Paul’s Curse of Corinthians

Restraining Rivals with Fear and Voces Mysticae (1 Cor 16:22)

In: Novum Testamentum
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In 1 Cor 16:22, Paul concludes his letter with a curse against anyone that does not love the Lord followed immediately by the Aramaic expression µαράνα θά. Curses were used in antiquity to restrain rivals by threatening to inflict them with harm or death. Voces mysticae—mystically powerful foreign language words—were frequently employed in curses and many were derived from Hebrew or Aramaic. Curses were widely feared and numerous curses have been discovered in Roman Korinthia. Paul’s conditional curse in 16:22 serves as a final persuasive technique to change the Corinthians’ factional behavior by restraining his rivals through their fear of curses and the power of µαράνα θά as voces mysticae.

  • 2

    Pliny the Elder, Nat. 28.4.19.

  • 11

    M.M. Mitchell, Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation: An Exegetical Investigation of the Language and Composition of 1 Corinthians (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991) 21-23, 186; J.D. Hester, “Rhetoric and the Composition of the Letters of Paul,” Journal for the Study of Rhetorical Criticism of the New Testament [cited February 4, 2002] n.p. Online:

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  • 13

    C.J. Bjerkelund, Parakalô: Form, Funktion und Sinn der parakalô-Sätze in den paulinischen Briefen (Bibliotheca Theologica Norvegica 1; Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1967).

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  • 20

    The assessment of A. Eriksson, “Fear of Eternal Damnation: Pathos Appeal in 1 Corinthians 15-16,” in Paul and Pathos (ed. T.H. Olbricht and J.L. Sumney; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2001) 121 is characteristic: Paul reminds “the Corinthian Christians of a prayer they regularly used in their worship and probably in their private prayer as well. It is the prayer ‘Maranatha.’ ”

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  • 23

    Gager, Curse Tablets, 27.

  • 24

    C. Levias, “Cursing,” Jewish Encylopaedia [cited April 9, 2012] n.p.. On-line:

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  • 26

    Josephus, A.J. 14.2.1. Honi refused to curse priests and fellow Jews and was consequently killed for his refusal.

  • 28

    Watson, Arae, 214.

  • 29

    Seneca, Ep. 110.2.

  • 30

    See, e.g., Plutarch, Crass. 16.6.

  • 31

    K. Wessely, Ephesia Grammata (Vienna: Franz-Joseph Gymnasium, 1886); A. Deissmann, “Ephesia Grammata,” in Abhandlungen zur Semitischen Religionskunde und Sprachwissenschaft (ed. W. Frankenberg and F. Kuchler; Giessen: Töpelmann, 1918) 121-124; C.C. McCown, “The Ephesia Grammata in Popular Belief,” Transactions of the American Philological Association 54 (1923) 128-140; K. Preisendanz, “Ephesia Grammata,” rac 5 (1965) 515-520.

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  • 33

    Gager, Curse Tablets, 6-7.

  • 37

    Iamblichus, Myst. 7.4.11.

  • 38

    Plutarch, Superst. 166.3.

  • 39

    Pliny the Elder, Nat. 28.4.20.

  • 40

    Lucian, Men. 9.

  • 41

    Iamblichus, Myst. 7.4-5.

  • 42

    Lucian, Philops. 9. This statement is made by Lucian’s fictional character, Tychiades, who is rejecting such beliefs in the face of those around him who argue strongly in favor of these and a variety of other ‘magical’ practices.

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  • 53

    M. Smith, “The Jewish Elements in the Magical Papyri,” in Studies in the Cult of Yahweh, Vol. 2: New Testament, Early Christianity, and Magic(ed. S.J.D. Cohen; Religions in the Graeco-Roman World 130; Leiden: Brill, 1996) 244-249.

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  • 56

    Lucian, Alex. 13.

  • 58

    Gager, Curse Tablets, 7. Aune, “Magic in Early Christianity,” 1551, notes that “the context of most transcriptions of voces magicae is that of an ἐπίκλησις directed to gods or other supernatural powers.”

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  • 59

    E. Westermarck, “The Influence of Magic on Social Relationships,” Sociological Papers 2 (1905) 143-170, seems to be the first scholar to coin the term “conditional curse.”

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  • 61

    Gager, Curse Tablets, 244.

  • 62

    Pliny the Elder, Nat. 28.4.19.

  • 63

    Seneca, Ep. 94.53.

  • 64

    Plato, Leg. 11.933A-C.

  • 66

    Plutarch, Crass. 16.5-6.

