Richard W. Coffen | 29 April 2020 |
In the first part of this series, we noted six perplexing biblical passages. Here we continue with more texts that leave us shaking our heads.
Robes of What?
At Southern Publishing Association, we were working on a new series of Bible textbooks. The Eden stories formed part of the curriculum. One of our favorite non-Adventist illustrators had brought in a picture he’d painted of the first couple. (Scripture doesn’t yet name them; in Hebrew, they’re just ’îsh and ’ishshâ.) Both were positioned by a small pond containing a lily pad with a frog perched upon it. The ’îsh stood behind ’ishshâ. Her curvaceous body was bent over as she eyed the amphibian. Did I mention that in this picture both ’îsh and ’ishshâ were stark naked? Such a depiction couldn’t appear in a textbook for youngsters! So, book designer Dean Tucker had taped a clear acetate sheet over the picture and airbrushed robes of light onto the couple.
What sort of attire did the first couple wear? Forget what your Sabbath school teachers told you! Scripture specifically states that the first couple sported their birthday suits! Two words—‘ārôm (one’s condition at birth and at death—Job 1:21 and Ecclesiastes 5:15) and ‘êrôm (condition that is covered up by clothing—Job 22:6; 24:7, 10; Isaiah 58:7; Micah 1:8; Amos 2:16) are used in Genesis 2 and 3 to describe their lack of attire.
The Bible tells me so!
Apparently, the rabbinic idea that the garden was an outdoor temple seems to have necessitated that the ’îsh and the ’ishshâ be clothed in glorious light as they fulfilled their priestly roles until they sinned. Third Baruch 4:16 asserts that “Adam through this tree [of knowledge] was . . . was stripped of the glory of God” (4:16). History of the Rechabites insists that they were “covered with a stole of glory which clothed Adam and Eve before they sinned” (12:3). Ephraem, a fourth-century theologian in Syria, wrote in his Commentary on Genesis: “It is because of the glory with which they were clothed that they were not ashamed. When it was taken away from them—after they had violated the commandment—they were indeed ashamed, because they were now naked” (2:14). Clearly, the concept that both the ’îsh and the ’ishshâ wore robes of light has deep historical roots.
However, rabbinic traditions proffered different speculations about the couple’s new attire. Rashi said the garments were made from rabbit pelts. Targum Pseudo Jonathan reports that the “aprons” were made from snakeskin, which, of course, came from a creature nearby! First/second century rabbi Meir noted a play on words in the Hebrew word given in Scripture. The “aprons” were constructed from ohr (עור—skins). However, the word for “light” is ohr (אור). The ayin (ע) was replaced with an aleph (א). Presto! The clothing became robes of light!
Assuming that Rabbi Meir and his copy of the Torah were correct, then God provided the robes of light to the first couple after they’d sinned; not prior to the episode at the tree with taboo fruit.
Adam, Where Art Thou?
If you’ve been raised within Adventism, then you’ve understood that Eve became a happy wanderer, exploring the oasis in Eden by herself. The ’îsh and the ’ishshâ, the storytellers have insisted, were supposed to stay side-by-side. Alone she, the alleged “weaker” sex, would be vulnerable to falling into moral mischief. The story itself, however, portrays her as someone who was to help ’îsh as his equal—face-to-face with each other (Genesis 2:18, 20, 24).
Genesis 3:6 states that “she also gave some of it [verboten fruit] to her husband who was with her, and he ate it.” Even the trusted King James Version (KJV) makes it clear: “She . . . gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.”
The Hebrew preposition rendered “with her” is ‘immāh, the word with in the third person singular feminine form. Genesis 2:24 mentions that the ’îsh was supposed to adhere to (Hebrew: dābaq = “to stick to,” “to cling to”) his ’ishshâ. Sure enough, that’s what he was doing here. But he remained mum throughout the episode, even while side-by-side with his ’ishshâ.
The Bible tells me so!
John Milton in “Paradise Lost,” Book IX, talks about the woman’s wandering. He wrote that the serpent “sought them both, but wished his hap might find Eve separate. . . . When to his wish, Beyond his hope, Eve separate he spies, Veiled in a cloud of fragrance, where she stood.” (Lines 421-425.) “Adam the while, Waiting desirous her return. . . . And forth to meet her went, the way she took that morn when first they parted.” (Lines 838, 839, 847, 848.)
Climb, Climb Up Moriah Mount
Genesis 22 relates one of Scripture’s most frightening stories. It probably shouldn’t be told to small children. Additionally, the text itself—if we take it just as it reads—poses a problem.
Abraham felt convinced that during the night God had instructed him to offer Isaac as a burnt offering. (Compare verses 1 to 3.) Abraham awoke early (Hebrew: shākam = “rise early”; at the “beginning of the day” (Hebrew: bōqer = “dawn,” and “promptly”; and prepared for the trek to Moriah. He awoke Isaac, aroused two of his servant boys, split kindling, and saddled a male donkey (verse 3). Because he lived in a patriarchal society, Abraham ignored Sarah, not telling her that he was sneaking off to immolate their son of promise as a gift to his Deity (verse 3). On the third day, the quartet plus donkey arrived at the divinely denoted destination.
