“The dead don’t talk. I don’t know why.”
So says Odd Thomas, the hero of my favorite cotton candy novel. It’s a book about a twenty year old short-order cook who sees dead people. (No, it is not like TheSixth Sense). I was so caught up in Odd Thomas a few semesters ago that I chose to write an exegetical paper on Isaiah 8:11-22 primarily because it has the word אוב in it. The translation of this word is difficult. It is not always easy to determine whether it means “ghost” or “medium,” one who conjures spirits. In a recently published article Andrés Piquer Otero describes the Hebrew word אוב as “a mystifying puzzle.” One thing is for sure: whether directly or indirectly, in the Hebrew Bible the dead do talk.
I’ve mulled over אוב for quite a while, and this is my conclusion:
Though the etymology of II.אוב is uncertain, a rubric for understanding the word can be constructed based on its usage in the Hebrew Bible. אוב should be understood to refer to a ghost in contexts (A) where an אוב is described doing things that no living, human medium could do, (B) where אוב is parallel to chirping sounds, (C) where אוב stands parallel with other spiritual entities or things, and (D) where there is a clear agent-object distinction and אוב is the object. A potential fifth category would include contexts where אוב is the object of verbs of seeking.
אוב should be understood to refer to one who conjures the spirit of a dead person, a medium, in contexts (A) where a living, human being is described as אוב and (B) where a person increases or decreases אובות in a measurable way.