James N. Pohlig


Christmas is a time for our imagination to soar, and the Twelfth Night is no different: what would it have been like to be one of those shepherds on the hillside under divine splendor? And to hurry back to the village and find the angel-sung Newborn lying on hay among the beasts of the stall?

In the sacred scriptures, there are innumerable such occasions to exercise our mental imaging. If we do so in obedience to what we learn from them, we will perhaps honor God, for the ability to imagine is one of the most important features of our minds as he has created us—but it must serve him by following his revealed truth. As I was writing a textbook that situates biblical theological themes in the cultural contexts of the times in which they appeared, certain questions arose that struck me as worthy of exploration, even if we cannot know in this life their ultimate outcomes. Is it possible to imagine some accounts of them in a way that brings honor to the Lord of the scriptures? I invite you to be the judge….

Then the angel showed me the river of life-giving water, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb…. On either side of the river grew the tree of life that produces fruit…; the leaves of the trees serve as medicine for the nations.

Revelation 22:1–2 New American Bible (Revised Edition)

Veni, redemptor gentium;
ostende partum Virginis;
miretur omne saeculum:
talis decet partus Deum.

Come, Redeemer of the nations;
show forth thy birth of a Virgin;
let every age marvel:
such a birth befits God.

St. Ambrose of Milan

The mortal breath left my body, and I was gathered to my fathers. My spirit was lifted into the air and through the upper bounds of this Earth, and it passed the moon and the planets, then the first stars, and then through all the universe of creation. I saw its unspeakable magnificence, yet there was no strength in me to marvel. It was at once endless and small. And thus I arrived in the anteroom of the very courts of God himself.

I saw various shadowy forms passing to and fro as in a mist, indefinite both to my eyes and understanding, but this mist, which I would have feared in my former state, now comforted me with a strange peace. Then a distinctness approached, huge in the distance, but growing ever smaller as it drew near, until it was little greater than myself.

And he had the air of God. And I fell down to worship him, but he lifted me by the hand and bowed himself before me. As I marveled, he opened his mouth and said, “I am called Reza, for most of my service in your Earth has been to your Middle East. And I bow to you, for the Lamb has never honored me or my kind as he has honored you, for he willingly died on your behalf, therefore I bow to you.”

Still no words came to me. I saw that his skin was the color of light brown olives, and his face full light that shone on me, and he smiled at me in his light, for he had the air of knowledge of all things concerning me, yes, and to commend me. And he said to me, “Indeed, if I know you, it is thanks to the Spirit that I do. And I honor you and love you.”

And I wondered at his appearance, for I had read that many of God’s unfallen servants had that of fearsome beasts. And again he answered my words unspoken and said: “Ah, I assume many forms. This one I have found most useful in speaking with mortals and former mortals. But now, tell me, have you questions for me? What would you that I show you? For I am at your service for the Lamb’s sake until the judgment of all your Earth before the Great Throne. And we must abide in this place a little longer, you and I, for the Lamb Himself is preparing a feast to welcome you into our midst. Therefore we may converse a little.”

And then, as it were a gift, my reason returned to me, and I answered and said, “O Reza, who served in the Middle East, I would that you show me the redeemed of that region living in the New Earth, perfect and holy in the eternal joy of God.”

And he said, “Yes, you often thought about this in your mortal life, did you not? Yearning to see the redeemed living as the united people of the Lamb in entire bliss and honor.”

And I answered, saying, “Surely. For example, what language will all the Lamb’s redeemed speak in the New Earth? For the leaves of the trees planted along the River of the New Temple will be for the healing of the nations, therefore they will be of one speech and tongue.”

Reza answered with gentle laughter, saying, “My dear friend, healing is not annihilation. Do not imagine that the Most High would destroy in judgment what he has preserved by confounding in love. But why do you ask of these things? Is it not that you would take pleasure in communing with those peoples that went before you that love the Lamb as you do?

“And would you know those peoples, yes, and sojourn with them, and hear from them the high praises of God, as only they of their own tongues can utter them? And would you, being unbound from your former ignorance of those peoples and tongues, partake with them of the joy that only they can know?”

I answered and said, “O Reza, you know my heart. Are these things possible? Will I see them?”

And he said, “The counsels of the Highest are hidden from all to whom they have not been revealed. But your wishes will ever be surpassed by the works of his hands, and peradventure you will see the fulfillment of your desires.”

