Paul's "thorn in the flesh" in light of Numbers 33:55

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gryan
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Paul's "thorn in the flesh" in light of Numbers 33:55

Post by gryan » Fri Jan 08, 2021 3:50 pm

LXX Num. 33:54-56
καὶ κατακληρονομήσετε τὴν γῆν αὐτῶν ἐν κλήρῳ κατὰ φυλὰς αὐτῶν· τοῖς πλείοσιν πληθυνεῖτε τὴν κατάσχεσιν αὐτῶν, καὶ τοῖς ἐλάττοσιν ἐλαττώσετε τὴν κατάσχεσιν αὐτῶν· εἰς ὃ ἐὰν ἐξέλθῃ τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ ἐκεῖ, αὐτοῦ ἔσται· κατὰ φυλὰς πατριῶν ὑμῶν κληρονομήσετε.
ἐὰν δὲ μὴ ἀπολέσητε τοὺς κατοικοῦντας ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἀπὸ προσώπου ὑμῶν,
καὶ ἔσται οὓς ἐὰν καταλίπητε ἐξ αὐτῶν,
σκόλοπες ἐν τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς ὑμῶν
καὶ βολίδες ἐν ταῖς πλευραῖς ὑμῶν, καὶ ἐχθρεύσουσιν ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἐφ᾽ ἣν ὑμεῖς κατοικήσετε·
καὶ ἔσται καθότι διεγνώκειν ποιῆσαι αὐτούς, ποιήσω ὑμᾶς.

You shall inherit the land by lot according to your clans. To a large tribe you shall give a large inheritance, and to a small tribe you shall give a small inheritance. Wherever the lot falls for anyone, that shall be his. According to the tribes of your fathers you shall inherit.
But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you,
then those of them whom you let remain
shall be as thorns in your eyes
and darts? [something like thorns] in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell.
And I will do to you as I thought to do to them.

2 Cor. 12:7
καὶ τῇ ὑπερβολῇ τῶν ἀποκαλύψεων. διὸ ἵνα μὴ ὑπεραίρωμαι,
ἐδόθη μοι σκόλοψ τῇ σαρκί,
ἄγγελος Σατανᾶ, ἵνα με κολαφίζῃ, ἵνα μὴ ὑπεραίρωμαι.

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations,
a thorn in the flesh was given to me,
a messenger of Satan to harass me,
to keep me from becoming conceited.

Could it be that, in Numbers, the Canaanites remaining in the land were thought to be like "thorns in your eyes" in the sense of being objects of forbidden desire. Could "thorns in your eyes" be a metaphor for Israelite desire for sexual vice, idolatry and marriage with Canaanites? If Isrealites desired, through such marriages, to unite culturally with Canaanites, then that--it seems to me--would explain the harsh warning: "I will do to you as I thought to do to them." It seems plausible enough, but I cannot find a commentary that gives a forbidden desire definition for "thorns in your eyes". I wonder if OT commentaries are avoiding forbidden desire interpretation of "thorns in your eyes" [and "sides"] so as to avoid the embarrassing NT implication that Paul's phrase, "thorn in the flesh", could be symbolic of desire for Gentile vice.

Your thoughts?
Last edited by gryan on Sat Jan 09, 2021 2:07 am, edited 3 times in total.

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DCHindley
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Re: Paul's "thorn in the flesh" in light of Numbers 33:55

Post by DCHindley » Fri Jan 08, 2021 5:23 pm

Nice post!

That phrase "thorn in my flesh" in 2 Cor has intrigued me for a while. I never tried to look into it really.

The way you went at the search is one that I like to use. Compare the GNT citations of Judaean scripture as they are found in the LXX (5 Books of the Law) or Old Greek (for all the rest of the books, especially the Prophets). Any Judeans that may have been Christians would more than likely to have spoken Aramaic in the family and business sphere, and may have understood some Hebrew, same with enough Greek to do normal business duties and secure contracts and speak to a gentile patron or whatever.

