Sunday, May 12, 2013

Poop. In the Biblical Sense. (Part 1)

[Heres the original content I promised. It’s a bit too much for a single sitting, so I’ve broken it into chunks.]

So, I was brainstorming presentation ideas for a fellowship interview that never came to pass, trying to find something that would highlight my particular approach to the Bible and really show off my personality.
And then I thought, “poop!”¹

See, the Book of Judges is one of my favorite books in the Bible because it is so…un-Bible-y. Sure, it is framed in this very classic, Deuteronomistic pattern of transgression, punishment, repentance, and deliverance. Time and again, the Israelites stray from their obligations to God, who then sends foreign nations to punish them. When all seems lost, the Israelites repent, and God raises up a leader or “judge” (Hebrew שֹׁפֵט, shofet), who delivers Israel from their enemies. Lather, rinse, repeat.

But within this framework we find stories—some of them very old²—that often seem closer to folk-tales than sacred history, full of sex, human sacrifice, dismemberment, and aggravated tent-pegging.

And poop jokes.

Now, from Aristophanes to South Park, all cultures have recognized that poop is hilarious. This was no less the case among the ancient Israelites, although they were a little more discrete about it. Still, most of us read the Bible in translation, and not only have translators tried to maintain a certain dignified tone when dealing with scripture, the simple fact is that jokes are incredibly hard to translate, especially when word-play is involved. And Hebrew’s system of tri-consonantal roots lends itself to word play, especially with respect to vowel movements.

One such example can be found in Judges 3:12-30, which recounts how the judge Ehud kills Eglon, king of the Moabites. Eglons name (Heb. עֶגְלוֹן), it’s worth noting, bears a striking resemblance to the Hebrew words ʿegel (עֵגֶל), meaning “fatted calf,” and ʿagol (עָגֹל), “round,” so the non-Hebrew reader has already missed that the villain of the piece is essentially named “King Swolencalf.”

Anyway, Ehud is a Benjaminite, and as everybody knows, Benjaminites are left handed. Because “Benjamin” (Heb. בִּנְיָמִין) means “son of the right hand.” (OK, not all of these are winners. Maybe it’s like calling a bald guy “curly.”) So when Ehud is called before the ample King Beefround, he conceals a short-sword on his right side (because who has time to frisk both sides of a guy?), and when the moment is, um, right, Ehud shoves the sword so deep into Lord Tubbington’s gut that he can hardly pull it out, and then…

Vayyetseʾ ha-parshedonah!

What on earth does this mean? What does it have to do with poop? Do scatological puns ruin someone’s chances at a tenure-track position? Tune in for our next installment to find out.

¹ While I was procrastinating, Robert Cargill managed to beat me to the punch, with respect to biblical poo.

² The “Song of Deborah” (Judges 5:1–31) is considered one of the oldest passages in the Hebrew Bible.

1 comment:

  1. I always thought Elijah poking fun at Baal was the "poop joke" of the Bible. The Moabite king's servants being worried about him never seemed like a joke to me, but I'm awaiting your superior knowledge of Hebrew to enlighten me.


All comments are moderated by imperial fiat. You have the right to say what you want, but I don't have to give you a forum. Don't be a schmuck: that is the whole of the Torah. The rest is just commentary.