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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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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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