(some form of אָלָה, or שָׁבִע, ὄμνυμι), is an appeal to God in attestation of the truth of what one says, or in confirmation of what one promises or undertakes. The Latin term is jusjurandum or juramenturn. Cicero (De Officiis, 3, 29) correctly terms an oath a religious affirmation;' that is, an affirmation with a religious sanction. This appears from the words which he proceeds to employ: "Quod autem affirmate, quasi Deo teste, promiseris, id tenendum est. Jam enim non ad iram deorum, quae nulla est, sed ad justitiam et ad fidem pertinet;" which in effect means that an oath is an appeal to God, as the source and the vindicator of justice and fidelity. Hence it appears that there are two essential elements in an oath-first, the human, a declared intention of speaking the truth or performing the action in a given case; secondly, the divine, an appeal to God, as a being who knows all things and will punish guilt. According to usage, however, there is a third element in the idea which "oath" commonly conveys, namely, that the oath is taken only on solemn, or, more specifically, on juridical occasions. The canon law gives all three elements when it represents judicium veritas, justitia as entering into the constitution of an oath judicium, judgment or trial on the part of society; veritas, truth on the part of the oath-taker; justitia, justice on the part of God.
The practice of taking oaths existed before the time of Moses. It is found as early as the days of Abraham, who made the oldest servant of his family swear he would select for Isaac a wife of his own kindred (Ge 24:2-3,37). It is here observable that the oath is a private, not a judicial one; only that the authority of Abraham, as patriarch, must be taken into account. An oath was sometimes a public and general bond, obliging the parties who tookit to a certain course-a case in which it appears to have been spontaneous and voluntary; as when, in Judges 21 the men of Israel swore, saying, "There shall not any of us give his daughter unto Benjamin to wife" (comp. ver. 5). From 1Ki 18:10, it appears to have been customary to require, on occasions of great concern, a public oath, embracing even an entire "kingdom and nation;" but whether taken individually or by some representativewe have no means of ascertaining. Such a custom, however, implying as it does a doubt of the public faith of a people, would hardly be submitted to, unless on the part of an inferior.
Oaths did not take their origin in any divine command. They were a part of that consuetudinary law which Moses found prevalent, and was bound to respect, since no small portion of the force of law lies in custom and a legislator can neither abrogate nor institute a binding law of his own mere will. Accordingly, Moses made use of the sanction which an oath gave, but in that general manner, and apart from minute directions and express words of approval, which shows that he merely used, without intending to sanction, an instrument that he found in existence and could not safely dispense with. Examples are found in Ex 22:11, where an oath is ordered to be applied in the case of lost property; and here we first meet with what may strictly be called a judicial oath (Le 6:3-5).
An oath, making an appeal to the divine justice and power, is a recognition of the divinity of the being to whom the appeal is made. Hence to 'swear by an idol' is to be convicted of idolatry. Such an act is accordingly given in Scripture as a proof of idolatry and a reason for condign punishment. "How shall I pardon thee for this? Thy children have forsaken me, and sworn by them that are no gods" (Jer 5:7; Jer 12:16; Am 8:14; Zep 1:5).
