Thursday, August 13, 2009
  Watch out or the bears will get you!
In his post "Bad Boy Bible Study meets Ship of Fools" the indefatigable Lingamish throws a challenge at several of his friends. Since he is doing a series on Bad Boy Bible Study (which incidentally I have tagged to read when I get the chance as it looks like something I might want to point people to for good advice) I guess we are the ship of fools ;)

Before naming his band of fools (a fine role in the mythical medieval court) he wrote about one of the nastiest stories in Scripture 2 Kings 2:23-24. For those of you too lazy to mouseover the link reftagger should have made this is where Elisha curses a crowd of teasing boys and some bears maul 42 of them. David then commands us:
  • You’ve been asked to teach or preach on this passage.
  • What would you say?
Granted that this week I'm flat out with a busy semester, 40 assignments to mark and more on the way, and the usual busyness of someone trying to buy a home (in Tauranga not here in Auckland), the first thing I'd say is "I am sorry, I did not have time to prepare properly for this sermon." Actually I wouldn't as you never apologise like that in advance, but I'd think it, and David asked for our reactions ;) And in this blogging context it is relevant, you need to remember this is a knee-jerk response not my considered thoughts.

First I'd retell the story, or more likely read it from a good simple DE translation like the CEV. Then I'd point out that Bible stories almost never intend us to take their characters as examples. Think 2 Sam 11.
  • act like David, forcibly (or at least through abuse of power) take any young woman you fancy
  • act like Bathsheba, don't say a word even when such crimes are committed against you
  • act like Uriah, be an unreasonable prig
Neither does our story contain examples to follow.

We expect life to be fair - it is not. If there was proportionality in this story, Elisha the "good" prophet would control his temper, the bad boys would be good, and carry Elisha's pack for the poor old baldie, and above all a good God would not allow bears to attack mischievous but otherwise harmless kids. But life is not fair, get over it! AND (and here is where I would begin really to bring other Scripture into consideration of this passage) pray for the coming of the Day of the LORD when every sort of wrong and injustice will be put right.

Learn to live in a world "out of joint" (it is that way because of human sin, in which we hold shares) while looking for the coming of a new creation.

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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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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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