And I said, “May it be given me to share the joys of all these redeemed, they whom I left behind when I departed my former life.”

And he said, “Amen. Yet what of they who lived ever before you, when the Earth was much younger than at your time there? What of they who were redeemed by the Lamb ever before your own people came to be? You must see them also.”

“Is this possible?” I said.

“If the Highest grant it to you, surely. It will be as a very long road with many stopping places, and you may enter any, and you may fellowship with the redeemed in their own land and time and tongue in the New Earth. May the Spirit enable you so to do, since this is a desire of your heart. And they will be the redeemed peoples of all times, living in the holiness and light of the Lamb, and telling forth his praises in their own tongues, and you will hear and praise with them, yet they will be one.

“And their diverse speech will give, as it were, the different colors and hues of the rainbow to the Lamb’s praises, and his glories on their tongues will be all diverse glories, yet one glory. And you will not fear these unknown peoples, for you will see the love of the Most High in them, and they in you, and you will honor them for it, and they will honor you. And they will recount the salvation of God among their people, and you will bow and worship with them in their tongue. And the Lamb Himself shall visit them and feast with them.”

Then I said, “O Reza, do not wonder if I ask you, will I also see any events of the past in the old Earth—the works of God testified to in his scriptures?”

He answered and said, “You know that neither pain nor sorrow will be in the New Heavens and New Earth. Howbeit, the olden works of the Highest you will see in their true nature, in the glory of Him who redeems all things.

“Would you see the Lamb lying in the stable of Bethlehem? You are no longer a son of time; if it is given to you, you will surely see him, and worship him there.”

“And, and…” I could speak no more. “And the Lamb sacrificing himself on the wooden tree?” said Reza softly. “That will be the holiest shrine of all, and the redeemed in all eternity will journey there often, and tears of love and joy will flood them. For the Most High will take away all pain and sorrow from the former things. He renews all things that they may show forth his glory.”

I could speak nothing more, being overwhelmed. And in this manner I abided still with Reza. And after a little while, he turned to me, smiled upon me, and said, “Ah, the Spirit says that all things are now ready for the feast. Pray, come with me and enter into the joy of your Master!”

The Image of Limited Good and the Fragmentation of Society

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled.

Hebrews 12:15 (NRSV)

In the previous blog post, we looked at the folk belief of the Evil Eye, showing how it is rooted deep in the worldviews of many cultures throughout the world. In this post, we examine what appears to be the root motivation for the envy that is generally considered the primary catalyst of the Evil Eye: the assumption that good in this world is limited and must be fought for if it is not voluntarily shared out equally. Finally, we postulate a strong resemblance between this very traditional assumption and the phenomena of Marxism and cultural Marxism, a resemblance too close for comfort—a resemblance that explains why tenets of Wokeism imitate tenets of the Evil Eye.

Why Envy Others at All? Because Good is Seen as Limited in Quantity

In studying so-called “peasant” societies,[1] anthropologist George M. Foster[2] coined the term “The Image of Limited Good” (ILG) to capture a theme he found recurring in many of them: good things are believed to exist in limited amounts. Depending on the specific society in question, these good things might not be confined to material wealth; they may also include food, crops, honor, knowledge, and love. Any good at all may be considered to be subject to society-regulated sharing out; the exact configuration of the ILG is determined by the society in question.

A young child, for example, might envy a newborn sibling, who has newly emerged as a competitor for mother’s milk and love.[3] In societies that harbor a version of reincarnation, a child might turn out to be the reappearance of a displeased ancestor, angry at those who did him harm and intent on afflicting their descendants with revenge. In at least one traditional society in Mexico, a person never teaches another any skill, because its acquisition is thought to dilute the teacher’s own ability to practice it.[4]

In such societies, there can be enormous pressure not to be seen as having acquired more than one’s fair share of good. For example, if a villager should receive a surprising windfall of money, the safest thing to do with it is not to invest it in some profit-making enterprise, but to throw a big feast for the whole town. You blow the wealth, but you avoid any accusation of unjust gain by giving it all back to your fellow man.

The Image of Limited Good in Africa

During my years in Nigeria, I came to know an elderly pastor who had been, fifty years previously, the first Nigerian to study for the ministry and become ordained. He then embarked on a salaried position of preaching, church planting, and teaching at the new seminary that a sponsoring American mission had established.