This appeal to God was in frequent use among the Hebrews, as a confirmation of both statements (Mt 26:74) and promises (1Sa 19:6; 1Sa 20:17; 2Sa 19:23; 2Sa 15:21; 2Sa 1 Macc. 7:35. For covenant oaths, see Ge 31:53 sq.; Jos 9:15; 2Ki 11:4; 2Ki 1 Macc. 7:15; Josephus, Ant. 14:1,2. For oaths of allegiance see 2Sa 15:21; Josephus, Ant. 15:10, 4) in both public and private life (e.g. Jg 21:5; 1Ki 18:10; Ezr 10:5; and Ge 24:37; Ge 1; Ge 5; Mt 14:7), as also before the Judges (Ex 22:11; Le 6:3,5); but the Mosaic law does not attempt to regulate its use. Perjury is forbidden (Le 19:12), but on religious grounds, as a profanation of God's name. The usual oath was by Jehovah (De 6:13; comp. Ge 14:22; Jg 21:7; Ru 1:17; 1Sa 14:44; 2Sa 19:7; 1 Kings 1, 29; 2, 23; Isa 19:18; Isa 65:16; Jer 1:2; Jer 38:16), while the apostates swore by strange gods (5:7; 12:16; Am 8:14; Zep 1:5). Sometimes an oath was made by- the life of the person addressed (2Ki 2; 2Ki 2; 1Sa 1; 1Sa 26; 1Sa 20:3; comp. Euripides, Hel. 835), by the life of the king (1Sa 17:55; 1Sa 25:26; 2Sa 11:11), or by his head, even when not in his presence (a common oath in Egypt, Ge 42:15, and still used in Persia, Rosenmüller, Morgenl. 1, 200 sq.; Morier, Second Journey; comp. Strabo, 12:557; Herodotus, 4:68; Curtius, 6:11, 18; Lucian, Catapl. 11; Suetonius, Calig. 27; Vegetius, De Re Mil. 2, 5; Tertullian, Apol. 52; Zorn, Biblioth. Antiq. 1, 812 sq. In the Gospel according to Nicodemus, Pilate swears the safety of Caesar; comp. Rein, Rom. Criminalrecht, p. 534). More rarely, the oath was by the head of the swearer (Mt 5:36; comp. Virgil, En. 9:300; Ovid, Trist. 4:4, 45; Juvenal, 6:17), by some important member of the body, as the eyes (Ovid, Amor. 3, 3, 13; Tibullus, 3, 6,47; Plautus, Mencec. 5, 9,1); by the earth (Matthew 5, 35; Sil. Ital. 8:105; Euripides, Hippolytus, 1029); by heaven and the sun (Mt 5:34; Talmud Babyl. Berach. 55; comp. Kor. 91, 5; 53, 1; 56, 77; Virgil; En. 12:176, 197; 9:429; Aristophanes, Eq. 705; Plutarch, 129; Euripides, Medea, 746; Pausanias, 8:18, 1; Philostratus, Her. 2, 11; and Wettstein, 1, 305); by the angels (Josephus, War, 2, 16, 4)... It was a part of the punctiliousness of the later Jews to prefer rather to swear by the sun, the earth, or heaven than by God himself (Philostratus. 2, 271). Some swore by the Temple (Mt 23:16; comp. Lightfoot, p. 280), or parts of it (Mt 23:16; comp. Wettstein ad loc.), or by Jerusalem, the holy city (Mt 5:35; Mishna, Kethuboth, 2, 9; Lightfoot, p. 280). So among other ancient nations, the altar was touched in swearing (comp. Doughtaeus, Analect. 2, 26; Lakemacher, Observ. 9:112 sq. on Sil. Ital. 3, 82. On the oath CORBAN SEE CORBAN [q.v.], see Josephus, Apion, 1, 22, 453).
