curse and blessing

curse and blessing

Oral pronouncements for harm or good. The three most frequently used words for “curse” in the OT are alah, arar, and killel. The first (alah), meaning curse as imprecation, describes curse from the point of view of its pronouncement or utterance (hence, properly, “malediction”). It is used in oath or adjuration, as a conditional curse to achieve a desired result or to preclude an undesirable one, or as a conditional imprecation or prayer for the punishment of an evildoer whose guilt cannot be proved. The second term (arar, especially in its passive participial form, arur, “cursed”) describes curse from an operational point of view, as effecting a ban or barrier to exclude or anathematize (hence roughly equivalent to “spell”). It is a decree rather than an imprecation or prayer. The third term (killel) describes a wide range of injurious activity from verbal abuse to material harm. Its basic meaning is “to treat lightly,” i.e., to treat with disrespect, to repudiate, to abuse. In those locutions where the deity is the object of this verb, it suggests the lack of respect for the ethical standards sanctioned by God. Over against this variety of words for “curse,” there is only a single word in the OT for “bless” (berek and its related noun berakah, “blessing, good fortune,” along with the passive participle baruk, “blessed,” analogous to arur, “cursed”). The content of “blessing” includes vitality, health, longevity, fertility, and numerous progeny; “curse,” on the other hand, results in death, illness, childlessness, and such disasters as drought, famine, and war.

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