On Curses.

Philo Judaeus

I. The lawgiver of our nation denounces the first curse as the lightest of evils, namely, poverty and indigence, and a want of all necessary things, and a participation in every kind of destitution; for, says he, "The enemy shall lay waste the corn-fields before they are ripe, and when the corn is ripened they shall suddenly come and reap it." [Deuteronomy 28:33.] Thus causing a twofold calamity, famine to their friends and abundance to their enemies; for the prosperity of one's enemies is more, or, at all events, not less painful than one's own misfortunes.

And even if one's enemies are quiet, still those evils which proceed from nature and which are even more grievous, are not quiet; for you, indeed, sow the deep and fertile soil of the plain, but suddenly a cloud of locusts shall fly down and reap your crop, and what is left behind for you to carry home to your barns will bear but a very small proportion to what is sown.

And, again, you shall plant a vineyard with unsparing expense, and incessant industry, and labor, such as it is natural for husbandmen to undergo; but when the vines are come to perfection, and are flourishing and weighed down with their own productiveness, the worms shall come and gather the grapes. And when you see your oliveyards flourishing, and an unbounded exuberance of fruit on the trees, you will very naturally be delighted from the hope of a successful harvest which you will be led to entertain, but when you begin to carry home the fruit, then you will be filled rather with sorrow than with joy; for the oil and all the fatness of the fruit will all flow away and disappear imperceptibly, and what is outside will be only a vain burden, empty, left only to deceive the empty soul. And, in short, all the seed crops and all the trees will be destroyed, fruit and all, by blight of one kind or another.

II. And there are other misfortunes also lying in wait for the men besides those which have been mentioned, all equally contributing to produce want and scarcity; for those things, by means of which nature used to provide men with good things, namely, the earth and the heaven, will both be rendered barren, the one being full of abortions and unable to bring any fruit to perfection, and the other changing its nature so as to produce an unproductive state of the seasons of the year, so that neither winter, nor summer, nor spring, nor autumn return in their appointed order, but are all violently wrenched from it, and thrown into a confusion destitute of all distinctive quality and completely disturbed, by the command of the supreme authority. For then there will be no rain, no showers, no gentle springs, no soft drops of moisture, no dew, nor anything else which can contribute to the growth of plants; but, on the contrary, all things which are calculated to dry them up when beginning to grow, all things destructive of the fruit when beginning to ripen, and adapted to prevent it from ever coming to perfection.

For, says God, "I will make the heaven of brass for you, and the earth iron." [Deuteronomy 28:23.] Implying by this enigmatical expression that neither of them shall accomplish the tasks which naturally belong to them and for which they were created; for how could iron ever bear ears of corn, or how could brass produce rain, of which all animals stand in need, and especially that animal so liable to misfortune and in need of so many things, man?

And God intimates here not only barrenness and the destruction of the seasons of the year, but also the beginnings of wars, and of all the intolerable and ineffable evils which arise in wars; for brass and iron are the materials for warlike arms. And the earth, indeed, shall produce dust, and masses of dirt shall be brought down from above, from heaven, weighing down the fruit and destroying it by choking, in order that nothing may be omitted which can tend to complete destruction; for numerous families will be made desolate, and cities will suddenly become empty of their inhabitants, remaining as monuments of their former prosperity and records of subsequent disaster, for the warning of those who are capable of receiving correction.

III. And such a complete scarcity of all necessary things will seize the people that, being wholly destitute of and indifferent to them, they will turn even to devouring one another, eating not only the gentiles and those who are no relations to them, but even their nearest and dearest kinsfolk; for the father will take the flesh of his son, and the mother will eat of the life-blood of her daughter, brothers will eat their brothers, and children will devour their parents; and, in fact, the weaker will be continually the prey of the more powerful; and that wicked and accursed food, that of Thyestes, will seem to them like a joke when compared with the excessive and intolerable evils which their necessities bring upon them; for, as in the case of other persons, while they are in prosperity they desire length of life to be able to enjoy all good things, so also even those men overwhelmed with misery will have a vehement desire for life established in them, though it can only lead them to a participation in immoderate and interminable evils, all of which are likewise irremediable.

