Oath


Oath
Henry Kissinger places his hand on a Bible as he is sworn in as Secretary of State, 1973
"Lwów Oath" by Jan Matejko

An oath (from Anglo-Saxon āð, also called plight) is either a statement of fact or a promise calling upon something or someone that the oath maker considers sacred, usually God, as a witness to the binding nature of the promise or the truth of the statement of fact. To swear is to take an oath, to make a solemn vow. Those who conscientiously object to making an oath will often make an affirmation instead.

The essence of a divine oath is an invocation of divine agency to be a guarantor of the oath taker's own honesty and integrity in the matter under question. By implication, this invokes divine displeasure if the oath taker fails in their sworn duties. It therefore implies greater care than usual in the act of the performance of one's duty, such as in testimony to the facts of the matter in a court of law.

A person taking an oath indicates this in a number of ways. The most usual is the explicit "I swear," but any statement or promise that includes "with * as my witness" or "so help me *," with '*' being something or someone the oath-taker holds sacred, is an oath. Many people take an oath by holding in their hand or placing over their head a book of scripture or a sacred object, thus indicating the sacred witness through their action: such an oath is called corporal. However, the chief purpose of such an act is for ceremony or solemnity, and the act does not of itself make an oath.[citation needed]

In Western countries, it is customary to raise the right hand while swearing an oath, whether or not the left hand is laid on a Bible or other text. This custom originated during the Medieval period when convicted felons were often branded on the palm of the right hand with a letter or mark indicating their conviction. Since felons were disqualified from making declarations under oath, an oath-taker would display their right hand to show that they were free of convictions and therefore able to take an oath.[1]

There is confusion between oaths and other statements or promises. The current Olympic Oath, for instance, is really a pledge and not properly an oath since there is only a "promise" and no appeal to a sacred witness. Oaths are also confused with vows, but really, a vow is a special kind of oath.

Contents

In law

In law, oaths are made by a witness to a court of law before giving testimony and usually by a newly-appointed government officer to the people of a state before taking office. In both of those cases, though, an affirmation can be usually substituted. A written statement, if the author swears the statement is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, is called an affidavit. The oath given to support an affidavit is frequently administered by a notary, who will certify the giving of the oath by affixing her or his seal to the document. Willfully delivering a false oath (or affirmation) is the crime of perjury.

In Islamic tradition

Islamic theology takes the fulfillment of oaths most seriously. So much so that one of the sayings of the Muslim prophet Mohammad, commonly referred to as ahadith (singular hadith) instructs Muslims to "Make oaths only on Allah almighty, the Master of all beings, and protect them more than your lives" (Sahih Bukhari 45: 15).

Greco-Roman tradition

In the Roman tradition, oaths were sworn upon Iuppiter Lapis or the Jupiter Stone located in the Temple of Jupiter, Capitoline Hill. Iuppiter Lapis was held in the Roman Tradition to be an Oath Stone, an aspect of Jupiter is his role as divine law-maker responsible for order and used principally for the investiture of the oathtaking of office.

Bailey (1907) states:

We have, for instance, the sacred stone (silex) which was preserved in the temple of Iuppiter on the Capitol, and was brought out to play a prominent part in the ceremony of treaty-making. The fetial, who on that occasion represented the Roman people, at the solemn moment of the oath-taking, struck the sacrificial pig with the silex, saying as he did so, 'Do thou, Diespiter, strike the Roman people as I strike this pig here to-day, and strike them the more, as thou art greater and stronger.' Here no doubt the underlying notion is not merely symbolical, but in origin the stone is itself the god, an idea which later religion expressed in the cult-title specially used in this connection, Iuppiter Lapis.[2]

Walter Burkert has shown that since Lycurgus of Athens (d. 324 BC), who held that "it is the oath which holds democracy together", religion, morality and political organization had been linked by the oath, and the oath and its prerequisite altar had become the basis of both civil and criminal, as well as international law.[3]

Jewish tradition

The concept of oaths is deeply rooted within Judaism. It is found in Genesis 8:21, when God swears that he will "never again curse the ground because of man and never again smite every living thing." This repetition of the term never again is explained by Rashi, the preeminent biblical commentator, as serving as an oath, citing the Talmud[4] for this ruling.[5]

The first personage in the biblical tradition to take an oath is held to be Eliezer, the chief servant of Abraham, when the latter requested of the former that he not take a wife for his son Isaac from the daughters of Canaan, but rather from among Abraham's own family. In the Judeo-Christian Tradition, this is held as the origination of the concept that it is required to hold a sacred object in one's hand when taking an oath.

See also Alliance (Bible).

Christian tradition

As late as 1880, Charles Bradlaugh was denied a seat as an MP in the Parliament of the United Kingdom as because of his professed atheism he was judged unable to swear the Oath of Allegiance in spite of his proposal to swear the oath as a "matter of form".

Various religious groups have objected to the taking of oaths, most notably the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and Mennonites. This is principally based on Matthew 5:34-37, the Antithesis of the Law. Here, Christ is written to say "I say to you: 'Swear not at all'". The Apostle James stated in James 5:12, "Above all, my brothers, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your "Yes" be yes, and your "No," no, or you will be condemned." Beyond this scriptural authority, Quakers place importance on being truthful at all times, so the testimony opposing oaths springs from a view that "taking legal oaths implies a double standard of truthfulness...."[6]

Not all Christians understand this reading as forbidding all types of oaths, however. Opposition to oath-taking among some groups of Christian caused many problems for these groups throughout their history. Quakers were frequently imprisoned because of their refusal to swear loyalty oaths. Testifying in court was also difficult; George Fox, Quakers' founder, famously challenged a judge who had asked him to swear, saying that he would do so once the judge could point to any Bible passage where Jesus or his apostles took oaths. (The judge could not, but this did not allow Fox to escape punishment.) Legal reforms from the 18th century onwards mean that everyone in the United Kingdom now has the right to make a solemn affirmation instead of an oath. The United States has permitted affirmations since it was founded; it is explicitly mentioned in the Constitution. Only two US Presidents, Franklin Pierce and Herbert Hoover (who was a Quaker), have chosen to affirm rather than swear at their inaugurations.

