An oath is either a statement
Statement may refer to:* A kind of expression in language *Statement , declarative sentence that is either true or false*Statement , the smallest standalone element of an imperative programming language...

 of fact
A fact is something that has really occurred or is actually the case. The usual test for a statement of fact is verifiability, that is whether it can be shown to correspond to experience. Standard reference works are often used to check facts...

 or a promise
A promise is a commitment by someone to do or not do something.In the law of contract, an exchange of promises is usually held to be legally enforceable, according to the Latin maxim pacta sunt servanda.- Types :...

 calling upon something or someone that the oath maker considers sacred
Holiness, or sanctity, is in general the state of being holy or sacred...

, usually God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

, as a witness to the binding nature of the promise or the truth
Truth has a variety of meanings, such as the state of being in accord with fact or reality. It can also mean having fidelity to an original or to a standard or ideal. In a common usage, it also means constancy or sincerity in action or character...

 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
Affirmation in law
In law, an affirmation is a solemn declaration allowed to those who conscientiously object to taking an oath. An affirmation has exactly the same legal effect as an oath, but is usually taken to avoid the religious implications of an oath...


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.

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.

There is confusion between oaths and other statements or promises. The current Olympic Oath
Olympic Oath
The Olympic Oath is a solemn promise made by one athlete -- as a representative of each of the participating Olympic competitors; and by one judge -- as a representative of each officiating Olympic referee or other official, at the opening ceremonies of each Olympic Games...

, for instance, is really a pledge
A promise is a commitment by someone to do or not do something.In the law of contract, an exchange of promises is usually held to be legally enforceable, according to the Latin maxim pacta sunt servanda.- Types :...

 and not properly an oath since there is only a "promise" and no appeal to a sacred witness. Oaths are also confused with vow
A vow is a promise or oath.-Marriage vows:Marriage vows are binding promises each partner in a couple makes to the other during a wedding ceremony. Marriage customs have developed over history and keep changing as human society develops...

s, but really, a vow is a special kind of oath.

In law

In law
Law is a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior, wherever possible. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a social mediator of relations between people. Contract law regulates everything from buying a bus...

, oaths are made by a witness
A witness is someone who has firsthand knowledge about an event, or in the criminal justice systems usually a crime, through his or her senses and can help certify important considerations about the crime or event. A witness who has seen the event first hand is known as an eyewitness...

 to a court
A court is a form of tribunal, often a governmental institution, with the authority to adjudicate legal disputes between parties and carry out the administration of justice in civil, criminal, and administrative matters in accordance with the rule of law...

 of law before giving testimony
In law and in religion, testimony is a solemn attestation as to the truth of a matter. All testimonies should be well thought out and truthful. It was the custom in Ancient Rome for the men to place their right hand on a Bible when taking an oath...

 and usually by a newly-appointed government
Government refers to the legislators, administrators, and arbitrators in the administrative bureaucracy who control a state at a given time, and to the system of government by which they are organized...

 officer to the people of a state
State (polity)
A state is an organized political community, living under a government. States may be sovereign and may enjoy a monopoly on the legal initiation of force and are not dependent on, or subject to any other power or state. Many states are federated states which participate in a federal union...

 before taking office. In both of those cases, though, an affirmation
Affirmation in law
In law, an affirmation is a solemn declaration allowed to those who conscientiously object to taking an oath. An affirmation has exactly the same legal effect as an oath, but is usually taken to avoid the religious implications of an oath...

 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
An affidavit is a written sworn statement of fact voluntarily made by an affiant or deponent under an oath or affirmation administered by a person authorized to do so by law. Such statement is witnessed as to the authenticity of the affiant's signature by a taker of oaths, such as a notary public...

. The oath given to support an affidavit is frequently administered by a notary
A notary is a lawyer or person with legal training who is licensed by the state to perform acts in legal affairs, in particular witnessing signatures on documents...