For it would have been better for such men to have escaped misery by cutting off their griefs through death, which persons who are not utterly out of their senses are accustomed to do. But these men are arrived at such a degree of folly that they would be willing to live even to the longest possible time of life, being eager for and insatiably desirous of the greatest extremities of misery.

Such evils, that which appears at first to be the lightest of all misfortunes, namely, poverty, is naturally calculated to produce, when it is the result of the vengeance of God; for even though cold, and thirst, and want of food may be terrible, still they might at times be objects worth being prayed for, if they only produced instantaneous death without any delay. But when they last a long time and waste away both body and soul, then they are calculated to reproduce the very greatest of the calamities recorded by the tragic poets, which appear to me to be described in a spirit of fabulous exaggeration.

IV. Again. To free-born people slavery is a most intolerable evil, to avoid which wise men are willing even to die, resisting in a gallant spirit which despises all danger the attacks of those who seek to inflict upon them the domination of a master.

Also, an invincible enemy is an intolerable evil. And if the same person be both things at once, namely, a master and an enemy, who can endure such a complication of calamities? For such a person will be possessed of the power of inflicting injury through his authority as a master, and he will be disinclined to pardon any one by reason of his irreconcilable enmity. Therefore the lawgiver pronounces that those persons who neglect the sacred laws shall have their enemies for their masters, who will treat them unmercifully, not only as having been reduced under their power by invincible attacks, but also as having voluntarily submitted to them through unforeseen calamities which famine and the want of necessaries has caused; for some persons think it well to choose lesser evils, if by so doing they can avoid greater ones; if, indeed, any one of the misfortunes above mentioned can be called a slight evil. Such men, becoming slaves, endure the services imposed on them by stern commands with their bodies, but when they are oppressed as to their souls with the anguish of still more bitter spectacles, they will sink under them; for they will see their enemies becoming the inheritors of houses which they have built, or of vineyards which they have planted, or of possessions which they have acquired, enjoying the good things and stores which have been prepared by others.

And they will see their enemies feasting on the fattest of their cattle, and sacrificing them, and preparing them for the sweetest enjoyment, without being able to deprive those persons of anything who have thus robbed them. They will also see their wives, whom they married in holy wedlock for the purpose of propagating legitimate children, their modest, domestic, affectionate wives, insulted like so many courtesans. And they will rush forward to defend and to avenge them, but beyond resisting they will not be able to effect anything, being deprived of all their strength and utterly disabled; for they will be exposed as a mark for their enemies, an object for plunder, and ravage, and violence, and insult, and wounds, and injuries, and contumely, and utter destruction, so that nothing belonging to them can escape, but no one dart of the enemy shall miss its blow, but every one of them shall be well aimed and successful.

They shall be cursed in their cities and in their villages, and cursed in their town-houses and in their dwellings in the fields. Cursed will be their plains and all the seed which is sown in them; cursed will be the fertile soil of the mountain district, and all the kinds of trees which produce eatable fruit; cursed will be their herds of cattle, for they will be rendered barren and unproductive; cursed will be all their fruits and all their crops, for at the most critical period of their ripening they will be found to be all full of wind and destroyed. The storehouses full of food and money shall be made empty; no source of revenue shall be productive any more; all the arts, all the various businesses and employments, and all the innumerable varieties of life, shall be of no use to those who adopt them; for the hopes of those who are anxious shall fail to be fulfilled; and, in short, whatever they touch, in consequence of their wicked pursuits and wicked actions, the head, and front, and end of which is the abandonment of the service of God, shall all be vain and unprofitable.

