CURSES, BLESSINGS, AND RITUAL AUTHORITY: EGYPTIAN MAGIC IN COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE 1 DAVID FRANKFURTER To stimulate thinking among a group of specialists in ancient magic about the nature of ritual language, the medieval historian Lester Little asked, What do curses have to do with blessings? In many societies they seem to re ﬂ ect two aspects of a single religious phe- nomenon: e ﬃ cacious, often liturgical speech. They invariably derive their authority from the same source: a god, a text, a prophet. Their linguistic mechanics are essentially the same; and those empowered to do the one tend to be the same as those empowered to do the other. Cross-culturally and certainly in the ancient world, religious teachings, rules, and admonitions are generally accompanied by a promise of blessings to the obedient and curses for the disobedient. 2 The paradox that Little identi ﬁ es becomes clearer if we think about the meaning of curse and of blessing. We are, no doubt, lucky to live in an era of such verbal impotence that a salty and protracted invective—a description of what outrageous sexual indig- nities ought to befall the listener’s mother—serves only to motivate a saltier description in return,
Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions – Brill
Published: Jan 1, 2005
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