Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Point of Interest

I was reading Exodus 1:15-16 the other night, where Pharoah is telling the midwives to kill any boy babies born to the Hebrew women. The literal wording rendered by the footnote in my Bible was interesting to me:
Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, "When you help the Hebrew women give birth, look at the stones. If the child is a son, kill him, but if it's a daughter, she may live."
"Look at the stones". What a hoot!


hazytranslucence said...

if you haven't seen 'stardust', this may not make as much sense...

they have these stones (kinda like dice) and one side has markings on them and the other doesn't.

they throw about five into the air and and ask a question. when they all land the same way, up or down, they have an answer because one means yes and the other means no.
it seems as though throughout the ages there have been variations on this theme...witchcraft, wicca, gypsy, fortune-teller, tarot, etc....and they all involve spirits and such things in a futuristic sense.
i don't know if this is the same kind of connotation, but it would seem so, as Pharoah did have prestidigitators and such 'magic' wielders whenever Moses went to show the wonders of God.

and Isaiah 19:2-4 mentions the Egyptians and their 'idolatry and spirits of the dead'.
anyway, the thought occured to me that we probably are more ready to dismiss such things as dumb or impossible than they were then (and some somewhat less educated people) are today.

i think some of this stems from our believing that we know 'it all' since we have the education.
it's kind of depressing and makes me wonder why, if there is no such thing, are we warned to take no part in it? (Galatians 5 warns against witchcraft, though i don't know that this is the passage i was wanting...)

sometimes i think that one of the reasons we have such difficulty taking things on faith is because we 'know' too much. we are too smart to believe in things that we think we have the answer to.
i don't know that all of this has a point and i may have completely missed yours, but it reminded me of the movie and then subsequently of the other things.

hazytranslucence said...

and now, after having looked at a few translations...(what i should have done to start with)

i think they may be relating to a birthing stool, but who knows?

i kinda like my interpretation better.

Chyntt said...

Interesting comments, haxytranslucence. Thanks for making them.

Your comments inspired me to do a bit of research myself, and I found a rather fascinating scanned article at http://www.jstor.org/view/00219231/sp050367/05x6647q/0 by Scott Morschauser of Rowan University.

I thought "look at the stones" just meant to look to see if the baby had testicles, but this article indicates that the phrase is an Egyptian idiom rather than a Hebrew idiom, and that it translates more accurately as "look at the potter's wheel".

He makes the point that the Pharoah was satisfied with the midwives' answer about the children already being born by the time they got there, indicating that Pharoah was not trying to kill already-born children, but rather to abort unborn male children. He goes on to say that the Egyptian medical technology of the time could both distinguish the sex of the unborn child, and abort unborn children.

So Pharoah, realizing that pre-birth abortion of Hebrew males wasn't a solution to his problem, then issued a new decree commanding post-birth abortion of Hebrew males by drowning them in the Nile.

Morschauser writes of the phrase:

Yet the "potter's wheel" is regularly linked to pregnancy in ancient Egyptian religious literature and art. The implement ... was associated with the creator-god, Khnum, a ram-headed diety who was depicted as an artisan. In mythopoetic texts, Khnum would mold and shape each human being at conception "upon his wheel", with the potential child being granted the physical and psychological traits that would define it as an individual--obviously including characteristics of gender. During this time of fashioning, the developing infant was said to be "upon the potter's wheel"..., from which it would hopefully be delivered hale and healthy. What is significant, is that the metaphor refers to a gestating fetus prior to parturition.

Morschauser says that Pharoah was essentially saying, "...when you undertake a prenatal examination, if it is a son..., then terminate him; if it is a daughter, she shall live."

Chyntt said...

Oh yeah; Morschauser also mentioned that the phrase is the same phrase used in Jeremiah 18:3 -- "I went down to the potter's house, and behold, he was doing work upon the wheel."

I have not done justice to his explanation; I highly recommend you go read his short article: short article. (The Image Zoom add-on in Firefox will allow you to zoom in on the scanned images to make them easier to read.)