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oath dividing the victim, and the person took it passing between the divided parts, with an imprecation, expressed or understood, to the following import: “ May God do to me if I am perjured, what has been done to these victims, or punish me still more, in proportion to his greater power.”
The first instance of a judicial oath is to be found in Exodus, xxii. 10, 11; where, in case of the loss of animals, delivered by one to his neighbor to keep, and they die, or be hurt, or driven away, no man seeing it, it is decreed, that " then shall an oath of the Lord be between them both, that he hath not put his hand unto his neighbor's goods; and the owner of it shall accept thereof, and he shall not make it
Perjury, by the Mosaic law, was not an offence against the civil law; to God alone was left its punishment. The civil magistrate had no jurisdiction of the offence, except in the case of a false charge of crime, when the punishment for the offence charged, was to be inflicted upon the person falsely charging it. The perjurer might expiate his guilt, by making the prescribed and predetermined trespass offerings. The misunderstanding or misinterpretation of this, may in later times have led to the doctrines of absolution, and the sale of indulgences; for it is difficult to perceive much difference in principle, whether the offerings, made to escape the punishment of the Deity, be in certain specific articles, or in certain money payments.
The form among the Greeks was by lifting up the hand to Heaven, or touching the altar, adding a solemn imprecation to their oaths, for the satisfaction of the person by whom the oath was imposed, as well as to lay a more inviolable obligation upon the person taking it - in terms something like this ; - if what I swear be true, may I enjoy much happiness, if not, may I utterly perish.
In judicial proceedings, the oath was administered to the witnesses before an altar erected in the courts of judicature, and with the greatest solemnity. The parties were likewise sworn - the plaintiff, that he would make no false charge, the defendant, that he would answer truly to the charge preferred.
An ancient form among the Romans was, for the juror to hold a stone in his hand, and to imprecate a curse upon himself should he swear falsely, in these words : “ If I knowingly deceive, whilst He saves the city and citadel, may Jupiter
cast me away from all that is good, as I do this stone." Among the Greeks and Romans, the oath was not merely used to induce faith in judicial proceedings, but the Gods were invoked as witnesses to contracts between individuals, and treaties between nations.
When the shrine of Jupiter gave place to that of St. Peter, when the innumerable gods and goddesses of ancient superstition were converted into the equally numberless saints and saintesses of Catholicism, when the Pontifex Maximus of consular and imperial, became the Pontifex Maximus of papal Rome - without even the change of his sacerdotal vestments, when the rites and ceremonies, the whole ritual of the pagan worship was transferred bodily to the worship of the papacy, the oath, which was essentially a religious ceremony, was adopted as it had heretofore been administered, except so far as was required by the alteration in the names of the object of worship, and in its purposes and beliefs. As before this change, the altar, or the sacred things upon it were touched or kissed, as the more gods one swore by the stronger the oath, so we find after this change similar forms and ceremonies were adopted, with slight variations. The very form of the imprecation used is of pagan origin. “So help me Jupiter and these sacred things,” became “So help me God and these sacred relics,” or, these holy Evangelists.”* The Flamen of Jupiter, from the sacredness of his office, was not compelled to take an oath, and the word of the priest, “verbum sacerdotis,” in conformity to the old superstition, has sufficed.
Justinian prescribes the following form :-“I swear by God Almighty and by his only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, by the Holy Ghost and by the glorious St. Mary, mother of God, and always a virgin, and by the Four Gospels, which I hold in my hand, and by the holy Archangels, Michael and Gabriel, &c.,” closing with an imprecation upon his head of the “ terrible judgment of God and Christ, our Saviour, and that he might have part with Judas and the leper Gehazi, and that the curse of Cain might be upon him.”
Besides oaths on solemn and judicial occasions, the ancients were in the habit of making use of them, as nowadays, as " the supplemental ornament of speech " as expletives to
*"So help me Fuyre Njord and the Almighty, as I shall testify truly, &c.," was the Scandinavian formula.
plump the speech, and fill up sentences ;" — swearing by the patron Divinities of their cities, as in later days by patron saints; by all manner of beasts and creeping things, by the fishes of the sea, and by stones and mountains.
Per Solis radios, Tarpeiaque fulmina jurat,
Quidquid habent telorum armamentaria cæli. Indeed, the world-famous “God damn" of the English, is but a translation of the “dii me perdant” of classical antiquity. But the oaths of antiquity, however absurd or ridiculous, were infinitely exceeded in absurdity by the exuberant and grotesque profaneness of the Christians of the middle ages. They swore by “Sion and Mount Sinai,” “ by St. James' Lance," “ by the brightness of God,” “ by Christ's foot," " by nails and by blood,” “ by God's arms two," they swore
"By the saintly bones and relics,
And the foot of Magdalena.” Menu, the great lawgiver of the East, the son of the Selfexistent, as he is termed in the sacred books of the Hindoos, ordains that the judge, having assembled the witnesses in the Court, should, in the presence of the plaintiff and defendant, address them as follows:
“What ye know to have been transacted in the matter before us, between the parties reciprocally, declare at large and with truth, for your evidence is required.
