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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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Thursday, February 28, 2008
  Gender in the classroom

Teaching Ruth is always interesting. Not having taught the book for several years, I had forgotten just how revealing watching a class study this little book could be. The class at CTS reminded me. I have now taught Ruth in three very different cultural contexts, Congo, NZ and now Sri Lanka.

In each case it served, alongside Jonah, as an example to illustrate various elements of biblical narrative technique. In each case, for the teacher, watching the male and female students reading Ruth was illuminating. I'd need to teach Ruth with other students, or learn a lot more about Sri Lankan cultures before I can draw any conclusions from this last experience. But in both NZ and Africa this book has served to provoke strikingly different responses from male and female students, and to reveal the extent to which men in those two settings do not "understand" the issues that concern women.

More than any other topics I teach (with the possible exception of some sessions deliberately focused on gender issues) Ruth provokes responses from both men and women that their classmates of the other gender find either incomprehensible or frustrating. Teaching Ruth is a good way to remind oneself, of the extent to which one's culture still has significant issues to address of equality and justice between men and women in the realm of marriage and home. Ever culture does, and probably always will, given the interplay of social expectations with individual or familial understandings that such domestic contexts produce, however well or badly the issues have been "resolved" in the public sphere!

PS for other reflections on teaching at CTS and later (soon) in another place see this blog.

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