Tuesday, January 20, 2009
  Conversations with Scripture: 2 Isaiah: Introduction
Stephen begins his "Introduction" with human experiences that challenge comfortable easy images of God: "God exists and God cares, 2 Isaiah claims, but God's uncanny ways sometimes defy our human categories of rationality and morality" (xvi) is a good introduction to the claim that this work (Isaiah 40-55) focuses on reverence - see my post introducing the book.

To a reader whose faith was challenged in teenage years by a father's nervous breakdown, to centre the presentation on Is 45:15: "Truly you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior" draws me in. For this is not a book for pentecostals and charismatics, convinced weekly by signs and wonders of God's power and glory; it is for "Anglicans" (and others) to whom the "uncanny, fiery side of God" does not appear easily. (xv)

On the next page Stephen quotes twice from Aelred of Rievaulx, a Cistertian writer I have not come across since the days of research for my thesis! A clear indication that this book has an erudite writer who writes for intelligent, explorative and imformed readers. It is deeper than the average "popular" book on biblical studies, and so should fill a gaping hole in the market for such readers. If they find it, the main barrier to publishing such works is that in the 20th century book market few of them could discover such books, so few sold... perhaps in the 21st century we will see a rennaisance in such works, as digital communications puts readers and writers in contact - maybe through reviews on blogs like this, since I assume that my readers are "intelligent, explorative and imformed" ;)

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Friday, January 09, 2009
  Conversations with Scripture: 2 Isaiah
Stephen Cook sent me a copy of his new book:

Stephen L. Cook, Conversations with Scripture : 2 Isaiah (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Pub., 2008).

It arrived yesterday, all nicely wrapped in Christmas paper. Thank you!

The arrangement is that I'll review the book here, since this is a blog and not a journal, I'll not compose one terse magisterial review but will post from time to time as I examine and reflect on the book...

So, First Impressions:

The book is a manageable-sized paper back, 150 pages of largish print, so suggests an easy read rather than a tome to plough. It belongs to a series Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars Study Series, and the blurb claims it offers a "uniquely Anglican Bible Study". That already grabs my attention, because I have been increasingly, recently, asking myself what might be distinctive about "Baptist" biblical hermeneutics (by which I mean not what real particular Baptists actually do, which is often just like what similar real Lutherans or Presbyterians actually do) but as an "ideal", so it may be interesting if I can capture from Stephen's study of 2 Isaiah something that is distinctly "Anglican".

Opening the work, the first thing I notice is a number of small sidebar explanations. Sometimes two per page are needed, sometimes several pages pass with none. They are usually only one sentence in length. This is a useful way to explain terms, introduce people... that mimics one property of hypertext - I'm a great fan of sidebars!

The chapter titles too, on the contents page, have me hooked:
  • Second Isaiah and the Theology of Reverence
  • The Inscrutability of God in 2 Isaiah
  • Reverence and the Collapse of Pride and Ignorance
  • Servanthood and the Exuberance of the Holy
  • Atonement and Exuberance
  • The Majesty of Servanthood
Each of these draws me in, I'd happily begin with any of them. (Actually I'll probably be a "good boy" and start at the beginning - most untypically - but who could resist a theological work with "exuberance" in the title?)

There are endnotes (works aimed at a broader readership eschew footnotes) but only a dozen or so per chapter (so looking them up will not be a great hardship).

Stephen's writing is clear and uses mainly short sentences, and I quickly (while dipping here and there) found examples that provoke:
  • "The poem presents a scandalous God. This God is out to disorient people, defy their logic, and make their knees shake". (29) Don't you want to know which poem? Or do you, without looking at Stephen's book, know already?
  • "We simply cannot revere that which is enslaved to our interests, a puppet-god that we manipulate through our prayers and our behavior." (20, sidebar) Nice terse phrasing presents an old truth in a fresh way.
That's enough for today, now I must start writing that article... and tidying the study :(

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008
  Put your feet up and relax!
Duane's original post A Euphemism for Pudenda seeks to make a case for a euphemistic use of "feet" in Biblical Hebrew. He begins by noting that:
The Hebrew word for foot is רגל (regel). Like "hand," most of the time regel means exactly what you think it should mean, the things at the lower end of your legs that you put in shoes and stand on. For the record, at least in Rabbinic Hebrew, regel sometimes also means "leg."
And begins his case with Ezekiel 16:25. Now, evidently this verse is concerned with sex, so obviously "feet" here do not mean what is at the bottom of ones legs, but rather what is between them ;-0

Or does it... If instead of assuming a euphemistic use of רגל why not just assume that רגל means "leg" here, as it does in 1 Sam 17:6 and as Rashi, and various later translators and commentators have thought it does here?

