Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Good evening Mr. & Mrs. Catholic, and all you other Christians at sea. One of the fun things about reading the entire Bible a second or third time is that your familiarity with the big stories allows you to notice some of the odd stuff that might have slipped by the first time through. So when we here at the Newsreel decided it was time to take another tour through the whole thing (using The Coming Home Network’s guide to reading the Bible and the Catechism in a year), we thought it would be interesting to keep track of some of the weird little tidbits that don’t usually make it into the A-List Bible studies. As such, over the next year, our intrepid reporters will be presenting to you the B-Side of the Bible as things grab our attention. Now off to press.

DATELINE: GENESIS CHAPTER 46 – After Joseph has been reunited with his family and is in the process of bringing them to Egypt so they might survive the seven year long famine, he offers them this quirky piece of advice. “When Pharaoh calls you, and says, `What is your occupation?' you shall say, `Your servants have been keepers of cattle from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers,' in order that you may dwell in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians." The story moves quickly on, but we here at the Newsreel couldn't help but wonder just what inspired this horror of hairy sweaty animal-smelling men or just why Joseph thought it was a good idea to frighten the Egyptians with it.

Authors Caryn Aviv and David Shneer suggest that "over the course of several centuries, Jews added various cultural strategies for remembering the homeland while firmly “rooting” themselves in local places... [they] created a sense of home while simultaneously marking themselves as apart from those around them." Basically, the Jews felt that if God went through the trouble of making a covenant with them, it was probably a good idea to make they weren't bred out of existence by mixing with the locals. A number of rabbis suggest that Joseph accomplished this voluntary segregation on his watch by emphasizing a Jewish occupation which would have freaked out the Egyptians, a race who refused to eat mutton or lamb chops because it would dishonor the ram-headed god of Thebes, Amun. And it worked. The Pharaoh welcomed the Jews for Joseph's sake, but was more than happy to let them keep their sacrilegious sheep tending ways out in the boondocks.

It's a plausible explanation, but sometimes we have to wonder if perhaps it didn't have something to do with the sheep themselves. Sometimes, those things are just eeevil....

DATELINE: GENESIS CHAPTER 24 - "Now Abraham was old, well advanced in years; and the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things. And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his house, who had charge of all that he had, "Put your hand under my thigh, and I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac." Now, obviously, this is another passage concerned with maintaining the purity of the burgeoning Jewish race. But 'why' is not the question this passage raises for us here at the Newsreel. Ours is a more straight-forward query... "Put my hand where?"

As it turns out, there are a number of theories on just where the hand was placed in this ritual often referred to as the Yarek Oath. The Hebrew word Yarek is often translated as 'thigh' and so some experts believe the hand was placed on the muscular inner thigh, a symbol of power, just below the naughty bits. But others believe "under the thigh" was a Hebrew euphemism for... something else. Dr. Peter Charles Remondino, writing in his book History of Circumcision from the Earliest Times to the Present, notes that "Among the Egyptians the circumcised phallus, as well as the rite of circumcision, seemed to be the symbol of the religious as well as of the political community, and the circumcised member was emblematical of civil patriotism as well as of the orthodox religion of the nation. To the Egyptian, his circumcised phallus was the symbol of national and religious honor; and as the Anglo-Saxon holds aloft his right hand, with his left resting on the holy Bible, while taking an oath, so the ancient Egyptian raised his circumcised phallus in token of sincerity, - a practice not altogether forgotten by his descendants of today. It was partly this custom of swearing, or of affirming, with the hand under the thigh, by the early Israelites, that caused many to believe that their circumcision was borrowed from the Egyptians, especially by M. Voltaire, who insists that it was the phallus that the hand was placed on." Egads!

Ah, those wacky ancients. Perhaps we moderns are simply too squeamish, but it's nice to know that we no longer participate in strange rituals involving... sensitive parts of the body. Or do we...

And on that note, we bid those of you still standing a fond farewell until next time. As always, we leave you with the words of the great Les Nessman, “Good evening, and may the good news be yours.”


Anonymous said...

Remondino, a turn-of-the-20th-century San Deigo respiratory specialist, was very fond of the sound of his own imagination. (He spun the idea that "the sole function of the foreskin was to protect the glans when running through brambles naked" out of whole cloth.) He gives no references. He might be right about anything, he might be wrong, but he sure was fond of circumcision.

EegahInc said...

He's certainly no darling of those who oppose circumcision. David Gollaher wrote "Remondino's so-called facts are a rambling, slapdash collection of folklore, conjecture, and psuedo-science." Ouch. Thanks to my old art history classes, I can say for certain that the ancient Egyptians practiced circumcision. The rest, as I mentioned, is just a theory.