Cuneiform and Hebrew texts demonstrate that curses by the deities have four principle characteristics. First, solicitation is not a feature of divine maledictions. They function as mandates. This would explain Ḫammurabi’s description of Enlil’s curse: it is KA/pûm
, a command. Second, they have an almost immediate effect. Rather than days or weeks, only hours need elapse before the consequences can be readily detected in the physical world. This feature in particular put humanity on guard, making ancient Near Easterners extraordinarily aware of their environment. They were ever watchful for any change, any transformation in their surroundings that may indicate that the effects of a divine curse were invading their cities, homes, land, livestock, and/or people. Third, the words of curses by the supreme deities tend to be fixed and unalterable. This does not mean that the deity looses [sic
] control over the curse as soon as it is uttered. Any deity would [have] retained authority over the effects of what had been declared whether it be death, disease, misfortune or diminished fertility. At the very least, a god or goddess could counteract a malediction with a benediction, thereby nullifying it as Yahweh does. The fact that a divine curse was immutable certainly contributed to a malediction’s amazingly independent character. This is the fourth feature of a divine anathema: it can become hypostatized and enjoy a special kind of self-sufficient existence.— Cursed Are You!
, page 152
Interesting, isn't it? Plug Jesus's cursing of the fig tree into this...and the disciples' response. Basically another "proof" of his divinity in their eyes.
Now, let's complicate things a little here—and this is part of my reevaluating my theology, so it is a work in process...bear with me and perhaps even assist me, if you would please.
I was saved through the Jesus Movement and was a part of the the Charismatic Movement up until the "word of faith"/name-it-claim-it-stomp-on-it-and-frame-it people took it over. But, I was still influenced by that mindset in ways that I am still discovering and weighing in the theological balance. Some things I retain, some I reject.
One of the things I rejected (or thought I did!) was the whole "negative confession" theology. For example, one day I was on my way to take a test in a class; I knew I was going to ace it—I had studied and knew the material backwards and forwards. On the way, a friend asked me where I was going. I jokingly responded that I was on my way to "flunk a test." His response, dead serious, was something like don't curse yourself with a negative confession! I about fell over; it was all I could do to keep from laughing out loud! I aced the test, by the way : )
Basically what he was saying was that an utterance out of my mouth automatically became true (sure, I know about the psychological power of negative utterances and all that—I'm not talking about that here). And that belief forms the foundation of the word of faith theology.
I rejected that then and I do now. Sure, there is a place for faith and making statements on faith, but again, that is not what I'm talking about. What I'm talking about is the belief that words automatically have the power to bless and curse—that they become in some sense divine! Reading this book has caused me to examine that belief in a new way.
In order for a curse (or a blessing) to take affect, it has to be approved by a deity—and a deity with enough clout to keep it from getting overruled by a higher deity. That's what makes things complicated in a polytheistic society—witness Enkidu's dual curse: One curse is approved and the other one isn't. The curse that isn't approved now is on its way back to him (and it will curse him!), so he quickly turns it into a blessing on the person he had cursed (this is explained in detail on pages 153–57 in the book).
(For those of you who aren't familiar with Enkidu, he is the sidekick of Gilgamesh in the epic of Gilgamesh. He was a savage—less than human—until he encounters a harlot who tames/civilizes him. The curse that gets turned back is the curse against the harlot.)
But, as Christians, we are in a monotheistic thought world—or at least we should be! So, if someone utters a curse at you, what does that mean? Influenced by the word of faith mentality, I used to think it had real power and would "block" it in prayer. See what I just did? I rejected monotheism. I set up a different deity who had the power to energize that curse! Subtle lack of faith...
OK, have at it! Tell me where I am wrong—or right (I hope the latter is truer!). I'm still thinking through the ramifications of this book, as you can see.