The form of swearing by Jehovah, always the most usual oath (see above), was very simple, "The Lord do this or that to me if I swear falsely" (Ru 1:17; 2Sa 3:9,35; 1Ki 2:23; 2Ki 6:31),or "As Jehovah liveth" (חִי יהֹוָה, or חִי אֶלֹהַים, Ru 3:13; Jg 8:19; 2Sa 2:27; Jer 38:16); at greater length, "Jehovah be a true and faithful witness between us" (יהַי יַהֹוָה בָּנוּ לעֵד אֵֶמת, Jer 42:5). Formulas of terrible import were used by the later Jews (see Josephus, Life, § 53; comp. Lysias, Pro. Con. Aristoph. 32). Of the ceremonies usually observed by those who took oaths we know but little. In patriarchal antiquity it was usual to put the hand under the thigh (Ge 24:2; Ge 47:29). On this practice Abenezers observes, "It appears probable to me that the meaning of this custom was as if the superior said, with the consent of his slave, If thou art under my power, and therefore prepared to execute my commands, put thy hand, as a token, under my thigh." Winer, however, thinks that, as it was usual to swear by the more important parts of the human frame, so this was a reference to the generative powers of man. But see on this interpretation, as well as on the general question of swearing by parts of the body, Meiner, Gesch. der Relig. 2, 286 sq. It is, however, certain that it was usual to touch that by which a person swore. Other instances may be seen in Niedek, De Populor. Adorat. p. 213 sq., and p. 218, which go immediately to confirm the idea advanced by Winer. The Targum of Jonathan (on Ge 24:2) supposes the hand to have been placed on the section of circumcision (comp. Jerome, ad loc.). Gramberg (Religionusid. 1, 439) most strangely connects this custom with the licentious worship of Baal and Astarte. (For other views see Dreyer, Miscel. ib. einige Gegenst. desteutsch. Rechts, p. 115 sq.; Mahn, in Bertholdt's Journ. 7:118 sq.).
The more usual employment of the hand was to raise it towards heaven; designed, probably, to excite attention, to point out the oath-taker, and to give solemnity to the act (Ge 14:22-23). In the strongly anthropomorphitic language of parts of the Scripture even God is introduced saying, "I lift up my hand to heaven, and say, I live forever" (De 32:40). Some suppose that a similar license is employed whenever the Almighty is represented as in any way coming under the obligation of an oath (Ge 22:16-17; Ex 6:8; Eze 20:5; Heb 6:17). Instead of the head, the phylactery was sometimes touched by the Jews on taking an oath (Maimon. Shebuoth, c. 11). Even the Deity is sometimes introduced as swearing by phylacteries (Tanch. fol. 6:3; Otho, Lex. p. 757). "Giving the hand" (Eze 18:12) was a ceremony used between equals; the violation of this pledge was believed to be a most atrocious crime, and hence the prophet denounces vengeance on the king of Babylon, who had broken a covenant after having "given his hand." We meet with the representation of the pledge given by the joining of hands, in connection with some religious ceremony, on many ancient coins, of which the accompanying engravings are specimens. They are taken from golden coins in the British Museum. SEE HAND. Swearing by dipping the hands in the blood of a victim was the most solemn form of oath among the ancient Greeks, and was chiefly used in concluding alliances offensive and defensive. SEE COVENANT.
The Rabbinical writers indulge in much prolixity on the subject of oaths, entering into nice distinctions, and showing themselves exquisite casuists. A brief view of their disquisitions may be seen in Otho, Lex. p. 347 sq. Some oaths they, declared invalid: "If any one swear by heaven, earth, the sun, and such things, although there may be in his mind while using these words a reference to Him who created them, yet this is not an oath; or if any one swear by one of the prophets or by some book of Scripture, having reference to Him who sent the prophet and gave the book, nevertheless this is not an oath" (Maimon. Hal. Shebuoth, c. 12) S So the Mishna (Shebuoth, c. 4): "If any one adjures another by heaven or earth, he is not held bound by this." It is easy to see that oaths of this nature, with authoritative interpretations and glosses so lax, could hardly fail to loosen moral obligation, and to lead to much practical perjury and impiety. Minute casuistical distinctions undermine the moral sense.: When a man may swear and yet not swear, by the same formula appear to bind himself and yet be free, contract with his associates an obligation from which he may be released by religious authorities, the basis of private virtue and the grounds of public confidence are at once endangered. Besides, the practice of unauthorized and spontaneous oath-taking, which seems even in the earlier periods of Jewish history to have been too common, became, about the time of our Lord, of great frequency, and must have, tended to lower the; religious as well as weaken the moral character. Peter's conduct is a striking case in point, who "began to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man" (Mt 26:74). An open falsehood thus asserted and maintained by oaths and imprecations shows how little regard there was at that time paid to such means of substantiating truth. The degree of guilt implied in such lamentable practices is heightened by the emphasis with which the Mosaic law guarded the sanctity of the divine name and prohibited the crime of perjury and profanation (Ex 20:7; Le 19:12; De 5:11; Matthew 5, 33).
