Cursing in the Ancient Near East

Posted in: Ancient Near East Today, ASOR
Tags: Ancient Near East, ANET, Anne Marie Kitz, Anthropology, Archaeology, cursing, Cursing in the Ancient Near East, Near East

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By: Anne Marie Kitz

All families fight and sometimes what sound like harsh words are used. But what is really meant when someone asks their deity to “inflict a curse and evil”?

In the ancient Near East curses and blessings were a fundamental aspect of the relationship between human beings and their deities. These interactions were lively and dynamic, and mirrored human relationships among family members, between business partners, as well as subjects and their monarchs.

Even though the divine/human rapport was immensely unequal, it did not prevent mere mortals from bargaining with their deities or negotiating deals by arguing positions with the fervor of a legal advocate. In the process, promises, and threats, were made, in the form of blessings and curses.

Treaty between Ashur-nerari V and Mati’ilu

Treaty between Ashur-nerari V and Mati’ilu

The ancient attitude toward curses
It is not surprising to find that curses and blessings formed an important component in all ancient Near Eastern societies including ancient Israel. Curses directed against enemies were well known, for example in Egyptian Execration Texts that labeled foreign cities, and which were ritually destroyed to ensure victory.

But curses also found their earliest context in judicial settings. Legal proceedings were rooted in oaths (more…)

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