Beware the Evil Eye: The Evil Eye in the Bible and the Ancient World

By John H. Elliott

Three volumes in a series exploring belief in the Evil Eye and the practices associated with it amongst the cultures of the Biblical world.

ISBN: 9780227175682


In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus of Nazareth makes reference to one of the oldest beliefs in the ancient world – the malignity of an Evil Eye. The Holy Scriptures in their original languages contain no less than twenty-four references to the Evil Eye, although this is obscured by most modern Bible translations. John H. Elliott’s Beware the Evil Eye describes this belief and associated practices, its history, its voluminous appearances in ancient cultures, and the extensive research devoted to it over the centuries in order to unravel this enigma for readers who have never heard of the Evil Eye and its presence in the Bible.

In Volume One, the author lays the groundwork for his investigation, and examines the development of belief in the Evil Eye in the ancient cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia. In Volume Two, he addresses the most extensive sources of Evil Eye belief in antiquity: the cultures of Greece and Rome. In this period, features of the belief found in Mesopotamian and Egyptian sources are expanded to the point where an “Evil Eye belief complex” becomes apparent. This complex of features associated with the Evil Eye – human eye as key organ of information, eye as active not passive, eye as channel of emotion and dispositions, especially envy, arising in the heart, possessors, victims, defensive strategies, and amulets – is essential to an understanding of the literary references to the Evil Eye. Elliott here illuminates the context for examining Evil Eye belief and practice in the Bible and the biblical communities.

Volume Three focusses on the use of the Evil Eye motif in biblical writings. A repeated theme in the Old Testament, which contains around twenty explicit references in fourteen text segments, mentions of the Evil Eye also appear in the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as the writings of Philo and Josephus. Evil Eye belief and practice continued into the early Jesus movement, appearing not only in the Gospels but in Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

The Evil Eye in the ancient world acted in a number of ways – physiological, psychological, economic, social and moral – and the place it occupied was not easily usurped. Beware the Evil Eye is a phenomenal analysis of one of the most prevalent superstitions in the ancient world and its cultural influence.

Additional information

Dimensions 229 × 153 mm
Pages 232 (Volume 1), 370 (Volume 2), 378 (Volume 3)
Illustrations b&w


Volume 1  |  Volume 2  |  Volume 3  |  3 Volume Set

Trade Information JPOD

About the Author

John H. Elliott is Professor Emeritus of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of San Francisco. He is the author of Conflict, Community, and Honour (2007).


Volume 1: Introduction, Mesopotamia, and Egypt

List of Illustrations
Abbreviations for Chapter 1: Introduction
Abbreviations for Chapter 2: Mesopotamia and Egypt

1. Introduction
Definition and Description
Terminology for “Evil Eye” in Various Languages
Salient Features of Evil Eye Belief and Practice
The Origin and Distribution of Evil Eye Belief and Practice
The Matrix and Conditions of Evil Eye Belief and Practice
Research on the Evil Eye from Past to Present
Method, Aims, and Procedure of This Study

2. Mesopotamia and Egypt
The Evil Eye in Mesopotamia and Related Cultures
The Evil Eye in Egypt
Evil Eye Belief and Practice in Mesopotamia and Egypt – Summary and Conclusion
Summary and Conclusion

Bibliography for Chapter 1: Introduction
Bibliography for Chapter 2: Mesopotamia and Egypt

Volume 2: Greece and Rome

List of Illustrations

1. Introduction

2. Evil Eye Belief and Practice in Greece and Rome
From Homer to Late Roman Antiquity (800 BCE-600 CE) – An Overview
Evil Eye Terminology
Evil Eye Terms from Greek to Latin

3. Salient Features of Evil Eye Belief and Practice
An Anthropological List of Key Features
Ancient and Modern Versions Compared
The Ancient Evil Eye Belief Complex in Detail
The Eye as Vital and Preeminent Organ
The Eye as Active Organ and Ancient Theories of Vision
The Association of an Evil Eye and an Evil Tongue
The Association of Eye and Heart
The Association of the Evil Eye with Envy
Excursus on Envy
Envy – A Complex of Thoughts, Emotions, and Behaviors
Envy, Jealousy and Zeal
Greek and Roman Distinctions of Envy, Jealousy, and Zeal
Envy and the Evil Eye
Envy of the Gods
Envy, the Deplorable Human Vice
Envy and the Evil Eye in Sum
The Working of an Evil Eye – Ancient Emic Theories
The Evil Eye – A Phenomenon of Nature, Not a Vulgar Superstition
Possessors and Wielders of the Evil Eye
Victims and Targets of the Evil Eye
Precautions and Protection against the Evil Eye and Envy – Strategies and Means (Words, Actions, Amulets)
Excursus: The Apotropaic Expression KAI SY (“You too”)
Detecting and Curing Injury Caused by the Evil Eye

4. The Transcendental Good Eye

5. Summary and Conclusion


Volume 3: The Bible and Related Sources


1. The Old Testament, Parabiblical Literature, and Related Material Evidence Concerning the Evil Eye
The Matrix of Biblical Evil Eye Belief and Behavior
Hebrew and Greek Old Testaments
Hebrew and Greek Evil Eye Terminology
The Latin Terminology of Jerome’s Vulgate
Original Languages and Translations
The Old Testament Evil Eye Texts
A Good Eye
Israel’s Parabiblical Literature
Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament
The Dead Sea Scrolls
Philo of Alexandria
Flavius Josephus
Anti-Evil Eye Apotropaics in Israel: The Material Evidence