Still, all Christian scriptures were preserved in Greek, so I look to the early Christians being Greek speakers who worshipped in synagogues that gave the lessons from the LXX/OG. There were Judeans who no longer understood Hebrew and had relied on the Greek translation. It was very highly esteemed among Greek speaking Judeans. However, they could also have been Greek speaking gentiles who did worship at Judean synagogues that gave their readings and lessons in Greek. The letters of Paul and the Gospels, Acts and the General Epistles show that the authors and/or editors were very familiar with the Greek translations of Judean scriptures.

I could see how the command to drive out all the Canaanites and not allow any to live among them to their peril would be called a thorn to the flesh, but I do not recall ever seen anyone associate this Pauline phrase with Numbers 33:55.

Good luck with that!

DCH
gryan wrote:
Fri Jan 08, 2021 3:50 pm
LXX Num. 33:54-56
You shall inherit the land by lot according to your clans. To a large tribe you shall give a large inheritance, and to a small tribe you shall give a small inheritance. Wherever the lot falls for anyone, that shall be his. According to the tribes of your fathers you shall inherit.
But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you,
then those of them whom you let remain
shall be as thorns in your eyes
and barbs? [something like thorns] in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell.
And I will do to you as I thought to do to them.

2 Cor. 12:7
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations,
a thorn in the flesh was given to me,
a messenger of Satan to harass me,
to keep me from becoming conceited.

Could it be that, in Numbers, the Canaanites remaining in the land were thought to be like "thorns in your eyes" in the sense of being objects of forbidden desire. Could "thorns in your eyes" be a metaphor for Israelite desire for sexual vice, idolatry and marriage with Canaanites? If Isrealites desired, through such marriages, to unite culturally with Canaanites, it seems to me, that would explain the harsh warning: "I will do to you as I thought to do to them." It seems plausible enough, but I cannot find a commentary that gives that specific definition for "thorns in your eyes". It wonder if OT commentaries are avoiding a forbidden desire interpretation of Paul's thorn.

Your thoughts?

gryan
Posts: 32
Joined: Fri Jun 01, 2018 4:11 am

Re: Paul's "thorn in the flesh" in light of Numbers 33:55

Post by gryan » Sat Jan 09, 2021 6:22 am

DCHindley wrote:
Fri Jan 08, 2021 5:23 pm
Compare the GNT citations of Judaean scripture as they are found in the LXX...

The letters of Paul and the Gospels, Acts and the General Epistles show that the authors and/or editors were very familiar with the Greek translations of Judean scriptures.

I could see how the command to drive out all the Canaanites and not allow any to live among them to their peril would be called a thorn to the flesh...
Concerning the LXX Num. 33:55 phrases σκόλοπες ἐν τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς ὑμῶν καὶ βολίδες ἐν ταῖς πλευραῖς ὑμῶν: A close, mix & match, parallel usage is found in LXX Joshua 23 at verse 13: βολίδας ἐν τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς ὑμῶν [darts? [something like thorns] in your eyes]... In the Joshua usage, the phrase is clearly supposed to discourage desire for marriage with Canaanites. Here is the phrase in context.

"1A long time afterward, when the LORD had given rest to Israel from all their surrounding enemies, and Joshua was old and well advanced in years, 2Joshua summoned all Israel, its elders and heads, its judges and officers, and said to them, “I am now old and well advanced in years. 3And you have seen all that the LORD your God has done to all these nations for your sake, for it is the LORD your God who has fought for you. 4Behold, I have allotted to you as an inheritance for your tribes those nations that remain, along with all the nations that I have already cut off, from the Jordan to the Great Sea in the west. 5The LORD your God will push them back before you and drive them out of your sight. And you shall possess their land, just as the LORD your God promised you. 6Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, 7that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, 8but you shall cling to the LORD your God just as you have done to this day. 9For the LORD has driven out before you great and strong nations. And as for you, no man has been able to stand before you to this day. 10One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the LORD your God who fights for you, just as he promised you. 11Be very careful, therefore, to love the LORD your God. 12For if you turn back and cling to the remnant of these nations remaining among you and make marriages with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, 13know for certain that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, sharp sticks? on your sides and darts? [something like thorns] in your eyes [βολίδας ἐν τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς ὑμῶν], until you perish from off this good ground that the LORD your God has given you.

