In 2006 and 2007 I chaired a Special Session at the annual meeting of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies on the topic of “Curses and Curse Stories in Mediterranean Antiquity.” The idea for the project came as a result of my work on non-canonical Christian literature; some of this literature features stories of Jesus and the apostles cursing their opponents (i.e., using their superhuman abilities to kill or wound others). It struck me in the course of my work that such stories have been neglected in scholarship. Canonical curse stories (as found throughout the New Testament) also have been sorely overlooked—it seems most scholars are more comfortable with stories in which Jesus and his followers bless, not curse.
Since early Christian literature cannot be understood adequately without situating it in its appropriate contexts, I formed the Special Session with the goal of bringing scholars together from multiple disciplines (Mesopotamian and pre-Israelite religions, Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Greco-Roman Polytheism, Rabbinic Judaism, and Patristics) to lend their expertise to the topic and ultimately to contribute to a comprehensive study on cursing.
Scholars interested in the topic of miracle in the ancient world would find the resources plentiful, from studies of individual wonderworkers like Jesus, Elijah, Hanina ben Dosa, and Apollonios of Tyana, to sourcebooks allowing for comparison between these figures, to form-critical discussions, to anthropological discussions of the performance and reception of miracles. Studies generally cover the categories established long ago by Rudolph Bultmann: 1. healings, 2. exorcisms, 3. raisings from the dead and 4. nature miracles. Notably absent in this list and in the studies is curses or punitive miracles.
Though not as plentiful in the sources as beneficent miracles, punitive miracles are nevertheless found in literature throughout Mediterranean antiquity. Holy men wield power, and sometimes that power is not used with mercy. Thus, to the ancient mind, it is reasonable for Elisha to call upon bears to maul annoying children, for Apollonios to threaten repressive corn merchants, for r. Eliezer to kill r. Gamaliel, for Paul to blind a false prophet, for Jesus to whither a fig tree, and so on. Of course, the power behind these curses comes from the gods, and sometimes the gods even curse directly—the Hebrew Bible, for example, contains numerous punitive acts perpetrated by Yahweh himself.
Examinations of curse stories lead scholars of miracles into discussions of magic. And curses are certainly plentiful in magical papyri, where even the names of Yahweh and Jesus can be invoked to cause hardship, pain, even death, to others. We need to be cautious, however, of drawing too fine a line between so-called “magic” and “miracle.” Therefore, formal curses should be integrated into the discussion of curse stories. So too should woes, for when a figure of power and authority pronounces woes upon enemies, the reader expects calamity to befall them.
The advantages of a study on curses are several: 1. Curses and curse stories are plentiful in primary literature from multiple disciplines, allowing for meaningful discussion between colleagues within New Testament studies and related fields, 2. Nevertheless, the topic has been neglected in scholarship, leaving a large gap in the study of the religious imagination in antiquity, 3. It is neglected also in modern Jewish and Christian thought (Judeo-Christian curse stories rarely form the basis of a sermon or Sunday School lesson), and 4. This apparent uneasiness with the topic likely will engender a (perhaps guilty) curiosity among scholars and readers of the project’s results.
Compiled by Mike Kolaric, York University
Abusch, I. Tzvi, and K. Van Der Toorn, eds. Mesopotamian Magic Textual, Historical, and Interpretative Perspectives. Groningen: Styx Publications, 1999. (UT)
This is a volume of essays presented at a conference on Mesopotamian magic in 1995. The organizers felt that the study of Mesopotamian magic had been dominated by philology at the expense of an effort to make sense of the texts from a number of different interpretations. Of use, is Tzui Abusch’s “Witchcraft and the Anger of the Personal God”, which argues that the conjunction of two supernatural forces is due to the increasing importance of witchcraft beliefs and practices in Mesopotamia. The author theorizes about the socio-religious developments that might explain various features and trends that embody Mesopotamian magical thought and ritual. Though the article does not discuss curses to a great extent, its insight into how they may have been developed or at least gained popular acceptance can be ascertained from his other conclusions.
Allison, Dale C, Jr. “Rejecting Violent Judgment: Luke 9:52-56 and Its Relatives.” Journal of Biblical Literature 121 (2002): 459-478.
This article attempts to illustrate that Luke 9:52-56 (apostles ask Jesus if they should summon fire to come down and consume a Samaritan village) is conceptually closest to 2 Kgs 1:9-12 (where Elijah summons heavenly fire to consume two companies of soldiers), and compares the Greek text of each to show the correlation. This article discusses curses but does not analyze them. The author criticizes these tales of destruction and implicitly rejects their application for the present. This article also outlines how others have dealt with the passage in 2 Kgs 1:9-12, such as Josephus, Philo, Origen, and rabbinic texts.
Ankarloo, Bengt, and Stuart Clark, eds. Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Ancient Greece and Rome. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999. (YORK)
This work has a wide range of curse related material. The first section of the book is devoted to binding spells, curses, curse-tablets, and voodoo dolls found in the Greek and Roman worlds. It presents a chronological scope from the age of Homer to the late Western empire of Augustine and Theodosius. It presents many sources from different geographical areas, and much of this material relates, especially with regards to curses, in a significant way. The book argues that given the immense geographical spread of curse-tablets within the Roman Empire, the overall stylistic uniformity is striking and seems to indicate some form of literary tradition. The work outlines where curse-tablets have been found, their dating, and includes a discussion on how to recognize a curse. It also explains the form of the curse-tablet, where many consist of no more than the name of the intended victim. The book divides curse-tablets into 5 categories: 1) litigation curses 2) competition curses 3) trade curses 4) erotic curses 5) prayers for justice, and explains each of these and gives examples of each. It also attempts to trace the origin of the Greek-binding curse.
Baltzer, Klaus. The Covenant Formulary in Old Testament, Jewish and Early Christian Writings. Oxford: Blackwell, 1971. (YORK)
This study attempts to illustrate that the covenant formula of Old Testament texts can be found in Jewish and Christian texts. It employs the form-critical method to reveal a rational structure between secular texts (treaties) and religious material. Of use are some of the charts that the author presents, which includes a synopsis on his investigation of curses. The author argues that the original element of the blessing and curse underwent a grand transformation. These begin in the Old Testament but are developed further. In the Old Testament they are historicized, so that the present became the fulfillment of the blessing, while the curse was threatened if the covenant was broken. Later, this relationship was reversed. The present was perceived as the time of the curse, while salvation was expected in the future. This work also looks at the structure of the treaty formula, and includes a study on the treaties of the Hittite Empire which forms the basis of this study. This is a useful source for the topic of curses, as it includes many of them from a wide variety of texts (e.g. texts from Qumran, in The Epistle of Barnabas, Didache, etc.), and analyzes their function, structure, and form.
Bassett, Frederick W. “Noah’s Nakedness and the Curse of Canaan: a Case of Incest?” Vetus Testamentum 21 (1971): 232-237.
Gen 9:20-27 is a story designed to discredit the Canaanites and justify the Israelite and Philistine homogeny over them. The goal of this paper is to illustrate the nature of the offense which led Noah to curse Canaan and also to identify the offender. According to the text, Ham is the offender but Canaan is cursed. The author argues that it is possible that Ham had sexual intercourse with his father’s wife, which led to the curse. Canaan is cursed because he may be the offspring of the incestuous affair. Idiomatically understood, Canaan bears Noah’s curse of slavery because he is the fruit of Ham’s incest. No in-depth analysis done on the term “curse”.
Bellefontaine, Elizabeth. “The Curses of Deuteronomy 27: Their Relationship to the Prohibitives.” No Famine in the Land Studies in Honor of John L. McKenzie. Ed. John L. McKenzie, James W. Flanagan, and Anita Weisbrod Robinson. Missoula: Published by Scholars Press for the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity—Claremont, 1975. 49-62. (YORK)
This paper argues that each curse in Deuteronomy had at one time a corresponding prohibitive norm from which it derived and which it was designed to protect and define. The curse list of Deut 27: 15-26 is recognized as very ancient. The last verse however, cannot be considered as part of the original list, as it is a later addition to the primitive text. It departs from the positive formula used throughout the list. The antiquity of the first curse in the list is also questioned, as the general language reflects a later period. It also betrays the author’s effort to compose a curse against idolatry in keeping with the continuity of the basic series of curses. The paper states that this curse list is a unique law formulation within the legal history of Israel, and that there exists a special legal relationship between the prohibitive and the curse.
Bergren, Richard Victor. The Prophets and the Law. Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, 1974. (YORK)
This work employs the form-critical terminology of Clauss Westermann for the prophetic judgment speech. The author provides a survey of scholarship done on the subject and evaluates it. The author argues that when one reads the prophetic words of judgment, one is surprised that there is no complaint regarding the propriety of the indictment. This implies that there was a standard to which people were committed to and by which they were judged. The work analyzes the accusation portion of the prophetic judgment speeches of Amos, Micah, Isaiah and Jeremiah, and reveals a correspondence to certain Pentateuchal laws in form and in language. Curses and judgment speeches are found throughout this work, but the author here mainly analyzes other scholar’s works.
Betz, Hans Dieter, ed. The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, Including the Demotic Spells. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992. (YORK)
This work focuses primarily on primary sources. Translations are based on the Greek, Demotic, and Coptic texts. It incorporates notes explaining the difficulties in the text and in its translation, and provides notes alerting the reader to important information. The extant texts mainly date from the 2nd century BCE – 5th century CE. The editor argues that the discovery of these texts for Greco-Roman religions is as important as the discovery of the Qumran texts was for Judaism, and the Nag Hammadi for Gnosticism. Throughout the papyri are found spells that include a wish for death, poverty, illness, etc. Some of the curse related spells include the following: PGM VII 396-404; PGM VII 417-422; PDM XII 108-118; PDM XII 62-75, 50-61, 76, 107; PGM LXII 76-106; PGM CXXI 1-14; PGM CXXIV 1-5.
Betz, Hans Dieter. Galatians: a Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Churches in Galatia. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979. (YORK)
This study is designed to be a critical and historical commentary on the letter to the Galatians. It utilizes philological and historical tools including textual criticism, the methods of the history of tradition, and the history of religion. Betz analyzes the curse found in 1:8-9 and argues that it forms a double curse. The curse must be seen in its connection with the conditional blessing – this phenomenon is known from the tradition of ‘sacred law’ in the ancient Near East. The curse in 3:6-14 is also analyzed, and Betz explains how Paul could have thought that Deut 27:26 proved his conclusion that the Law was a curse when it seemed on the surface that it proclaimed the opposite. For Paul, the Law was inferior compared to the blessing of Abraham. Betz also surveys how other scholars have dealt with this passage.
Blank, Sheldon H. “The Curse, Blasphemy, the Spell, and the Oath.” Hebrew Union College Annual 23 (1950): 73-95.
This essay explores the issue of the curse and its related modes of human expression in the Bible. Biblical evidence concerning the curse suggests a development from the curse as a profane wish – in the sense of it being non-religious – to the curse as an imprecatory prayer. Blank categorizes curses in the following three forms : Simple Curse Formula; Composite curses; Curses freely composed. No external agent was assumed and apparently the spoken curse was itself alone believed to be an effective agent. The curse was automatic and had the nature of a spell. Blank states that both men and the divine can curse effectively, but it is more immediate when God curses. Blank suggests that the imprecatory prayer derived out of the curse formula. Here, Blank discusses the structure, composition, literary function, and theological function of the curse formula. Blank argues that in Biblical times, in breaking away from its profane model, the curse developed into imprecatory prayer in order to make it a religious expression.
Bonneau, Norman. “The Logic of Paul’s Argument on the Curse of the Law in Galatians 3:10-14.” Novum Testamentum 39 (1997): 60-80.
