the Bible? Or is it referring to one, specific prophet who will ultimately replace Moses? In spite of saying that God “will raise up for you a prophet like me [Moses],” the end of Deuteronomy says that “never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses” (34:10). Was the author thinking of the various prophets that appear later (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, etc. etc.) or was he thinking of a future renewer who would restore Israel, perhaps after the return from Exile?

I am willing to wager that there have been Christian writers who have seen this as a prophecy of Jesus, maybe even within the New Testament. Just more stuff to bear in mind as keep reading. I have a rather long list of that by now.

The Japanese: ryouhoo “both cheaks,” i “stomach” (v 3), utsuru “to move” (v 6), bokusha “fortuneteller, soothsayer, diviner,” ekisha “fortuneteller, augur” (v 10), kuchiyose “spiritualist, medium,” reibai “spirit medium, psychic” (v 11), tsuikyuu suru “to investigate, to question” (v 19).

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