One fine day, the pastor found himself standing trial in his hometown for witchcraft. His fellow villagers could not understand how he had acquired enough money to buy an electric generator for his house, and then an automobile for his transportation. He must have defrauded them somehow. Especially because they could not observe the defrauding occurring, he must have employed supernatural means.

In Africa, many young men who grow up in villages adopt almost as a rite of passage a journey to a large city, often one very far away, to spend some years working there. They tend to visit back home extremely rarely, and some never return at all. The reason can be viewed as one effect of the ILG: the home folks and relatives generally expect him to return with many gifts, bought in a place that is practically paved with gold. Their expectations are financially impossible to meet, so young men stay away.

Many of Nigeria’s four hundred seven different ethnic groups live by a version of the ILG. However, one major group that either has no idea of the ILG, or at best a very weak version of it, are the Igbos of south-central Nigeria. The Igbos seem to rise to the economic top wherever they go. Is it because they enjoy a higher IQ than average? Or is it because they are not constrained by the ILG?

The second explanation is the likely reason. Whatever the case, the Igbos tend to be resented wherever they go. It was this resentment that boiled over and produced the infamous massacre of Igbos in northern Nigeria from May to September 1966. This event resulted in the deaths of somewhere between 8,000 to 30,000 Igbos, and in the flight from the north of a million more. The consequence was, of course, that the Igbos formally seceded from Nigeria and declared the Republic of Biafra. These actions precipitated the bloodbath and famine known as the Biafran War (1967–1970).

It was the villagers’ ignorance of Western-style economics and of wealth creation that landed our Nigeria pastor and professor in trouble. One might equally well say that it is an ignorance of the same economics that induces many Westerners to assume they are being defrauded by the wealthy on a regular basis. This ignorance forms, of course, part of the basis of Wokeism, a new version of classical Marxism.

The Evil Eye in Today’s West

What happens when a folk belief dating back millennia—that good exists in limited quantities—is awakened and institutionalized in all western society? What happens when strident voices in the West claim that it is right for the “have nots” to envy the “haves” and to perpetrate violence against them? I suggest that the following results occur:

  1. The emotion of envy, although it is seen in many traditional societies as dangerous and illicit because it motivates the Evil Eye, is now often seen in the West as beneficial and licit. Those who envy “oppressors” actually envy their success; they claim that oppressors stole their way to success. They accuse their “oppressors” of what they themselves are guilty of: envy. But in the accusers’ case, they see their own envy as legitimate, for they call it not envy, but justice.
  2. The laying of curses with the Evil Eye, seen in traditional societies as illicit and punishable by custom and law because of the physical and psychic harm that results, gains its equivalent today of actual physical violence perpetrated against more successful people—and this violence is rewarded by the regime that encourages it.
  3. The Woke doctrine of unconscious bias against whole classes of people is found to be analogous to the unconscious perpetration of harm through the Evil Eye. This bias is said to result in actions and words motivated by unconscious racism, unconscious sexism, etc.

Perhaps Marxist and neo-Marxist theories are, in fact, nothing more than high-grade forms of the Evil Eye. Perhaps Wokeism is simply a novel resurgence of the Evil Eye today’s West. Perhaps it indicates that, although man can live without a formal belief in God, he has great difficulty in living without grasping in some way for something supernatural or supernormal, something that transcends all normal explanations.

Keep Thinking.

[1] A “peasant society” is a kind of society, found mostly in the Third World, in which the people use some products of industrialization, but themselves produce none of them. They tend to be significantly closed off to the outside world, living on their own local economy.

[2] Foster, 1965.

[3] This appears to be why, in various societies, mothers feel deep shame if they become pregnant before they have weaned their latest baby.

[4] Pike, 2008.

“Cruelty and anger come in floods of rage—it’s true; but who can stand at all against envy?”

Proverbs 27:4

This article is the first of a pair about envy in our times.

“Don’t give me the Evil Eye!” In mainstream America, this means nothing more than, “Don’t look at me weirdly.” But a search for internet images on the term “evil eye” will turn up innumerable pictures of the nazar [1], a sort of amulet, usually blue in color, meant to fight off curses launched by an evil eye. Clearly, even today, the Evil Eye is taken very seriously in many regions of the world, as also anyone who travels abroad extensively can learn.