This article examines the wide variety of proposals made to interpret this passage, and looks at four ways in which it is generally interpreted. The author argues that these rhetorical studies underlined the unity of the argument in Galatians. The key to an adequate interpretation lies in placing the passage within the unfolding argument in the letter as a whole. Paul is not addressing his Judaising opponents nor is he aiming his arguments at the Jews in general. Rather, Paul seeks to dissuade the Christian community who are being tempted to abandon the gospel as he preached it for a different gospel. The author states that the argument on the curse of the law was designed to show that in adopting the “other gospel”, the Galatians would in the end counter-witness the truth of Christ.
Borghouts, J. F. Ancient Egyptian Magical Texts. Leiden: Brill, 1978. (YORK)
This work provides a selection of magical spells from ancient Egypt. All have been translated and interpreted by the author, and tend to deviate from the work of its predecessors. The selection presented here is subdivided according to subject matter. There is no index, which makes it difficult to find the cursing material. However, the following is a list of some of curses: Spell #1- Love spell; Spell #2- Spell to strike a man; Spell #10- Scaring away an enemy; Spell #125- Curse against the crocodile Maga.
Brichto, Herbert C. The Problem of “Curse” in the Hebrew Bible. Philadelphia: Society of Biblical Literature and Exegesis, 1963. (UT)
This study is an investigation into the complex biblical terms which are often arbitrarily rendered in English by the word “curse” or its equivalent. The author argues that the word “curse” has a range of meanings from formal invocations of evil to violent denunciation of condemnation. The author surveys different scholarship prepared on curse material. In his own work, he distinguishes between a curse and an imprecation. He argues that in the Bible, fortune and misfortune are traceable to God, and prayers or imprecations involving these are addressed to the deity even if not explicitly stated. The work has useful charts, in particular, one that illustrates Biblical texts, and whether or not they include a true imprecation, and whether these are decreed by man or by a Deity.
Bruce, F. F. The Epistle to the Galatians: a Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1982. (YORK)
This study caters to the needs of students of the Greek text, and is theologically motivated. It analyzes and breaks down the passages in Galatians into sections. The work interprets Paul’s belief that the Law was a curse in that it could only be reversed through the redemptive death of Christ. The curse of the Law is analyzed and the author gives their interpretation of it: justification of faith over works and the gentiles receiving the Abrahamic blessing was the theological belief overriding Paul’s message and inspired his conception of the curse of the Law.
Brueggemann, Walter. “On Coping with Curse : a Study of 2 Sam 16:5-14.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 36 (1974): 175-192.
The central issue of this passage is whether Yahweh will honor His royal promise and whether David will trust in it. Here, David does not resist the curse of Shimei nor does he deny the accusation made against him (he is called a murderer). Shimei expresses the social view of the world in which divine curses and intervention to punish is a threat which is taken seriously. The role of Joab and his brothers in the story portray the opposite: a complete indifference to any fear of the curse. David is in between these two thoughts, thus, he fully affirms Yahweh’s authority and involvement in the actions of men but rejects the assumption that man knows how that will manifest itself. For David, faith makes room for Yahweh’s freedom. For the author, this passage is an excellent section displaying the type of faith which takes human history and activity seriously without diminishing God’s authority.
Byron, J. F. “Curse (in the Bible).” New Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1967. (YORK)
This article treats the magical efficacy of the curse in the ancient Near East, the curse in the religion of Israel, and the curses in the New Testament. The people of Israel had once shared with their neighbor cultures the belief in a magical efficacy of the spoken word as a medium for either blessing or cursing. Israel’s faith in the sovereign power of Yahweh transformed the curse, which at one time possessed independent efficacy, into an expression of God’s justice, which operated only to punish the guilty. The power of the word diminished somewhat, since the curse relied solely on Yahweh’s judgment. The occasion for the curse may be anger and fear, but may also be hate and envy.
Carter, Warren. “Matthew 23:37-39.” Interpretation 54 (2000): 66-68.
This author suggests that Matthew 23 and its condemnation of religious leaders is perhaps the “bleakest spot in Matthew’s gospel”. Seven ‘woes’ and ‘curses’ condemn the scribes or Pharisees therein. The author asks whether v. 39 declares condemnation or salvation, which matters greatly to the text because it serves the basis of the view that Jews are now excluded from God’s purpose. This passage has fed a long-line of anti-Jewish sentiment. Carter states that there may be another way of interpreting the passage – The political and religious elite, not the whole city of Jerusalem, rejects Jesus and are cursed. This article has a theological purpose to unite, instead of divide, Christians and Jews, as “the text links us in a common vulnerability, in a common desire to serve God…”
Cathcart, Kevin J. “The Curses in Old Aramaic Inscriptions.” Targumic and Cognate Studies: Essays in Honour of Martin McNamara. Ed. Kevin J. Cathcart, Michael Maher, and Martin McNamara. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996. 140-152. (YORK)
This paper is inspired by D.R. Hillers’ investigation of the relationship between the curses attached to treaties and the prophetic literature of the old Testament. Cathcart suggests further possible parallels to the ancient Near Eastern curses, including treaty-curses, in the biblical book of Nahum. The parallels in the prophetic books of the Old Testament are often in the form of doom oracles and threats. The author states that Aramaic inscriptions of Sefire provide many interesting and close parallels to the Old Testament literature. He discusses and examines the curses in the Tell Fakhariyah and Sefire Inscriptions and presents parallels to the Old Testament. Having an examination of both the Tell Fakhariyah and Sefire inscriptions is useful since they are rarely both found in the same piece of work. This study examines 19 parallels and each are explained, and presents the Aramaic inscriptions in both their original language and in English.
Cathcart, Kevin J. “Treaty-Curses and the Book of Nahum.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 35 (1973): 179-187.
This author employs D.R. Hillers’ investigations and points out other possible parallels to ancient Near Eastern treaty-curses. Cathcart concludes that Aramaic Sefire treaties provide many interesting and close parallels to Nahum. And as Hillers observed, the greatest number of parallels are found in Jeremiah, who was a contemporary of Nahum. Also, treaties between Esarhaddon of Assyria and Baal of Tyre, and the vassal treaties of Esarhaddon from which impressive parallels come from, are dated 677 BCE and 672 BCE respectively, while Nahum is dated between 663-612 BCE. Cathcart analysis 12 specific parallels between Nahum and ancient Near Eastern treaty curses with specific verses cited.
Charette, Blaine. The Theme of Recompense in Matthew’s Gospel. Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 79. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1992. (HURON)
The theme of recompense (reward and punishment), while present in all three synoptic gospels, is more apparent in Matthew’s gospel. C. believes this is due to Matthew’s understanding of the covenant to Abraham (“I set before you a blessing and a curse”) (Gen 12:1-4). OT texts referring to this covenant emphasize that, since the “blessing” relates to the promise of land to the Israelites, the “curse” relates to losing that land (i.e., being cast out, either individually or as a group). Matthew’s use of this theme pushes the curse off to an eschatological formula where the disobedient are cursed with being cast into Gehenna. In Matthew’s transformation, what was a curse in the OT becomes simply a warning against transgression. TC
Clements, Ronald E. “Woe.” The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Ed. David N. Freedman. 1st ed. New York: Doubleday, 1992. (YORK)
This dictionary defines a woe as an “interjection denoting pain, discomfort, and unhappiness. It is a distinct form of prophetic speech, and is found in the Old Testament and New Testament”. This article outlines the “woe” oracles in the Old Testament, and examines their form and usage. It occurs approx 50 times in the Old testament e.g. Isa 5:8. It is an impersonal formulation expressing intense anger directed against certain activities which are disapproved of. The judgment is generally expressed prophetically and conveyed by the mouth of God, and is then set out in the pronouncement that follows (Mic 2:1-3). This article states that the development of the woe oracle is traced in two ways in scholarship: 1) as an adaptation from the curse formula 2) developed from the use of the identical cry in funerary lamentations e.g. Jer 22:18.
Collins, Raymond F. “Woe in the New Testament.” The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Ed. David N. Freedman. 1st ed. New York: Doubleday, 1992. (YORK)
This entry states that 37 examples of “woe” occur in the New Testament, mostly in Matthew (13) and Luke (15). Usually, they are directed to persons or groups of persons. This article examines the use of woe in Revelations and in the Synoptic Gospels. The majority of the woes in the Synoptics derive from the Q source. The author does no analysis on the woe, but it is a useful source to quickly gain access to all occurrences of woe in the New Testament.
Comber, Joseph A. “Composition and Literary Characteristics of Matt 11:20-24.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 39 (1977): 497-504.
This article examines the woes on the cities (Matt 11:20-24 par Luke 10:13-15), from the point of view of composition and literary characteristics. Jesus’ ministry in Matthew has not produced the desired result as the Jews have not repented. In examining the woes, the author argues that they are created out of traditional materials and their structure consists of a double sense of pronouncement of judgment, explanation of judgment, and comparison of eschatological fates. The structure of these woes parallels numerous Old Testament prophetic oracles. However, Matthew puts his own structural stamp on these materials. His technique startles the reader’s attention and alerts them to the new and tragic turn of events: Israel is rejecting the Messiah and judgment is pronounced.
Crawford, Timothy G. Blessing and Curse in Syria-Palestinian Inscriptions of the Iron Age. New York: P. Lang, 1992. (UT)
The purpose of this work is to examine blessing and cursing in Syria-Palestinian epigraphic materials contemporaneous with the Israelite monarchy (N and S Kingdom) in comparison with each other and the Old Testament. The author summarizes some scholarship done on the topic of blessing and cursing. He then provides a semantic survey of Akkadian, Ugaritic, Aramaic, Phoenician, Punic, Inscriptional Hebrew, Edomite and Biblical Hebrew words for blessing and cursing. The author analyzes what blessings and cursing consists of, and how curses operate. He examines inscriptions and at times illustrates biblical parallels, and also analyzes passages in texts which do not use a specific word for cursing but whose intent is a curse. In his study of Hebrew inscriptions, no epigraphic examples arise in which Yahweh is invoked for a curse, though many imply that He was the god invoked to bring about the curse. The author argues that important points of contact between the cultures of the ancient Near East have been shown by this study.
Crawley, Alfred E. “Cursing.” Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics. Ed. James Hastings. New York: Charles Scribner Sons, 1955 (YORK)
This is a lengthy entry compared to many of the other encyclopedia articles. It provides an introduction, a history of cursing, and a definition, as well as explaining the general character of the curse. Of interest, is some of the ways cultures have avoided the curse sent to them (e.g. some Arabs when being cursed will lie on the ground, in hope that the curse may fly over them). The article examines cursing and blessing among a wide variety of groups including Christians, Greeks, the Irish, and gives many examples of specific curses.
Cunningham, Graham. Deliver Me From Evil: Mesopotamian Incantations, 2500-1500 BC. Roma: Pontifico Istituto Biblico, 1997. (UT)
This study analyzes five aspects of approx. 450 published Mesopotamian incantations dating to the period from 2500-1500 BCE: 1) the incantations development during this period 2) their functions, the most important which is deliverance from evil 3) the verbal techniques they use to request helpful divine intervention 4) their accompanying ritual 5) the information they provide about the ultimate cause of the suffering, that is, harmful divine intervention. The author argues that the analysis fails to support the conventional classification of the incantations as magical rather then religious compositions. There is a plethora of curse material in this work, usually found under the sub-chapters entitled “harmful divine intervention”.
Curbera, Jaime, and David Jordan. “Curse Tablets From Pydna.” Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 43 (2002): 109-127.
This article publishes six curse tablets from ancient Pydna dated to the 4th century BCE. Three of these include the name of the cursed, while the other three name the cursed and explain that the curses were meant to effect lawsuits. The author examines the structure of these tablets and provides some interpretation on them. The tablets are published in Greek with no English translations. The author’s argue that these six tablets shed new light on the different features of culture in this area of Macedonia.
