Cursed Are You! The Phenomenology of Cursing in Cuneiform and Hebrew Texts. By Anne Marie Kitz. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2014. Pp. xiii + 528. $59.50.
Due to their significant role in ancient societies, curses have attracted the attention of scholars for a long time. The ongoing interest in the field of ancient Near Eastern studies is displayed by the fact that aside from Kitz's book two other extensive monographs on the topic have been published in recent years, namely a book by Malgorzata Sandowicz on oaths and curses in Neo- and Late Babylonian Legal Formulary (2012) and a monograph by the reviewer on curse, blessing, and oath formulae in the Hittite corpus (Christiansen 2012).
Whereas the studies by Sandowicz and Christiansen focus on linguistic aspects, with particular regard to oath formulae, Kitz's book has a much broader cultural, chronological, and thematic range. Comprising Sumerian, Akkadian, and Hittite cuneiform sources from the third to the first millennium B.C. as well as texts from the Hebrew Bible, it centers on cursing as a phenomenon in various areas of social life.
The study thus gives a good overview of a great number of sources and various aspects, including the role of human and divine beings in cursing and different curse types, as well as purposes, effects, and means of cursing. Although this broad scope is in general welcome and meritorious, it frequently leads the author to sketchy or incorrect analyses and oversimplification.
Among the greatest merits of the book is the fact that Kitz does not share the common view that curses in ancient Near Eastern societies were regarded as magical or self-fulfilling wishes. Neither does she accept the hypothesis according to which curses mentioning deities as agents are to be considered religious, whereas curses whose formulae conceal the agent (e.g., middle, passive, or nominal constructions) illustrate the belief in magic or might be classified as secular utterances (see p. 66 and especially chapter 7).
A further asset is that Kitz, unlike some other scholars, does not describe all oaths as conditional self-curses (see chapters 2 and 4). Her classification of conditional curses as either externally imposed or self-imposed is, however, imprecise since it does not sufficiently differentiate between the oath formula and the oath as a social convention or communication type between participants with different roles (i.e., the person imposing the oath, the oath taker...