2. The New Testament Concerning the Evil Eye
The Evil Eye Sayings of Jesus
The Evil Eye Saying in the Q Sayings Source (Q11:34-35)
The Evil Eye Saying in Matthew 6:22-23 and Luke 11:33-36
The Evil Eye Saying in Matthew 20:1-15/16
The Evil Eye in Mark 7:22
Paul, Galatians, and Evil Eye Accusations
Witchcraft, Witchcraft Societies, and the Evil Eye
Paul’s Letter to the Galatians
Implicit References to the Evil Eye in the New Testament?
Evil Eye Belief and Practice in the New Testament – Conclusion
Evil Eye Belief and Practice in the Bible – Conclusion
Differences and Distinctive Biblical Emphases
The Various Capacities of Evil Eye Belief
Approaching the Biblical World



Volume 1: Introduction, Mesopotamia, and Egypt

Volume 2: Greece and Rome

Volume 3: The Bible and Related Sources

Endorsements and Reviews

Volume 1: Introduction, Mesopotamia, and Egypt

Elliot’s study is, without a doubt, a masterpiece of its genre. … It is encyclopaedic in its coverage, but the monograph format allows greater detail and makes for a more readable and less atomistic text. Elliot’s coverage is exhaustive, yet never falls into superficiality that such work can sometimes take on … Elliot’s work, which reads like the culmination of a lifetime interest in the topic, is destined to remain the standard reference on the Evil Eye for many decades to come.
Jonathan Kearney, in Journal for the Study of The New Testament: Booklist 2017, Vol 39, No 5

An excellent handbook for anyone researching this topic, while in its accessibility it is of deep interest to the general reader wanting to explore this fascinating topic.
Declan Anthony Lawell, in Theological Book Review, Vol 28, No 2, p.4

An excellent study, entering profoundly into the psychology of ancient religiosity.
Nick Wyatt, in Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Vol 42, Issue 5

Readers who want to know about the context in which the Evil Eye is used in the Bible will gain much from this book which is extremely accessible to all levels of student and general readers alike. Learning about why people use the raised middle finger or flash the horned hands sign or why doctors write prescriptions with RX are just a few of the many other fascinating insights this book brings (the word ‘fascinating’ itself coming from the Latin fascinum, an amulet used to ward off the Evil Eye).
Declan Anthony Lawell, in Theological Book Review, Vol 27, No 2

Volume 2: Greece and Rome

John H. Elliot’s Beware the Evil Eye is a monumental achievement. A work of devoted and painstaking research focused on Greece and Rome, Volume Two provides detailed analysis of the ancient folkloric belief in the Evil Eye. This is the work of a brilliant intellect who has given us the last scholarly word on this perplexing ancient belief. The book is essential reading for anthropologists, biblical and classical scholars, medievalists, folklorists, and art historians. No one will have anything to add to this conversation for the imaginable future.
Brenda Deen Schildgen, Distinguished Professor Comparative Literature, UC Davis

Beware the Evil Eye is a wonderful, comprehensive work of scholarship. Easy to read and erudite, Beware the Evil Eye is destined to become the definitive source text for anyone interested in the origins, spread and nature of this widespread human belief complex.
Fiona Bowie, King’s College London, author of The Anthropology of Religion

Elliott’s extensive knowledge of the time period and the cultural context surrounding evil eye belief makes this book an appropriate resource for scholars of religion, classics, or archaeology. However, his writing style and explanations are clear enough that Elliott’s arguments can be followed without extensive previous knowledge of the topic, making it also accessible and approachable for a broader audience outside of academia.
Melody Everest, in Reading Religion, June 2018

Volume 3: The Bible and Related Sources

Few phenomena so sharply differentiate the world of the Bible from the cultures of North America and northern Europe as belief in the Evil Eye that was prevalent everywhere. In this, the third volume of his long-awaited and magisterial treatment of the subject, Elliott, in a project without scholarly precedent, illuminates the many Old and New Testament texts where Evil Eye belief appears. This book is destined to become a classic of biblical scholarship.
Philip Esler, Portland Professor in New Testament Studies, University of Gloucestershire, Cheltenham

Elliott’s richly illustrated analysis of the Evil Eye in the Bible and related texts provides background and detailed interpretation of key texts. Often obscured by sanitised translations or misrecognition, Elliott finds the trope pervasive in the Bible though consistently linked to an ethics of generosity and solidarity versus envy, rather than to the fear of demons as elsewhere. A fascinating and convincing read, this is an essential reference work for biblical scholars and Bible translators.
Jonathan A. Draper, Fellow and Emeritus Professor of New Testament, School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics, the University of KwaZulu-Natal

This delightful volume is full of insights and source materials. Readers are indebted to Elliott for crafting a careful and insightful presence and use in the bible and related sources.
Timothy Hein, in The Expository Times, Vol 129, No 11