The book of Job provides the most complex and detailed descriptions of illness in biblical literature. Less explored are the frequent references made in the text to dressing and undressing. These references demonstrate the various dimensions, contexts and functional roles of clothing in the world of the Hebrew Bible. But as well as references to actual textile items, the book of Job also refers to clothing in a much more symbolic sense. Drawing on sociological and anthropological approaches to dress and the body, I argue that dress and nudity are connected to and in fact a key part of Job’s experience of illness. By unpacking these ideas, we can better comprehend ancient Israelite conceptions of medical anthropology, as well as embodiment more generally.
The Hebrew Bible is replete with references to written media. The traditional way that historical-critical scholarship has approached these references is to interpret them as sources used by the producers of biblical texts. The scrolls destroyed and recreated in Jeremiah 36 have been understood as the first two versions of the book of Jeremiah, and scholars have debated what the original contents of these scrolls might have been based upon the received text of Jeremiah. But in this paper, I consider what these references indicate about the status of written media within the thought-world of the narrative. By comparing Jeremiah’s scroll to other biblical texts in which written documents produce an efficacious outcome, I demonstrate that Jeremiah’s scroll functions as a prophetic object. It serves as a proxy both for the prophet, who is physically unable to approach the king, but also for the king himself – King Jehoiakim’s ritualistic destruction of the scroll produces a similar outcome upon his own body. Prophetic scrolls are understood to have efficacy in the ritual context. Against this background, the recreation of the scroll following its destruction is significant: this second scroll is not identical to the first, for “many similar words were added to it” (v. 32). Jeremiah 36 thus authorises scribal intervention in the production of religious writ, and in so doing, places prophetic power into the hands of scribes. Sensitivity to these scribal claims is essential in order to understand the purpose of Jeremiah 36. But more broadly, these claims can serve as a metaphor in order to remind biblical scholars of the ethical dimension inherent to biblical scholarship: scribes and scholars both make certain claims about the nature of their task, and awareness of these claims must be kept at the forefront of the interpretative endeavour.
This article seeks to establish that the ‘strong’ meaning of the verbal forms derived from שנא in the Genesis Apocryphon and the book of Daniel is of a dramatic, even violent, change; when used to denote a ‘change’ in mind or countenance, this refers to mental anguish, and so opens up a hitherto overlooked connection between this Jewish literature and the Hellenistic science of physiognomy. The semantic input of this Hellenistic context is important for a better understanding of the range of this Aramaic lexeme, and of the other lexeme employed to denote a ‘change’ by these two early Jewish texts, חלף. Thus this article will attempt to demonstrate the importance of the wider cultural context in which lexemes articulate their meaning.
The use of cosmetic oils by the heroines of the books of Esther and Ruth is frequently interpreted as a means to enhance their beauty and allurement. Cosmetic use in the Hebrew Bible is routinely condemned, and yet Esther and Ruth receive no censure for their actions. By utilising a sociological approach to the function of cosmetics and body adornment alongside archaeological and textual evidence from ancient Palestine, in this article I consider the use of cosmetics akin to a speech act, able to communicate the social status and sexual intentions of the wearer to those around them. This perspective provides a new access to understanding the characterisation of Esther and Ruth, showing that their intentions in utilising cosmetic oils fundamentally differs in the two books. This has implications for understanding some of the narrative elements within the tales, as well as their reception at the hands of later interpreters.
The short sapiential poem known as 4QWiles of the Wicked Woman (4Q184) describes the body of an unnamed female who ensnares the righteous into sin and ultimately death. This poetic description of a body has sometimes been compared to the Waṣf, a type of poem which provides a thick description of the body, listing and describing body parts in a movement descending from head to toe. In this essay, I explore the description of the woman’s body in 4Q184 in light of the genre of the Waṣf. By playing with the characteristic structure of the Waṣf, 4Q184 highlights certain aspects of the woman’s body in order to say something specific about her role and activities. In so doing, I uncover an image of the woman which is more erotic than commentators have previously allowed.
In the Genesis Apocryphon, Lamech worries that his son is illegitimate and accordingly confronts his wife about her fidelity. Bitenosh answers these accusations with a surprising response: she asks her husband to recall the sexual pleasure that she experienced during their intercourse. Scholars have clarified this rhetorical strategy by connecting the episode to Greco-Roman theories of embryogenesis, in which a woman’s pleasure during intercourse was taken to indicate conception. While this provides a convincing explanation for Bitenosh’s argumentation, in this essay I argue that rather than deriving these ideas from the Greco-Roman world, the conception theory which informed the Genesis Apocryphon is in fact consistent with notions that can already be found in the Hebrew Bible and the wider ancient Near East. By exploring the concept of conception in biblical and ancient Near Eastern texts, I uncover a belief in the necessity for female pleasure during intercourse as well as the existence of female “seed.” These ancient authors were able to develop and promote significant reflections upon medical issues such as conception, and this is recalled in Bitenosh’s speech. This essay therefore has significant implications for understanding concepts of sex and conception in the Genesis Apocryphon, as well as in the Hebrew Bible and the wider ancient Near East more generally.
This paper will explore the oft investigated problem of the mythological referents which inform Isa 14:12-15. Crucial to this will be a reinterpretation of the mysterious hêlēl ben-šaḥar of v. 12, almost universally understood by commentators and translators alike to refer to the ‘Day Star, son of the Dawn’, and thus taken to refer to the ‘morning star’, the planet Venus. Much of the scholarship has approached the ancient Near Eastern material with this meaning in mind, yet no myth hitherto proposed has provided a complete analogy to Isa 14:12-15. Thus I will begin by exploring the problems with these previous analogies, before reconsidering the meaning of hêlēl ben-šaḥar. Understanding the phrase to metonymically remind of the sun itself, the Ugaritic conception of the chthonic sun will be proposed to provide a much more satisfying parallel with our Isaiah passage.
In the book of Daniel, Daniel and his friends all adopt foreign dress to succeed in a foreign setting. We might understand this as a kind of colonization, wrought upon bodies. But this raises questions about their ethnic identity: can one remain Jewish if adopting and adapting to foreign embodied practices, including dress, adornment, and diet? By exploring embodied practices as an issue of ethnicity and identity formation in Daniel 1–6, we will argue that these stories make a bold claim about the embodied colonization of the foreign court: underneath their Persian garb, Daniel and his friends remain thoroughly Jewish after all.