Anath'ema (ἀνάθεμα), literally any thing laid up or suspended (from ἀνατίθημι, to lay up), and hence any thing laid up in a temple set apart as sacred (2 Maccabees 9:16). In this general sense the form employed is ἀνάθημα, a word of not unfrequent occurrence in Greek classic authors, and found once in the N.T., Lu 21:5. The form ἀνάθεμα, as well as its meaning, appears to be peculiar to the Hellenistic dialect (Valekenaer, Schol. 1, 593). The distinction has probably arisen from the special use made of the word by the Greek Jews. In the Sept. ἀνάθεμα is the ordinary rendering of the Hebrew word חֵרֶם, che'rem (although in some instances it varies between the two forms, as in Le 27:28-29), and in order to ascertain its meaning it will be necessary to inquire into the signification of this word. The Alexandrine writers preferred the short penultimate in this and other kindred words (e.g. ἐπίθεμα, σύνθεμα); but occasionally both forms occur in the MSS., as in Jg 16:19; Jg 2 Maccabees 13:15; Lu 21:5: no distinction therefore existed originally in the meaninzs of the words, as had been supposed by many early writers. The Hebrew חֵרֶם, cherem, is derived from a verb signifying primarily to shut up, and hence to (1) consecrate or devote, and (2) exterminate. Any object so devoted to the Lord was irredeemable: if an inanimate object, it was to be given to the priests (Nu 18:14); if a living creature, or even a man, it was to be slain (Le 27:28-29); hence the idea of extermination as connected with devoting. Generally speaking, a vow of this description was taken only with respect to the idolatrous nations who were marked out for destruction by the special decree of Jehovah, as in Nu 21:2; Jos 6:17; but occasionally the vow was made indefinitely, and involved the death of the innocent, as is illustrated in the case of Jephthah's daughter (Jg 11:31), according to many, and certainly in that of Jonathan (1Sa 14:24), who was only saved by the interposition of the people. The breach of such a vow on the part of any one directly or indirectly participating in it was punished with death (Jos 7:25). In addition to these cases of spontaneous devotion on the part of individuals, the verb חָרִם, charam', is frequently applied to the extermination of idolatrous nations: in such cases the, idea of a vow appears to be dropped, and the word assumes a purely secondary sense (Sept. ἐξολοθρεύω); or, if the original meaning is still to be retained, it may be in the sense of Jehovah (Isa 34:2) shutting up, i.e. placing under a ban, and so necessitating. the destruction of them, in order to prevent all contact. The extermination being the result of a positive command (Ex 22:20), the idea of a vow is excluded, although doubtless the instances already referred to (Nu 21:2.; Jos 6:17) show. how a vow was occasionally superadded to the command. — It may be further noticed that the degree to which the work of destruction was carried out varied. Thus it applied to the destruction of
(1) men alone (De 20:13); (2) men, women, and children (De 2:34); (3) virgins excepted (Nu 31:17; Jg 21:11); (4). all living creatures (De 20:16; 1Sa 15:3);
the spoil in the former cases were reserved for the use of the army (De 2:35; De 20:14; Jos 22:8), instead of being given over to the priesthood, as was the case in the recorded vow of Joshua (Jos 6:19). See Vow.
I. We thus find that the cherem was a person or thing consecrated or devoted irrevocably to God, and that it differed from any thing merely vowed or sanctified to the Lord in this respect, that the latter could be re'deemed (Leviticus 28:1-27), while the former was irreclaimable (Le 27:21,28); hence, in reference to living creatures, the devoted thing, whether man or beast, must be put to death (Le 27:29). The prominent idea, therefore, which the word conveyed was that of a person or thing devoted to destruction, or accursed. Thus the cities of the Canaanites were anathematized (Nu 21:2-3), and, after their complete destruction, the name of the place was called Hormah (חָרמָה; Sept. ἀνάθεμα). Thus, again, the city of Jericho was made an anathema to the Lord (Jos 6:17); that is, every living thing in it (except Rahab and her family) was devoted to death; that which could be destroyed by fire was burnt, and all that could not be thus consumed (as gold and silver):was forever alienated from man and devoted to the use of the sanctuary (Jos 6:24). The prominence thus given to the idea of a thing accursed led naturally to the use of the word in cases where there was no reference whatever to consecration to the service of God, as in De 7:26, where an idol is called חֵרֶם, or ἀνάθεμα, and the Israelites are warned against idolatry lest they should be anathema like it. In these instances the term denotes the object of the curse, but it is sometimes used to designate the curse itself (e.g. De 20:17, Sept.; comp. Ac 23:14), and it is in this latter sense that the English word is generally employed.
In this sense, also, the Jews of later times use the Hebrew term, though with a somewhat different meaning as to the curse intended. The חֵרֶם, cherem, of the rabbins signifies excommunication or exclusion from the Jewish Church. The more recent rabbinical writers reckon three kinds or degrees of excommunication, all of which are occasionally designated by this generic term (Elias Levita, in Sepher Tisbi).
