BLA'SPHEMY (in Greek f3Aa1pnihia, blasphlinia), a crime which is punished by the laws of most civilized nations, and which has been regarded of such enormity in many nations as to be punished with death. The word is Greek, but it has found its way into the English and several other modern languages, owing, it is sup posed, to the want of native terms to ex press with precision and brevity the idea of which it is the representative. It is, properly speaking, an ecclesiastical term, most of which are Greek, as the term ecclesiastical itself, and the terms baptism, bible, and bishop. This has arisen out of the scriptures of the New Testament having been written in Greek, and those of the Old having in remote times been far better known in the Greek translation than in the original Hebrew.
Blasphemy is a compound word, of which the second part signifies to speak : the origin of the first part (bias) is not so certain; • it is derived from acIrro (blapto), to or strike, accord ing to some. Etymologically therefore it denotes speaking so as to hurt ; the using to a person's face reproachful and insulting expressions. But others derive the first part of the compound from Oxtif. (Passow's Schneider.) In this general way it is used by Greek writers, and even in the New Testament ; as in 1 Tim. vi. 4, " Whereof cometh envy, strife, rail ings, evil surmisings," where the word rendered "railings" is in the original " blasphemies." la Sph. iv. 31, " Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil-speaking be put away from you," where "evil-speaking" repre sents the "blasphemy" of the original. In a similar passage, Col. iii. 8, the transla tors have retained the " blasphemy " of the original, though what is meant IS pro bably no more than ordinary insulting or reproachful speech. Thus also in Mark vii 22, our Saviour himself, in enumera ting various evil dispositions or practices, mentions "an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness," not meaning, as it seems, more than the ordinary case of insulting speech.
Blasphemy in this sense, however it is to be avoided as immoral and mischievous, is not marked as crime; and its suppres sion is left to the ordinary influence of morals and religion, and not provided for by law. In this sense indeed the word
can hardly be said to be naturalized among us, though it may occasionally be i found in the poets, and in those prose writers who exercise an inordinate curi osity in the selection of their terms. But besides being used to denote insulting and opprobrious speech in general, it was used to denote speech of that kind of a peculiar nature, namely, when the object against which it was directed was a per son esteemed sacred, but especially when against God. The word was used by the LXX. to represent the ihp of the original Hebrew, when translating the passage of the Jewish law which we find in Leviticus xxiv. 10-16; this is the first authentic account of the act of blasphemy being noticed as a crime, and marked by a le gislator for punishment:—" And the on of an Israelitish woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the children of Israel, and this son of the Israelitish woman and a man of Israel strove to gether in the camp: and the 'smallish woman's son blasphemed the name of the Lord, and cursed. And they brought him unto Moses, and they put him in ward, that the mind of the Lord might be showed them. And the Lord spake unto Moses saying, Bring forth him that bath cursed without the camp, and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him. And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel saying, Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin, and he that bias phemeth the name of the Lord he shall surely be put to death, and all the con gregation shall certainly stone him; as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death." It is said that the Hebrew commentators on the law have some difficulty in defining exactly what is to be considered as in cluded within the scope of the term " blas pheme" in this passage. But it seems from the text to be evidently that loud and vehement reproach, the result of vio lent and uncontrolled passion, which not unfrequently is vented not only against a fellow-mortal who offends, but at the same time against the majesty and sovereignty of God.