Four Strange Curses in the Bible
The Bible is full of messages of love and peace, war and misery, and of course, some pretty bitchin' ways to get back at someone.
Curses in the Bible are like foam fingers at a baseball game. Some are pretty overt, like the plagues that swept through Egypt. Others are just a little more bizarre.
The Death of Judas
Let's be honest, here: Judas pretty much had it coming. You don't betray the son of God without expecting some kind of consequence. Oddly enough, despite being a pivotal character in the New Testament, the accounts of his death are inconsistent within the text itself: Matthew says he committed suicide via hanging after returning the silver he got for selling out Christ, but Acts says he kept the money, bought a field, fell down in said field and exploded.
Then you've got non-canonical accounts. One, from the early bishop Papias, says that Judas did not kill himself nor did he go out in a Die Hard-esque explosion. Instead, it describes what some believe to be a curse used to punish Judas for betraying Jesus. Essentially, Judas was the walking dead: he roamed the Earth aimlessly, his body swollen to an unnatural, almost Wonka-esque extent, his eyes so swollen that they couldn't be seen nor see themselves, and with worms in and on his flesh because it was apparently rotting. You know, suicide sounds a whole lot better than that.
What we have of this text describes Judas as not being able to go “where a chariot could pass easily, he was crushed by the chariot, so that his bowels gushed out.” That is to say, dude was too fat to get out of the way of a chariot. Papias goes on to say that Judas died in a remote area, and that those who passed by had to plug their noses rather than, you know, get the guy a grave or something.
Jesus and the Fig Tree
While traveling with his posse of twelve disciples, Jesus decides it's snack time. The group came upon a fig tree, much to Christ's delight. However, upon reaching for a fig he discovers that the tree has no fruit for the son of God. Embarrassed and not wanting to lose and credibility to a tree, Christ proclaims “May you never bear fruit again!” The tree immediately withers afterward.
That's the story as told in Matthew, and it does have a point other than “Give Jesus fruit.” When asked what just happened, Christ explains "I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer." A heart-warming lesson indeed.
However, there's just one slight problem with it. It isn't that Jesus decided to curse a barren tree – the man threw out a few curses in his day – but rather the story's retelling in the book of Mark. In Mark, the author helpfully points out that figs were out of season at the time. This leaves us with a very important question: how could Jesus, son of God and presumably the most powerful being on the planet, not know when a tree is out of season?
Curse of Canaan
The Curse of Canaan is one of the more controversial aspects of the Old Testament (which is really saying something) because of how vague it is but also because how it has been viewed historically. For a brief version of the story, it went something like this: Noah is celebrating and gets a tad drunk. He passes out, but Canaan happens into his tent and sees him naked. He tells his brothers, who do the right thing and cover the old guy's junk. Still, Noah knows someone somewhere peeped his goods, and when he wakes up he's all sorts of pissed. He curses Canaan, saying he shall be “a servant of servants unto his bretheren.”
It seems kind of straightforward: Noah forgets to wear some slacks, Canaan has to pay for it. However, there are all sorts of different views on the story and what it means. Some, for example, believe that Noah was sexually abused while he was asleep (since Genesis doesn't really say what Canaan did that was so wrong). Others argue that Canaan took advantage of Noah's wife. However, Canaan cursed to be a servant has been used in the past to justify black slavery and that, unfortunately, seems to be how most folks know the story.
To understand why that is, you have to understand genealogy in the Bible, which itself is pretty complex, too. Essentially, some folks claim that Canaan is the de facto black ancestor, and that his curse was a “generational curse,” thus giving slavery the green light. Of course, mainstream Christianity rejects such an idea.
The Curse of Cain
Cain and Abel's story is the classic buddy comedy of the Old Testament. The brothers, son of Adam and Eve, work similar professions: Abel is keeps the sheep and Abel works the land. A time comes for the two to make a sacrifice unto God. Abel gives one of his youngest sheep and Cain gives crops. God, apparently not big on veggies, goes with the sheep. Cain, not fond of getting the holy cold shoulder, kills his brother. Okay, so it's not exactly a comedy.
Anyway, God directly confronts Cain on Abel's whereabouts. Not one to stand for bullshit, he gives Cain one of the most subtle curses in the Bible: since the ground contained Abel's body and blood, it would now reject any of Cain's attempts to grow anything from it. Cain's only marketable skill is kaputs, and he crosses “farmhand” off the old resume.
However, it doesn't end there. After Cain complains that the curse is to strong and that eventually someone's going to revenge-murder him, God explains that "Not so; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over" and places a mark upon Cain to establish this. Unable to grow anything (and presumably kill himself), Cain was forced to wandered the earth, possibly forever, unable to kill himself or be killed.