Differing privacy norms in ancient toilets illuminate the Biblical story of Ehud and Eglon
In the story of Ehud and Eglon in Judges 3, an Israelite named Ehud delivered the Israelite tribute to the Moabite king Eglon. At the time, Eglon, a very fat man, was apparently sitting on the toilet, and Ehud thrust his dagger into Eglon’s belly. When Ehud left, he locked the door of “the cool upper chamber.” Eglon’s courtiers returned and assumed Eglon must be on the toilet. When they finally broke the lock and entered, they found Eglon lying on the floor dead.
According to a recent best-selling biography that includes some toilet history, in 16th-century Europe sitting on the toilet—history reveals—was “a common way for royals to receive visitors.” (Read more in “An Expert’s Take on Toilet History and Customs from Antiquity to the Renaissance.”) Royalty was unconcerned with privacy. But the issue may not have been privacy at all. Royalty could do what it wanted. What might be distasteful for the average person was a prerogative of status. It seems at least possible to conclude from the Biblical text that this was also true of ancient toilets in Eglon’s time.
To read more about how ancient toilets and toilet history could shed light on the Biblical story of Ehud and Eglon in Judges 3, see Hershel Shanks’s First Person column “Privies and Privacy” in the March/April 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
Sign up to receive our email newsletter and never miss an update.
Dig into the illuminating world of the Bible with a BAS All-Access membership. Combine a one-year tablet and print subscription to BAR with membership in the BAS Library to start your journey into the ancient past today!Subscribe Today
Kind of interesting how the kings had no privacy and apparently want none for anyone else either.
Further comment is beneath contempt.
Gender specific toilets may be a first world development to respect differences and to denote in the culture those differences. Gender fluid persons challenge that when it comes to toilets. An easy answer is to build a third set of facilities in places called just that “Gender Fluid” and let each decide who shall enter. This should separate gender fluid from male or female which GF is neither. SO that settles the issue,
There is a controversy brewing today about transgender people (still regarded as “males” at least by many conservatives) being given access to “women’s” restrooms. There are some Christians who wish to object, on a basis of “religious freedom”. It seems to me that any such claim by Christians would require biblical evidence that gender-separated public toilet facilities were commanded by God, or the apostles, or someone having similar authority over the Church. I suspect that “men’s” and “women’s” public restrooms are a much more recent development (dating perhaps to Victorian times??). I also believe these are more customary and cultural in origin than religious per se–having no demonstrable mandate, e.g., in Christian doctrine. If you are willing, please outline for me your best biblical argument that gender-separated toilets is really a Christian issue (i.e., please cite any foundations in the bible). Anyway, I would appreciate your comments.