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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

Cursing

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The expressions used for "cursing" it in the Bible are: (1) (2) (3) (verb and noun) and (4) (5) (Leviticus 24:11,16 ) (6) .

In Talmudie literature occur the terms: , , (Sanh. 9:11), which the Jerusalem Talmud (ad loc. ) explains as a Nabatæ an form of cursing (M. Ḳ . 15a, 16a compare Mandl, "Der Bann," p. 25) and the Aramaic (Eeel. R. 3:11 Yer. Yoma 3:7), , .

Biblical Conception.
Cursing rests on the belief in the possibility of bringing down calamity upon persons or things by the mere power of the spoken word, without any regard to its moral justification. Traces of this heathen conception of the objective reality of a curse, and of its mystic power, are found in the Bible (Psalm 109 ) and in the Talmud (see below) but in general the Bible conceives a curse to be merely a wish, to be fulfilled by God when just and deserved. An undeserved curse has no effect (Proverbs 26:2 ), but may fall back upon the head of him who utters it (Genesis 12:3 Ecclus. [Sirach] 21:27), or may be turned by God into a blessing ( Deuteronomy 23:5 ). The declaration of punishments (Genesis 3:14,17 4:11 ), the utterance of threats (Jeremiah 11:3 , 17:5 Malachi 1:14 ), and the proclamation of laws (Deuteronomy 11:26-28 , 27:15 et seq. ) received added solemnity and force when conditioned by a curse. Cursing is not only characteristic of the godless (Psalm 10:7 ), but serves as a weapon in the mouth of the wronged, the oppressed, and those who are zealous for God and righteousness (Judges 9:57 Proverbs 11:26 , 30:10 ). A righteous curse, especially when uttered by persons in authority, was believed to be unfailing in its effect (Genesis 9:25 , 27:12 2 Kings 2:24 Ecclus. [Sirach] 3:11). One who had received exemplary punishment at the hands of God was frequently held up, in cursing, as a terrifying object-lesson ( Jeremiah 29:22 ), and such a person was said to be, or to have become, a curse (IIKings 22:19 Jeremiah 24:9 , 25:18 Zechariah 8:13 ). It is especially forbidden to curse God (Exodus 22:28 ), parents (Exodus 21:17 Leviticus 20:9 Proverbs 20:20 , 30:11 ), the authorities (Exodus 22:28 Ecclesiastes 10:20 ), and the helpless deaf (Leviticus 19:14 ).

Talmudic Conception.
Parallel with the Biblical conception of a curse as being of the nature of a prayer (Ta' an. 23b "Pirḳ e R. ha-Ḳ adosh," ed. Grü nhut, 7:14), and that an undeserved curse is ineffective (Mak. 11a) and falls back upon the head of him who utters it (Sanh. 49a), Talmudic literature betrays a belief, amounting to downright superstition, in the mere power of the word (Ber. 19a, 56a: compare "Z. D. M. G." 42:588). Not only is a curse uttered by a scholar unfailing in its effect, even if undeserved (Mak. 11a), but one should not regard lightly even the curse uttered by an ignorant man (Meg. 15a). A curse is especially effective when uttered three hours after sunrise (Sanh. 105b). The Biblical prohibitions of cursing are legally elaborated, and extended to self-cursing (Shebu. 35a). A woman that curses her husband's parents in his presence is divorced and loses her dowry (Ket. 72a). Among the Romans one condemned to death was gagged to prevent his cursing the emperor (' Er. 19a).

Cursing is permissible when prompted by religious motives. A curse is uttered against those who mislead the people by calculating, on the basis of Biblical passages, when the Messiah will come (Sanh. 97b). Cursed are those who are guilty of actions which, though not forbidden, are considered reprehensible (compare on this subject Tos. to Men. 64b, s.v. ).

Scholars cursed sometimes not only with their mouths, but by an angry, fixed look. The unfailing consequence of such a look was either immediate death or poverty (Soṭ ah 46b, and parallel passages). The expression used for this look is (Aramaic, ). This look may be merely a mental curse. According to others it has no reference to the magic power of the "evil eye" (see Bacher, "Agada der Tannaiten," 2:331, and Evil Eye ).

The Orientals have an ineradicable proneness to curse God, not only on so grave an occasion as the breaking out of war (1Samuel 17:43 ), or under the pressure of a great calamity (Isaiah 8:21 ), but on the slightest provocation in daily life (compare Luncz, "Jerusalem," 5:271). Talmudic literature contains many laws regarding Blasphemy .L. G. C. L.


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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Cursing'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tje/c/cursing.html. 1901.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, August 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20
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