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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia


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kûrs ( אלה , 'ālāh (Numbers 5:21 , Numbers 5:23 , Numbers 5:17 , etc.), מארה , me'ērāh (Proverbs 3:33; Malachi 2:2 , etc.), קללה , kelālāh (Genesis 27:12 , Genesis 27:13 ); κατάρα , katára (Galatians 3:10 , Galatians 3:13 )): This word as noun and verb renders different Hebrew words, some of them being more or less synonymous, differing only in degree of strength. It is often used in contrast with "bless" or "blessing" (Deuteronomy 11:29 ). When a curse is pronounced against any person, we are not to understand this as a mere wish, however violent, that disaster should overtake the person in question, any more than we are to understand that a corresponding "blessing" conveys simply a wish that prosperity should be the lot of the person on whom the blessing is invoked. A curse was considered to possess an inherent power of carrying itself into effect. Prayer has been defined as a wish referred to God. Curses (or blessings) were imprecations referred to supernatural beings in whose existence and power to do good or inflict harm primitive man believed. The use of magic and spells of all kinds is based on the belief that it is possible to enlist the support of the superhuman beings with whom the universe abounds, and to persuade them to carry out the suppliant's wishes. It has been suggested that spells were written on pieces of parchment and cast to the winds in the belief that they would find their way to their proper destination - that some demoniac being would act as postman and deliver them at the proper address. In Zec (Psalm 5:1-3 ) the "flying roll," with curses inscribed on it "goeth forth over the face of the whole land." It would find its way into the house of every thief and perjurer. But it was not always possible to commit curses to writing, it was enough to utter them aloud. Generally the name of some deity would be coupled with such imprecations, as Goliath cursed David by his gods (1 Samuel 17:43 ). Such curses once uttered possessed the power of self-realization. It was customary for heads of families in their declining years to bless their children, such a blessing being, not simply a paternal wish that their children should prosper in life, but a potent factor in determining their welfare (Genesis 9:25 ). in this case Jacob seeks his father's blessing, which was more than his father's good wishes for his future career. Such blessings and curses were independent of moraI considerations. Before moral distinctions played any part in molding theological conceptions it was not necessary, before a spell could be effectual, that the individual against whom the spell was pronounced should be deserving, on moral grounds, of the fate which was invoked on him. It was sufficient that he should be the foe of the author of the curse. We may assume that such curses signalized the commencement of a battle. But in process of time such indiscriminate imprecations would not satisfy enlightened moral judgment. In the dramatic situation depicted in Dt (Deuteronomy 11:29; Deuteronomy 27:12 f) the curse was placed on Mt. Ebal and the blessing. on Mr. Gerizim. But the curse was the penalty for disobedience, as the blessing was the reward for obedience. The Book of Prov ( Matthew 26:2 ) summarily dismisses the traditional belief - "the curse that is causeless alighteth not." "In the discourses of Jesus we find blessings and curses. They are however simply authoritative declarations of the eternal connection between right doing and happiness, wrong doing and misery" (Cheyne).

Whereas curses by ordinary persons were considered more or less efficacious - some god being always only too glad to speed them on their way to their destination - yet special persons - "holy" persons - in virtue of their special relation to Divine beings possessed special powers of pronouncing effectual curses on account of their powers of enlisting supernatural aid. Balaam, according to the narrative in Nu (22 f), was an expert in the article Balak was convinced that Balaam's curse would bring about the defeat of the Israelites (see Gray, "Numbers," ICC ).

The term - and the thing signified - plays an important part in Paul's interpretation of the cross. In the light of the law all men are guilty. There is no acquittal through appeal to a law that commands and never forgives - prohibits and never relents. The violator of the law is under a curse. His doom has been pronounced. Escape is impossible. But on the cross Jesus Christ endured the curse - for "cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree" (Galatians 3:10 , Galatians 3:13 ) - and a curse that has overtaken its victim is a spent force. See PUNISHMENTS .

Jesus commands His disciples, "Bless them that curse you" (Luke 6:28; compare Romans 12:14 ). He Himself cursed the fruitless fig tree (Mark 11:21 ) - a symbol of the doom of a fruitless people.

Curse as the rendering of חרם , ḥērem , implies a totally different, idea. See ACCURSED .

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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Curse'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. 1915.

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