Having failed to convince me that his first example requires a euphemistic reading Duane passes on to Judges 3:24. I discussed this at some length in my first post, now I would just add that (as Rashi again noted) "Targum Jonathan renders עָבִיד צוֹרְכֵיה (doing his needs), i. e., moving his bowels" this does not require an equation of feet with anything other than "feet", but does seem to me to suggest possibly anachronistic forms of clothing. Actually, the more I look at this passage the more puzzled I become. Everyone seems agreed that the mention of "covering his feet" is a reference either to urination or to defecation. Yet the location in which Eglon is "covering his feet" is the (same?) "upper room" in which in v.20 he received Ehud - was the Moabite king in the habit of inviting guests into his toilet?

Duane's example from 2 Kings 18:27 is thoroughly convincing. Here the Hebrew text of the Bible reads that the besieged Judeans will be doomed:

לֶאֱכֹ֣ל אֶת חֲרֵיהֶם וְלִשְׁתּ֛וֹת אֶת־שֵׁינֵיהֶם

"to eat their own dung and drink their own urine"

The Masoretic scribes found this a little too explicit, so for both terms they suggested alternative "readings":
לֶאֱכֹ֣ל אֶת צוֹאָתָ֗ם וְלִשְׁתּ֛וֹת אֶת־מֵֽימֵי רַגְלֵיהֶ֖ם
giving the more decorous:
"to eat their own dirt, and drink the water of their feet"

The trouble with this for my purposes is that all it demonstrates is that by the time of the Masoretes "feet" had possibly come to have a euphemistic meaning of the sort proposed. There is according to Duane no clear cut example in Ugaritic (which anyway uses a word that is not a cognate of רגל. And: "I was unable to find and did not look too diligently for examples in Akkadian or Egyptian."

It still seems to me that the case for a common euphemism רגל = sexual organs is simply unproven. Biblical scholars should stop appealing to this supposed euphemistic use until there is better evidence to support it for biblical Hebrew. (That it existed later I do not dispute. The example above is (almost) enough to convince me ;-)

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  Euphemisms again
I was sure Duane had posted on "feet" and "fingers" in Hebrew and Ugaritic, I've now had time to look, and behold, my memory was unusually accurate! Actually it was hands and feet, not fingers and feet. In this post I'll briefly link to his "hand" post: An Ancient Euphemism for Penis Johnson. In that post after rehearsing examples from Isaiah 57:8; the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Manuel of Discipline (1 QS VII, 13) and the Ugaritic texts (UT 52:33, 34, 35) he concluded:
Let me be clear on what I am claiming; it is very modest indeed. The strongest thing I want to say is that the "hand" has been used as a euphemism or, perhaps better, metaphor for penis or phallus from time to time in human history. While I think that it was a widespread usage in the Northwest Semitic world, I have not proven that.
I think this is a careful and accurate conclusion, each of the examples is a strong one, where almost any reader will suspect that the word is being used euphemistically. But they are too few to demonstrate a regular usage.

The follow-up post A Euphemism for Pudenda deals with the evidence for "feet" as a euphemism. I will return to that post when I next have time for blogging.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008
  Still wondering about "feet"
Following my post Wash your hairy feet! Sean-the-Baptist updated his post 'And with two they covered their feet' to respond (briefly within the limits of time available) to my critique of the commonplace notion that "feet" in the Hebrew Bible can often serve as a euphemism for "male organ".
On Deut. 11.10: the point is exactly that the Promised Land will be naturally fertile and thus will not require irrigation by other means (of course the language is symbolic, irrigation is as necessary there as in Egypt in reality). Tim asks 'in Egypt is most irrigation done by peeing?' - well no, but neither is there literal milk and honey flowing in Israel-Palestine, and perhaps good deal more irrigation took place by this means than by carrying water on your foot (images of hopping with a bucket attached anyone?)
But why interpret the language as "symbolic" whatever that means here, I had assumed that even read as a euphemism the use was intended literally.