1. The first of these, נִדּוּי, nidau'i, separation, is merely in temporary separation or suspension from ecclesiastical privileges, involving, however, various civil inconveniences, particularly seclusion from society to the distance of four cubits. The person thus excommunicated was not debarred entering the temple, but instead of going in on the right hand, as was customary, he was obliged to enter on the left, the usual way of departure: if he died while in this condition there was no mourning for him, but a stone was thrown on his coffin to indicate that he was separated from the people and had deserved stoning. Buxtorf (Lex. Talm. col. 1304) enumerates twenty-four causes of this kind of excommunication: it lasted thirty days, and was pronounced without a curse. If the individual did not repent at the expiration of the term (which, however, according to Buxtorf, was extended in such cases to sixty or ninety days), the second kind of excommunication was resorted to.
2 This was called simply and more properly חֵרֶם, cherem, curse. It could only be pronounced by an assembly of at least ten persons, and was always accompanied with curses. The formula employed is given at length by Buxtorf (Lex. col. 828). A person thus excommunicated was cut off from all religious and social privileges: it was unlawful either to eat or drink with him (comp. 1Co 5:11). The curse could be dissolved, however, by three common persons, or by one person of dignity.
3. If the excommunicated person still continued impenitent, a yet more severe sentence was, according to the rabbins, pronounced against him, which was termed שִׁמִּתָּא, sham'-mata',' imprecation (Elias Levita,'in Tisbi). It is described: as a complete excision from the Church and the giving up of the individual to the judgment of God and to final perdition. There is, however, reason to believe that these three grades are of recent origin. The Talmudists frequently use the term by which the first and last are designated interchangeably, and some rabbinical writers (whom Lightfoot has followed in his force Hebr. et Talmi ad 1Co 5:5) consider ,the last to be a lower grade than the second; yet it is probable that the classification rests on the fact that the sentence was more or less severe according to the circumstances of the case; and though we cannot expect to find the three grades distinctly marked in the writings in the N.T., we may not improbably consider the phrase "put out of the synagogue," ἀποσυνάγαγον ποιεῖν, Joh 16:2 (comp. 9:22; 12:42), as referring to a lighter censure than is intended by one or more of the three terms used in Lu 6:22, where perhaps different grades are intimated. The phrase "deliver over to Satan" (1Co 5:5; 1Ti 1:20) has been by many commentators understood to refer to the most severe kind of excommunication. Even admitting the allusion, however, there is a very important difference between the Jewish censure and the formula employed by the apostle. In the Jewish sense it would signify the delivering over of the transgressor to final perdition, while the apostle expressly limits his sentence to the "destruction of the flesh" (i.e. the depraved nature), and resorts to it in order "that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus," SEE ACCURSED.
II. But, whatever diversity of opinion there may be as to the degrees of excommunication, it is on all hands admitted that the term חֵרֶם, with which we are more particularly concerned as the equivalent of the Greek ἀνάθεμα, properly denotes, in its rabbinical use, an excommunication accompanied with the most severe curses and denunciations of evil. We are therefore prepared to find that the anathema of the N.T. always implies execration; but it yet remains to be ascertained whether it is ever used to designate a judicial act of excommunication. That there is frequently no such reference is very clear: in some instances the individual denounces the anathema on himself, unless certain conditions are fulfilled. The Inoun and its corresponding verb are thus used in Ac 23:12,14,21, and the verb occurs with a similar meaning in Mt 26:74; Mr 14:71. The phrase "to call Jesus anathema" (1Co 12:3) refers not to a judicial sentence pronounced by the Jewish authorities, but to the act of any private individual who execrated him and pronounced him accursed. That this was a common practice among the Jews appears from the rabbinical writings. The term, as it is used in reference to any who should preach another gospel, "Let him be anathema" (Ga 1:8-9), has the same meaning as let him be accounted execrable and accursed. In none of these instances do we find any reason to think that the word was employed to designate specifically and technically excommunication either from the Jewish or the Christian Church. There remain only two passages in which the word occurs in the N.T., both presenting considerable difficulty to the translator.