  • 67

    Pliny the Elder, Nat. 28.5, discusses numerous popular practices among the Romans that were used to guard against curses, incantations, and spells. Finally, pgm is replete with counter-spells and counter-curses used to defend against curses that have already been lodged against a victim.

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  • 68

    Plutarch, Crass. 16.

  • 71

    Gager, Curse Tablets, 176-177.

  • 72

    Gager, Curse Tablets, 177.

  • 75

    J. Wiseman, “Excavations in Corinth, the Gymnasium Area, 1967-1968,” Hesperia 38 (1969) 70, refers to three curse tablets found there.

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  • 77

    J. Wiseman, “The Gymnasium Area at Corinth, 1969-1970,” Hesperia 41 (1972) 33. For the proper identification of Lerna Fountain as the Fountain of the Lamps, see J. Fotopoulos, “The Misidentification of Lerna Fountain at Corinth: Implications for Interpretations of the Corinthian Idol-Food Issue (1 Cor 8:1-11:1),” in The New Testament and Early Christian Literature in Greco-Roman Context: Studies in Honor of David E. Aune (ed. J. Fotopoulos; NovTSup 122; Leiden: Brill, 2006) 35-48.

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  • 80

    Bookidis and Stroud, Demeter and Kore: Topography, 287.

  • 87

    Plato, Leg. 9.871B.

  • 91

    Deissmann, Light, 301-303.

  • 95

    Pliny the Elder, Nat. 30.2, closely associates Jewish magic with Cyprus. For a general survey of the presence of the Jews on ancient Cyprus, see P.W. van der Horst, Jews and Christians in Their Graeco-Roman Context (wunt 196; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006) 28-36. For a contemporary study containing numerous references to ancient Jewish magical practices, see G. Bohak, Ancient Jewish Magic: A History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008). Bohak’s study, however, sometimes downplays the presence of magical practices in Second Temple Judaism by positing that legislation against magic in the hb is “far from precise” (p. 34) while also sometimes struggling to make distinctions between ancient Jewish practices which in his view do not constitute magic and those practices of pagans which do. In this way, Bohak sometimes neglects a basic proposition connected with the larger definition of magic suggested by Aune (“Magic in Early Christianity,” 1510-1516), namely that magic “is a phenomenon which exists only within the matrix of particular religious traditions; magic is not religion only in the sense that the species is not the genus. A particular magical system coheres within a religious structure in the sense that it shares the fundamental religious reality construction of the contextual religion.” In other words, contra Bohak, just because many ancient Jewish practices share the fundamental religious reality construction of Second Temple Judaism does not mean that those practices cannot be considered magic.

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  • 103

    Deissmann, Light, 95-96. The use of ἀνάθεµα as “curse” appears in the lxx in Deut 13:16 and 20:17. The phrase “to curse with a curse” is a Semitism which also appears in Acts 23:14. The nrsv translates this phrase uttered by the high priests and elders as “We have strictly bound ourselves by an oath. . . .” Rather than having simply sworn an oath, these religious authorities are depicted by Acts as having uttered a conditional curse upon themselves which would go into effect if they were to eat any food before their plan to have Paul killed had been realized.

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  • 108

    Mitchell, Paul and the Rhetoric, 168-171; 270-279.

  • 109

    Mitchell, Paul and the Rhetoric, 179.

  • 112

    Quintilian, Inst. 6.1.1.

  • 113

    Mitchell, Paul and the Rhetoric, 179. Mitchell does not identify 16:22 as part of the peroratio, although it is quite interesting that she does describe the function of that verse in very much the same way as that of a peroratio.

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  • 115

    K.B. Stratton, “Curse Rhetoric and the Violence of Identity in Early Judaism and Christianity,” in Identity and Interaction in the Ancient Mediterranean: Jews, Christians and Others: Essays in Honour of Stephen G. Wilson (ed. Z.A. Crook and P.A. Harland; New Testament Monographs 18; Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2007) 18-30.

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  • 116

    Stratton, “Curse Rhetoric,” 25.

  • 117

    Anderson, “Social Function,” 227.

  • 118

    Anderson, “Social Function,” 227.

  • 125

    Aune, “The Apocalypse of John,” 365-366.

  • 143

    So, Eriksson, “Fear of Eternal Damnation,” 121.

  • 144

    Iamblichus, Myst. 7.4-5.

  • 146

    Iamblichus, Myst. 7.4-5.

  • 147

    Aune, “Magic in Early Christianity,” 1545.

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