Currid, John D. Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 1997. (UT)
This work primarily focuses on Egyptian themes in the Pentateuch. It argues that there are literary, religious, and cultural points of contact between the Biblical writers and Egyptian beliefs. The author believes that the Bible borrowed much of its material, especially for Genesis, from many cultures including the Canaanites, the Hittites, and the early Greeks, and not only from Mesopotamian literature. The work looks at the relationship between Egyptian and Genesis cosmogonies and provides an exegetical and historical account of the Ten Plagues of Egypt. In chapter 13, the author states that Egypt was the common target of the curses uttered by the prophets of Israel and Judah and outlines the texts which do this. The primary motif in these texts is a call for the drying up of the Nile River. The author attempts to determine why the theme of a waterless Nile appears so frequently in Hebrew prophetic literature. Here, the author considers Isaiah 19:5-10 to determine its historical setting. This leads the author to believe that the curse of the Nile represented to ancient Egyptians the dissolution and downfall of civilization. There would be no renewal, no revival, and no regeneration. In essence, Egypt would be destroyed, and Yahweh would bring about this curse.
Davis, Basil S. Christ as Devotio: the Argument of Galatians 3:1-14. Lanham, Md: University Press of America, 2002. (UT)
This is a detailed study into the analysis of the mechanism by which the death and resurrection of Christ actually affected salvation according to the New Testament writers. The author states that the most important theological interpretation regarding Jesus’ death is found within the letters of Paul. This book offers an interpretation of Gal 3:13 (Christ redeemed “us” by becoming a curse) and employs Gal 3:1-14 as a whole to explain the context in which Gal 3:13 is written. Chapter 3 is the most useful in regards to the subject of cursing. In chapter 5, the author argues that language of Galatians cannot be understood apart from the Greco-Roman culture of cursing. He employs curse tablets and the words of Greek and Latin authors of the period to support this claim. The curse in Galatians has its parallel in the Greco-Roman world, specifically in the form of the devotio who was sacrificed to save his people from disaster. The author examines the structure of Gal 3:1-14 as well as the form and function of curse-tablets.
Day, John H. “The Imprecatory Psalms and Christian Ethics.” Bibliotheca Sacra 159 (2002): 166-186.
This article discusses the troublesome portion of the Scriptures – the so called “imprecatory Psalms”. These psalms express the desire for God’s vengeance to fall upon His people’s enemies. These curses cause “revulsions” in many Christians, since Christians are told to love their enemies and to bless, and not curse. John Day presents a theological argument to justify the curses in light of these Christian ethics. The article presents and outlines many of the curses present in the Old and New Testaments, and attempts to show how they can be consistent with New testament teaching. Day argues that although Yahweh is a god of love, Yahweh is also a god of retribution by nature, and in many of the Old Testament scriptures, God curses in order to keep his promise to David. The article’s purpose is to demonstrate that at times it is legitimate for God’s people to utter prayers of imprecation or pleas for divine vengeance against the enemies of God and His people.
Dickie, Matthew. Magic and Magicians in the Greco-Roman World. New York: Routledge, 2001. (YORK)
This work states that little attention has been paid in scholarship to the men and women who were believed by their contemporaries to be experts in magic, or who themselves professed to be magicians. This study attempts to assemble the evidence for the existence of sorcerers and sorceresses, and at the same time attempts to address the question of their identity and social origins. The work covers the periods of the 5th century BCE – 7th century CE. It focuses on questions such as whether sorcerers were more common at some times and places then their female counterparts, or was the reverse true? Was there any difference between the sexes with regards to the forms of magic that they practiced? Also, it looks at the ways in which people made contact with magicians. The work argues that the concept of magic only came into existence in the Greek speaking world in the 5th century BCE. It discusses curse-tablets, and how they had evolved through time. Originally, many of the curses in these tablets were binding spells, such as inhibiting an opponent from speaking in court. Later, by the 4th century BCE, these curse-tablets began to include spells that intended to inflict harm on enemies rather than impose constraints. The work argues that the notion of magic is the product of a particular set of historical circumstances in Ancient Greece and that the concept of magic in Judeo-Christian cultures is the direct offspring of that notion. As for cursing material, the work mostly concentrates on curse-tablets, and briefly explains what identifies them as a curse and how they were formed.
Dundes, Alan, ed. The Evil Eye: a Casebook. Madison, Wis: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992. (YORK)
This work is an anthology of essays. In his introduction, Alan Dundes argues that the evil eye is a widespread but by no means a universal folk belief. The evil eye is mentioned in the Bible as well as in Sumerian and other ancient Near Eastern texts, making the belief at least 5000 years old. The aim of this study is to sample some of the abundant scholarship devoted to the topic of the evil eye. The majority of the essays consist of anecdotal reports of the evil eye. Many of the essays are useful and each has its own useful introduction. Eugene S. McCartney’s “Praise and Dispraise in Folklore” argues that the articulation of praise belongs to the folk belief complex we know as the evil eye. Using classical sources, the author examines the evils of praise as well as the efficacy of dispraise. In the essay entitled “Proverbs (23:1-8) and the Evil Eye in The Wisdom of Sirach”, the author argues that in the Biblical context, the evil eye appears to refer to stinginess and envy. In Aaron Brau’s “The Evil Eye Among the Hebrews”, the author examines the study of the evil eye from a medical perspective and looks mainly at evidence from the Talmud.
Eastman, Susan. “The Evil Eye and the Curse of the Law: Galatians 3.1 Revisited.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 83 (2001): 69-87.
This paper analyzes the verb “bewitched” and argues that it functions as an intertextual echo which evokes the Deuteronomic curse which occurs in Deut 28:53-57. Among the curses in this section of Deuteronomy is one in which starving parents in a besieged city ‘cast the evil eye’ on their next of kin and eat their children. This specific curse subsequently underwrites Paul’s use of family imagery to contrast the death-dealing effects of his opponent’s message with the life-giving effects of the gospel that the apostle preaches. The author argues that the term “bewitched” should read “cursed”, and attempts to find textual evidence to illustrate this. This article also looks at the beliefs in the evil eye, its power and its practices, in the ancient world. The connection between the evil eye and the curse of the Law fits the logic of Paul’s argument and makes sense of the odd occurrence of the verb “bewitched” at a key point in the letter.
Faraone, Christopher A. “Aeschylus’ UMNOS DESMIOS (Eum. 306) and Attic Judicial Curse Tablets.” The Journal of Hellenic Studies 105 (1985): 150-154.
Cursed tablets have been unearthed in every corner of the Greco-Roman world. The simplest texts have names of persons to be cursed. However, these do not offer much information regarding the purpose or social context of these curses. In order to do this, the author turns to more elaborate formulas which range from simple sentences to long invocations of chthonic deities. These texts are placed into three categories: erotic curses, judicial curses, and circus curses (those against athletes and gladiators). The author uses defixiones as a source of interpretation of Greek society and literature. He also analyzes the Attic Judicial curse and suggests how the use of such a curse suits the dramatic context of Eumenides. The author also argues that the curse and court evolved simultaneously.
Faraone, Christopher A. Ancient Greek Love Magic. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard UP, 1999. (YORK)
This work offers a survey on ancient Greek love magic and a new bipolar taxonomy based mainly on the genders of the agents and their victims: those rituals used by men to instill erotic passion in women and those used by women to maintain or increase affection in their men. The conclusion of the work, which surprised even the author, was that the evidence assembled suggests that men, and not women as was thought in antiquity, were the naturally lascivious and wild gender who often needed to be sedated and controlled by chaste women. The work discusses curse-tablets that show binding spells which women used to prevent their husbands or lovers from marrying other people. The study focuses primarily on the interpersonal use of love magic – spells used by persons to force others to lust or fall in love with them. It treats erotic magic as a type of curse because Eros was viewed in the Greek world as a disease.
Faraone, Christopher A. “The Agnostic Context of Early Greek Binding Spells.” Magika Hiera Ancient Greek Magic and Religion. Ed. Christopher A. Faraone and Dirk Obbink. New York: Oxford UP, 1991. 3-32. (YORK)
This paper examines the uniquely Greek form of cursing known as defixio or binding spells. Nearly 600 Greek defixiones have been published to date and more than 400 have yet to be studied. The aim of this study is to provide an analysis of the function and social context of the binding spell in early Greek society. The author’s approach is twofold. He analyzes various formulas used in the binding curses to demonstrate that they were originally aimed at binding but not destroying the victim. Secondly, the author suggests that an agnostic relationship was the traditional context for the use of defixiones and that they were not employed as measure of vengeful spite but rather as effective means to prohibit a possible future defeat. The author argues that from the available evidence, though somewhat unclear, binding spells could be invoked by either the general person or professional magician. Four types of curses are found within these binding spells: commercial curses; amatory curses; judicial curses; curses against athletes or public performers. Generally, judicial and commercial curses date from the classical and Hellenistic period, with the other two dating to the late Roman period (2nd century CE onward).
Fensham, Charles F. “The Dog in Ex 11:7.” Vetus Testamentum 16 (1966): 504-507.
The meaning of the expression “But against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, not a dog shall growl” has been ignored in scholarship. This author examines this passage and argues that the dog imagery is present herein because it has a threat of a well known and common curse found throughout the ancient Near East. This passage points to a blessing for the Israelites and a curse to the Egyptians. The Egyptian plagues are also linked with ancient Near Eastern curses, and all can be paralleled by one or more curses in ancient Near Eastern literature.
Fensham, Charles F. “Treaty Between Israel and the Gibeonites.” Biblical Archaeologist 27 (1964): 96-100.
This article discusses the judicial implications of the treaty between Israel and the Gibeonites described in Joshua 9-10, and the breaking of that treaty referred to in 2 Sam 21:1-14. Parallels are found between Old Testament treaties and those of the ancient Near East e.g. the covenant of Yahweh and his people share similarities between the Hittite king and his subjects. Although the Israelites discovered deceit, the treaty could not be broken, as it was under the name of Yahweh. Deceit was cursed by Joshua (v. 23), but the curse could not negate the treaty, but only make the obligations heavier. Curses in the ancient Near East were generally connected with the breaking of an oath. Famine was one of the most popular penalties discussed by these curses (Old Testament, the treaty of Esarhaddon, The Aramaic Sefire Treaty). These curses were transmitted in a fixed form over many years.
Fox, W. Sherwood. “Old Testament Parallels to Tabellae Defixionum.” The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures 30 (1914): 111-124.
This article states that every prophetical book in the Old Testament with the exception of Hosea contains oracles against non-Israelite nations. It argues that the importance of these speeches is not found in what they “said” to the enemy but rather, in the function which they were performed within the context of Israelite society. This article attempts an investigation into the usage of these oracles within the institutional life of Israel, which should contribute to the understanding of the function of these oracles within the prophetic literature. The author argues that the use of oracles against one’s enemies is found in the Old Testament as part of the preparation and execution of warfare, and these speeches at times took the form of a curse. As a general rule, speeches made before battle did not take the form of a curse, but rather, as a speech of judgment against the nations. This article does discuss curses, how the curse of Agade relates to the Old Testament, as well as the curses of the Hittite treaties.
Franklena, R. “The Vassal-Treatise of Esarhaddon and the Dating of Deuteronomy.” Oudtestamentische Studiën. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1965. 122-154.
This essay confines its study to the vassal-treaties of Esarhaddon, which are of great importance to the study of Old Testament chronology. The paper analyzes the curses in these treaties, and separates them into individual curses and curses of general character. It explains the form of curses and illustrates how the curse formulae operate. The purpose of the study is to investigate the treaty pattern. It compares the curses in the treaty to the Old Testament curses, such as those found in Deuteronomy, and attempts to make literary connections between Old Testament and Assyrian texts.
Fraser, A.D. “The Ancient Curse: Some Analogies.” The Classical Journal 17 (1922): 454-466.
