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Sunday, July 20, 2008
  Israel: a virtual study tour
I had an interesting email the other day, a parent wants to take their son on a virtual study tour to Israel. I was asked to suggest ten places to "visit", selected because of their "historical importance, but also of picturesque value". I had to admit that I am biased, I teach only Old Testament and so when in Israel I never visited the
places that mattered to Jesus!

A task for you

So, I thought I'd make a start and ask you all to join in. I'll post my fragmentary list, with some reasons, either in comments here or on your blog (in which case please place a comment with a link to the post here, so that I can gather the posts into a full listing in a future post. Nominate places giving a short description of your reasons.

First some ground rules:
  1. though we must end up with a list of ten we can discuss more places before we narrow the list
  2. the list is fosused on enriching understanding of the Bible
  3. places should be either of great historical or geographical significance
  4. we will need a balance of places of significance for the Jewish/ChristianHebrew Bible, and also the Christian New Testament, as well as those that illustrate the geography of the land
  5. the surrounding geography will form part of the virtual visit, so below I suggest Megiddo in part because of its location.
Notice that the list is intended to be of use for understanding of the Bible story - so e.g. Tel Azekah and the Elah Valley might get in, regardless of one's estimation of the historicity or otherwise of the characters David and Goliath, since a visit to a Shephellah valley would assist understanding the stories of Judges-Kings.
Photo from Wikipedia
My first suggestion
  • Megiddo: (a) geographically significant to explain the Plain of Jezreel (b) significance of trade routes (c) site of battles including (?) the one talked about in Revelation in the NT (d) Iron Age administrative centre (e) importance of water supply (f) gate complex and (g) Bronze Age cultic site.
Note that this makes it less likely that Hazor (trade routes, gates and Bronze Age cult) or Beersheba (gates, administrative centre, water supply) will make the final cut - places like this that serve multiple functions are especially useful!

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008
  Historical Books (Hebrew Bible): SBL International
Today (Wednesday) was a short day at ISBL, nevertheless the section Historical Books (Hebrew Bible) produced some fine stimulation. The first paper scheduled was one of the disturbingly many no shows. (Perhaps the people did not all realise the distance involved in getting to NZ till too late to pull their names from the programme?) Each of the papers we did hear was stimulating:

In "Why So Reticent, Boaz?: Boaz's (In)action from an Identity Perspective" Peter H. W. Lau of Sydney University presented a reading of the book of Ruth that analysed Boaz' behaviour from a Social Identity Theoretical perspective. Using this grid enabled Peter to describe clearly the issues involved and throw considerable light of some of the gaps that we as listeners to the story are obliged to fill.

Next, Sunwoo Hwang of the University of Edinburgh offered a clear and organised discussion of "Bêtî in 1 Chronicles 17:14: Temple or Kingdom?" and in doing so drew my attention also to the interesting differences between not only 1 Chron 17:14 and its presumed source in 2 Sam 7:16, but also between the LXX and MT.

Rachelle Gilmour of the University of Sydney presented a lively and engaging analysis of "Suspense and Anticipation in I Samuel 9" and in doing so added still more to my appreciation of this most entertaining and rich passage. (For my take on the passage before Rachelle's paper listen to my 5 minute talks "Humour in the Bible: Part 1: Introducing Saul and Humour in the Bible: Part 2: Still Introducing Saul, incidentally there really are other 'casts in the Humour in the Bible series!

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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 http://www.uned.es
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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