SPEAKING WITH SPIRITS was strictly forbidden by God. This might seem to be a quaint and antiquated notion, but the fact that we encounter the prohibition three times in our reading today indicates that this was a serious issue in ancient Canaan.
Scholars are not entirely agreed on the meaning of the words translated into English as “mediums” and “necromancers,” ʾobot and yiddeʿonim. There are various terms used by translators, including “spiritists,” “wizards,” “enchanters,” “divining spirits,” and “familiar spirits.” In the context of the culture of Canaan in the time of Moses and Joshua, this was a prohibition on the veneration of the “dead”—actually, demons—that was an essential part of Amorite religious and social customs.
We also discuss prohibitions on the mixing of animals, crops, and fabrics; unjust weights and measures; and various deviant sexual practices, some of which were encouraged in the worship of the goddess Astarte, better known to history as Ishtar or Inanna (or Aphrodite or Venus).
Child sacrifice is also condemned, as we encounter twice more God’s command that giving children to Molech was absolutely forbidden and punishable by death.
With all of the laws handed down by God, there was a purpose. And it appears that many, if not all, of them had been transgressed by the people of Canaan who were to be displaced by the people of Israel.
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