The folk theory of the Evil Eye originated in the Ancient Near East in far-off antiquity. The precise details of this belief undoubtedly varied among ethnic groups just as it does today. For example, the ancient Hebrews assumed that good or evil was put into the eyes by the heart. There is little direct evidence that the Hebrews of Old Testament times actually feared the projection of evil from a person’s eyes to whatever he stared at, but their descendants certainly came to do so, for later Jewish commentators on the Scriptures wrote much of the Evil Eye.

Rabbi Bahya (a.d. 1255–1340), for example, wrote this about Leah, a wife of Jacob, grandson of Abraham:

We find that the birth of Jacob’s children was influenced by the power of the evil eye. Leah had made a single comment in thanking the Lord for allowing her to have born a fourth son, i.e. more than the three sons out of twelve which she could expect to bear by right, and as a result of this comment she became subject to the power of the evil eye. Immediately after she had made this comment, we read…, “she stopped giving birth.” The mere fact that she had said herself that she had received more than she was entitled to exposed her to the envy of others.

Bereshit 30:38:5

Here, the writer suggests that the Evil Eye’s possessor projects evil power mainly out of envy against anyone who meets with good fortune. Indeed, some Jewish commentators understand the Tenth Commandment—“You shall not covet”—as forbidding the envy that gives rise to sorcery (Ulmer 1994:66). Today, envy seems to be regarded as the main reason for the practice of witchcraft in the form of the Evil Eye.

The Lamp in the Eyes: The Folk Theory behind the Evil Eye

However, the Evil Eye was situated, at least among the ancient Jews, in a larger set of folk beliefs. Consider the following biblical passages. The first is from an account in which Jonathan, son of King Saul of Israel, is leading his soldiers in a chase of their Philistine enemies. Having come upon a hive of wild bees, the famished Jonathan has eaten some of its honey. He says to his comrades,

See how my eyes brightened when I tasted a little of this honey.

1 Samuel 14:29  NIV

Other suggestive passages occur in Psalms.  We find, for example, the following prayers of a man in danger of dying:

Look on me and answer, O LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death…

Psalm 13:3 NIV

My heart pounds, my strength fails me; even the light has gone from my eyes.

Psalm 38:10  NIV

Or consider Jesus’ teaching:

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!  

Matthew 6:22–23 NIV

Many such verses, when read today by many people in western cultures, tend to be passed over lightly, because they seem to be based on unknown values. But these passages fall into place when we gain a general idea of the eyes in the ancient Hebrew mind.

Here is a sketch of their essential thought:

  • Every living person has a lamp behind his eyes, which projects light onto anything he looks at. That is how he sees it. This means that the sun, moon, and stars are of secondary importance for the ability to see.
  • The more alive he is, i.e., the more vital force he has, the brighter this lamp shines. This explains Jonathan’s comment about how eating the honey strengthened him: “See how my eyes brightened.” It also accounts for the psalmist’s plea that God would “light up” his eyes so he would not die, and also his complaint that “the light has gone from my eyes.”
  • When a person looks at anyone or anything, he also projects the light from his eyes. Either that light indicates what his heart thinks about the object of his sight, or it both indicates and projects what he thinks—either goodness or evil. (It is certain that later Jewish commentators assumed an actual projection, resulting in either blessing or curse.)
  • If the viewer is favorable to what he sees, he sees that thing “in a good light.” If he is negative, he sees that thing “in a bad light.” So, a reference to that good light is in essence a reference to favor bestowed.

But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.

Genesis 6:8 NIV

[Abraham] said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by.

Genesis 18:3 NIV
  • Not only does a good eye indicate the viewer’s positive opinion, but, crucially, it either indicates a desire to bless, or it actually bestows a blessing. In this case, one’s face (i.e., the eyes) is sometimes spoken of as shining a light upon the favored ones:

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;  the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.

Numbers 6:24–26 NIV

Many are asking, “Who can show us any good?” Let the light of your face shine upon us, O LORD.

Psalm 4:6 NIV

He who has a good eye will be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.

Proverbs 22:9

Here “a good eye” results in generosity to others.

  • The reverse is also true: looking at someone while projecting a bad light upon him can launch a curse. It is fairly certain that in the ancient Hebrew culture, the primary motivation for looking at another human being “in a bad light” was envy. So in effect we have in the Hebrew mind two sins that are committed by one’s eyes: envy and the desire to perpetrate violence. This is how Jesus alludes to these sins:

And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.