This author states that traces of the curse have been followed by students of folklore and primitive religion through the Bronze Age of mankind back to the Neolithic Period. This article argues that the principle of cursing is inherent in human nature. The current state of cursing relieves private feelings, nothing more. Ancient curses were infinitely more of a potent phenomenon, complete with dangerous possibilities against a victim against whom it is directed. The author argues that in the Old Testament, Yahweh was not cited as giving a command in a curse, as the power of the word was enough from the person invoking the curse.
Gager, John G. Moses in Greco-Roman Paganism. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1972. (YORK)
The purpose of this study is to examine the figure of Moses, his life, person, and teaching, as recorded by pagan authors in the Greco-Roman world. It asks questions such as: what did they think of him and what factors (social, political, literary, etc) influenced their evaluation of him; what did they know or claim to know of him; and where they received their information. The author argues that Moses is by far the best known figure of Jewish history in the pagan world. He is best known within the popular realm of magic. Celsus claims that the Jews had learned the art of magic from Moses. The author examines charms, titles, and amulets that make mention of Moses. The main source concerning Moses as a magician is found in the corpus of magical papyri. There are three images of Moses in the pagan writings; that of a lawgiver, the leader of the exodus, and a magician. Unfortunately, not much curse material is found within this work.
Gerstenberger, Erhard S. “The Woe-Oracles of the Prophets.” Journal of Biblical Literature 81 (1962): 249-263.
This article argues that the desire to understand the prophetical literature often leads to a wishful exegesis on the part of the authors who know beforehand what answers will be given by the text. Gerstenberger attempts to establish the original features of a given text in regard to its form and origin. He argues that the Woe-oracle had been in use over a long period of time and that the prophets used these to construct their own Woe-oracles. The purpose of this investigation is to study the structure and the form of the Woe-Oracle in Israelite society and localize it according to its possible origins, and trace how it became used in prophetic speech. Also, he attempts to ascertain the Woe-oracles meaning, purpose, and significance in the prophetic message. The author argues that the curse is always a powerful and effective utterance while the Woe-oracle cannot compete with the ‘curses’ official and powerful announcement. Woes are more private and detached from the scene of evildoing, more contemplative, and less effective than are curses.
Gevirtz, Stanley. Curse Motifs in the Old Testament and in the Ancient Near East. Diss. The Univ. of Chicago, 1959. Online.
The purpose of this rather extensive study on curses is examining the place and function of cursing in Israelite culture as is illustrated by the curses of the Old Testament. The work examines how the curse functions as a literary, legal, and religious phenomenon, and looks at the significance of the curse itself. It treats the Old Testament curses by examining their essential elements through a comparative analysis, generally with other Semitic sources. It studies who was cursed and why, what the accursed was cursed with, and how the curse was expressed. The material is gathered under curse types, curse themes, and curse formulations. The survey reveals that the curse functions in Israelite society as a protective and retaliating device. The author argues that the evidence found within this work displays that curses were highly respected and feared throughout the ancient Near East. This work also states that 35 instances within the Old Testament display that curses could be invoked without a divine agency (although other scholars argue that these still invoke Yahweh, but not explicitly). The power of these curses are found within the efficacy of the spoken word. This peculiar formation can be attested by at least one extra-biblical source (found in a tomb inscription of an Israelite royal officer). Gevirtz argues that since this type of curse frequents the Bible, yet, is restricted only to Hebrew traditions, this curse form may be considered unique to Israel (p. 241).
Gevirtz, Stanley. “West-Semitic Curses and the Problem of the Origins of Hebrew Law.” Vetus Testamentum 11 (1961): 137-158.
This article attempts to trace the origins of Israelite legal styles – whether they are original or influenced by Canaanite law. Gevirtz argues that the formulations in both are identical in every major respect of form. West Semitic texts from which the curses here are studied derive from the pre-Christian era and include the Phoenician-Punic, extra-biblical Hebrew, and Aramaic monumental inscriptions. Gevirtz lists the inscriptional curses in both English and in their original language. Gevirtz states that imprecations in the West-Semitic inscriptions may now be acknowledged to have been formulated along precisely the same lines as casuistic legal formulations. The only difference between the two is that although both announce punishment for an unwanted action, one appeals to a human agency, the other to a supernatural agency.
Gleadow, Rupert. Magic and Divination. Totowa, N.J: Rowman and Littlefield, 1976. (YORK)
This study argues that the interest of magic is not only in its formulas and rites, but principally in the psychological attitude of the men who practiced it, and in the success which they achieved. It argues against the misconception that Egyptian magicians used curses on a regular basis. The author states that magic was rarely used to do harm. He argues that ancient Egyptians were generally gentile people, who detested war and cruelty. This work is a general introduction into the area of magic, and not overly useful since it has no footnotes, endnotes, or a bibliography, and it mostly concentrates on white magic.
Goldenberg, David M. The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Princeton, N.J: Princeton UP, 2003. (YORK)
This work examines the story of the curse of Ham found in Gen 9:18-25. It argues that the story has been the single greatest justification for the injustice of Black slavery. The book explains how and why this strange interpretation of Biblical text took hold. This is a study of perception, symbolic associations, and historical ramifications. Of use for the topic of cursing, is the author’s analysis of the curse of Ham and the curse of Cain, as he offers his exegesis on both accounts.
Graf, Fritz. Magic in the Ancient World. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard UP, 1997. (YORK)
This work argues that ancient magic had more facets than simply harm being done through spells and curses. Magical rites not only helped to harm enemies and rivals, but also gave access to a higher spirituality. Magicians had a direct link to the divine world, and magic was seen as a gift from the gods. This book provides a general account of ancient magic, from the invention of the term in the last years of the 6th century BCE, to the end of antiquity. The work provides a brief survey of scholarship done on ancient magic. The work analyzes binding spells which subject another human to do one’s will and includes a methodological study on magic – how curses are formulated and the patterns they have. The author argues that binding spells and coercion spells all fit under the category of curses.
Gravel, Pierre Bettez. The Malevolent Eye: An Essay on the Evil Eye, Fertility, and the Concept of Mana. New York: P. Lang, 1995. (YORK)
This work examines various ways in which the evil eye has been looked at and the various places it is discussed e.g. among the Jews. The author examines and explains the incredible staying power of the symbolism involved in the evil eye. He briefly outlines its belief in contemporary literature and practice, then proceeds to place the structure of its belief back into the type of society in which the evil eye originated. The author argues that the eye is a fertility symbol which refers to prosperity, affluence, happiness and luck, and the evil eye refers to the fear of misfortune.
Guiley, Rosemary. The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft. New York: Facts on File, 1989. (YORK)
The purpose of this book is to provide information pertaining to the evolution of witchcraft in Western civilization – its history, beliefs, practice and adherents. It attempts to illuminate the reader’s understanding of witchcraft and put present practices in proper perspective with the past. There is all types of information on curses in this work, both ancient and contemporary, and the author attempts to explain the basic form of spells and curses.
Harper, Robert Francis. “Babylonian and Assyrian Imprecations.” The Biblical World 24 (1904): 26-30.
This article has no commentary, introduction, or conclusion. What it does is translate 5 Babylonian and Assyrian imprecations. These are:1) From the Epilogue of the Code of Hammurabi, King of Babylon (2250 BCE); 2) From an inscription of Adad-Nirari, King of Assyria (1325 BCE); 3) From an inscription of Nebuchadrezzar I, king of Babylon (1140 BCE); 4) From an inscription of Nabupaliddin, King of Babylon (883-852 BCE); 5) From an inscription of Merodachbaladan, King of Babylon (721-710 BCE). In all cases, the curse associated with these inscriptions is to keep trespassers from destroying the inscription.
Havener, Ivan. “A Curse for Salvation – 1 Corinthians 5:1-5.” Sin, Salvation, and the Spirit: Commemorating the Fiftieth Year of the Liturgical Press. Ed. Daniel Durken. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1979. 334-344. (QUEENS)
This paper argues that there is a general tendency in the modern world to idealize primitive Christianity, but this often involves some selectivity that ignores certain negative aspects of early Christianity. The author employs Corinthians 5:1-5 to illustrate how foreign some primitive Christian practices were. This particular passage invokes a ritual curse for the destruction of a guilty Christian who was in an incestuous relationship with his stepmother. Havener uses textual criticism to interpret this passage, and in particular analyzes the “for the destruction of his flesh” statement. Some scholars have argued that even though the man is cursed, there is a possible future restoration for the sinner if he repents, and who may be readmitted into the Christian community. However, Havener argues that the curse relates to an unavoidable physical death without the chance for restoration. This curse ousts the sinner from the Christian community and in essence, becomes a death penalty.
Hawass, Zahi A. Curse of the Pharaohs: My Adventures with Mummies. 1st ed. Washington: National Geographic Society, 2004. (QUEENS)
This is an archaeological study on the subject of the curse and the Pharaoh. It is written for the general reader and is filled with pictures of archaeological expeditions and sites. It discusses ancient Egyptian curses which were inscribed on the walls and doorways of tombs. It also presents a study on whether the Egyptians believed in curses and magic, and concludes that many did, although, tomb robbers had no problem raiding these tombs. Of interest, is the author’s observation that Royal tombs were not inscribed with curses because they were well sealed and protected from trespassers. This work is focused on the exploits of the author and his experience with tombs, pyramids, and archeology, but it does have some useful information on cursing in Egypt.
Hayes, John H. “The Usage of Oracles Against Foreign Nations in Ancient Israel.” Journal of Biblical Literature 87 (1968): 81-92.
This article argues that the religion of the common person in Palestine in the Canaanite period was very similar to that of the corresponding class in Egypt. It was common to find people in Israel frequently relapse into practices of idolatry and witchcraft. This paper discusses several passages in the Old Testament which exhibit practices closely related to the extant Greek and Roman curse-tablets. It looks at six Old Testament curses and treats them as a group, with all containing the principle elements of defixiones (Judge 17:1-2, Mal 3:8-9, Zech 5:2-4. Jer 51:60-64, Ezek 4: 1-3, 2 Kings 13:17-19). It analyzes these as a group with common traits e.g. against whom the curse is directed, intended causes, whether they were written or spoken, etc.
Hillers, Delbert R. Covenant. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1969. (YORK)
This work argues that Yahweh’s bond with His people was not defined by a legal bond, but a natural one. Yahweh was the protector, the deliverer, and only out of confrontation with Canaanite religion did it come about that the prophets began to stress the moral demands of Yahweh. Out of this stage, the legalistic religion of post-exilic Judaism occurred. The idea of a covenant came from Israel’s ancient neighbors, and they were influenced by treaties such as the Hittite treaties. Cursing was the most common forms of retribution for breaking oaths in the Hittite treaties and this filtered into Jewish thought. Curses became a scare tactic, which was influenced by the surrounding cultures of Israel. Prophets in the Bible framed their oracles of woe in terms associated with treaties. This work includes curses from a wide variety of surrounding cultures. It discusses the form of the Biblical curse and its literary relationship to other curses. The most useful chapter in this work regarding curses is entitled “Therefore I will punish you”.
Hillers, Delbert R. Treaty-Curses and the Old Testament Prophets. Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1964. (UT)
Hillers argues that ancient Near Eastern treaties have shown that the prophets relied heavily on them for their conception of a covenant between God and Israel. This work explores the relation between the curses attached to the treaties and the prophetic literature. The purpose of ancient treaty-curses was an elaborate promise, and the function of the curse attached to it was to make sure that the promise would be kept by invoking the punishment of the gods to the defaulter. Hillers uses literary analysis to compare the curse material in the literature of Israel with that of her contemporaries. The form of the curse in both the Old Testament and the treaty form (as in the Hittite empire) follow the following general structure: 1)name of deity 2) an epithet of the deity 3) the curse to be inflicted. Parallels between the treaty and the covenant are not accidental. Throughout her early history up until the exile, Israel shared with its neighbours a common legal form, the treaty, and this form was adopted as a basic element in Israel’s religion. The Prophets often used traditional threats associated with the covenant when pronouncing doom on the people. They usually used curses deliberately, conscious of their association with the covenant, since the prophets on two occasions refer to treaty-curses as the source of their oracle (Jer 34:18 and Is 34:16). Hillers concludes that the treaty by nature was founded in the international and public legal form, and was used for a variety of purposes and originated long before the founding of Israel. Before the beginning of literary prophecy, this legal form was adopted by the Israelites as a way of defining their relationship to Yahweh, and included the curses which were a major feature of the treaty.
