A Greek word corresponding to Hebr. ḥērem (See Ban) and designating an object dedicated or devoted to a deity either for consecration or to be cursed (devoted to destruction). In the former sense, objects were devoted to God and belonged to him (Lev. 27.28); offerings were given to God to adorn the Temple (Luke 21.5). Most occurrences of the term, however, describe something or someone accursed or given to God for destruction. According to Leviticus 27.29, no one who had been devoted to God for destruction could be ransomed, nor could devoted things be used by human beings (Josh. 7.11–15). According to Paul, if someone preaches a gospel contrary to the one that he preached (Gal. 1.8, 9), that person is anathema (NRSV: “cursed”; see also 1 Corinthians 16.22).

In Romans 9.3, Paul affirms his strong ties to the Jewish people and asserts that he is prepared to be “anathema from Christ” (NRSV: “accursed and cut off from Christ”), if that would benefit them—a statement similar in thought to that of Moses being willing to have his name blotted out of God's book for the sake of the Israelites (Exod. 32.32).

Individuals also invoked anathema on themselves to ensure that they would keep an oath (see Acts 23.12, 14, 21, where the Greek verb is a form of anathema). Such individuals called on God to curse them if they did not perform the oath they had made.

In later usage, anathema becomes virtually synonymous with excommunication.

See also Curse

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Paul L. Bremer