14“And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good thingsa that the LORD your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed. 15But just as all the good things that the LORD your God promised concerning you have been fulfilled for you, so the LORD will bring upon you all the evil things, until he has destroyed you from off this good land that the LORD your God has given you, 16if you transgress the covenant of the LORD your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them. Then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and you shall perish quickly from off the good land that he has given to you.”

If, as suggested by LXX usage, σκόλοπες is interchangeable with βολίδες, and if the parallel phrases σκόλοπες ἐν τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς ὑμῶν [Numbers]/βολίδας ἐν τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς ὑμῶν [Joshua] both symbolize the danger of desiring sexual mixing with Gentiles, it is easy--for me at least--to read Paul's σκόλοψ τῇ σαρκί as a symbol of his own experience of lust for Gentile vice.

Of course Paul's phrase, "thorn in the flesh" differs from the LXX "thorns in your eyes" in that the location of the "thorn" is different--flesh vs eyes. Also, neither explicitly refers to them as symbolic of forbidden "desire". But bridging such gaps becomes a little easier if read in light of the NT usage found in 1 John 2:16--a text reasonably close enough to Paul's thought world to be relevant.

ὅτι πᾶν τὸ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ,
ἡ ἐπιθυμία τῆς σαρκὸς καὶ
ἡ ἐπιθυμία τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν

καὶ ἡ ἀλαζονία τοῦ βίου,
οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ πατρός, ἀλλὰ ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου ἐστίν.

For all that is in the world—
the desires of the flesh,
the desires of the eyes,

and the pride of life—is not from the Father but from the world.

Your thoughts?

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DCHindley
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Re: Paul's "thorn in the flesh" in light of Numbers 33:55

Post by DCHindley » Sat Jan 09, 2021 7:41 am

gryan wrote:
Sat Jan 09, 2021 6:22 am
If, as suggested by LXX usage, σκόλοπες is interchangeable with βολίδες, and if the parallel phrases σκόλοπες ἐν τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς ὑμῶν [Numbers]/βολίδας ἐν τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς ὑμῶν [Joshua] both symbolize the danger of desiring sexual mixing with Gentiles, it is easy--for me at least--to read Paul's σκόλοψ τῇ σαρκί as a symbol of his own experience of lust for Gentile vice.

Of course Paul's phrase, "thorn in the flesh" differs from the LXX "thorns in your eyes" in that the location of the "thorn" is different--flesh vs eyes. Also, neither explicitly refers to them as symbolic of forbidden "desire". But bridging such gaps becomes a little easier if read in light of the NT usage found in 1 John 2:16--a text reasonably close enough to Paul's thought world to be relevant.

ὅτι πᾶν τὸ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ,
ἡ ἐπιθυμία τῆς σαρκὸς καὶ
ἡ ἐπιθυμία τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν

καὶ ἡ ἀλαζονία τοῦ βίου,
οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ πατρός, ἀλλὰ ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου ἐστίν.

For all that is in the world—
the desires of the flesh,
the desires of the eyes,

and the pride of life—is not from the Father but from the world.

Your thoughts?
It *is* a different word. "Thorn in the eye" is weird, as who gets thorns in their eyes?

In 1 Samuel 11:2 King Nahash of Ammon "offered to make peace with the people of Gilead on the condition that he put out the right eye of every man in the city and thus bring disgrace upon all Israel" (per Holman Bible dictionary). What better way to "put out" an eye than with a thorn. Ammon was a tribe in the region of Canaan.

Maybe the intent of Numbers was to suggest that the Israelite people would err by not completely wiping out the Canaanites as commanded, and God had punished them by withholding the full fruitfulness of the land.

Just my 2 centavos.

gryan
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Re: Paul's "thorn in the flesh" in light of Numbers 33:55

Post by gryan » Mon Jan 11, 2021 12:02 pm

DCHindley wrote:
Sat Jan 09, 2021 7:41 am
"Thorn in the eye" is weird, as who gets thorns in their eyes?

