The Metonymical Curse As Propaganda In The Book Of Jeremiah -- By: Jeff S. Anderson

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 08:1 (NA 1998)
Article: The Metonymical Curse As Propaganda In The Book Of Jeremiah
Author: Jeff S. Anderson


The Metonymical Curse As
Propaganda In The Book Of Jeremiah

Jeff S. Anderson

Wayland Baptist University—Alaska Campus

In eight prose texts in Jeremiah, the curse serves a polemical function that justifies the existence of one particular socioreligious community (the Babylonian exiles), while marginalizing others (the remnant in Judah, Judeans who fled to Egypt, and foreign nations). This curse is not used as an invocation of misfortune but has a metonymical sense which describes the embodiment of that misfortune. Although specific curse terminology and order vary, the phrase “you will be a reproach, a byword, a taunt, and a curse” is directed against these three rivals to the Babylonian community and foreshadows the heterogenous constitution of the Judean communities in the Exilic, Postexilic, and Second Temple Periods.

Key Words: Babylonian exiles, curse, Deuteronomistic, metonymy, Jeremiah

There is power in language to constitute reality, not just describe it. This was as true in antiquity as it is today, perhaps to a greater extent. J. L. Austin has argued that there are some utterances, which he calls performatives, that have a particular ability to bring about a thing rather than merely describe it.1 For example, if someone were getting married and were to stand before a minister or judge and say, “I do,” he/she would not merely be describing reality but would be engaging in it. It is, therefore, inherent within the nature of language for performatives to go beyond the descriptive realm and enter the constitutive realm of activity. One of the most powerful performatives is the curse. As is well known, cursing is a widespread phenomenon in many cultures throughout history, and the ancient Near East is no exception. The curse is pervasive in the literature of

ancient Israel as well, being regularly employed in texts of varied genres and from disparate periods of Israel’s history.

Curses are used broadly in the Hebrew Bible, so it is important that one be sensitive to their nuances. Generally speaking, curses are employed along two different lines. First, a curse can be understood to be a speech act, either as an invocation for harm to come upon an individual or group or as profanely insolent language directed against a hated enemy. Second, a curse can refer to the embodiment of that evil or misfortune which comes as if in response to an imprecatory speech act. In this second sense, the curse can refer to something which is itself cursed or is the cause of great harm or misfortune.

Curses have a wide variety of social functions in the Hebrew Bible. Th...

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