Throughout history there have always been curses against those who have wronged us. These have variously been powered by magic, enchanted items, dark texts, and sinister forces. Yet it would seem that a very good way to curse someone quite badly would be to simply flip through a copy of the Bible. This may seem rather strange, but no that is not a mistake, and if someone really wants to smite ones enemies and wreak havoc it seems that one could do worse than take some of the many curses written down right there in the Holy book itself. This is the strange world of the cursed Psalms of the Bible.
Hidden away within both Hebrew and Christian scriptures are certain verses that are far from what one would typically think of as keeping with the values of these religions. Here we find spiteful passages that have been specifically designed to lash out at enemies, typically those seen as blasphemous, wicked, cruel, sinful, unrepentant, or as oppressors, through the use of calling down God’s righteous wrath for all to see through disaster, calamity, misfortune, and straight up insidious curses. Called the Imprecatory Psalms, they can be found mentioned throughout the Bible, as well as in one form or other in other religious texts, and are utilized by those who seek to bring decisive divine retribution hurtling down upon one’s enemy, essentially the opposite of calling down God’s blessing. The most well-known such “cursing Psalm” in the Bible is perhaps the notorious Psalm 109, sometimes called “The Judas Psalm,” in particular Verse 8, often cited as containing one of the most venomous and vengeful curses of the Bible. It is invoked in extreme situations in which the most severe retribution is desired, and it reads in part:
Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy; let an accuser stand at his right hand. When he is tried, let him be found guilty, and may his prayers condemn him. May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership. May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes. May a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor. May no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children. May his descendants be cut off, their names blotted out from the next generation. May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD; may the sin of his mother never be blotted out. May their sins always remain before the LORD, that he may blot out their name from the earth.
Pretty wrathful, heavy stuff indeed, and there are numerous instances of this curse being uttered at an enemy in the Bible, as well as even reports of it being used on other occasions in more modern times. In one instance, in 1707 the eminent British Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovel was commanding a fleet of ships off the Scilly Isles when according to the tale they hit a storm that the Admiral was confident they could push through. One of the crew did not agree, and warned him that they would not make it, which was not taken well by the famously arrogant Sir Cloudesley. The punishment for the audacity to question the commanding officer’s judgment was apparently death, but as the doomed sailor was about to be hanged he reportedly uttered Psalm 109 as a curse against those who had done this to him. Shortly after this, five ships in the fleet, including the flagship HMS Association, were horrifically dashed upon the rocks of a reef that sprang up out of nowhere, killing 2,000 men and the Admiral himself.
In more recent times Psalm 109 has popped up in the news from time to time. For instance, in 2010 there was outrage when a Florida Sheriff’s Deputy highlighted the psalm in a Bible and scrawled “The Obama Prayer” next to it. There was also was a case in 2012 which the Speaker of the House of Representatives in Kansas, Mike O’Neal, sent the psalm to Republican colleagues, which was aimed at the president. O’Neal wrote in the message:
At last — I can honestly voice a Biblical prayer for our president! Look it up — it is word for word! Let us all bow our heads and pray. Brothers and Sisters, can I get an AMEN? AMEN!!!!!!
Also in 2012, a former Navy Chaplain named Gordon Klingenschmitt was found to be inciting followers to use Psalm 109 to “curse” the Jewish agnostic and founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, Mikey Weinstein, and his family. The case was brought to court, but the District Court found that there was no law being broken, leading Klingenschmitt to say, “I praise God for religious freedom because the judge declared it’s OK to pray imprecatory prayers and quote Psalm 109.”
While certainly the most well-known of these biblical curses, Psalm 109 is far from the only one, and these can have effects ranging from invoking minor annoyances to death upon an enemy. Do you want to undo or punish enemies but not necessarily permanently maim or kill them? Then Psalms 1, 7, 48, 52, 100, and 140 are what you’re after. Do you want to cause physical injury upon them? In that case Psalms 58 or 53 (which causes blindness), might be more your speed. Do you want to bring death and destruction raining down upon them in a righteous fury? Well look no further than Psalms 37, which brings death by fire or sword, Psalm 55, which makes them drop dead without warning, or Psalm 137, which will kill not only the enemy but also their entire family, reading “How blessed will be the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks!”
There are specialized cursed Psalms for other occasions as well. Psalm 59 is targeted towards liars, reading “For the sin of their mouth and the words of their lips let them be taken in their pride: and for cursing and lying which they speak.” If you want to stop people from gossiping about you, you can try Psalm 120, while Psalm 93 ensures that anyone who unjustly accuses you will hopelessly lose their legal battle, among others. There are other non-Psalmic curses to be found within the Bible as well, including quite a few cursed passages in the New Testament, most of which were based upon the same principles as the cursed Psalms, and we are left to wonder just how these frightening passages can be included amongst the blessings and calls for love of the enemy.
Biblical scholars tend to be quick to point out that these cursed Psalms are not meant to be expressions of personal vengeance or malice, but are rather asking God to act justly in dealing with enemies, seeking vindication rather than vindictiveness. They are explained as expressions of zeal for the honor and righteousness of God against sin, opression, and blasphemy, not to be used for petty revenge. These are said to be saved for only the most dire situations, but this shows a decided lack of understanding of human nature, as since when has someone ever had a trump card of a secret weapon and only used it as a very last resort? Other scholars say that the cursed Psalms are not to be taken literally, but are rather allegorical and cathartic.
Whatever the case may be, these supposed curses upon one’s enemies seem to clash with the general vibe of the Bible, yet there they are. Are these just symbolic in nature? Are they a mighty tool of God to fight back against the evil forces that would seek to befoul and opress His people? Or are they merely a way to vent frustration at things beyond our control? It is hard to say, but still there buried within the pages of the Bible are some of the most potent curses there are, and they are a curious historical enigma.