Hoftijzer, Jacob. “Prophet Balaam in a 6th Century Aramaic Inscription.” Biblical Archaeologist 39 (1976): 11-17.
In Nums 22-24, Balaam, a non-Israelite prophet, is ordered by the King of Moab in Transjordan to curse the invading Israelites. Instead, through God’s intervention, Balaam blesses the Moab people. In 1967, at Tell Deir-Alla in Jordan, curses of Balaam were found inscribed on a stele. These curses do not possess a single complete line because they are so fragmentary in nature. However, a series of curses parallel many passages of the Old Testament and other ancient Near Eastern literature. These curses appear to be said by Balaam. Unfortunately, the article does not delve much into the curses themselves, but is more interested in the fact that these steles have provided knowledge of a local Aramaic dialect hitherto unknown.
Holloway, Steven W. “Distaff, Crutch or Chain Gang : the Curse of the House of Joab in 2 Samuel 3:29.” Vetus Testamentum 37 (1987): 370-375.
2 Samuel provides David with a speech in which he exonerates himself and his kingdom from complicity in the murder of Abner ben Ner, Saul’s general. Joab, David’s general, is not only assigned responsibility for the deed, but is cursed in terms which were indicative of ANE treaty-curses. This article attempts to investigate what the curse entailed – Joab’s descendants were doomed to perform coercive labor because earthwork was the most degrading type of work in Mesopotamia.
Howard, George. Paul: Crisis in Galatia: a Study in Early Christian Theology. 2nd. ed. New York: Cambridge UP, 1990. (YORK)
This study confines itself almost exclusively to the letter to the Galatians. It aims at reexamining the traditional interpretations of the letter and proposes a reinterpretation of it. The work provides a historical exegetical approach to Galatians and concludes that Galatians is probably the earliest of Paul’s letters, and that the meeting between Paul, Peter, James and John recorded in Gal 2:1-10 is not equated with the Jerusalem conference recorded in Acts 15. As for the topic on the curse of the Law, the author surveys and analyzes some scholarship done on the passage. The author argues that Paul believed that the Law was a curse because of his overriding theology of faith over works. However, this study does not provide an exhaustive account on the issue.
Hutton, Rodney R. “The Case of the Blasphemer Revisited.” Vetus Testamentum 49 (1999): 532-541.
This is an article that outlines how the word “curse” could have different interpretations. The problem confronting the reader of Leviticus 24:11 is whether the verb used means “curse” or “degrade”. This author argues that the word is better translated as “degrade or “belittle”. The greatest translation is one that gives consideration to the manners of both vocabulary and syntax. The cursing here probably means “belittling”, thus, it degrades the deity and declares Yahweh worthless and insignificant.
Jacq, Christian. Egyptian Magic. Chicago, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci, 1985. (YORK)
This work argues that magic in Egypt was regarded as an exact science, and its secrets only revealed to the highest orders of priesthood. It states that magic was primarily used as a system of defense, and black magic as well as cursing was a rare occurrence in Egyptian magic. Since this work does mention cursing in its index, the topic is difficult to find. However, there is a chapter on “Love Magic” in this volume which some scholars believe to be a type of curse or binding spell.
Johnston, Gordon H. “Nahum’s Rhetorical Allusions to Neo-Assyrian Treaty Curses.” Bibliotheca Sacra 158 (2001): 415-436.
Many scholars demonstrate that most of the prophetic announcements of judgment against Judah or Israel allude to covenant curses in Lev 26 and Deut 28-31. However, the prophetic maledictions in Nahum more closely align to the Neo-Assyrian treaty-curse then to the curses of the Mosaic Covenant. Johnston surveys the major scholarship done on treaty-curses and their relation to the Old Testament generally and to the Book of Nahum specifically. The author indicates that prophetic maledictions in Nahum are unique among the Hebrew prophets, and that Neo-Assyrian treaty curses (especially those of Esarhaddon) are unique among ancient Near Eastern curse material. Thus, the author compares Nahum’s judgment motifs with ancient Near Eastern curse materials and the closest correlation parallels with Neo-Assyrian treaties. Nearly twenty close parallels exist between Nahum’s expressions of judgment and curses in other ancient Near Eastern texts. The author outlines three reasons to further his thesis, including that it would be too coincidental that the treaty-curses that the Assyrians threatened to invoke on Judah would be the very judgments Yahweh would invoke on Assyria. The primary purpose of using these treaty-curses would be poetic justice, as Yahweh would implement curses on the Assyrians and display the power of the “true” God. Thus, this text also becomes a polemic against Assyrian gods – the Assyrian gods cannot implement treaty-curses on Judah, but Yahweh can, and will use those same curses on Assyria to demonstrate that He alone is the sovereign God.
Jordan, David R. “New Greek Curse Tablets (1985-2000).” Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 41 (2001): 5-46.
This article publishes a list of curse tablets. It offers a translation of these and provides a brief introduction.
Jordan, D.R. “Defixiones From a Well Near the Southwest Corner of the Athenian Agora.” Hesperia 54 (1985): 205-255.
This article discusses the excavations in the Athenian Agora which recovered over 100 lead curse tablets. These defixiones range in date from the late 4th Century BCE to the early 5th Century CE. The main contribution and purpose of this paper is in transcribing these often quite difficult texts.
King, L. W. Babylonian Magic and Sorcery: Being “the Prayers of the Lifting of the Hand” 1st ed. York Beach, Me: S. Weiser, 2000. (UT)
The object of this study is to give the cuneiform text of a complete group of tablets inscribed with prayers that have somewhat of a magical quality. These tablets are translated in English in full. These texts offer a means to gain an insight into the magico-religious concepts of the Semitic nations. Some binding spells and curses can be found in these translations.
Kinman, Brent Rogers. “Lucan Eschatology and the Missing Fig Tree.” Journal of Biblical Literature 113 (1994): 669-678.
This article asks why Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree in Mark is omitted by Luke. The author argues that the account is omitted because of Lucan theological concerns, especially his eschatological considerations. The paper surveys how the issue is treated by scholars and focuses on a new solution. The fig tree represents Israel in Jesus’ day and its cursing symbolizes the destruction of the city and Temple by the Romans. In Markan theology, Israel faces irreparable judgment. Luke rejects the cursing of the fig tree because Luke-Acts allows for an intimate future role for Jerusalem in the plan of God, which rests upon Israel’s repentance.
Koch, Klaus. The Growth of the Biblical Tradition: The Form-Critical Method. New York: Macmillan Pub. Co., 1988. (YORK)
This book is intended for beginners in theology and is done with primarily students in mind. It employs form-criticism in an attempt to discover the principles underlying the language of the Bible. The purpose of this book is an attempt to discover what lies behind the speech of God in the Bible. Sections of this work are quite useful to the subject of cursing (i.e. the sub-chapters entitled “Prophecy of Disaster to the Individual”, “Prophecy of Disaster to the Nation”, and Chapter 18), but the author refrains from using the word “curse” in his work, and instead chooses the terms “threat” and “prophecies of disaster”.
Kosmala, Hans. Studies, Essays and Reviews. Leiden: Brill, 1978. (YORK)
This work is a collection of articles composed by the author. The most useful section for the topic of curses is “Form and Structure of Ancient Hebrew Poetry”. In his essay entitled “Form and Structure of Ancient Hebrew Poetry, I” (pp. 84-106), Kosmala discusses different oracles in the Old Testament, including the curses found within them. Here, Kosala analyzes the form and structure of the curse and doom oracle.
Laato, Antti, and Johannes Cornelis De Moor, eds. Theodicy in the World of the Bible. Boston: Brill, 2003. (YORK)
This work argues that through the rise of monotheism, the problem of theodicy has become one of the central theological issues in the modern Western world. The aim of the volume is to trace the theodicy problem to its earliest roots in the polytheistic religions of the ancient Near East and pursue its development through the Bible and ancient Judaism. Retribution ideology plays a central role in ancient vassal treaties, especially in their section of blessing and cursing. This treaty form influenced the covenant theology of the Old Testament. Ancient law documents regularly employ the theme that deities will punish those who refuse to live according to the laws set by the deity. Though these essays do not specially tackle the issue of cursing, they do address the issue that the evils of the world and illness are due to divine action.
Laney, J. Carl. “A Fresh Look At the Imprecatory Psalms.” Bibliotheca Sacra 138 (1981): 35-45.
The purpose of this article is to define an imprecation, identify the imprecatory Psalms, identify the problem that interpreters have with such Psalms, recount proposed solutions to the difficulty, and present a solution to the problem. The problem that Christians have with these psalms is an ethical one – how can God can be both vengeful and merciful? The author argues that the fundamental ground on which one may justify the imprecations in the Psalms is through a covenantal basis for a curse on Israel’s enemies. For the most part, this work presents theological arguments for the justification of cursing. The author ignores curses and woes in the New Testament completely.
Lauterbauch, Jacob Z. “The Belief in the Power of the Word.” Hebrew Union College Annual 14 (1939): 287-302.
This author states that the belief in the effectiveness of the uttered word was common among primitive peoples and was widespread among the ancient peoples. According to the belief, whatever is spoken, even if only causally and unintentionally, can come to fruition. That is to say, the word becomes fact. Expressions of this are found in the Talmud and Midrashim. The purpose of this essay is to find ideas underlying Jewish belief in the power of the Word expressed in the Talmud. Here, Lauterbach argues that man has both the power to invoke blessing and cursing and can even change the mind of God. Angels carry out curses uttered by humans, and at times, rebel angels do not wait for the order from God to do so. In some cases, these angels move so quickly that they get the wrong address and therefore, hurt the wrong person. No magical power is given to the voice, but dangers of the spoken word occurs because of infallible angels.
Lehmann, Arthur C., and James E. Myers, eds. Magic, Witchcraft, and Religion: an Anthropological Study of the Supernatural. 5th. ed. Mountain View: Mayfield Pub. Co., 2001. (YORK)
This work is a textbook whose purpose, through an anthropological study, is to illustrate that magic is not such a foreign and strange concept as many contemporary people proclaim. The work wishes to instill tolerance, diversity and adaptability into its reader. For the most part, it is a study in comparative religions. It demonstrates a comparative approach to the major elements and categories of religion. Very little material is presented with regards to cursing, and mainly focuses on contemporary cases and case studies.
Levene, Dan. A Corpus of Magic Bowls: Incantation Texts in Jewish Aramaic From Late Antiquity. London: Kegan Paul, 2003. (UT)
This work is a collection of Jewish magical texts from late antiquity. It provides a lengthy introduction on magic bowls. These bowls illustrate that people of late antiquity were genuinely afraid of curses, which is why they needed protection from them. These magical texts were individually commissioned by people whose names are usually found within the texts. For the most part, this work focuses on protection spells from curses.
Lewis, I. M. Ecstatic Religion a Study of Shamanism and Spirit Possession. 2nd. ed. New York: Routledge, 1989. (YORK)
This study attempts to study how different cultures and societies conceptualize and treat ecstasy, and how the ecstatic experience varies with the social conditions in which it occurs. The book attempts to explore the most decisive and profound element of all religious dramas—the seizure of man by divinity. This work mainly focuses on possession, rather then on curses.