In 1 Samuel 11:2 King Nahash of Ammon "offered to make peace with the people of Gilead on the condition that he put out the right eye of every man in the city and thus bring disgrace upon all Israel" (per Holman Bible dictionary). What better way to "put out" an eye than with a thorn. Ammon was a tribe in the region of Canaan.

Maybe the intent of Numbers was to suggest that the Israelite people would err by not completely wiping out the Canaanites as commanded, and God had punished them by withholding the full fruitfulness of the land.
There may well be an echo of the King Nahash of Ammon story in the Epistle to the Galatians where Paul speaks of "gouging out eyes" in the context of making a "covenant"--the Galatians were blessed by the gospel, so much so, according to Paul, that they would have "gouged out their eyes" and given them to him (Gal. 4:14)! Not only does Paul use Greek word from the LXX for "gouge" (ἐξορύσσω), his Epistle also addresses the idea of "covenant" with the same word διαθήκη:

“I will make a covenant (διαθήκη) with you on one condition, that I may gouged out everyone’s right eye [ἐν τῷ ἐξορύξαι ὑμῶν πάντα ὀφθαλμὸν δεξιόν] and bring reproach upon all Israel.” 1 Sam. 11:2

Given that Paul was arguing against circumcision as a covenant symbol for the Gentile male Galatians, he may have been making a hyperbolic parallel between "gouging out eyes" and "circumcision" -- the gouging out of eyes (maybe even both, for there is no mention of "right eyes") is a far greater sacrifice than mere circumcision, and since they would have been willing to make the greater sacrifice, their hearts were in the right place. The were very devout, and no rite of circumcision was needed.

I don't think the gouging out/covenant idea in 1 Sam. (and Galatians) fits the OT usage of "thorns in your eyes... and in your sides".

-----------------

It says in Numbers, "They will be as thorns in your eyes and ... your sides". This usage better fits the general idea of "thorn" as Gentile scorn in Ez. 28:24-- “"And there will be no more for the house of Israel a prickling thorn (LXX σκόλοψ) or a painful brier from any round about them who scorned them; then they will know that I am the Lord GOD."."

Who could more scornful than a some Canaanite woman (or men) who had been seduced for just-for-sex by Israelite man? Or worse yet, imagine the horrors of making the mistake of marrying a Canaanite! I think this is the idea behind the warning that pictures Cannanites as "thorns in your eyes"--they are scornful.

----------------

The idea of "thorns in your eyes... and sides" is not at all weird if it alludes to the literal experience walking through a literal thorny thicket. I've had a branch hit my eye and it hurts! It makes you wince and tear up. It stops you in your tracks. Paul's word for "thorn" is used in this very sense--a literal thorn hedge--in Hosea, and in Hosea, there is also a striking connection with forbidden desire:

Hosea 2:5-7
For their mother has played the harlot
and has conceived them in disgrace.
For she thought,
‘I will go after my lovers,
who give me bread and water,
wool and linen, oil and drink.’
Therefore, behold,
I will hedge up her path in thorns (ἐν σκόλοψιν);
I will enclose her with a wall,
so she cannot find her way.
She will pursue her lovers but not catch them;
she will seek them but not find them.
Then she will say,
‘I will return to my first husband,
for then I was better off than now.’

As I read it, "thorn in the flesh" as a combination of two OT ideas 1) the idea of scornful Gentiles as "thorns in your eyes/sides" and 2) the idea of a "hedge" to prevent carrying out desire for forbidden Gentile vice.

-------------------

Add to that that Paul calls the "thorn" an "angel of Satan". In Paul's way of speaking, Satan uses temptation of desire: "Do not deprive each other, except by mutual consent and for a time, so you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again, so that Satan will not tempt you through your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that." As a single, perhaps divorced man, he had a "gift" for "self-control"-- but that "gift" surely may have been tested. And he may have failed due to moral weakness at least some time.

So the idea of the thorn/angel as temptation of desire fits the context of Corinthians too.

Your thoughts?

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