Irrigating with the feet would then refer to the habit of opening and closing irrigation ditches using the feet. While I cannot really see how the euphemistic reading works, in the promised land water falls from the sky, while in Egypt humans had to pee to water the ground - presumably entailing frequent trips to the irrigation ditch to drink...

On Ruth we basically agree - except whether Boaz' "feet" are literal or euphemistic (I still wonder at the plural euphemism here?).

On Is 6:2 Sean brings up the topic of ANE iconography, as Jim Getz said in a comment on a post: Another "Feet" Euphemism in the Hebrew Bible? on this topic on Shibboleth I think I was convinced by Keel's identification of the Seraphim here with Egyptian uraus snakes, my copy of Keel is at college, so i can't check, but I do not remember these snakes as having prominent phalluses which might need covering to preserve Hebrew modesty! On Is 7:20 I am quite willing to agree thsat ritual humiliation is in view, and that a euphemistic reading is possible. But when the "head to foot" shaving seems to cover that pretty comprehensively I do not see the need to invent a new "euphemistic" reading. (And that is really my point, I believe that those who repeat conventional wisdom and claim a common euphemism in Biblical Hebrew "feet" = "phallus" need to provide some evidence to support this view. And where simply reading "feet" as "those two things we walk on that stop our legs fraying at the ends" works fine then they have NOT provided such evidence EVEN IF "phallus" works just as well.
Uraeus. Col. Tutkhamón from
On 2 Sam 11:8, again we agree in our interpretation of the passage, and IF the feet-euphemism were already (on the basis of evidence) established it would make a good reading here. However, it is not it is merely "traditional" in biblical scholarship. AND reading feet literally works fine.

Result, I am still unconvinced that this particular item of "popular wisdom" has a leg to stand upon! Sometimes in the Bible, when you read "feet" they do simply mean "feet", now on the basis of Ugaritic evidence one might I think (someone could ask Duane about the abnormally interesting uses of "finger" in those texts, and perhaps also look at Hebrew Bible texts like 1 Kings 12:10).

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Friday, June 06, 2008
  Wash your hairy feet!
Sean the Baptist has a post 'And with two they covered their feet' in which he repeats the conventional wisdom that "feet" is (sometimes) a euphemism in the Hebrew Bible. Basically the idea is:
That is that the word for feet רַגְלָיו sometimes refers to what we might politely call 'other parts of the (male) anatomy'.
I have never really been convinced by the claim. Sean cites the following passages as the best evidence for this supposed usage (the order is mine, as are the comments in straight type):

Exodus 4.25 But Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin, and touched Moses’ feet with it, and said, “Truly you are a bridegroom of blood to me!”
Now why on earth would one suppose that "feet" here is a euphemism - after all no euphemism was used for "foreskin" עָרְלַת seems explicit enough.

Deuteronomy 11.10 For the land that you are about to enter to occupy is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sow your seed and irrigate by foot like a vegetable garden.
In Egypt is most irrigation done by peeing? No wonder they brewed so much beer! Or maybe the small earth dams on irrigation ditches are quite easily broken by foot?

Ruth 3.7: When Boaz had eaten and drunk, and he was in a contented mood, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came stealthily and uncovered his feet, and lay down.
If this one is a euphemism, does it not remove all the tension from the chapter where the most significant "gap" the hearer must fill is: "Did they or didn't they?" there is plenty of other innuendo in the chapter to build up the tension, without this (possible, maybe) one.

Isaiah 6.2: Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.
Really? Now why should face and feet not simply mean face and feet? Please explain!

Isaiah 7.20: On that day the Lord will shave with a razor hired beyond the River—with the king of Assyria—the head and the hair of the feet, and it will take off the beard as well.
Hairy feet or hairy [euphemism]? Which is more plausible? Though I suppose if the euphemism is for the whole genital area, this one might make sense.

Judges 3.24: After he had gone, the servants came. When they saw that the doors of the roof chamber were locked, they thought, “He must be relieving himself (literally 'covering his feet') in the cool chamber.” cf. 1 Sam. 24.3
At first sight, this one is good! In this sample I am almost convinced, there is a good case to answer, though why "covering his feet" should be a euphemism for peeing, and not merely another example of the rather gross schoolboy humour of the passage I am unclear.

