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CURSING:

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

In Talmudie literature occur the terms: , , (Sanh. ix. 11), which the Jerusalem Talmud (ad loc.) explains as a Nabatæan form of cursing; (M. Ḳ. 15a, 16a; compare Mandl, "Der Bann," p. 25); and the Aramaic (Eeel. R. iii. 11; Yer. Yoma iii. 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 (Ps. cix.) 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 (Prov. xxvi. 2), but may fall back upon the head of him who utters it (Gen. xii. 3; Ecclus. [Sirach] xxi. 27), or may be turned by God into a blessing (Deut. xxiii. 5). The declaration of punishments (Gen. iii. 14, 17; iv. 11), the utterance of threats (Jer. xi. 3, xvii. 5; Mal. i. 14), and the proclamation of laws (Deut. xi. 26-28, xxvii. 15 et seq.) received added solemnity and force when conditioned by a curse. Cursing is not only characteristic of the godless (Ps. x. 7), but serves as a weapon in the mouth of the wronged, the oppressed, and those who are zealous for God and righteousness(Judges ix. 57; Prov. xi. 26, xxx. 10). A righteous curse, especially when uttered by persons in authority, was believed to be unfailing in its effect (Gen. ix. 25, xxvii. 12; II Kings ii. 24; Ecclus. [Sirach] iii. 11). One who had received exemplary punishment at the hands of God was frequently held up, in cursing, as a terrifying object-lesson (Jer. xxix. 22), and such a person was said to be, or to have become, a curse (II Kings xxii. 19; Jer. xxiv. 9, xxv. 18; Zech. viii. 13). It is especially forbidden to curse God (Ex. xxii. 28), parents (Ex. xxi. 17; Lev. xx. 9; Prov. xx. 20, xxx. 11), the authorities (Ex. xxii. 28; Eccl. x. 20), and the helpless deaf (Lev. xix. 14).

Talmudic Conception.

Parallel with the Biblical conception of a curse as being of the nature of a prayer (Ta'an. 23b; "Pirḳe R. ha-Ḳadosh," ed. Grünhut, vii. 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." xlii. 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 (Soṭah 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," ii. 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 (I Sam. xvii. 43), or under the pressure of a great calamity (Isa. viii. 21), but on the slightest provocation in daily life (compare Luncz, "Jerusalem," v. 271). Talmudic literature contains many laws regarding Blasphemy.

L. G. C. L.
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