Oaths and Curses in the Ancient Near East

In the Hebrew Bible, God curses Cain after he kills Abel, and tells the Israelites that terrible curses will befall them if they do not follow His laws. Humans also place curses on themselves or others. Scholars of the ancient Middle East have come to understand such curses, which were no less common among the Israelites’ neighbors, as an important part of ancient legal systems, and also as a form of prayer, as Anne Marie Kitz writes (free registration required):

Oaths required petitioners to call upon the deities to punish them should they lie or be unfaithful to the terms of a contract. Such conditional self-curses were not taken lightly. This was especially the case because people were typically made to swear on a weapon that purportedly belonged to the deity. Should an individual violate the oath, the weapon would be used to execute the penalty, usually death, as an expression of divine judgment. . . .

Curses and blessings [are] nothing other than prayers uttered by mortals to the divinities. They are neither commands nor demands, and there is certainly no assumption on the part of the speaker that either will have instantaneous effect. In the end they are little more than strongly articulated wishes. Deities, on the other hand, articulated curses differently. As supreme beings they did not need to invoke a higher power to enact a malediction. Their curses were commands that mortals believed had immediate consequences.

Read more at ASOR

More about: Ancient Israel, Ancient Near East, Archaeology, Bible, Paganism

The Diplomatic Goals of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Visit to the U.S.

Yesterday, the Israeli prime minister arrived in the U.S., and he plans to address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, but it remains uncertain whether he will meet with President Biden. Nonetheless, Amit Yagur urges Benjamin Netanyahu to use the trip for ordinary as well as public diplomacy—“assuming,” Yagur writes, “there is someone to talk to in the politically turbulent U.S.” He argues that the first priority should be discussing how to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons. But there are other issues to tackle as well:

From the American perspective, as long as Hamas is not the official ruler in the Gaza Strip, any solution agreed upon is good. For Israel, however, it is quite clear that if Hamas remains a legitimate power factor, even if it does not head the leadership in Gaza, sooner or later, Gaza will reach the Hizballah model in Lebanon. To clarify, this means that Hamas is the actual ruler of the Strip, and sooner or later, we will see a [return] of its military capabilities as well as its actual control over the population. . . .

The UN aid organization UNRWA . . . served as a platform for Hamas terrorist elements to establish, disguise, and use UN infrastructure for terrorism. This is beside the fact that UNRWA essentially perpetuates the conflict rather than helps resolve it. How do we remove the UN and UNRWA from the “day after” equation? Can the American aid organization USAID step into UNRWA’s shoes, and what assistance can the U.S. provide to Israel in re-freezing donor-country contributions to UNRWA?

Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Gaza War 2023, U.S.-Israel relationship