2 Samuel 11.8 Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king.
Could be a euphemism, but then it could be that the sentence is euphemistic even if the "feet" are literal. "Wash your feet" = "make yourself at home"...

So, in the end, what evidence is there for this conventionally supposed common euphemism? Two cases where you might argue with some strength that reading euphemistically is the "best" reading, a couple more where it might just be possible but overall I'd say: No case to answer. In the Bible feet are just that. And Eglon as well as excessively fat, and greedy, also was known to his servants as having a poor aim. As the sign in our downstairs loo read for a while (we had teenage boys in the house) "We aim to please. You aim too, please!"

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Sunday, May 04, 2008
  Note to Tyler: re Biblical Studies Carnival
Tyler there are two posts this morning in my reader that I think you should consider mentioning in the next Carnival.

The first is Duane's abnormally interesting, and credulous(?), Isaiah 38:9-20: An Abnormal View in which he provides a strong sketch of arguments that might be made to claim that Hezekiah actually wrote part of the Bible in his own hand. (At the moment I hope he does expand the post to a paper, it would be fun to hear the discussion! And perhaps I will as I continue to follow the blogs over the next few days/weeks :)

The second I am also noting for my Genesis class reading list (for next semester) where John (Hobbins) asks: Does Genesis 1 describe the creation of things or the assignment of functions to things? A Response to John Walton frankly he takes John (Walton)'s special pleading more seriously than I would, but he provides a really good clear discussion that I want my students to follow.

Two fine examples of why (biblio/biblia)blogging is both fun, and useful!

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Friday, March 02, 2007
  God gives birth (Isaiah 42:14)
For a long time I have held my peace,
    I have kept still and restrained myself;
  now I will cry out like a woman in labour,
    I will gasp and pant.
Isaiah 42:14
Stephen Cook has a couple of interesting posts responding to a paper given recently at VTS. ("The presenter was Dr. Juliana Claassens and the paper looked at the image of God in Isaiah 42.")

Stephen concludes his first post, God "Like a Woman in Labor" (Isaiah 42)
A woman's helplessness and frailty during labor is nothing less than power, the power to bring about new life--something a "powerful" male cannot do! This theological theme that vulnerability and frailty is a source of true, marvelous power is a big one throughout Isaiah 40-66. I think Juliana is really on to something here.
Which captures one of the ways in which this passage fits so well with traditional Christian theology and preaching, though using an image that did not become a major part of the tradition - at least since the Middle Ages, I've argued that various sorts of mother imagery for God was more common earlier than 1450AD!

In his second post Whence Comes God's Pain in Labor (Isaiah 42)? Stephen says:
Dr. Claassens in her paper interpreted God's pain in labor as God's work of entering into the trials and trauma of the people, who have been exiled to Babylonia as prisoners of war. In my response to her paper, I suggested another possibility that to me seems more in keeping with the overall theology and thinking of 2 Isaiah.
Stephen locates God's pain in this passage in the idea that "In 2 Isaiah God is seen to put aside God's right to justice, to put aside what's fair and deserved." His discussion provides a good theological entry point into the passage in Isaiah 42. It is one that fits well with the description of the "servant" at the start of the chapter.

However, it seems to me that this discussion rather misses the immediate cotext of verse 14. The preceding verse presents God as a (male?) warrior:
The LORD goes forth like a soldier,
    like a warrior he stirs up his fury;
  he cries out, he shouts aloud,
    he shows himself mighty against his foes.
Isaiah 42:13
and in the following God declares:
I will lay waste mountains and hills,
    and dry up all their herbage;
  I will turn the rivers into islands,
    and dry up the pools.
Isaiah 42:15
The verse about pregnancy, labour and birth is thus set in a context that is surprising, at least in a world of sanitised congratulations cards and Baby's First Blog's! Fury, destruction and war seem out of place in such a world. But these images are not so strange in a delivery room. Mothers can speak for themselves, but to a husband and lover standing, almost helplessly, by these images fit the event. So, in my reading of this passage vv.13 and 15 need to be heard. The terror, cries and anguish you are seeing - says YHWH - are the birth pangs of something new, to which I am giving birth!

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