BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

Make No Bones About It

The Bible in the News

As published in the March/April 2013 issue of BAR
 

Leonard Greenspoon

Leonard J. Greenspoon.

Recently in my Advanced Greek class at Creighton University we were reading portions of the Samson story from the Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible). For some reason, this reminded me that I haven’t drawn any expressions from this tale since I wrote about Delilah.* How about, I asked myself, a column on “the jawbone of an ass” (Judges 15:16)?

Psychoanalysts have had a field day with Samson. With specific reference to our chosen expression, he has been diagnosed with “impulsive behaviour—picking fights with passing Philistine armies, once using the jawbone of an ass singlehandedly to kill a thousand men [after which] he gloated over it, showing no remorse” (The Express and The Daily Telegraph). On the basis of this and other incidents, he is described as “reckless, aggressive and clearly dysfunctional” (The Guardian). Moreover, “his choice of weapon—the jawbone of an ass—also fits the criterion of ‘cruelty to animals’ ” (The Washington Times). Perhaps this psychoanalysis-at-a-great-distance should be characterized as cruelty—to serious readers of the Biblical text, that is.

I take no pleasure (well, maybe a wee bit of pleasure) in finding errors of Biblical accounts by those who write for the popular press. I thought I had hit something of a mother lode when I located three different stories (the first from Canada’s Globe and Mail and the other two from Sydney, Australia’s Daily Telegraph) that all seemed to make the same mistake: “Cain killed Abel with the jawbone of an ass,” “Cain took the jawbone of an ass and slayed his brother Abel,” and “Cain picked up the jawbone of an ass, and belted his brother Abel so hard that not even the paramedics could bring him back.” That’s not in any version of Genesis I’ve ever seen, I thought smugly. Then, as if to raise the status of newspaper writers, an account in London’s Times provided this learned observation: “In medieval imagery and texts, Cain is frequently portrayed as beating Abel with the jawbone of an ass.” Rather than showing ignorance, these reporters had demonstrated erudition of a particularly impressive sort! Or had they?

Speaking of politics (how’s that for a segue?), we learn that current verbal give-and-take “is pretty mild stuff in the long and honourable annals of heckling. What a far cry from the days when former President Richard Nixon told a heckler: ‘The jawbone of an ass is just as dangerous as it was in Samson’s time’ ” (Birmingham Post).


The religion section of most bookstores includes an amazing array of Bibles. In our free eBook The Holy Bible: A Buyer’s Guide, prominent Biblical scholars Leonard Greenspoon and Harvey Minkoff expertly guide you through 21 different Bible translations (or versions) and address their content, text, style and religious orientation.

From stories in The New York Times and The Independent, we hear of the “quijada, the percussion instrument made from the jawbone of an ass.” I would love to hear the quijada, especially if it accompanied the famous Carmen Miranda, who is mentioned in the second of these articles.

London’s Sunday Times supplies us with these nuggets of religious history: “In the past, relics have proved problematic. At one point there were more than three heads of John the Baptist in churches across Europe. While during the Reformation, Martin Luther claimed the bone of one saint, enshrined in a German church, was the jawbone of an ass.” Did Luther specify that this was the very jawbone used by Samson?

And, finally, “Let’s have a show of hands. How many of you hate the commercialization of” the winter holidays? Certainly, the author of a feature in Florida’s St. Petersburg Times counts herself among those who would immediately raise her hand (or hands): “A few things about our holiday customs are over the line. I don’t mind shopping, but I hate canned music. By Dec. 23, I’m ready to seize the jawbone of an ass and run amok through Wal-Mart, taking out giggling Elmos and loud-mouthed teddy bears. I want a piece of the accursed little drummer boy who keeps rum-tum-tumming at me.”

Okay, let’s have a show of hands. How many of you hate (or just plain don’t like) my BAR column? If that same reporter raises her hands, I’m hiding under my computer table and taking no hostages!


Notes

* Jots and Tittles: “The Bible in the News,” Bible Review 18:05.

Related Posts

May 3
First Person: Misogyny in the Bible

By: Hershel Shanks

Domenichino
Apr 18
How the Serpent Became Satan

By: Shawna Dolansky

Dante Inferno
Apr 6
Who Is Satan?

By: John Gregory Drummond

Dante Inferno
Apr 3
Ask Now: Who the Devil Is Satan?

By: Biblical Archaeology Society Staff


4 Responses

  1. Clarivaux says:

    Jaw bones of Asses have been used by ancient man as a sickle for Harvesting …the teeth tend to be either sharpened or replaced with flints of stone. Also jawbones are used as hooks such as in the stories of the Libyan Navigator for Egypt “MAUI” ..Used a Jawbone Hook..If you look at a Asses Jawbone and stand it up..you’ll also notice it looks like a Hebrew Letter VAV…..which in Aramaic WAW (means) hook. Which also inverted is 6 also the 6th letter in hebrew…

  2. Axel Berger says:

    Jack said:
    But with what? What instrument did he use?

    The Midrash gives a detailed account. Abel was the first human ever to be killed and also the first human ever to die at all. Cain had no idea what life depended on and what would make it stop and he had to try several ways before finally finding one that worked.

  3. Mario says:

    I had a jawbone of a laugh reading your article. Thank you.

  4. Grant says:

    Given that, according to Genesis, metal tools are first made in 4:22 the artists probably assumed that Cain only had the choice of wood, stone, or bone. Perhaps they thought bone the most appropriate because the whole dispute was over animal sacrifices? “You like dead animals? I’ll give you one, brother!”

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


4 Responses

  1. Clarivaux says:

    Jaw bones of Asses have been used by ancient man as a sickle for Harvesting …the teeth tend to be either sharpened or replaced with flints of stone. Also jawbones are used as hooks such as in the stories of the Libyan Navigator for Egypt “MAUI” ..Used a Jawbone Hook..If you look at a Asses Jawbone and stand it up..you’ll also notice it looks like a Hebrew Letter VAV…..which in Aramaic WAW (means) hook. Which also inverted is 6 also the 6th letter in hebrew…

  2. Axel Berger says:

    Jack said:
    But with what? What instrument did he use?

    The Midrash gives a detailed account. Abel was the first human ever to be killed and also the first human ever to die at all. Cain had no idea what life depended on and what would make it stop and he had to try several ways before finally finding one that worked.

  3. Mario says:

    I had a jawbone of a laugh reading your article. Thank you.

  4. Grant says:

    Given that, according to Genesis, metal tools are first made in 4:22 the artists probably assumed that Cain only had the choice of wood, stone, or bone. Perhaps they thought bone the most appropriate because the whole dispute was over animal sacrifices? “You like dead animals? I’ll give you one, brother!”

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Send this to a friend