Lewis, Theodore J. Cults of the Dead in Ancient Israel and Ugarit. Atlanta, Ga: Scholars Press, 1989. (YORK)
This study follows the contrast between the Yahwhistic, which became normative, and certain Canaanite material, which was ultimately rejected. The author argues that the texts looked at in this study support the picture of an ongoing battle throughout ancient Israel’s history between adherents of what became normative Yawehism and those who practiced death cult rituals. The work concentrates mainly on textual material and briefly examines archaeological material. Not much is discussed regarding curses, although it comments on Isaiah 19:3 and Ezekiel 43:7-9 which make mention of curses.
Lewy, Immanuel. “Puzzle of Dt 27 : Blessings Announced, But Curses Noted.” Vetus Testamentum 12 (1962): 207-211.
The author of this paper attempts to illustrate that Deuteronomy consists of two strata: a Northern Code and a Jerusalem Code. Curses in Deuteronomy demonstrate where the text divides. The author argues that both include curses, but are interested in different types of transgressors that are most prevalent in their areas. This article does not say much more regarding the curse topic.
Little, Lester K. “Curse.” The Encyclopedia of Religion. Ed. Mircea Eliade. 4 vols. New York: MacMillan Company, 1987. (YORK)
This article explains that curses expressed disapproval or displeasure, but the manner in which they are produced ranges from spontaneous, explosive rage to the careful rendering of an unpleasant judgment. Virtually anyone can utter a curse, but those with the power to bless usually are the ones with the power to curse (e.g. deities, holy persons). This article lists several curses found within the Old and New Testaments. Religious curses serve several purposes—most notably, the harassment of enemies; the enforcement of law, doctrinal discipline and proper behavior; and the protection of scared places and objects. A curse can be considered a speech act since a curse is simultaneously a verbal utterance and a deed performed.
Lundbom, Jack R. “The Double Curse in Jeremiah 20:14-18.” Journal of Biblical Literature 104 (1985): 589-600.
The author argues that this passage is Jeremiah’s most distressed cry. Jeremiah invokes not one (as most believe) but two curses – the first one on the day of his birth, the second on the man who brought his father the news. Many find that Jeremiah blasphemed Yahweh, such as Calvin; thus, the text is usually glossed over. Textual and redaction criticism is used to reconstruct the text in what the author believes to be its original form. The structure proposed by this author presents the idea that Jeremiah wanted Yahweh to kill him in the womb, which was purposely omitted because it is infelicitous for Jeremiah to curse his birthday since Yahweh did not kill him in the womb. The content of the poem is now read as: an announcement of the double curse (14-15), contemplation of the double curse (16-17) and the final lament (18).
Lykiardopoulos, Amica. “The Evil Eye: Towards an Exhaustive Study.” Folklore 92 (1981): 221-230.
This article attempts to present a complete and organized study on the subject of the evil eye. The application of the frame of reference outlined covers the areas of folk/popular custom and belief, but also oral folklore, the folk arts, and the study of material culture. The evil eye is the belief that a glance can damage life and property, and is found in ancient Babylon, Egypt, and throughout the Greco-Roman world. Some scholars believe that the evil eye is the basis and origin of the magical arts. The possessor of the power casts the evil eye to another person, animal, or object, making the person sick, unhappy, etc. The possessor of the evil eye can be anyone, but usually they are under the influence of anger or envy. All creatures of God possess the power of the evil eye, even animals. Everyone is susceptible to it, especially prominent people because they are often the cause of other’s envy. The actual process of how the evil eye is cast is usually not mentioned in these texts, although it usually involves a conscious wish on the part of the possessor to harm their victim.
Magnetti, Donald L. “The Function of the Oath in the Ancient Near Eastern International Treaty.” The American Journal of International Law 72 (1978): 815-829.
This essay argues that in the absence of an established structure, as was the case in the ancient Near East, only an appeal to the gods could be an effective means to guarantee obedience to a treaty, other then resorting to military force. Thus, the oath by the gods was the constitutive element, which provided the sanction in the ancient Near Eastern international treaty. Most scholars examine the connection between the legal structure of the treaty form and the form of the Old Testament covenants. However, this author argues that the function of the oaths as the means of providing sanction in the treaty form and its place within the structure of the ancient Israelite covenants have not been thoroughly examined. The swearing of an oath in support of an agreement and the resulting sanction of the gods was a vital element of treaty making. The treaty “was not in effect unless it invoked through the affirmation by the divine, that one would be faithful to the agreement”.
McCarthy, Dennis J. Treaty and Covenant a Study in Form in the Ancient Oriental Documents and in the Old Testament. 2nd ed. Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1978. (YORK)
This author argues that the Sinai narrative demonstrates a resemblance to the treaty genre. The work illustrates the development of covenant ideas, a development which took place through reflection on the ritual covenant (and was possibly influenced by the Davidic covenant). It presents an analysis of certain key passages (Ex 19:3b-8, Jos 24:1-28) to further the argument. The book outlines the classical form of the treaty, which he argues, the Old Testament follows. The author argues that the Sinai covenant is the oldest covenant in the Bible. On the topic of cursing, the author examines certain curses embedded in various ancient treaties, and what role the curse played in the treaty. In the first chapter, the author examines the curse formula in Deuteronomy – its form and structure. The topic of curse and cursing is found throughout the work (which has a useful index), but no single chapter succinctly provides an examination on the topic.
Meyer, Marvin W., and Richard Smith, eds. Ancient Christian Magic Coptic Texts of Ritual Power. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1999. (YORK)
This book deals with magic spells, charms, amulets, etc. These date from the 1st – 12th century CE. The majority of them, however, are from late antiquity. The main purpose of the study is to present in English a representative selection of 135 Coptic texts of ritual power. Virtually all the texts are composed by Coptic Christians. In the introduction, Meyer provides a methodological account on curse material. Chapter 7 contains a plethora of curse material. Each translated curse has a introductory note which is useful. These curses include death curses, tumor causing curses, silencing curses, etc.
Minear, Paul Sevier. “Far as the Curse is Found : the Point of Revelation 12:15-16.” Novum Testamentum 33 (1991): 71-77.
This author states that Genesis 3:15-20 dominates the whole of Revelation 12. He argues that the key to understanding prophecy is to observe the multiple ways in which God’s curses are executed and reversed in Revelation. Minear argues that the theology in Revelation 12 reverses the curse of Genesis 3 – the Christian victory creates the serpent’s eviction from heaven. This eviction cancels the curses and enables the Christian to proclaim their salvation. Genesis traced the world’s evil to a lie and to the curses that were evoked because of the lie, and Revelation traces the victory over evil to a refusal to lie under the threat of death brought about in Genesis 3.
Mirecki, Paul Allan, and Marvin W. Meyer. Magic and Ritual in the Ancient World. Boston: Brill, 2002. (YORK)
This anthology is a forum for studies in the social and cultural function of religions in the Greco-Roman world, and deals with pagan religions and their interaction with and influence on Christianity and Judaism. The essays in this work vary widely in their approach to this subject. Four essays in particular are useful. Fritz Graf’s “Theories of Magic in Antiquity” discusses the power of words in antiquity. H.S. Versnel’s “The Poetics of the Magical Charm: An Essay in the Power of Words” also discusses the power of the word, although not much mention is made of curses. Christopher A. Faraone’s “The Ethnic Origins of A Roman Era Philtrokadesmos (PGM IV 296 – 434)” is a useful study on binding spells. Finally, Nicole B. Hanse’s “Execration Magic in Coptic and Islamic Egypt” discusses harmful and evil spells.
Morland, Kjell Arne. The Rhetoric of Curse in Galatians: Paul Confronts Another Gospel. Atlanta, Ga: Scholars Press, 1995. (UT)
This study attempts to give more attention to the importance of curses in the early church. The author argues that the origins of curses are not found in magic, but in ancient vassal treaties. Morland states that scholars have incorrectly treated the curses in Galatians as minor arguments which have little or no bearing on the main argument in the letter. This study employs rhetorical criticism to interpret the curse in the most obvious and conventional way and gives due attention to both their semantic, syntactic, and pragmatic aspects. This work selects the most relevant Jewish curse texts for a comparative analysis with Galatians. Comparison of the Pauline semantic field with the semantic field of Jewish curse texts brings to light the traditions that correspond to Paul’s use of curses. The author employs cursing found within the Hebrew Bible, the oldest Pseudepigrapha, Qumran texts, Philo, and Josephus. These curses may be classified into five main groups: 1) those related to Deut 27-30 2) Genesis and Numbers 3) to divine laws 4) to social relations 5) misc. group of remaining curses. This book is filled with useful and effective charts, such as those that illustrate where the distribution of Jewish curse/ban terms appear. The study attempts to search for a Jewish background for the curses of Gal 3:8-14 by first concentrating on the structure of Gal 3:8-14 and then focusing on the additional elements in the curses of Gal 3:10 and 3:13-14 respectively. The author describes how the curse functions, and how the anathema in Gal 1:8-9 functions to use a curse to underscore the divine teaching of the letter. The author concludes that Gal 3:8-14 presents a challenge to the Galatians not only to choose between two opposing gospels, but also between Paul and his opponents as persons. Therefore, not only would the Galatians reject a certain teaching, but also turn away from the person preaching it. The pragmatic function of the curse is an allusion to the covenantal traditions with a major deviation: the curse is issued on those who claim obedience toward the law instead of the law-breakers. Here, Paul reinterprets deuteronomistic traditions.
Naveh, Joseph, and Shaul Shaked. Amulets and Magic Bowls: Aramaic Incantations of Late Antiquity. 2nd ed. Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, Hebrew University, 1987. (YORK)
This work states that it was a widespread practice in the area of Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor during the 4th-7th centuries of the current era to use talismans written on metal sheets to thwart the powers of evil, to heal, or to gain the love of a person (some scholars view erotic magic as a type of curse). This work aims to give a full account and interpret the legible amulets from Palestine and surrounding areas. It provides both an English translation and the original language in which the incantations were written. The work also publishes some photographs of the actual texts. Curses are found within this work, but are somewhat difficult to find since there is no index. The following are some of the erotic or curse like incantations found in the work: B 2:6, 9; B 4:6; B 9; B 1:11.
Naveh, Joseph, and Shaul Shaked. Magic Spells and Formulae: Aramaic Incantations of Late Antiquity. Jerusalem: Magnes Press, Hebrew University, 1993. (UT)
The purpose of this work is to publish the Palestinian Aramaic amulets that were not included in these author’s work entitled “Amulets and Magic Bowls: Aramaic Incantations of Late Antiquity”. No actual discussion of curses occurs in the work, but some curse related material can be found e.g. amulet 16 has the owner of the amulet wishing to suppress the people of a town.
Nitzan, Bilha. “Blessing and Cursing.” Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Ed. Lawrence H. Schiffman and James C. Vanderkam. New York: Oxford UP, 2000. (YORK)
This article presents quite an extensive summary on blessing and cursing found in the DSS. The source of the power of the curse is found in the deity, hence, these maledictions may be considered prayers. The counterpoising of blessings and curses plays a central role in the life of the Qumran community in their ceremonies and in their literary compositions. This article illustrates all the places where the curses of the DSS are found, and examines their stylistic traits.
Nordh, Katarina. Aspects of Ancient Egyptian Curses and Blessings: Conceptual Background and Transmission. Stockholm: Distributor, Almquist & Wiksell International, 1996. (UT)
This dissertation examines the use of Egyptian curse and blessing formulae, their conceptual setting and transmission. Chapter 3 delineates the form, content and function of the curse and blessing formulae. Chapter 4 examines the transmissional activities regarding the textual material in general and the curse and blessing formulae in particular. The aim of the study is to illustrate the different aspects of the ancient Egyptian curses and blessings, to analyze their role in society, to analyze their users, and to analyze the conceptual background of the curses and blessings. The author argues that the curse and blessing formulae reflects the world view of the ancient Egyptians and to a large extent, their view of man and his capabilities in life and death. In most cases, the sender of the curse in ancient Egypt was a scribe, or a high ranking official. As for the power of the curse, some believed in its efficiency, others were indifferent to it.
