Why you should read the Bible everyday

I am currently marking up text to form the database that will be the corpus for my dissertation research. It is very boring work, but one of the benefits is that I am reading a lot of Bible, and because I’m pulling verbs at random, I am reading some obscure passages that I probably otherwise would not have noticed. Today, one of the verses I read was 2 Sam 18:18:

‏וְאַבְשָׁלֹ֣ם לָקַ֗ח וַיַּצֶּב־ל֤וֹ בְחַיָּו [בְ][חַיָּיו֙] אֶת־מַצֶּ֙בֶת֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בְּעֵֽמֶק־הַמֶּ֔לֶךְ כִּ֤י אָמַר֙ אֵֽין־לִ֣י בֵ֔ן בַּעֲב֖וּר הַזְכִּ֣יר שְׁמִ֑י וַיִּקְרָ֤א לַמַּצֶּ֙בֶת֙ עַל־שְׁמ֔וֹ וַיִּקָּ֤רֵא לָהּ֙ יַ֣ד אַבְשָׁלֹ֔ם עַ֖ד הַיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּֽה
Now Absalom had taken and erected during his life the pillar which is in the Valley of the King because he thought, “I have no son to keep my name in remembrance.” He named the pillar after himself, but it is called “Absalom’s Dick” to this day.

Is that classic or what? Most translations render יד אבשלם as “Absalom’s monument.” KJV has “Absalom’s Place” apparently following the Targum. The ESV at least gives a footnote “or Absalom’s Hand,” but I don’t think a pillar is usually shaped like a hand.

Notice all the interesting tense-aspect variations among the verbs as well. It opens with an anterior perfect “he had taken…” continued by a wayyiqtol, then back to a perfect in the כי clause, followed by two wayyiqtols at the end–the last one having a habitual sense.

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15 Comments on “Why you should read the Bible everyday”

  1. Mike Aubrey Says:

    what are you using for marking up the text?

    • Peter Bekins Says:

      I have a raw copy of the WTS Morph text which I have loaded into a MySQL database. Right now I’m just trying to put together a small sample to test my methodology so I’m pulling random verbs and then marking up the verbs and their objects.

  2. Andrew Says:

    Oh man! That’s outstanding!

  3. Charles Says:

    I certainly prefer your translation to all the others. I bet the translations go for “monument” because “yad” is also used to signify that sign that marks the place where the Israelites were to shit outside the camp. I think it is in Leviticus or something…I could search for it but that would be so much work…

  4. Peter Bekins Says:

    Awww, don’t rain on the parade Charles. HALOT says יד can be “side” similar to qātu, and also “place” , which is how the Targum takes it translating אתרא. Dt 23:13 is the verse of which you were thinking. In 1 Sam 15:12 it is also related specifically to a monument: ‏וְהִנֵּ֨ה מַצִּ֥יב לוֹ֙ יָ֔ד.

  5. ed cook Says:

    Good post, but note that adverbial “every day” in English is two words; only the adjective is one word, “everyday.” Cheers.

  6. Honestly, I still wouldn’t rule out “dick” here since the monument could have been fashioned after this form. After all, Washington’s phallus graces the National Mall.

    • Peter Bekins Says:

      Yeah, I assume that יד for “monument” is based on phallic-ness, but it isn’t as much of an insult to Absalom if they call every monument a יד.

  7. On the one hand, there appears to be some justification for the “Place” reading, especially in the Targum. But on the other hand, this might just be a euphemistic attempt to avoid the more unsavory meaning that the word also had. Interesting.

  8. John Hobbins Says:

    You are having fun, aren’t you, Pete?

    I will be a traditionalist and suggest that “monument” is the logical sense of yad here: see Isa 56:5 (with possible double entendre, but that’s the point); but especially – it’s decisive I believe – 1 Sam 15:12.

    This just reinforces the need, I think, that Hebraists read a LOT of text. If you read 1 Sam 15:12 first(and I recommend that all Hebraists rip through all of 1-2 Samuel with Driver’s notes in hand at least once), you are not going to do an Allegro when you get to this passage in 2 Sam.

    Just to show you, though, that I like new proposals as much as the next Tom … or Harry, I would interpret hayyav in light of hayyay in 1 Sam 18:18 – the meaning appears to be ‘kin,’ and translate:

    Now Absalom had taken and erected in lieu of his kin the pillar [i.e., he procured and erected a pillar pre-mortem, instead of his kin doing so post-mortem per the usual] which is in the Valley of the King because he thought, “I have no son to keep my name in remembrance.” He named the pillar after himself, and it is called “Absalom’s [funerary] monument” to this day.

    Background: see the Ugaritic quote on the right hand side bar of Steve Cook’s place, Biblische Ausbildung, not to mention the Kuttumuwa stele which is written up so well in the last issue of BASOR.

    • Peter Bekins Says:


      Yes, I jumped the gun a bit. The Kuttamuwa analogy is apt, and that is how I was interpreting the verse. Given the way Absalom just died, it seemed fitting that the people would be mocking him here though. Unfortunately I didn’t check the other possibilities for יד.

      That said, however, and with Kuttamuwa as a good example, it seems to me that the reason why a monument was called a יד is very likely to be the phallic shape. If that isn’t the origin, then I’m sure the double entendre developed quickly. Reading the verse, I imagine two teenage Israelites, Beavis-el and Butthead-ya going “Huh huh huh, Absalom’s yad.”

  9. “Yad” is used in Hebrew meaning a memorial or monument. For instance, in Israel today memorials are often called “Yad something”. This is how it is used in the phrase “Yad vashem” – a memorial and a name. Yad Avshalom is used in the same way – it was a memorial to him. Yad is also used as a pointer, i.e. when pointing to a verse in the Tanakh when reading, Jews use a yad (pointer).

  10. Michael Says:

    See also Ezek 21:24, where yad is usually translated “signpost.”

    Still. . . I can’t help but feel that Pete’s reading is picking up on something. Why the shift from the one word for pillar to the other?

    He said “Yad.” Heh heh heh.

  11. Gerald Says:

    The Hebrew “YAD” has the semantic range of a “helper” and is often used as a mnemonic device for the word “symbol” which is itself a mnemonic device “pointing” to something other than itself.
    The word can be used as an indication of a “pointer” as others have noticed.

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