V. For these things are the rewards of impiety and lawless iniquity. And, in addition to these things, there are diseases of the body which separately afflict and devour each limb and each part, and which also rack and torture it all over with fevers, and chills, and wasting consumptions, and terrible rashes, and scrofulous diseases, and spasmodic convulsions of the eyes, and putrefying sores and abscesses, and cutaneous disorders extending over the whole of the skin, and disorders of the bowels and inward parts, and convulsions of the stomach, and obstructions in the passages of the lungs preventing the patient from breathing easily, and paralysis of the tongue, and deafness of the ears, and imperfections of the eyes, and a general dimness and confusion of all the other senses, things which, though terrible, will yet hardly appear so when compared with other things more grievous still; when, for instance, all the vivifying qualities which existed in the blood contained in the veins have escaped from it, and when the breath which is contained in the lungs and windpipe is no longer capable of receiving a salutary admixture of the outward air so nearly connected with it; and when the veins are all relaxed and dissolved, which state is followed by a complete prostration of the harmony and due arrangement of the limbs, which were indeed previously distressed by the violent rush of a briny and very bitter stream stealthily pervading them; which, when it was shut up in a narrow passage having no easy outlet, being then pressed close and pressing other parts, conduces to the production of bitter and almost intolerable pains, from which are engendered the diseases of gout and arthritic pains and diseases, for which no salutary remedy has ever been discovered, but which are incurable by any human means.

Some persons, when they behold these things, will be alarmed, marvelling to see how those who a little while ago were fat and full of good flesh, and flourishing exceedingly in health and vigor, have so on a sudden wasted away and become merely withered muscles and a thin skin; and how the women, formerly luxurious, and tender, and delicate by reason of the luxury to which they had been accustomed from their earliest infancy, now, from the terrible afflictions to which they have been subjected, have become wild in their souls, and wild-looking in their bodies.

Then, then indeed, their enemies shall pursue them, and the sword shall exact its penalty; and they, fleeing to the cities, where they think that they have obtained a place of safety, being deluded by treacherous hopes, shall perish to a man, being caught and destroyed by the ambuscades of their enemies.

VI. And if, after all these calamities, they are not chastened, but still proceed by crooked paths, and turn off from the straight roads which lead to truth, then cowardice and fear shall be established in their souls [Leviticus 26:36], and they shall flee when no one pursues, and shall be routed and destroyed by false reports, as does often happen. The lightest sound of leaves falling through the air shall cause as great an agony of fear and apprehension as the most formidable war waged by the most powerful of enemies ought to produce, so that children shall be indifferent to the fate of their parents, and parents to that of their children, and brothers to that of their brethren, looking upon it that if they go to their assistance they may themselves incur the danger of captivity, while their best chance of safety consists in escaping by themselves.

But the hopes of wicked men do never obtain their accomplishment, and those who hope to escape thus will be still more, or at all events not less, taken prisoners than those who were previously laid hold of. And even if some such persons do escape notice, they will still be exposed to insidious attacks from their natural enemies; and these are those most furious wild beasts who are well armed by the endowments of nature, and which God, simultaneously with the original creation of the universe, made for the purpose of striking terror into those men who were incapable of taking warning, and for executing implacable justice on those whose wickedness was incurable; and those who behold their cities razed to the very foundations will hardly believe that they were ever inhabited, and they will turn the sudden misfortunes which befall men after brilliant instances of prosperity into a proverb, recording all the instances which are mentioned or passed over in history.

There shall also come upon them asthmas, and consumptions affecting the internal organs, producing heaviness and despondency, with great affliction, and making all life unstable, and hanging, as one may say, from a halter. And fears incessantly succeeding one another will toss the mind up and down, agitating it night and day, so that in the morning they shall pray for the evening, and in the evening they shall pray for the morning, on account of the visible horrors which surround them when awake, and the detestable images which present themselves to them in their dreams when sleeping. And the proselyte who has come over being lifted up on high by good fortune, will be a conspicuous object, being admired and pronounced happy in two most important particulars, in the first place because he has come over to God of his own accord, and also because he has received as a most appropriate reward a firm and sure habitation in heaven, such as one cannot describe. But the man of noble descent, who has adulterated the coinage of his noble birth, will be dragged down to the lowest depths, being hurled down to Tartarus and profound darkness, in order that all men who behold this example may be corrected by it, learning that God receives gladly virtue which grows out of hostility to him, utterly disregarding its original roots, but looking favorably on the whole trunk from its lowest foundation, because it has become useful, and has changed its nature so as to become fruitful.