Noth, Martin. The Laws in the Pentateuch, and Other Studies. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967. (YORK)
This is a collection of essays written by the author. The most useful of the group is entitled “For all who rely on works of the Law are under a Curse”, which examines Gal 3:10. This essay studies how Paul employs Deuteronomy 28 in this letter. It also argues that parts of Deut 28 are later additions to the text e.g. Deut 28:21, 29, 34, 36-41. The author also suggests that Deut 28 closely parallels the Code of Hammurabi, where all laws should end with a curse and blessing. It also examines boundary stones which appear in Babylonia. The purpose of the work is to illustrate that Deut 27-28 parallels (in its curses) other texts found in the neighboring areas of ancient Israel. The title is misleading, as it does little investigation into the work of Paul’s letter. Rather, it focuses mostly on literary and form criticism on Deut 28 and Lev 26.
Ogden, Daniel. Greek and Roman Necromancy. Princeton, N.J: Princeton UP, 2001. (YORK)
This work is spawned from the author’s feeling that a treatment of Greco-Roman necromancy was needed from a scholarly point of view. It argues that at the core of necromantic practice, was ghost-laying and ghost-placation. It discusses that the conceptual home for necromancy in the Greek and Roman world was the tomb, which served the living as the home of the ghost. The importance of tombs as sites for the exercise of control over ghosts is demonstrated by the many curse-tablets and voodoo dolls deposited in them. These curse-tablets were addressed to the ghosts within the tomb, who were required to achieve, directly or indirectly, the curse described. A phenomenon had occurred in the Greco-Roman world, where the spontaneous appearance of ghost armies began to be discussed which were seen as omens of disaster on the battlefield. The author argues that the simplest form of cursing was the binding curse. Here, one merely handed over the name of one’s chosen victim to a ghost. Plato had banned such binding curses. This work argues that a strong continuum between the rising of the dead for prophecy and rousing them for cursing had existed. The Greeks were so concerned with cursing, that they implemented laws against invoking them. This work also discusses dolls and how they were incorporated into the binding-curse. This work provides a fair treatment of cursing material.
Parker, Simon B. Stories in Scripture and Inscriptions: Comparative Studies on Narratives in Northwest Semitic Inscriptions and the Hebrew Bible. New York: Oxford UP, 1997. (YORK)
This work is a comparative study that sets narratives preserved in the Bible along side the narratives presented in inscriptions from Judah and its cultural milieu. It addresses both literary and historical questions, as a means of shedding fresh light on the character, history, and function of the ancient narratives. The work provides many inscriptions found that tend to end with a curse (in order to keep people from damaging the inscription). The author mentions curses throughout the book but does very little analysis on them.
Pettys, Valerie F. “Let There Be Darkness: Continuity and Discontinuity in the ‘Curse’ of Job 3.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 98 (2002): 89-104.
This article is a rhetorical and inter-textual study of Job 3:1-31. The author finds in Job’s curse a response to catastrophic suffering that is paradigmatic for both the linguistic construction of meaning and the reading of the biblical texts. The author does not delve into how Job is cursed, but how God is cursed. However, the curse is not a magical one, rather, the meaning of the word is better suited to be translated as “degrade” or “belittle”. The cursing in Job is an act of deprecation, and brought about because of Job’s feeling that Yahweh was treating him unjustly.
Pritchard, James Bennett, ed. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. 2nd Corr. and Enl. ed. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1955. (YORK)
This is a colossal book, in excess of 700 pages. The purpose of the work is to make available to the students of the ancient Near East the most important extra-biblical texts. It used two criteria in choosing which material it would include in the volume: 1) all texts which have been cited in recognized commentaries which make parallels to certain passages in the Old Testament 2) texts that represent every type of literary expression from each of the linguistic and cultural areas of the ancient Near East. This work has curses from treaties and other writings from the ancient Near East scattered throughout the work. However, no mention of curses is made in the index which makes them difficult to find unless prior knowledge of a text which has a curse is known to the reader. The Egyptian and Hittite treaties (e.g. treaty between Suppiluliumas and Kurtiwaza) has many curse references.
Rossell, Willaim H. A Handbook of Aramaic Magical Texts. Ringwood Borough: Shelton College, 1953. (UT)
This work seeks to fulfill a “long felt need for a grammatical study of the Jewish Babylonian Aramaic texts”. These texts are in Mandaic, Syriac, and what the author calls, Jewish Babylonian Aramaic. These texts shed light, both culturally and linguistically, on the Babylonian Talmud. There are references to cursing, woes, and binding in this work, although none of the texts have an English translation (all are in their original language).
Schiffman, Lawrence H., and Michael D. Swartz. Hebrew and Aramaic Incantation Texts From the Cairo Genizah: Selected Texts From Taylor-Schechter Box K1. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992. (UT)
This monograph presents a selection of incantation texts, mostly amulets, from box K1 of the Taylor-Schechter Genizah collection. These reflect the medieval Jewish community of the Mediterranean world in the Middle Ages (8th – 10th century). Included are three curse inscriptions.
Scott, James M. “For as Many as are of Works of the Law are Under a Curse (Gal 3:10).” Paul and the Scriptures of Israel. Ed. Craig A. Evans and James A. Sanders. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993. 187-221. (WESTERN)
This study provides a survey of scholarship done on the use of Deuteronomy 27:26 in Galatians 3:10. It then examines Deut 27:26 in Old Testament/Jewish tradition, and re-examines the use of Deut 27:26 in Galatians 3:10 in light of its Old Testament/Jewish background. Paul in Galatians 3:6-29 argues against the idea that the Galatians received the Spirit through the works of the Law, but rather, received it by means of faith. The author argues that the curse of the Law, in relation to Old Testament/Jewish tradition, has Paul making a fairly common assumption during the Second Temple Period: the curses of Deut 27-32 had fallen on Israel in 722 and 587 BCE and would remain on the nation until the time of the messianic redemption and restoration. For Paul, this restoration came in the form of Jesus Christ.
Seligmann, Kurt. Magic, Supernaturalism and Religion. London: Allen Lane, 1971. (YORK)
The aim of this book is to present to the general reader a condensed account of the magical ideas and operations in the Western world. It analyzes the magic practices of the ancient world and its chapters are divided geographically or culturally (Mesopotamia, Persia, The Hebrew Bible, Egypt, Greece, Gnosticism, Roman Empire etc.). The work discusses how magic was both a protector and destroyer. It examines spells and incantations that attempt to attain an evil end e.g. killing at random. Some sorcerers were believed to possess the evil eye, which enabled them to kill merely by looking at a victim. This work could have benefited from a subject index. Although it rarely uses the word “curse”, it does discuss evil spells.
Skelton, Robin. Spellcraft: a Manual of Verbal Magic. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978. (YORK)
This work is concerned with the making of verbal spells, and with the way in which spells operate by means of the transmission of telepathic energies. The author believes in the actual power of these spells. The work discusses binding spells and love spells throughout the book, although, it does not explicitly refer to these as curses. This book would have benefited if it had included an index.
Smith, Morton. Jesus the Magician. 1st ed. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978. (YORK)
Morton Smith argues that “Jesus the Magician” was the figure seen by most ancient opponents of Jesus, while “Jesus the Son of God” was the figure seen by the party of his followers which eventually triumphed. Smith states that a bias exists in scholarship, as scholars attempt to discover the historical Jesus without paying attention to the evidence for Jesus the magician, and have only taken the gospels as their source. Though not overly concerned with curse material, Smith does discuss and analyze some curse-tablets found in Greece, especially those that invoke the name of Jesus or Yahweh. Jesus is the god most invoked by amulets, curse tablets, and magical papyri. The work lists certain spells which evoke spirits to their bidding. Smith states that there is a class of spells called “dividers” which cause hatred or prevent love. He argues that Jesus performs this type of spell in Matthew 10:35, when Jesus states that he has “come to set a man against his father…”, and its usual apocalyptic interpretation to the early church is wrong. Also, Smith illustrates that Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree is connected to magic, and in many cases, both Matthew and Mark eliminate most of the magical material in the oral traditions of Jesus.
Strubbe, J. H. M. “Cursed Be He That Moves My Bones.” Magika Hiera: Ancient Greek Magic and Religion. Ed. Christopher A. Faraone and Dirk Obbink. New York: Oxford UP, 1991. 33-59. (YORK)
This essay is concerned with the ancient funerary imprecations that are found in the Greek epitaphs of Asia Minor. These are curses that are written on gravestones by the owner of a tomb to ward off any potential wrongdoers, and warn that evil will befall anyone who violates the grave. This study restricts itself to the study of the pagan curse formula. It distinguishes between two main categories of curses: those that contain imprecations that do not specify punishments awaiting the wrongdoer, and those that do include imprecations that specify punishments. In these funerary imprecations, the name of a god or several gods is often included. The author provides both the Greek and English translation of the curses. He also examines the power of words, and states that the power of the curse is based on a more general belief in the efficacy of the word. The power is increased if the word is spoken by a person of high status e.g. king, priest, parent, the dying, and the dead. The force of the cursing word could be increased by a variety of rhetorical devices such as repetition, rhythm, and the use of triplets. The power of the curse can also be enhanced by accompanying gestures, such as the touching of the earth, touching the accursed person directly, the raising of hands, etc. The power of the curse is always double-sided: words can bring harm but also profit. The essential characteristic of the curse is that once it is spoken, it usually cannot be stopped, and only the person who can reverse its effects is the person who invoked it or the god involved. Another characteristic of the curse, is that if often strikes not only the accursed but also his household or posterity.
Stuart, Douglas, and David N. Freedman. “Curse.” The Anchor Bible Dictionary. 1st ed. New York: Doubleday, 1992. (YORK)
Here, some curses from the Old Testament are outlined. The entry states that 27 types of curses are found in the Old Testament, but many may be summarized by 6 terms: defeat, disease, desolation, deprivation, deportation and death. Such curses are warnings of what God will do to Israel if they sin. As the arbitrator of values, God is free to curse those who offend him, while humans do not share this same prerogative. Cursing by humans could have serious consequences and the Old Testament speaks against such curses e.g. Cursing one’s parents (Ex 21:17; Lev 20:19), cursing the handicapped (Lev 19:14), cursing a King (2 Sam 16), or cursing God (Lev 24:11-24). These were all viewed as crimes or sins punishable by death. According to the Old Testament, merely expressing a curse had little force. However, individuals could compose heir own curses against other individuals (Job 31:30).
Telford, William R. Barren Temple and the Withered Tree: a Redaction-Critical Analysis of the Cursing of the Fig-Tree Pericope in Mark’s Gospel and Its Relation to the Cleansing of the Temple Tradition. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1980. (YORK)
This work attempts to investigate the attitudes taken to the Temple by the author of Mark’s gospel, and argues that the cursing of the barren fig-tree (Mark 11:12-14) supplies a vital clue to this attitude. This pericope has its particular connection with the cleansing tradition form and is the basic core of this inquiry. The book intends to answer two questions: what did Mark intend this story to convey in its present context, and how in turn was it likely to have been understood by the 1st century reader. The survey proceeds along two main lines; first, it employs literary, form, source and redaction critical work on the synoptic gospels and on Mark in particular, and secondly, seeks to trace certain related motifs pertaining to the story within the background material supplied by the Old Testament, late Judaism, and early Christianity. This work also surveys some of the scholarship done on this pericope. The author argues that Mark’s language serves as a curse, while some scholars argue that Matthew uses a subjunctive tense instead, thus, downplaying the curse. Those who understood Jewish tradition would understand that the cursing of the fig-tree was the last judgment upon Israel. The author believes that the tree represents not only Israel, but also the Temple and its cultus. The author analyzes specific Old Testament texts that discuss the fig tree (e.g. Mi 7:1, Jer 8:13) and how these may relate to Mark’s writing. The author concludes that by inserting the story of the fig-tree in between the cleansing of the Temple accounts, he invites the readers to understand the entry and cleansing traditions as a visit of judgment upon the Jewish people and their Temple, rather than on the restoration expected with the coming of the Messiah.
