Original Research

A case of the evil eye in Genesis 16:4-5: A social-scientific perspective

Zacharias Kotze
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 73, No 3 | a4530 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v73i3.4530 | © 2017 Zacharias Kotze | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 17 February 2017 | Published: 28 June 2017

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Zacharias Kotze, Department of Biblical and Ancient Studies, University of South Africa, South Africa

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The nature and function of Evil Eye Belief and Practice (EEBP) in the world of the Old Testament has been understudied. The majority view has been that the belief was limited to the notion of largesse in this collection of literature. This article demonstrated that the idiom  םינעב  ללק in Genesis 16:4-5, routinely interpreted as a metaphor for scorn on the part of Hagar, could in fact be interpreted as a linguistic vehicle for the concept of the malevolent eye of Sarai. The author argued for an interpretation wherein Sarai, driven by envy, accused Hagar of casting the evil eye on her and used this alleged transgression as an excuse to abuse her slave. The evil eye in the Old Testament was not restricted to the idea of generosity, but was also closely associated with the concept of envy, as has been the case in the majority of ancient and modern cultures in which EEPB has featured. It further confirmed that the social function of the evil eye in the ancient world was not only constrained to the avoidance of envy-related violence but also served as an instrument of oppression in the hands of the rich and privileged. The key method utilised in this study was the social-scientific approach to the interpretation of biblical literature.


Sarai; Hagar; evil eye; envy-related violence


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