The Evil Eye I: From Israelite Idiom to Jewish Ju-Ju
The Evil Eye the Hebrew Bible: Readers both ancient and modern have attempted to locate the evil eye in biblical literature. The construct phrase “eye of evil” appears in the books of Deuteronomy (15:9; 28: 54, 56) and Proverbs (23:6, 28:22). In each case it serves as an idiom for “stingy” or “parsimonious.”
More connotatively, “eyes” and “seeing” serve as a literary motif for feelings of jealousy. Rhetoric of looking appears in passages describing the rivalries between Sara and Hagar (Gen 17:4-5; 21:9) and between Saul and David (I Sam 18:9). In a more overtly magical context, the antagonistic King Balak and his wizard-for-hire Bilaam each in turn “see” and gaze upon the people Israel (Num 22-23). The leitmotif reaches its apotheosis in the sorcerer’s unintentional blessing, “No harm is in sight for Jacob/No woe in view for Israel” (Num 23:21).
None of these examples point to a belief in the witchcraft eye among Israelites. In all cases, the “eye evil” in TaNaKH is a synecdoche for greedy, jealousy, and angry people. The “eye” has no life of its own apart from the human viewer. Whether this absence from biblical literature is attributable to the absence of the belief in Israelite society or to editorial censorship is a matter of continuing - debate.
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