At the base of the mountain, the two servant lads and the donkey were left to fend for themselves. Scripture clearly specifies who ascended Mt. Moriah. Abraham hoisted the kindling onto Isaac, and the two began hiking up the 2,520-foot mountain (verses 5 and 6). Scripture also tells us who descended. “Abraham returned unto his young men, and . . . dwelt at Beersheba” (verse 19). Read Genesis 22:6, 19 once more. “The two of them [Abraham and Isaac] walked on together. . . . Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set out together for Beer Sheba where Abraham stayed” (NET).
Again, please note the numbers: (1) four people left Beer Sheba; (2) two people watched over the one donkey at the foot of the mountain, (3) two people climbed the mountain, (4) one person descended, and (5) three people returned to Beer Sheba.
What about Sarah and Isaac? We do hear about them again. Isaac was living at Beer-la-hai-roi, perhaps some 40 miles south of Beer Sheba, where Abraham still dwelt (Genesis 24:62). Sarah, who never appeared in the story, lived until she was 127 years old. She died in Hebron, approximately 40 miles north of Beer Sheba. “Abraham went to mourn for Sarah” (Genesis 23:2, NET).
The Bible tells me so!
Had the episode on Mt. Moriah split the family, with Isaac heading south and Sarah, north? The text, just as it reads, leaves us puzzled.
Beauty Is as Beauty Does
Rosalia and I don’t always agree about which women are good looking! Maybe it’s a matter of our difference between being female versus male. However, we’ve agreed that two couples in our local congregation are outstanding looking. The one couple, especially the wife, took first place in our imagined beauty contest for several years. Then the new couple arrived. But second place isn’t bad. Right?
We find an interesting account in Genesis 29:17, which in the KJV states: “Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favoured.” Two sisters, one Jacob had fallen in head-over-heels in love with, and the other ended up being his first wife—first but taking second place! The KJV records that (1) Leah was “tender eyed” and (2) Rachel was both “beautiful” and “well-favoured.” So, was Leah unattractive and Rachel a knock-out?
Leah, the older of the girls, had eyes that were “tender.” The Hebrew term (rakkôt) had a range of meaning that could connote gentleness and sensitivity as well as timidity and lacklusterness. It needn’t necessarily have connoted a defect.
In our text, rakkôt modifies the word for eyes (Hebrew: ‘ayin). This term had two distinct but related denotations: (1) spring of water and (2) eye. The two aren’t necessarily unrelated because the ancient Near Eastern biblical people thought of the eye as a kind of flashlight. In short, they regarded the eyes as springs of light. It’s therefore possible that Leah’s eyes didn’t sparkle very well. The best we can deduce is that from Jacob’s perspective, Leah came in second when compared with her sister.
Rachel! She was beautiful (Hebrew: yāpeh = “beautiful outward physical appearance”) to gaze upon because her body was assembled well, and she was a “vision to behold” (Hebrew: mar’eh = well-formed body) Hence the New Living Translation: “Rachel had a beautiful figure.” So, we’ll assume that Leah had pretty eyes and that Rachel was in certain other ways very appealing to Jacob.
The Bible tells me so!
The Technicolor Coat?
It was 1955. I was the only student in eighth grade and, so, was both the valedictorian and dunce in my class. At the time, a fad in boys’ clothing was racing across the country—gray flannel with pink trimmings. The time had come to buy my graduation outfit. Mother wanted me to wear a gray flannel suit, a pink shirt, and a gray-and-pink bowtie. I protested—mightily. Pink was for girls! Oh, Mother won.
One of the most famous stories in the Bible is about the yearly garment Jacob made for Joseph. There’s a problem with the KJV wording “many colours” (Genesis 37:3). Note, though, that, in the Authorized Version, the words “many colours” are in italics. As you know, italicized words aren’t in the Hebrew text but have been inserted by the translators. Translators didn’t know how to render the Hebrew kethoneth passim.
Only one other scriptural passage incorporates the same two words together—2 Samuel 13:18, 19. This passage mentions the clothing that Tamar wore when her brother Amnon raped her. “She was wearing a long robe [kethoneth passim], for this is what the king’s virgin daughters used to wear. Then Tamar . . . tore the long robe [kethoneth passim], she was wearing” (NET).
Notice two points.
First, the New English Translation renders kethoneth passim as “long robe,” as do other versions such as the New Revised Standard Version. Other translations render the expression as “long-sleeved” (for instance, New American Standard Bible), “beautiful” (New International Readers Version), “ornate” (New International Version (NIV)), “magnificent” (New Jerusalem Bible), and “ornamented” (for example, New International Version, 1984 edition). The NIV perhaps gives the most nearly accurate translation of the Hebrew terminology.
Second, the kethoneth passim was female and not male attire. This brings us to equivalent (cognate) terminology used in ancient Mesopotamia. A goddess wore a kutinnū pisanu, a robe with medallions and appliques sown on. From time to time, these trimmings needed to be reattached onto the kutinnū pisanu.
It’s a reasonable conclusion to assume that Joseph wore a fancy garment similar to that worn by both royal and divine females! No wonder his brothers mocked this crossdresser!
Yup, the Bible tells me so!
Richard W. Coffen is a retired vice president of editorial services at Review and Herald Publishing Association, and writes from Green Valley, Arizona.