Germanic tradition

Roland swears fealty to Charlemagne; from a manuscript of a chanson de geste.

Germanic warrior culture was significantly based on oaths of fealty, directly continued into medieval notions of chivalry.

A prose passage inserted in the eddic poem Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar relates:

Hedin was coming home alone from the forest one Yule-eve, and found a troll-woman; she rode on a wolf, and had snakes in place of a bridle. She asked Hedin for his company. "Nay," said he. She said, "Thou shalt pay for this at the bragarfull." That evening the great vows were taken; the sacred boar was brought in, the men laid their hands thereon, and took their vows at the bragarfull. Hedin vowed that he would have Sváva, Eylimi's daughter, the beloved of his brother Helgi; then such great grief seized him that he went forth on wild paths southward over the land, and found Helgi, his brother.

Such Norse traditions are directly parallel to the "bird oaths" of late medieval France, such as the voeux du faisan (oath on the pheasant) or the (fictional) voeux du paon (oath on the peacock).[7]

Types of oaths

Famous oaths

Fictional

Other meanings

The word "oath" is often used to mean any angry expression which includes religious or other strong language used as an expletive.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&se=gglsc&d=454360
  2. ^ In Chapter Two: The 'Antecedents' of Roman Religion. Source: [1] (accessed: August 21, 2007)[dead link]
  3. ^ Burkert, Greek Religion, trans. Raffan, Harvard University Press (1985), 250ff.
  4. ^ Shavous 36a
  5. ^ Metsudah Chumash and Rashi, KTAV Publishing House, 1991. page 88
  6. ^ Faith and Practice of Baltimore Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (1988) p. 19
  7. ^ Huizinga, The Autumn of the Middle Ages (ch. 3); Michel Margue, „Vogelgelübde“ am Hof des Fürsten. Ritterliches Integrationsritual zwischen Traditions- und Gegenwartsbezug (14. – 15. Jahrhundert)

References

Bailey, Cyril (1907). The Religion of Ancient Rome. London, UK: Archibald Constable & Co. Ltd. (Source: Project Gutenburg. Accessed: March 16, 2011)

External links


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  • oath — n 1: a solemn attestation of the truth of one s words or the sincerity of one s intentions; specif: one accompanied by calling upon a deity as a witness 2: a promise (as to perform official duties faithfully) corroborated by an oath compare… …   Law dictionary

  • oath — [əʊθ ǁ oʊθ] noun [countable] 1. a formal promise to do something: • The president has taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution. • The new president will take the oath of office next week. 2. be under oath also …   Financial and business terms

  • oath — [əuθ US ouθ] n plural oaths [əuðz US ouðz] [: Old English; Origin: ath] 1.) a formal and very serious promise oath of loyalty/allegiance/obedience etc (to sb) ▪ an oath of allegiance to the Queen swear/take an oath ▪ Servicemen have to swear an… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • oath — [ ouθ ] (plural oaths [ ouðz ] ) noun count 1. ) a formal promise, especially one made in a court of law: an oath of loyalty take/swear an oath: Even today, all new American citizens officially take an oath of allegiance. a ) be under/on oath to… …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • oath — [ōth] n. pl. oaths [ōthz, ōths] [ME oth < OE ath, akin to Ger eid, prob. via Celt < IE * oitos (> OIr ōeth) < base * ei , to go (basic sense: ? to advance to take an oath) > YEAR, L ire, to go] 1. a) a ritualistic declaration,… …   English World dictionary

  • Oath — ([=o]th), n.; pl. {Oaths} ([=o][th]z). [OE. othe, oth, ath, AS. [=a][eth]; akin to D. eed, OS. [=e][eth], G. eid, Icel. ei[eth]r, Sw. ed, Dan. eed, Goth. ai[thorn]s; cf. OIr. oeth.] 1. A solemn affirmation or declaration, made with a reverent… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • oath — (n.) O.E. að oath, judicial swearing, solemn appeal to deity in witness of truth or a promise, from P.Gmc. *aithaz (Cf. O.N. eiðr, Swed. ed, O.Fris. eth, Du. eed, Ger. eid, Goth. aiþs oath ), from PIE *oi to an oath (Cf. O.Ir. oeth …   Etymology dictionary

  • oath — ► NOUN (pl. oaths) 1) a solemn promise, especially one that calls on a deity as a witness. 2) an obscene or blasphemous utterance. ● under (or on) oath Cf. ↑under oath ORIGIN Old English …   English terms dictionary

  • Oath — [ouθ] der; , s [ouθz] <aus gleichbed. engl. oath> (veraltet) Eid, Schwur …   Das große Fremdwörterbuch

  • oath — [n1] promise adjuration, affidavit, affirmation, avowal, bond, contract, deposition, pledge, profession, sworn declaration, sworn statement, testimony, vow, word, word of honor; concepts 71,278 Ant. break oath [n2] curse blasphemy, cuss*, cuss… …   New thesaurus

  • OATH — can mean: Object oriented Abstract Type Hierarchy Initiative For Open Authentication This disambiguation page lists articles associated with the same title. If an internal link led you here, you may wish to change the link to point d …   Wikipedia


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