So, a few days ago I posted about one of my pet peeves in fantasy world-building, the writer who thinks 600-years ago is the dawn of time. A friend who read my post raised an interesting point. “If the series you’re talking about is the one I think it is, I understand that the author comes from a conservative Baptist background. Maybe she built her world, consciously or not, on the assumption of a Young Earth.”
We are talking about fantasy world-building, and an author is free to choose any premise they wish to build from. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series assumes that the world is a disc balanced on the backs of four giant elephants who stand atop a gigantic sea turtle that swims through space, for instance. It’s one of my favorite series of books, so I certainly can’t say a writer isn’t free to use some notions of Fundamentalist Creationism as the basis for their fantasy world.
If the premise is that the Literalistic1 Interpretation of the Bible describes the physical origin of your fantasy world, it is absolutely impossible for the “first witch ever to exist” to have been born a mere 600 or so years ago.
In the book of First Samuel, chapter 28, one finds the story of the Witch of Endor. The Prophet Samuel has recently died, and things are going extremely badly for King Saul. Eventually, Saul goes to a famous witch in Endor, who raises the ghost of Samuel. Samuel’s spirit proceeds to tell Saul that God is tired of Saul’s disobedience, and that Saul will lose the battle the very next day, and that Saul and his sons will be joining Samuel in the land of the dead shortly thereafter. Saul leaves, understandably dismayed and devastated. He loses the battle the next day and kills himself.
So right there, in the Bible, we see a witch who has actual magic powers to raise the dead thousands of years ago, rather than 600 years ago.
Not only that, before Saul goes to this witch, he tried turning to prophets, to a couple of scrying devices the priests kept, and to dream interpreters to find out what he should do. In an earlier incident, while the Prophet Samuel was still alive, Saul drove all the magicians and necromancers from the kingdom of Isreal, clearly implying that there were a lot of them already in existence, so even the Witch of Endor isn’t the first witch ever on the Young Earth.
1. My Old Testament Professor at University insisted (and could quickly demonstrate) that none of the people who say they take the Bible literally actually do so. Instead, he argued, they use a form of filtered literalism, where some passages are taken literally, contradictory ones are ignored2, and other sections have imposed upon them notions that are not evident anywhere in the text.
2. The story of Samuel and King Saul is a particularly amusing example of this. Later passages refer to Saul as God’s chosen leader of Israel, but in the beginning of Saul’s story, the people of Israel keep asking Samuel to ask God to give them a king. Samuel keeps telling them that God doesn’t want them to have a king. Eventually, apparently tired of being pestered, God appears to relent (though the original text makes it unclear whether it is really God who relents, or if Samuel just picks someone and tells them that God has relented), and proclaims Saul King. Then, when a foreign power assembles an army and marches toward Israel, Samuel tells Saul to gather his own army, go to a specific spot, and wait seven days, at which point Samuel would arrive (presumably with God’s battle plans), and they could begin. Seven days came and went, Samuel didn’t arrive. More days passed, no Samuel. The army was growing restless, so Saul decided something must have happened to Samuel, and he ordered the army to make prayers and sacrifices, then prepare for battle. As soon as Saul had completed the sacrifice, Samuel suddenly appeared3, admonished Saul for taking on the role of the priest, and tells him God doesn’t want him to be king any longer. But, in the very next chapter King Saul is leading the battle, Samuel is giving him instructions, Saul wins, everyone (including Samuel) rejoice in the king’s victory. Samuel tells Saul that God wants him to slaughter not just the defeated soldiers, but every man, woman, child, and even the livestock of the defeated Amalekites. While doing so, Saul decides to spare some another tribe of people living among the Amalekites4 and doesn’t slaughter every woman and child of the Kenites. Samuel throws another hissy fit, and says God regrets making Saul King, and that Saul’s kingdom will soon be torn apart. Except in the previous chapter Samuel had already said Saul was no longer king, so nothing in this chapter should even have happened, least of all Samuel advising Saul, et cetera5.
3. My professor said, “As if he had been hiding in the bushes watching and waiting for Saul to screw up.”
4. God said “kill the Amalekites,” he didn’t say to kill the Amelekites and Kenites. Seems like a reasonable distinction, right? Certainly if you think that it’s reasonable for the same God who said “Thou shall not kill” without any qualifications, turns around and orders you to murder babies.
5. Reading the entire saga of Saul and Samuel, and taking every passage literally, it is hard to interpret the whole thing as anything other than either God or Samuel thinking of new ways to dick Saul around, giving him contradictory orders, impossible orders, and downright evil orders. Saul tries to follow all of them, and gets yelled at for disobedience again and again. On the other hand, David (the shepherd who defeats Goliath in battle and eventually becomes king after Saul dies), as King never obeys anything that God’s messengers tell him to do. He blatantly disregards commandments and instructions, but again and again the priests and prophets proclaim him beloved of God and a good king.