Longest Oath Known to Legal History,

or at least to me, uncovered by Marc Abrahams of the Annals of Improbable Research in Kenneth R.H. MacKenzie's Burmah and the Burmese (1853) (short video here). It apparently began (paragraph breaks added):

If I speak not the truth, may it be through the influence of the laws of demerit, viz.: passion, anger, folly, pride, false opinion, hardheartedness, and scepticism; so that when I and my relations are on land, land animals, as tigers, elephants, buffaloes, poisonous serpents, scorpions, &c., shall seize, crush, and bite us, so that we shall certainly die.

Let calamities occasioned by fire, water, rulers, thieves and enemies, oppress and destroy us, till we come to utter destruction. Let me be subject to all the calamities that are within the body, and all that are without the body. May we be seized with madness, dumbness, blindness, leprosy and hydrophobia. May we be struck with thunderbolts, and lightning, and come to sudden death.

In the midst of not speaking truth, may I be taken with vomiting black clotted blood, and suddenly die before the assembled people. When I am going by water, may the water Nats assault me, the boat be upset, and the property lost; and may alligators, porpoises, sharks, or other sea monsters, seize and crush me to death; and when I change worlds, may I not arrive among men or Nats, but suffer unmixed punishment and regret in the utmost wretchedness among the four states of punishment, Hell, Prita, Beasts and Athurakai.

There's more.

A Law Dawg:
I vow to recite this oath for witnesses to swear or affirm tonight as I prosecute traffic court.
4.15.2009 4:36pm
This reminds me of the instructions for the Holy Hand Grenade.
4.15.2009 4:47pm
Joseph Slater (mail):
4.15.2009 5:03pm
A Law Dawg:
"Hydrophobia" is the real killer there.
4.15.2009 5:04pm
It reminds me of Roger Zelazny's Agnostic's Prayer

4.15.2009 5:27pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Here are my first thoughts:

This oath is extremely "copious," "formulaic," and "redundant" and it follows very traditional models. This is clearly a legal instrument that is well thought out for the function it had in an culture where law was probably defined entirely through oral tradition.

A lot of the copiousness and formulaic elements are there to aid with memory (believe it or not) and also to ensure that there is absolutely no doubt what a witness hears (since writing wouldn't have been integrated into the legal system when the oath was composed).

fascinating. thanks.
4.15.2009 6:02pm
Dave N (mail):
I certainly am going to suggest to every judge I know that this oath be given in lieu of the shorter, less colorful versions they insist on using now.
4.15.2009 7:46pm
Chris Newman (mail):
4.15.2009 10:06pm
Dan R. (mail):
I solemnly swear (or affirm) I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Louisiana;

I will maintain the respect due to courts of justice and judicial officers;

I will not counsel or maintain any suit or proceeding which shall appear to me to be unjust, nor any defense except such as I believe to be honestly debatable under the law of the land;

I will employ for the purpose of maintaining the causes confided to me such means only as are consistent with truth and honor, and will never seek to mislead the judge or jury by an artifice or false statement of fact or law;

I will maintain the confidence and preserve inviolate the secrets of my client, and will accept no compensation in connection with a client's business except from the client or with the client's knowledge and approval;

I will abstain from all offensive personality, and advance no fact prejudicial to the honor or reputation of a party or witness, unless required by the justice of the cause with which I am charged;

I will never reject, from any consideration personal to myself, the cause of the defenseless or oppressed, or delay any person's cause for lucre or malice.

So help me God.
The current oath that attorney's in Louisiana must take.
4.16.2009 4:16am
But be careful administering it because:

The pickled tea as it is called is a rough coarse tea chewed at the conclusion of the ceremony and without it no oath is binding
4.16.2009 8:42am
einhverfr (mail) (www):

One oath practice in ancient Greece was to write the oath on a lead plate (similar to a binding tablet), fold it, drive nails through it, and throw it into the sea. Another one was for the participants to cut themselves and let their blood run together on the earth. The blood-to-blood contact was also fairly common among the Vikings for a certain segment of oaths (those of sworn brothers).

Finally, our wedding rings today are descended from pagan oath rings and these appear to have taken different forms in different Indo-European branches (but are found clearly among Celts, Germanics, and Indo-Aryans).

Ancient oath practices are actually quite interesting to study......
4.16.2009 10:49am

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