Wash your hairy feet! OR Sometimes a foot is just a foot

tutl38[1]
[Back when I was new to Facebook, I did not know how to bring blog posts into this (then) new (to me) medium. So I began posting some posts on Facebook. This was the very first, and I still rather like it :) ]
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!”

[Back in those heady days bloggers used to respond to one another, instead of, as we do today, merely writing to ourselves – which is perhaps the second sign of madness.]

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).

The next best thing

The Bible Wasn't Written to YouRecently I pointed to the very best book offer ever, the Logos edition of Childs’ masterly Isaiah with all the added features of the e-edition quite free.

Today an offer that the next best thing, David Kerr is creative and provocative, but he’s not a scholar like Childs, his The Bible Wasn’t Written to You is a slim tome, Childs’ is massive. But the price is the same $0! And David’s little book is a good read and thought provoking.

Just use the code: YA52D

Incidentally David’s book came out of blog posts, and he was a cracking blogger. I do hope he does start again. If he does subscribe and comment!

Numbers 20: a reading and some critical readers needed

CaptureThe venerable (I think it is the longest-running religious periodical in NZ) Baptist has had a makeover for 2015.No longer newsprint, and with a web edition that looks pretty good.

The trouble is most of the writers are (to put it politely) experienced, and most of the readers inherited from the old format newsprint are (frankly) old folk.

It needs new writers I’d love to see Carey graduates from 5, 10, 15 years ago take up the keyboard. If any of you read this how about either offering yourselves an occasional piece, or bullying your colleagues into writing?

It also needs new readers, online readers, who will argue back, question or add new ideas… all or any of you who read this might be such…
What Kiwis think about sin could be a place to start… (and let’s hope Dale Campbell becomes a more frequent contributor along with others like Mike Crudge, Thalia Rowden, Nigel Irwin, Johnathan Robinson and many many more… mention those I have forgotten or not thought of in the comments here or an email and I’ll add them…)

Getting students to read your comments in a Jetsons world

"Jetsons" by http://www.hogwild.net/images/Misc/jetsons.jpg. Licensed under Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of List of Characters in The Jetsons via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jetsons.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Jetsons.jpg

“Jetsons” by http://www.hogwild.net/ via Wikipedia

The Sydney College of Divinity 2014 Teaching and Learning Conference “Teaching Theology in a Technological Age“is an interesting experience. Listening to so many teachers who are as a matter of course teaching distant students using a variety of computer mediated tools is in some ways like seeing a Jetsons “future world”, from only five or six years ago, come to life.

Yet the progress seems mainly to represent the greater importance of flexible teaching which has been driven by student demand, and so economic forces, rather than pedagogy. Pedagogy for an electronically mediated age seems still too much for most teachers and administrators. (More on this when I am less tired, a long day’s travel and two very short nights mean I can’t write clearly enough at the moment.)

There have been the usual “aha moments” not least (the only peripherally technological) suggestion of giving students their assignment with comments but no mark and asking them to assess the grade. One then, of course, may need to discuss and adjust the grade with the student, but the process forces the student to read the remarks, and to think about their performance in useful ways.

It’s been great to meet ACOM colleagues that I have only previously had email contact with, I feel much more part of a team now.

“Notes” quick thought starters from NZ Christian Network

NZ Christian Network have begun to produce a series of thought starters. Aimed to fit on one double-sided sheet of A4 (in PDF format for printing and folding). The goal is to be simple, clear, and to start people thinking. They call them “Notes“. So far they have:

S14-01     Secularism 101 – What it is, why does it matter and how to address it

M14-01     Marriage – Why it matters, where it’s heading and what we need to do

M14-02     Marriage – Towards a strategy for Building a Healthy Marriage Culture

S14-02     Secularism is religious – A gospel by any other name

M14-03     There’s more to marriage! – Is marriage for you?

The format is great for people who still live in the print age (like many church people, especially those too old to have grown up in the Internet and mobile ages). 

Since I wrote the last one, I am delighted that they are also making them available in a format that’s more user-friendly for the e-age. As blog posts (with a Feed if you want to subscribe, mine is here, I hope the others will be appearing soon :)

Looks good to me on laptop, tablet and phone, how about you?

