Tuesday, January 11, 2011
The AV and emerods (hemorrhoids) in 1 Samuel 5-6
The excuse is often given that the AV is too difficult for modern folk to understand. I have found, however, that my children (ages 17 to 4) usually have little difficulty understanding the readings we do in family devotions. After each reading, I normally ask them a few questions, and they have had little problem comprehending the gist of the AV text.
Another objection sometimes raised to modern use of the AV is that its phraseology is at times embarrassing to contemporary ears. Some examples would be “ass” for “donkey” or he “that pisseth against the wall” as a colorful way of referring to males (cf. 1 Sam 25:22; 25:34; 1 Kgs 14:10; 16:11; 21:21; 2 Kgs 9:8). In defense of the AV in the latter example, it is clearly the literal rending of the Hebrew (mashtin buquir) and the Septuagint also offers a literal rendering (ourounta pros toichon).
I was reminded of another example of “blue language” in the AV when I preached last Sunday on 1 Samuel 5. This chapter records the crisis in Israel when the ark of God is taken in battle by the Philistines. While the Philistines have the ark the Lord plagues them with disease until they return the sacred object to Israel.
The AV of 1 Samuel 5:6 reads: “and he destroyed them, and smote them with emerods [hemorrhoids].” Other AV uses of “emerod” appear in Deuteronomy 28:27; 1 Samuel 5:9, 12; 6:4, 5, 11, 17. Modern translations tend to render the word translated as “emerods [Hebrew: tuchorim 1 Sam 5:6]” with the less offensive word “tumors.” Thus the NKJV renders the same phrase above, “and He ravaged them and struck them with tumors.” The NKJV also adds a marginal note in v. 6 that this likely refers to the bubonic plague and that the LXX and Latin Vulgate add here, “And in the midst of their land rats sprang up, and there was a great death panic in the city.”
In 1 Samuel 5:9 we have not only an issue of vocabulary but also of text. First, the word ophalim (perhaps meaning “swellings”) appears, with the scribes providing tuchorim in the margin. It is not completely clear what is meant by these terms. More significantly, the AV renders the end of v. 9, “and they had emerods in their secret parts.” This apparently follows a Vulgate reading; whereas, the Masoretic text is reflected in modern translations like the NKJV which render the same passage, “and tumors broke out on them.” The question here is the authenticity and integrity of the text underlying the AV. Is 1 Samuel 5:9 an embarrassment to the AV or does it preserve a an authentic reading that otherwise would be lost?
With regard to the issue of English translation choices, what about the contemporary rendering of “tumor” rather than “emerod”? Does “tumor” best capture the true sense? The Hebrew is admittedly uncertain. Matthew Poole notes: “It may suffice to say that it was a very sore disease, and not only very vexatious and tormenting, but also pernicious and mortal.” Certainly if the reference is to hemorrhoids, the idea of the Lord smiting the Philistines with painful anal sores would add to the ridicule of Israel’s ancient enemy, already begun in the humiliation of their god Dagon (see 1 Sam 5:3-5). Perhaps the use of the word emerod (hemorrhoid) is the most appropriate choice since it will evoke a knowing snicker at the expense of the Philistines. The Lord embarrasses them before the nations. Public embarrassment of Israel’s enemies in private moments is not without parallel in the rest of Scripture (Compare the account in Judges 3:22-24 when servants of Eglon are reluctant to intrude on their master, thinking “he covereth his feet” when in fact he has been disemboweled by Ehud, so that “the dirt came out”; Elijah’s mocking of Baal as being indisposed in 1 Kings 18:27; and even David’s cutting off the edge of Saul’s “skirt” when he goes into a cave “to cover his feet” in 1 Samuel 24:3-4.). In this sense, perhaps “emerod (hemorrhoid)” is a better English word to use here precisely because of its appropriately embarrassing connotations.