VII. The cities being thus destroyed as if by fire, and the country being rendered desolate, the land will at last begin to obtain a respite, and, as one may say, to recover breath, and to look up again, after having been much exercised and harassed by the intolerable violence of its inhabitants, who drive away all the virgin periods of seven years out of the country, and discarded them from their minds; for nature taught men the only, or to speak more securely, the first festivals, namely, the recurring periods of seven days and seven years, making them times of rest, the seventh day being the period of rest for men, and the seventh year for the land. But these men, utterly disregarding the whole of this law, and violating all the obligations implied in salt, or treaties, or the altar of mercy, or the common hearth, considerations by which friendship and unanimity is usually cemented, for all such things are either the number seven itself, or exist in consequence of that number, oppressed (at least the more powerful of them did so) those men who were weaker with constant and uninterrupted commands, and they oppressed the land also, continually in their covetousness pursuing unrighteous gains, and inflaming their desires so as to excite their unbridled and unjust passions to an insatiable degree.

For instead of granting to men who are in the truest point of view their brothers, as having one common mother, namely, nature, instead, I say, of giving them the appointed holiday after each period of six days, and instead of giving the land a respite after each space of six years without oppressing it either with sowing of seed or planting of trees, in order that it may not be exhausted by incessant labors: instead of acting thus, these men, neglecting all these admirable commandments, have oppressed both the bodies and souls of all men over whom they have had any power, with incessant severities, and have torn to pieces the strength of the deep-soiled earth, exacting revenues from it in an insatiable spirit beyond its power to contribute, and crushing it out altogether and in every part with exactions not only yearly, but even daily.

For all which conduct, these men shall incur the penalties and curses mentioned above: and the country being thoroughly exhausted, and having been forced to submit to innumerable afflictions, shall at last be relieved by being delivered from the burden of its impious inhabitants, and when looking around it, shall see no one left of those who destroyed its grandeur and beauty, but shall behold the market-places all free from their tumults, and wars, and acts of iniquity, and full of tranquillity, and peace, and justice; then it shall recover its youth and former vigor, and shall enjoy tranquillity, and shall have rest at the festive seasons recurring at the sacred numbers of seven, recovering its strength again like an athlete who has been fatigued by his exertions.

Then, like an affectionate mother, it shall pity the sons and the daughters whom it has lost, who now that they are dead are, and still more were, when alive, a grief and sorrow to their parents; and becoming young a second time, it will again be fertile as before, and will produce an irreproachable offspring, an improvement on its former progeny; for she that was desolate, as the prophet says [Isaiah 54:1], is now become happy in her children and the mother of a large family. Which prophetic saying has also an allegorical meaning, having reference to the soul; for when the family is very large, and the soul is full, all kinds of passions and vices, surrounding it like so many children, such for instance as pleasures, appetites, folly, intemperance, injustice, it is sad and diseased; and being exceedingly prostrate through illness, it is near to death, but when it is barren and has no such offspring, or when it has lost them, then it becomes changed in all its parts and becomes a pure virgin, and having received the divine seed, it fashions and brings to life a new family, very admirable in their nature, and of great beauty and perfection, such as prudence, courage, temperance, justice, holiness, piety, and all other virtues and good dispositions, of which not only is their birth a blessing accompanied by happiness in its children, but the mere expectation of such a birth is a blessing, since it cheers its weakness by the anticipations of hope; and hope is joy before joy, even though it may be somewhat defective in comparison with perfect joy. But still, it is in both these respects better than that which comes after; first, because it relaxes and softens the dry rigidity of care; and secondly, because by its anticipations it gives a forewarning of the impending perfect good.

VIII. I have now, then, without making any concealment or softening the truth in any degree, explained the curses and the punishments which it is fit for those persons to endure who have despised the sacred laws of justice and piety, and who have submitted themselves to the adoption of polytheistic opinions, the end of which is impiety through forgetfulness of the instruction originally imparted to them by their fore-fathers, which they learnt in their earliest infancy, when they were taught to look upon the nature of the One as the only supreme God, to whom alone those persons may properly be assigned as his inheritance who pursue the genuine truth instead of cunningly invented fables.