Thompson, R. Campbel. Semitic Magic: Its Origins and Development. New York: Ktav Pub. House, 1971. (YORK)
This work argues that superstitions from magic, as found in incantation tablets from Assyria, shed light on many of the peculiar customs of the Old Testament and help explain why these customs existed. The book provides several examples of Assyrian incantations and is quite an extensive volume. It analyzes magic found in Babylonia and Mesopotamia, and discusses the magicians in these areas, their literature, and their power. The book studies hate charms, and discusses curses found in Arabia that were to keep people from raiding tombs. This is a major study on demons and their affects. It is generally interested in the power of the magician, demons, spells and magic that reverse maladies and curses.
Thomsen, Marie-Louise. “The Evil Eye in Mesopotamia.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 51 (1992): 19-32.
The evil eye is frequently referred to in Assyrian and Babylonian texts. This article looks at references to the evil eye in Sumerian and Akkadian incantations. The article translates and comments on different incantations which discuss the evil eye. According to these sources, the author states that the evil eye is associated with witchcraft, sorcery, and other evils caused by malevolent human beings. The evil eye is normally described as an accident, and does not cause serious illness or death. References to the evil eye demonstrate a phenomenon which was recorded in ancient Mesopotamia over a long period of time (from the end of the 3rd millennium until the late Babylonian period). However, this fact does not justify the idea that a widespread belief regarding the evil eye among the ancient cultures of Mesopotamia existed.
Trachtenberg, Joshua. Jewish Magic and Superstition: a Study in Folk Religion. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004. (YORK)
This work argues that alongside the misunderstood “legalism” of Judaism, there was an informal employment of “folk religion” ideas and practices that never met the approval of religious leaders, but which enjoyed popularity among the people. These unpopular beliefs concerned demons, angels, and practices of magic. This book attempts to offer a contribution into an understanding of folk Judaism. It mainly focuses on a more modern period (11th – 16th century) but does discuss magic and cursing from an earlier time, and predominantly examines the Talmudic traditions. The work does discuss curses, and also explores the topics of the evil eye, the power of the word and the use of the word of God in magic.
Versnel, H. S. “Beyond Cursing: the Appeal to Justice in Judicial Prayers.” Magika Hiera: Ancient Greek Magic and Religion. Ed. Christopher A. Faraone and Dirk Obbink. New York: Oxford UP, 1991. 60-106. (YORK)
This paper argues that not all curse texts found on lead tablets can be understood as defixiones in the traditional meaning of the term. The author wishes to add a new category of curses called “judicial prayers” to these. He argues against Faraone’s (see article entitled “The Agnostic Context of Early Greek Binding Spells”) classification of defixiones. The intended victims in all four of Faraone’s categories are not being cursed because they are guilty of any crime, but rather because they are the cursors rivals with regard to social prestige, and any attack against their social position results in an increase of honor for the cursor. This author argues that this is the reason that many defixiones do not include the author’s name, since they fear counter-magic. Versnel argues that there is a difference between a spell and prayer, and that this distinction must be analyzed. He states that prayers for justice follow certain qualities: the name of the author; the argument defending the action; the request that the writer be spared any possible adverse affects; the appearance of gods other than the usual chthonic deities; the addressing of the gods with flattering adjectives; expressions of supplication added to personal and direct invocations of the deity; and terms and names that refer to (in)justice and punishment.
Walke, Bruce K. “The Phenomenon of Conditionality Within Unconditional Covenants.” Israel‘s Apostasy and Restoration: Essays in Honor of Roland K. Harrison. Ed. R. K Harrison and Avraham Gileadi. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987. 123-140. (UT)
This essay studies the phenomenon of conditionality within unconditional covenants, which the author feels clarifies the relationship between Yahweh’s oaths to Abraham and David. The author analyzes the treaty implemented on Israel and also studies the new covenant which regulates the tension between Yahweh’s oaths and Israel’s obligations. He examines the unique curses and blessings found in the different covenants of Israel, and states that Yahweh’s ethical demands gave Israel incentive to keep them. The relationship between Yahweh and Israel is not a contractual one, but a covenantal one.
Watson, Lindsay. Arae : the Curse Poetry of Antiquity. Leeds: F. Cairns, 1991. (YORK)
This work provides a general background on curses in antiquity, and primarily focuses on Greek and Roman curse poetry. The author argues that one way of effecting curses is to receive the aid of the gods. However, divine assistance was not the only means by which a curse could come to fruition. There was a widespread conviction that the words of the curse were invested with a magical potency which could in itself effect harm on a victim. The significance of this study is that the presence of Hellenistic curse poetry and many of its features find no parallel to other curse texts, thus, they have utilized mythology or historical examples to shape the content of the curse.
Westermann, Claus. Basic Forms of Prophetic Speech. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991. (UT)
The first section of this book is a survey of the investigations performed on the forms of prophetic address and of the oral and literary history of those forms. Westermann stresses those works that sought to understand the oral character of prophecy that contribute to the interpretation of prophetic speech in terms of its legal or judicial background. These speeches were not warnings but rather, what Yahweh had planned to do. The judgment speech against the individual was the earliest form of expression in judicial procedures. Westermann argues that the language of the basic form of prophetic speech was borrowed from the law court and should be characterized as a judgment speech. Westermann applies form criticism towards prophetic literature, and reveals individual units that make up the literature, the elements of the address and how they function in relationship to one another, and the intentions of the individual units. Also, Westermann attempts to illustrate the Sitz im Leben that shaped both the content and form of the prophetic literature. Not all prophetic utterances are examined, only judgment-speeches to individuals, those to Israel, and other forms related to them. Westermann argues that the Mari letter have led to the conclusion that the prophetic speeches of the Old Testament must have had an earlier history, a section of which is persevered by these Mari letters.
Westman, Heinz. The Structure of Biblical Myths: the Ontogenesis of the Psyche. Dallas, Texas: Spring Publications, 1983. (YORK)
This work interprets the Bible as archetypal psychology, and as a structural hermeneutic. It employs religious writings (from the most ancient to the most contemporary), manifestations in political life, and in modern science, to help illustrate the development of the individual psyche. This is not an overly useful work for the topic of cursing, although it does discuss some cursing material e.g. the curses of Balaam (however, these are mostly glossed over).
Wigoder, Geoffrey, ed. “Blessing and Cursing.” The New Encyclopedia of Judaism. New York: New York UP, 2002. (YORK)
This article argues that the ancients believed in the power of the word to fulfill itself, whether for blessing or for cursing. However, blessing and cursing was significantly different in Israelite culture. In the ANE, it was the automatic power of the word to affect realty; in the Bible, God’s will alone determines blessing and cursing. Thus, blessing and cursing was always invoked in the name of God, whether explicit or not. A curse may be pronounced for some past misdeed, as on Cain (Gen 4:11-12) or may be uttered conditionally, as when Joshua curses anyone attempting to rebuild the destroyed city of Jericho (Josh 6:26). Apart from collective curses, a number of curses are also directed against individuals and their families (Josh 7:25 and 1 Sam 2:31-34). In the Talmudic period, cursing was forbidden, unless religiously motivated, and the rabbinic maxim was “let yourself be cursed, rather than curse” (Sanh 49a).
Williams, James G. “Addenda to “Concerning One of the Apodictic Formulas.” Vetus Testamentum 15 (1965): 113-115.
This article for the most part is irrelevant. It makes mention of curses relating to casuistic legal codes, but it is too brief of an article, and does not have much substance.
Wisdom, Jeffrey R. Blessing for the Nations and the Curse of the Law: Paul’s Citation of Genesis and Deuteronomy in Gal 3.8-10. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001. (MCMASTER)
The author of this work surveys recent scholarship done on Gal 3:10, and argues that although Paul may have intended that the Galatians would understand that they themselves would be under a curse if they followed Torah, the primary focus of Gal 3:10 is directed at a group of Jewish-Christians upon whom he had already pronounced cursed (Gal 1:8). The “curse of the Law” is often referred to in the context of punishment of sin, however, this study argues that the primary role of the curse is to exclude the “polluting” influences in order to protect the Galatian community from those that would lead them away from Paul’s gospel. The work explores the use of various terms for curse in Deuteronomy and in several other texts in Jewish Scripture. The author states that the study in Deuteronomy indicates that the curse functions as a motif which is conjoined with its dominant concern for loyalty to the covenant. The survey of other texts from the Deuteronomistic history and from prophetic literature demonstrates that same covenant perspective. Wisdom argues that the worship of other gods is the primary cause for the curse which falls upon those who violated the covenant. The author also analyzes material from the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, the Qumran literature, Philo, and Josephus. He concludes that when someone is placed under a curse in the Biblical tradition, the explicit purpose is to maintain the purity of the people of God and to protect them from harmful influences, and not for the punishment of sin – the person under the curse is punished for his own sin, but, the curse functioned to protect the whole community from the nature of the sin of idolatry. Thus, this is what Paul is doing in his letter to the Galatians – protecting them from the harmful influence of the Jewish-Christians. Paul can articulate that those who are of the works of the law are under a curse because they are preaching another gospel. Jeffrey Wisdom argues that if the Galatians accept circumcision, they revert back to the status of pagan and idolater and by implication would be under a curse.
Wittstruck, Thorne. “Influence of Treaty Curse Imagery on the Beast Imagery of Daniel 7.” Journal of Biblical Literature 97 (1978): 100-102.
This author argues that the most formulative element that lies behind the beast imagery of Daniel 7 is found in the influence of treaty-curses. Several passages are looked at which supports the author’s thesis. Being influenced by treaty-curses is only natural, since they narrate what will occur in the future should apostasy from the treaty result, while apocalyptic passages are concerned with the future judgment of the apostates and the vindication of the righteous. This article would have been more useful had it been longer and more detailed.
Wolf, Herbert M. “The Transcendent Nature of Covenant Curse Reversals.” Israel‘s Apostasy and Restoration: Essays in Honor of Roland K. Harrison. Ed. R. K. Harrison and Avraham Gileadi. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987. 319-325. (UT)
This work argues that although Yahweh judges Israel when they break covenant, he restores them after a time of punishment. Blessing and cursing comprises an integral part of the ancient Near Eastern treaty form, and the Hebrew Bible describes Israel’s covenant with Yahweh in a similar way. Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 include the most extensive examples of cursing in the Sinai Covenant. Although Yahweh judges Israel, he also restores them. This reversal of curses is not documented outside of Israel’s literature and therefore, unique to her. The most frequently mentioned curse reversal is in the change from barren and unproductive land (Deut 28:23; 1 Kgs 17:1) to fertile soil (Jer 12:10-11, 31:12; Hos 2:12, 21-23; Joel 3:18; Ezek 34:26-27). The author argues that there are times in the Hebrew Bible where there is a swift transition from the curse to the blessing (Isa 32:15-16), which is unknown in other ancient Near Eastern literature.
Yamauchi, Edwin M. “Aramaic Magic Bowls.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 85 (1965): 511-523.
This article looks at a number of Aramaic magic bowls. It also surveys research conducted on these bowls. In many cases, the clients of these bowls are women who are concerned with the protection of their progeny. The author states that some curses come as a surprise to the modern reader e.g. Judges 17, where Micah’s mother utters a curse on the one who stole her silver, knowing very well that the thief was her son. This article also discusses how these bowls were used to counter curses – through supernatural allies (usually not the High God, but angels). Once uttered, malevolent curses went immediately into action. The only way to reverse these curses was for the cursor to take the curse back, or for the cursed to send it back like a “boomerang”. If the incantation was written, it still needed to be read aloud according to certain special directions.