Matthew 18:9 ESV

Envy: the Motivation for Attacking Someone with the Evil Eye

Researchers have been uncertain as to whether the same motivation for the Evil Eye exists everywhere in the world. It is remarkable, however, that quite a few languages connect the eye with the notion of envy.

A connection with the eye exists in Latin, where the notion of envy is expressed as invidia, a noun derived from the verb invidere ‘to look against someone’, i.e., ‘to look at someone in a hostile manner’.

Many languages unrelated to European tongues also seem to refer to the eyes in order to express the idea of envy. For example, in Mofu-Gudur[2], spoken in northern Cameroon, we find this:

  • This man has too much eye = ‘This man is very selfish’
  • Doing eye on something of someone = ‘Envying someone for something he has’

In the scriptures, perhaps the most startling reference to the Evil Eye occurs in Galatians 3:1. In this letter, the Apostle Paul expresses shock that his beloved assemblies of new Christians have been persuaded to abandon their full trust in Jesus for their future. Instead, they have listened to the “Judaizers,” those Jewish followers of Christ who nevertheless assert that you have to follow Jesus and Moses by living out the full requirements of the Jewish laws.[3]

Paul exclaims, You unthinking Galatians! Who has cursed you with the evil eye? Now, our English versions usually soften it to something like, ‘Who has bewitched you?’ But the Greek verb is βασκαίνω (baskaino) ‘perform a curse by means of the evil eye’.[4]

What motivated these “Judaizers”? Paul speaks of envy in Philippians 1:15: some preach Christ out of envy…. Indeed, the truth that God’s love in Christ is freely given has never sat well with mankind, even with many reputed followers of Jesus. Once again, we find envy to be the motivation for the Evil Eye.

Now-defunct “Fly Air “Turkish airline sporting a nazar against the Evil Eye (Wikipedia)[5]

The Evil Eye in Contemporary Times

It is easy to find fear of the Evil Eye in many societies today. Mothers tie a little string around their babies’ wrist, hoping to deflect an evil spirit’s attention away from this vulnerable little person. The trade in amulets seems to be brisk. Southern European populations appear to share in the Evil Eye belief in one way or another. The Mal de Ojo is well known among the populations of Central and South America. The traditional African societies and Indian cultures are always on guard against it, also.

Where a notion of reincarnation is accepted, such as in traditional African societies and Indian culture, the destructive force of envy can be exercised by the dearly departed. A child might turn out to be the reappearance of a displeased ancestor, angry at those who did him harm and intent on afflicting their descendants with revenge. Nigerian author Chinua Achebe writes of this fear in his seminal novel Things Fall Apart.

Because good is viewed as limited, no one can acquire significantly more good than his neighbors without enlisting illicit means against them. The most illicit of all means is witchcraft, and the Evil Eye packages evil in a form very convenient to anyone interested in harming other surreptitiously. It is, after all, difficult to prove an attack from someone’s eyes—it amounts to more of an article of faith that such an attack has been made.

For, although this device can be intentionally deployed against another person or group of people in order to destroy them and gain what they have, it also can, in many societies’ assumptions, be practiced unconsciously. A young child not yet at the age of discretion, for example, can be the involuntary and unknowing wielder of this force.

In the Salem Witch Trial hysteria of 1692, among the accused were a beggar woman named Sarah Good and her four-year-old daughter. There seems to have been no accusation of any Evil Eye attack per se in these trials; nevertheless, the willingness to impute involuntary sorcery to even a child might be true about any sort of fear of sorcery.

A Final Question

So much for traditional societies in our time. Is it possible, however, that the Evil Eye has been resurrected in the democratic West, but in a form even more destructive because it is now politically weaponized, and that we are now experiencing its effects? That is the subject of the blog posting to come.


[1] Nazar ‘eye’ (Turkish).

[2] The author spent years living among the Mofu-Gudur people.

[3] These were Jewish believers who had really never accepted the decision of the Acts 15 Council in Jerusalem that encouraged Gentile Christian converts to not live by the laws of Moses.

[4] This sense might also explain Paul’s direct reference to eyes in the same verse: Before your own eyes Jesus Christ was openly shown to have been crucified.