I have been asked to write something about Jealousy. For me, this was a difficult but challenging assignment, because I have rarely felt jealous of anybody else, and, as far as I know, I myself have not generated that emotion in other people – although I suppose it isn’t the kind of feeling you readily admit to being guilty of.
Let me clear the air, then, by confessing that the one kind of jealousy I do remember having felt, much earlier in my life, is what might be categorized as sexual. As a lonely young single man, I recall experiencing it with regard to others of my generation who might already have attractive girlfriends, or even wives.
The word “jealousy” is equated with “envy,” about which there seems to be no question that one should feel guilty. It ranks fourth in the list of Seven Deadly Sins, first enumerated by Pope Gregory I, in the 6th Century.
Well, it may be a sin, but it is not a crime. You can go around envying people as much as you like, so long as you don’t let it make you do anything illegal.
But there is another word for being jealous or envious – and that is, to “covet.” And this takes us back long before Gregory and his Deadly Sins, to the Old Testament book of Exodus, and the Ten Commandments, where coveting comes in at Number Ten, but is spelled out in much more detail than any of the other nine:
“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s.”
But even earlier in the list, we had “Thou shalt not commit adultery” – and surely, adultery expresses another form of coveting, whether or not it’s with any of the above specified partners.
But wait! About 500 years before the Ten Commandments, there was another set of laws called the Code of Hammurabi (inscribed in Babylonian dialect on a type of stone column called a stele. This one is now in Paris, in the Louvre). And, sure enough, it too made adultery a crime.
So, jealousy has a long history, and of course, it pops up much more recently in literature, notably in Shakespeare’s Othello. From that play we get the line: “O beware, my lord, of jealousy. It is the green-eyed monster.” But there is also a strong element of racism in that drama, reminding us that, besides occurring among individuals, jealousy can also exist between large bodies of people, such as races and nations. In particular, poor nations tend to be jealous of rich ones.
That kind of national jealousy was indeed one of the causes of World War I. By 1914, most of the world’s leading powers had been building extensive empires. Britain and France, of course, but also Portugal, and even Belgium, had vast colonial holdings. Russia, though she had sold her Alaskan colonies to the U.S.A., still had a huge land territory, covering much of Europe and Asia, and stretching all the way to the Pacific. But Germany, powerful though she was in her own small area, had virtually no colonies. This was particularly galling to the Germans and their Kaiser, who aspired to be recognized as world leaders. It didn’t take much provocation to trigger these long-standing jealousies.
But there are, and have been, cultural jealousies, as between Chinese and Japanese, Hindus and Moslems, Christians and Jews – the latter being expressed most recently in the horror we call the Holocaust.
The Old Testament is full of stories involving jealousy, of which one of the most striking is that of Joseph, in the Book of Genesis. Joseph has eleven brothers, but he is a favorite of his father, which leads to his being abducted by his jealous brothers and sold into slavery in Egypt.
Speaking of slavery, can you imagine how jealous America’s own slaves must have been of their masters, or, even more recently how the same feeling must have prevailed, and probably still prevails, among poorly-paid workers regarding their wealthy employers.
Nobody, it seems, has a good word to say about jealousy. It can even make you hate yourself – as I remember from a song popularized by Tex Ritter in the 1960s:
“Jealous heart, oh, jealous heart, stop beating
Can’t you see the damage you have done?
You have driven her away forever
Jealous heart, now I’m the lonely one.”