, 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
Crime is the breach of rules or laws for which some governing authority can ultimately prescribe a conviction...

 of perjury
Perjury, also known as forswearing, is the willful act of swearing a false oath or affirmation to tell the truth, whether spoken or in writing, concerning matters material to a judicial proceeding. That is, the witness falsely promises to tell the truth about matters which affect the outcome of the...


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
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

 tradition, oaths were sworn upon Iuppiter Lapis or the Jupiter Stone located in the Temple of Jupiter, Capitoline Hill
Capitoline Hill
The Capitoline Hill , between the Forum and the Campus Martius, is one of the seven hills of Rome. It was the citadel of the earliest Romans. By the 16th century, Capitolinus had become Capitolino in Italian, with the alternative Campidoglio stemming from Capitolium. The English word capitol...

. 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
Jupiter (mythology)
In ancient Roman religion and myth, Jupiter or Jove is the king of the gods, and the god of the sky and thunder. He is the equivalent of Zeus in the Greek pantheon....

, 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.

Walter Burkert
Walter Burkert
Walter Burkert is a German scholar of Greek mythology and cult.An emeritus professor of classics at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, he also has taught in the United Kingdom and the United States...

 has shown that since Lycurgus of Athens
Lycurgus of Athens
Lycurgus was a logographer in Ancient Greece. He was one of the ten Attic orators included in the "Alexandrian Canon" compiled by Aristophanes of Byzantium and Aristarchus of Samothrace in the third century BCE.Lycurgus was born at Athens about 396 BC, and was the son of Lycophron, who belonged...

 (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.

Jewish tradition

The concept of oaths is deeply rooted within Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

. 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
Shlomo Yitzhaki , or in Latin Salomon Isaacides, and today generally known by the acronym Rashi , was a medieval French rabbi famed as the author of a comprehensive commentary on the Talmud, as well as a comprehensive commentary on the Tanakh...

, the preeminent biblical commentator, as serving as an oath, citing the Talmud
The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history....

 for this ruling.

The first personage in the biblical tradition to take an oath is held to be Eliezer
For the mathematician and Tamil activist see C.J. Eliezer; for the AI researcher and writer on rationality see Eliezer Yudkowsky; for the Levite priest of the Hebrew Bible, see Eleazar...

, the chief servant of Abraham
Abraham , whose birth name was Abram, is the eponym of the Abrahamic religions, among which are Judaism, Christianity and Islam...

, when the latter requested of the former that he not take a wife for his son Isaac
Isaac as described in the Hebrew Bible, was the only son Abraham had with his wife Sarah, and was the father of Jacob and Esau. Isaac was one of the three patriarchs of the Israelites...

 from the daughters of Canaan, but rather from among Abraham's own family. In the Judeo-Christian
Judeo-Christian is a term used in the United States since the 1940s to refer to standards of ethics said to be held in common by Judaism and Christianity, for example the Ten Commandments...

 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
Charles Bradlaugh
Charles Bradlaugh was a political activist and one of the most famous English atheists of the 19th century. He founded the National Secular Society in 1866.-Early life:...

 was denied a seat as an MP in the Parliament of the United Kingdom
Parliament of the United Kingdom
The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the supreme legislative body in the United Kingdom, British Crown dependencies and British overseas territories, located in London...

 as because of his professed atheism
Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities...

 he was judged unable to swear the Oath of Allegiance
Oath of Allegiance (UK)
The Oath of Allegiance is a promise to be loyal to the British monarch, and their heirs and successors, sworn by certain public servants in the United Kingdom, and also by newly naturalised subjects in citizenship ceremonies.The Oaths Act 1888 The Oath of Allegiance (Judicial or Official Oath) is...

 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
Religious Society of Friends
The Religious Society of Friends, or Friends Church, is a Christian movement which stresses the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. Members are known as Friends, or popularly as Quakers. It is made of independent organisations, which have split from one another due to doctrinal differences...