“ The witness who speaks falsely, shall be fast bound under water, in the snaky cords of Varuna, and he shall be wholly deprived of power to escape torment during a hundred transmigrations; let mankind give, therefore, no false testimony.
“Naked and shorn, tormented with hunger and thirst, and deprived of sight, shall the man who gives false testimony go, with a potsherd to beg bread at the door of his enemy. Headlong and in utter darkness, shall the impious wretch tumble into hell, who, being interrogated in judicial inquiry, answers one question falsely.
“The priest must be sworn by his veracity ; the soldier by his horse, or elephant, or weapons ; the merchant by his kine, grain and gold; the mechanic, or servile man, by imprecating on his head, if he speak falsely, all possible crimes.”
In this code, the guilt of perjury varies in intensity, according to the subject matter of testimony.
“By false testimony concerning cattle in general, the witness incurs the guilt of killing five men; he kills ten by false testimony concerning kine; he kills a hundred by false testimony concerning horses; and a thousand by false testimony concerning the human race.”
But what is human life compared with gold, or with land ? The scale rises, - the atrocity increases.
“ By speaking falsely in a cause concerning gold, he kills, or incurs the guilt of killing, the born and unborn ; by speaking falsely concerning land, he kills every thing animated. Beware, then, of speaking falsely concerning land. Marking well all the murders which are comprehended in the crime of perjury – declare the whole truth, as it was heard and as it was seen by thee.”
Notwithstanding, all this pious falsehood, for instance, perjury to save life, which would be forfeited by the rigor of the law, is not merely allowed, but approved, and eulogistically termed “the speech of the Gods.'
“ To a woman, on a proposal of marriage, in the case of grass or fruit eaten by a cow, of wood taken for a sacrifice, or of a promise made for the preservation of a Brahmin, it is no deadly sin to take a slight oath."
Ever famous has been the lubricity of lovers' oaths. The lover swore, indeed, but, as was said by the Greeks, oaths made in love, never enter into the ears of the Gods. This, probably, is the only code allowing and approving them.
Various are the modes of administering an oath. A cow is sometimes brought into court, that the witness may have the satisfaction of swearing with her tail in his hand ; the leaf of the sweet basil and the waters of the Ganges are swallowed; the witness holds fire, or touches the head of his children or wife — while the less orthodox followers of Brahmin, those of the Jungle tribes, impressed with the belief that if they swear falsely they shall be food for tigers, are sworn on the skin of one.
Among the Mohammedans, the oath is administered with the Koran on the head of the witness ; but it is not binding unless taken in the express name of the Almighty, and then it is incomplete unless the witness, after having given in his evidence, again swears that he has spoken nothing but the truth. The oath is not worthy of credit unless taken in the name of God; and the swearer must corroborate it by reciting the attributes of God, as, “ I swear by the God besides whom there is no other righteous God, who is acquainted with what is hidden," &c.
No one, who has read the inimitable works of Sterne, will forget the all-cursing excommunication of the Catholic Church - cursing the unhappy offender in the exercise of every function of living nature, and through all the joints and articulations of his members, from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot. The oath of the Burmese, though falling infinitely short as an effusion of maledictory imprecation, is still worthy of being brought to mind.
"I will speak the truth. If I speak not the truth, may it be through the influence of the laws of demerit, viz. : passion, anger, folly, pride, false opinion, hardheartedness, and scepticism; so that when I and my relations are on land, land animals, as tigers, elephants, buffaloes, poisonous serpents, scorpions, &c., shall seize, crush, and bite us, so that we shall certainly die. Let calamities occasioned by fire, water, rulers, thieves and enemies, oppress and destroy us, till we come to utter destruction. Let me be subject to all the calamities that are within the body, and all that are without the body. May we be seized with madness, dumbness, blindness, leprosy and hydrophobia. May we be struck with thunderbolts, and lightning, and come to sudden death. In the midst of not speaking truth, may I be taken with vomiting black clotted blood, and suddenly die before the assembled people. When I am going by water, may the aquatic genii assault me, the boat be upset, and the property lost; and may alligators, porpoises, sharks, or other sea-monsters seize and crush me to death ; and when I change worlds, may I not arrive among men and nats, but suffer unmixed punishment and regret in the utmost wretchedness among the four states of punishment, Hell, Prita, Beasts and Athurakai,” &c.
“« Small curses, Dr. Slop, upon great occasions,' quoth my father, are but so much waste of our strength and soul's health, to no manner of purpose.' 'I own it,' replied Dr. Slop. They are like sparrow shot,' quoth my uncle Toby, 'fired against a bastion. They serve,' continued my father,
to stir the humors — but carry off none of their acrimony for my part, I seldom swear or curse at all. I hold it bad; but if I fall into it by surprise, I generally retain so much presence of mind as to make it answer my purpose
that is, I swear till I find myself easy.'”. The Burmese, at any rate, fire no sparrow shot at falsehood — and might be easy in the sufficiency of the metal with which their oath is loaded.
Much of the judicial proceedings of our Anglo-Saxon an