Tenth Blogiversary

It is a strange thing, and one I never expected to experience (see the archive of my first post) to be celebrating ten years of blogging. Actually I won’t be celebrating today, as I will be flying to the Philippines via Thailand “on the day”, so this post is “prepared earlier” and scheduled thanks to the wonders of WordPress.

As I noted recently, I have not been posting much for quite some time. Is this a weariness with blogging? Does it represent some loss of faith in the medium?

Well, as so often, in part “yes” and in part “no”. I have been very busy with journal articles and book chapters, as well as learning to rear pigs and make ham and bacon. But this busyness alone would probably not account for my silence if blogging retained it’s early excitement. It is not that readership has dropped, it hasn’t. It is not that Google loves blogs less, if anything Google’s infatuation with blogs seems to have increased with the growing maturity of the medium. It is the lack of interaction that silences me.

I do not blog because WordPress is an easy way to make a website, I used to make quite complex websites well before blogging platforms were invented. I blog because the medium encourages interaction between authors and readers. And, in it’s heyday blogging did that with flair, enthusiasm and sometimes flaming excitement. Sadly no longer, most of us post away, and the punters read what we write, but they do not comment… And so for me much of the fun has been taken from this medium. In a sense that’s what my experiments with various formats for Reading the Bible Faithfully is seeking to restore… I wonder if the course format will encourage readers to become (once again) conversation partners?

Time will tell… but if nothing does restore the conversation, I suspect ten years will be about the length of my blogging career…

Grace, poverty and relationships

Paul Windsor had a fine post a few days ago, on living alongside the poor which should be required reading for anyone who will be living, moving or having their being where others are poor. This means all of us, unless we hermetically seal ourselves away and shut off the Internet.

Then this morning I read Richard Beck’s Widows and Orphans: On Evolution, Election and Love. Two posts that each gain depth from being read together :) If you have read one but not the other, please do read it now. If you have read neither, you have a double treat in store and plenty of thinking to do!

Paul is a Kiwi Evangelical living in India, who grew up as a MK in India, and trying to negotiate how to live, move and have his being in a place where the poor (often the extremely poor) are always with him. Richard is a psychologist who thinks deeply and creatively about Christian faith and life. Both will teach you much, and both will make you think and pray.

Bright Sparks

 

Honesty compels me to admit that there are times when exactly the wrong person at exactly the wrong time with exactly the wrong motives has nevertheless said exactly the right thing.

Tom Marshall, Understanding Leadership, 1991, p97 (HT: ξἐνος)
 
Of course, the reverse is also true: There are times when exactly the right person, at exactly the right time, with exactly the right motives, has said exactly the wrong thing. And this version seems to fit my experience better.
 
“Humankind, bright sparks since BC” (cf. Job 5:7)

Striking News from Egypt: or the Silence of the Pundits

The news from Egypt (indeed all the “Middle East”) over recent months has varied between being silence (most of the time) and shock-horror (when some new tragedy/atrocity manages to break through Western media’s apathy about the rest of the world. 

Vinoth Ramachandra again does us all a service by posting material written by one of his Egyptian contacts he titles it The Other Egypt. It begins:

When more than 85 Churches and institutions were viciously attacked and burned (a profound blow of disgrace and humiliation in this culture of ‘honour’), the non-retaliation of Christians was both unexpected and unprecedented.

If you haven’t heard about this please read his post! In fact do yourself a favour subscribe to his blog, or visit it regularly. It is constantly sensible and provocative a difficult balance given the topics he covers.

Moral critique of theism?

The Flannagan blog, M&M, can be really annoying or hugely stimulating, it is seldom boring. But the new post There probably are no duties. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life! really is something special. Matt neatly turns all the standard old chestnut Atheist arguments around to attack “moral duties” like the duty not to rape or murder. The post is a hoot and well worth a read, you’ll be chuckling or laughing all through.

Comments are open, but so far no atheist has risen to the challenge. If any brave non-believer is reading this do please provide a response! A one sided argument is less fun :)