 (Quakers) and Mennonite
The Mennonites are a group of Christian Anabaptist denominations named after the Frisian Menno Simons , who, through his writings, articulated and thereby formalized the teachings of earlier Swiss founders...

s. This is principally based on , the Antithesis of the Law. Here, Christ is written to say "I say to you: 'Swear not at all'". The Apostle James stated in , "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...."

Not all Christians
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 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 oath
Loyalty oath
A loyalty oath is an oath of loyalty to an organization, institution, or state of which an individual is a member.In this context, a loyalty oath is distinct from pledge or oath of allegiance...

s. Testifying in court was also difficult; George Fox
George Fox
George Fox was an English Dissenter and a founder of the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as the Quakers or Friends.The son of a Leicestershire weaver, Fox lived in a time of great social upheaval and war...

, 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
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 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
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 now has the right to make a solemn affirmation
Affirmation in law
In law, an affirmation is a solemn declaration allowed to those who conscientiously object to taking an oath. An affirmation has exactly the same legal effect as an oath, but is usually taken to avoid the religious implications of an oath...

 instead of an oath. The United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 has permitted affirmations since it was founded; it is explicitly mentioned in the Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

. Only two US Presidents, Franklin Pierce
Franklin Pierce
Franklin Pierce was the 14th President of the United States and is the only President from New Hampshire. Pierce was a Democrat and a "doughface" who served in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. Pierce took part in the Mexican-American War and became a brigadier general in the Army...

 and Herbert Hoover
Herbert Hoover
Herbert Clark Hoover was the 31st President of the United States . Hoover was originally a professional mining engineer and author. As the United States Secretary of Commerce in the 1920s under Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, he promoted partnerships between government and business...

 (who was a Quaker), have chosen to affirm rather than swear at their inaugurations.

Germanic tradition

Germanic warrior culture was significantly based on oaths of fealty, directly continued into medieval notions of chivalry
Chivalry is a term related to the medieval institution of knighthood which has an aristocratic military origin of individual training and service to others. Chivalry was also the term used to refer to a group of mounted men-at-arms as well as to martial valour...


A prose passage inserted in the eddic poem Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar
Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar
Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar is a poem collected in the Poetic Edda, found in the Codex Regius manuscript where it follows Helgakviða Hundingsbana I and precedes Helgakviða Hundingsbana II...

Hedin was coming home alone from the forest one Yule
Yule or Yuletide is a winter festival that was initially celebrated by the historical Germanic people as a pagan religious festival, though it was later absorbed into, and equated with, the Christian festival of Christmas. The festival was originally celebrated from late December to early January...

-eve, and found a troll
A troll is a supernatural being in Norse mythology and Scandinavian folklore. In origin, the term troll was a generally negative synonym for a jötunn , a being in Norse mythology...

-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).

Types of oaths

  • Hippocratic Oath
    Hippocratic Oath
    The Hippocratic Oath is an oath historically taken by physicians and other healthcare professionals swearing to practice medicine ethically. It is widely believed to have been written by Hippocrates, often regarded as the father of western medicine, or by one of his students. The oath is written in...

  • Hittite military oath
    Hittite military oath
    The Hittite military oath is a Hittite text on two cuneiform tablets.The first tablet is only preserved in fragments , the second tablet survives in three copies, and can be restituted almost completely. The oldest copy is fragmentary, but two younger copies are well preserved...

  • Oaths of allegiance
    Oath of allegiance
    An oath of allegiance is an oath whereby a subject or citizen acknowledges a duty of allegiance and swears loyalty to monarch or country. In republics, modern oaths specify allegiance to the country's constitution. For example, officials in the United States, a republic, take an oath of office that...

  • Oaths of citizenship
    Oath of citizenship
    An Oath of Citizenship is an oath taken by immigrants that officially naturalizes immigrants into citizens. It is often the final step in this process, and is usually done in a ceremonial capacity. An oath of citizenship is designed to be a statement of loyalty and patriotism to the new country...