The levity of the Jewish nation in regard to oaths, though reproved by some of their doctors (Otho, Lex, p. 351: Philo, 2, 194), was notorious; and when we find it entering as an element into popular poetry (Martial, 11:9) we cannot ascribe the imputation to the known injustice of heathen writers towards the Israelites. This national vice, doubtless, had an influence with the Essenes (q.v.) in placing the prohibition of oaths among the rules of their reformatory order. Modern Orientals habitually use the exclamation Inshallah ("in the name of God") on the most trivial occasions.
That no case has been made out by Christian commentators in favor of judicial swearing we do not affirm; but we must be excused if we add that the case is a very weak one, wears a casuistical appearance, and as if necessitated in order to excuse existing usages and guard against errors imputed to unpopular sects, such as the Quakers and Mennonites. In inferential and merely probable conclusions, such as the case consists of, may be allowed to prevail against the explicit language of Jesus and James, Scripture is robbed of its certainty, and prohibitions the most express lose their force. For instance, it has been alleged that our Lord himself took part in an oath when, being adjured by the high-priest, he answered "Thou hast said" (Mt 26:63-64). But what has this to do with his own doctrine on the point? Placed at the bar of judgment, Jesus was a criminal, not a teacher, bound by the laws of his country which it was a part of his plan never unnecessarily to disregard to give an answer to the question judicially put to him, and bound equally by a regard to the great interests which he had come into the world to serve. Jesus did not swear, but was sworn, The putting the oath he could not prevent. His sole question was, Should he answer the interrogatory? a question which depended on considerations of the highest moment, and which he who alone could judge decided in the affirmative. That question in effect was, "Art thou the Messiah?" His reply was a simple affirmative. The employment of the adjuration was the act of the magistrate, to have objected to which would have brought on Jesus the charge of equivocation, if not of evasion, or even the denial of his "high calling." The general tendency of this article is to show how desirable it is that the practice of oath-taking of all kinds, judicial as well as others, should at least be diminished till, at the proper time, it is totally abolished; for whatsoever is more than a simple affirmation cometh from the Evil One, ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ. (Mt 5:37), and equally leadeth to evil. See Lydii Diss. de Juramento; Nicolai, De Juram. Hebrceorum, Grcecorum, sRomeanorum, aliorumque Populorunm; Seldeii Diss. de Juraimentis;. Molembecii De Juramento per Genium Principis; Speiiceri Diss. de Juramento per Anchialum— all of which may be found in vol. 26 of Ugolino's Thesaurus Antiq. Sacr. See also Hansen, De Juranment. Vett. in Grsevius, Thesaurus; Carpzov,
Appar. p. 652 sq.; Steinler, De Jurejur. Sec. Discip. Heb. (Lips. 1736); Purmann, De Jurejur. ex lMente f'ebr. (Franakf. 1782); Valckenaer, De Ritib. in Jurejur. a Vet. Hebr. et Grt c. Observ. (Eranek. 1735; and in Oelrich's Collect. I,.2, 1.75 sq.); especially Bassek, De Jurejur. Ve. impr. Rom. (Traj. ad Rh. 17.27); Lasaulx, Ueb. d. Eid bei d. Griech., (Watirzb. 1844).; Ueb. d. Eid bei d. Rom. (ibid. 1844);Otho, Lex.' Rabbin. p. 347 sq. more recent authority. may be found in Stiaudlin; Geschichte der Vorstell. s.v. "Eide;" see also Tyler, Oaths: their Origin, etc. SEE OATH.