If, however, they receive these exertions of power not as aiming at their destruction, but rather at their admonition and improvement, and if they feel shame throughout their whole soul, and change their ways, reproaching themselves for their errors, and openly avowing and confessing all the sins that they have committed against themselves with purified souls and minds, so as in the first place to exhibit a sincerity of conscience utterly alien from falsehood and concealing nothing evil beneath; and secondly, having their tongues also purified so as to produce improvement in their hearers, they will then meet with a favorable acceptance from their merciful savior, God, who bestows on the race of mankind his especial and exceedingly great gift, namely, relationship to his own word; after which, as its archetypal model, the human mind was formed.

For even though they may be at the very extremities of the earth, acting as slaves to those enemies who have led them away in captivity, still they shall all be restored to freedom in one day, as at a given signal; their sudden and universal change to virtue causing a panic among their masters; for they will let them go, because they are ashamed to govern those who are better than themselves.

IX. But when they have received this unexpected liberty, those who but a short time before were scattered about in Greece, and in the countries of the barbarians, in the islands, and over the continents, rising up with one impulse, and coming from all the different quarters imaginable, all hasten to one place pointed out to them, being guided on their way by some vision, more divine than is compatible with its being of the nature of man, invisible indeed to every one else, but apparent only to those who were saved, having their separate inducements and intercessions, by whose intervention they might obtain a reconciliation with the Father. First of all, the merciful, and gentle, and compassionate nature of him who is invoked, who would always rather have mercy than punishment. In the second place, the holiness of all the founders of the nation, because they, with souls emancipated from the body, exhibiting a genuine and sincere obedience to the Ruler of all things, are not accustomed to offer up ineffectual prayers on behalf of their sons and daughters, since the Father has given to them, as a reward, that they shall be heard in their prayers. And, thirdly, that quality, on account of which above all others, the good will of the beings above-mentioned is conciliated, and that is the improvement and amelioration of those persons who are brought to treaties and agreements, who have, with great difficulty, been able to come from a pathless wilderness into a beaten road, the end of which is no other than that of pleasing God as sons please a father.

And when they come cities will be rebuilt which but a short time ago were in complete ruins, and the desert will be filled with inhabitants, and the barren land will change and become fertile, and the good fortune of their fathers and ancestors will be looked upon as a matter of but small importance, on account of the abundance of wealth of all kinds which they will have at the present moment, flowing forth from the graces of God as from ever-running fountains, which will thus confer vast wealth separately on each individual, and also on all the citizens in common, to an amount beyond the reach even of envy.

And the change in everything will be immediate, for God will nourish the virtues against the enemies of those who have repented, who have delighted in the ruined fortunes of the nation, reviling them, and making a mockery of them, as if they themselves were destined to have a season of good fortune, which could never be put an end to, which they hope to leave, in regular succession, to their children and to their posterity; thinking, at the same time, that they will for ever behold their adversaries in lasting and unchangeable misfortunes, laid up for even remote future generations; not perceiving, in their insanity, that they enjoyed that brilliant fortune which fell to their share a little while before, not for their own merits, but for the sake of giving a warning and admonition to others, for whom, as they had forsaken their national and hereditary customs, the only salutary remedy which could be found was the grief which they felt to excess when their enemies carried off their property.

Therefore, weeping for and bewailing their own defeat, they will turn back again to the ancient prosperity of their ancestors, retracing all their steps with great exactness, and without its even happening to them to stray from the proper course and to be wrecked; but they who have turned their lamentations into ridicule, and have decided on celebrating, as public festivals, the days which they consider unlucky, and of feasting in memorial of matters for which they mourn, and who, in short, make themselves happy at all the unhappiness of others, when they begin to receive the due reward of their inhumanity, will learn that they have sinned, not against obscure and neglected persons, but against men of noble birth, having fuel to kindle their nobleness to a proper warmth, which, when it is properly fanned into a flame, then their glory, which a little while ago appeared to be extinguished, blazes out again.

For as, when the trunk of a tree is cut down, if the roots are not taken away, new shoots spring up, by which the old trunk is again restored to life as it were; in the very same manner, if there be only left in the soul ever so small a seed of virtue, when everything else is destroyed, still, nevertheless, from that little seed there spring up the most honorable and beautiful qualities among men; by means of which, cities, which were formerly populous and flourishing, are again inhabited, and nations are led to become wealthy and powerful.

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