  • Oath of office
    Oath of office
    An oath of office is an oath or affirmation a person takes before undertaking the duties of an office, usually a position in government or within a religious body, although such oaths are sometimes required of officers of other organizations...

  • Pauper's oath
    Pauper's oath
    A pauper's oath is a sworn statement or oath by a person that he or she is completely destitute or a pauper, i.e. without any money or property....

  • Veterinarian's Oath
    Veterinarian's Oath
    The Veterinarian's Oath was adopted by the American Veterinary Medical Association's House of Delegates July 1969, and amended by the AVMA Executive Board, November 1999 and December 2010.-External links:...

Famous oaths

  • Anti-Modernist oath
  • Ironclad oath
    Ironclad oath
    The Ironclad Oath was a key factor in the removing of ex-Confederates from the political arena during the Reconstruction of the United States in the 1860s...

  • Oaths in Freemasonry
  • Oath More Judaico (Jewish)
    Oath More Judaico
    The Oath More Judaico or Jewish Oath was a special form of oath, accompanied by certain ceremonies and often intentionally humiliating or dangerous, that Jews were required to take in European courts of law until the 20th century...

  • Oaths of Strasbourg
    Oaths of Strasbourg
    The Oaths of Strasbourg were several historical documents which included mutual pledges of allegiance between Louis the German , ruler of East Francia, and his brother Charles the Bald , ruler of West Francia...

  • Scout Oath
  • Tennis Court Oath
    Tennis Court Oath
    The Tennis Court Oath was a pivotal event during the first days of the French Revolution. The Oath was a pledge signed by 576 of the 577 members from the Third Estate who were locked out of a meeting of the Estates-General on 20 June 1789...

Other meanings

The word "oath" is often used to mean any angry expression which includes religious or other strong language used as an expletive
Expletive attributive
Expletive comes from the Latin verb explere, meaning "to fill", via expletivus, "filling out". It was introduced into English in the seventeenth century to refer to various kinds of padding—the padding out of a book with peripheral material, the addition of syllables to a line of poetry for...


See also

  • ACLU of N.C. & Syidah Matteen v. State of North Carolina
    ACLU of N.C. & Syidah Matteen v. State of North Carolina
    ACLU of N.C. & Syidah Mateen v. State of North Carolina is a court case in the state of North Carolina within the United States of America. One of the main plaintiffs is Syidah Mateen an American-Muslim of Greensboro, North Carolina...

    a court case in a state of the United States about taking oaths by different scriptures. The results have reversed several times.
  • Australasian Police Multicultural Advisory Bureau
    Australasian Police Multicultural Advisory Bureau
    Australasian Police Multicultural Advisory Bureau is an agency of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs of the Government of Australia...

     has several publications for Australia dealing with multi-faith issues and A Practical Reference to Religious Diversity for Operational Police and Emergency Services
    A Practical Reference to Religious Diversity for Operational Police and Emergency Services
    A Practical Reference to Religious Diversity for Operational Police and Emergency Services is a publication of Australasian Police Multicultural Advisory Bureau designed to offer guidance to police and emergency services personnel on how religious affiliation can affect their contact with the...

    covers oaths as well as many other topics (in review as of 12/2/2006 but the 2nd Edition is available.)
  • Ephebic Oath
    Ephebic Oath
    The Ephebic Oath was an oath sworn by young men of Classical Athens upon induction into the Ephebic College, graduation from which was required to attain status as citizens. The oath was quoted by the Attic orator Lycurgus, in his work Against Leocrates , though it is certainly archaic...

  • So help me God
    So help me God
    So help me God is a phrase often used to give an oath, and most commonly required as part of an oath of office. It is also used in some jurisdictions as a form of oath for other forms of public duty, such as an appearance in court, service as a juror, etc....

  • Sworn declaration
    Sworn declaration
    A sworn declaration is a document that recites facts pertinent to a legal proceeding. It is very similar to an affidavit, but unlike an affidavit, it is not witnessed and sealed by an official such as a notary public...

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.