(a.) With regard to the first of these (Ro 9:3), Grotius and others understand the phrase "accursed from Christ," ἀνἀθεμα εϊvναι ἀπὸ τοῦ Χριστοῦ, to signify excommunication from the Christian Church, while most of the fathers, together with Tholuck, Ruckert, and a great number of modern interpreters, explain the term as referring to the Jewish practice of excommunication. On the other hand, Deyling, Olshausen, De Wette, and many more, adopt the more general meaning of accursed. The great difficulty is to ascertain the extent of the evil which Paul expresses his willingness to undergo; Chrysostom, Calvin, and many others understand it to include final separation, not, indeed, from the love, but from the presence of Christ; others limit it to a violent death; and others, again, explain it as meaning the same kind of curse as that under which they might be delivered by repentance and the reception of the Gospel (Deylingii Observatt. Sacrae, pt. 2, p. 495 and sq.). It would occupy too much space to refer to other interpretations of the passage, or to pursue the investigation of it further. There seems, however, little reason to suppose that a judicial act of the Christian Church is intended, and we may remark that much of the difficulty which commentators have felt seems to have arisen from their not keeping in mind that the apostle does not speak of his wish as, a possible thing, and their consequently pursuing to all its results what should be regarded simply as an expression of the most intense desire (ηὐχόμην῟ηὐχόμην ἄν, I could wish, i.e. were such a thing proper or available, see Winer, Idioms, p. 222). Some have even thought (taking the verb as a historical Imperfect) that the apostle was simply referring to his former detestation of Christ, when yet unconverted (see Bloomfield, Recensao Synopt. in loc.), and Tregelles proposes (Account of Gr. Text of N.T. p. 219) to remove the difficulty altogether in this way, by enclosing the clause in question in a parenthesis. See Woltii Curae, in loc.; Poll synopsis, in loc.; Trautermann, Illustratio (Jen. 1758); Meth. Quart. Rev. 1863, p. 420 sq. SEE BAN.
(b.) The phrase ANATHEMA MARAN-ATHA SEE ANATHEMA MARAN-ATHA , ἀνάθεμα μαρὰν ἀθά (1Co 16:22), has been considered by many to be equivalent to the שִׁמִּתָּא, shammata, of the rabbins, the third and most severe form of excommunication. This opinion is derived from the supposed etymological identity of the Syriac phrase itself, maran-atha (q.v.), מָרָן אֲתָא, "the Lord cometh," with the Hebrew word which is considered by these commentators to be derived from שֵׁם אֲתָה, shem atha, "the Name (i.e. Jehovah) cometh." This explanation, however, can rank no higher than a plausible conjecture, since it is supported by no historical evidence. The Hebrew term is never found thus divided, nor is it ever thus explained by Jewish writers, who, on the contrary, give etymologies different from this (Buxtorf, Lex. col. 2466). It is, moreover, very uncertain whether this third kind of excommunication was in use in the time of Paul; and the phrase which he employs is not found in any rabbinical writer (Lightfoot, Horae Hebr. et Talm. on 1Co 16:22). The literal meaning of the words is clear, but it is not easy to understand why the Syriac phrase is here employed, or what is its meaning in connection with anathema. Lightfoot supposes that the apostle uses it to signify that he pronounced this anathema against the Jews. However this may be, the supposition that the anathema, whatever be its precise object, is intended to designate excommunication from the Christian Church, as Grotius and Augusti understand it, appears to rest on very slight grounds: it seems preferable to regard it, with Lightfoot, Olshausen, and most other commentators, as simply an expression of detestation. Though, however, we find little or no evidence of the use of the word anathema in the N, T. as the technical term for excommunication, it is certain that'it obtained this meaning in the early ages of the Church; for it is thus employed in the apostolic canons, in the canons of various councils, by Chrysostom, Theodoret, and other Greek fathers (Suiceri Thesaurus Eccl. s. vv. ἀνάθεμα and ἀφορισμός). SEE EXCOMMUNICATION.
III. Anathema, in ecclesiastical usage, is the cutting off any person from the communion or privileges of a society. The anathema differed from simple ex communication in being attended with curses and execrations. It signifies not only to cut off the living from the Church, but the dead from salvation. It was practiced in the early Church against notorious offenders. The form has been preserved: the following was pronounced by Synesius against one Andronicus: "Let no Church of God be open to Andronicus and his accomplices, but let every sacred temple and church be shut against them. I admonish both private men and magistrates to receive them neither under their roof nor to their table; and priests, more especially, that they neither converse with them living nor attend their funerals when dead." When any one was thus anathematized, notice was given to the neighboring churches, and occasionally to the churches over the world, that all might confirm and ratify this act of discipline by refusing to admit such a one into their communion. The form of denouncing anathemas against heresies and heretics is very ancient. But as zeal about opinions increased, and Christians began to set a higher value on trifles than on the weightier matters of the law, it became acommon practice to add anathemas to every point in which men differed from each other. At the Council of Trent a whole body of divinity was put into canons, and an anathema affixed to each. How fearful an instrument of power the anathema was in the hands of popes in the Middle Ages is attested by history. Popes still continue to hurl anathemas against heretics, which are little regarded. — Bingham, Orig. Eccles, bk. 16, ch. 2, § 16. SEE INTERDICT.
Treatises on this subject are the following: Dirr, )De anathemate (Alta. 1662); Baldwin, De anathematismis (Viteb. 1620); Bose, in Winckler's Tenpe sacr. p. 231 sq.; Fecht, De precibus contra alios (Rost. 1708); Pipping, De imprecationibus (Lips. 1721); Pisanski, Vindiciae Psalmorum ob execrationes (Regiom. 1779); Poncarius, De imprecationibus in impios, in the Bibl.'Lubec. p. 565 sq. SEE IMPRECATION.