Hebrew puns.

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Ben C. Smith
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Hebrew puns.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Sat Dec 02, 2017 8:45 am

This thread was inspired by a post in the Christian Texts and History forum. I am listing only a handful of examples so far, but may add to the list at some point; and please feel free to suggest other strong candidates for puns in the Hebrew scriptures.

Man from the ground.

Genesis 2.7: 7 Then Yahweh God formed man [אָדָ֗ם, adam] of dust from the ground [אֲדָמָ֔ה, adamah], and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

Lift up your head.

Genesis 40.12-13: 12 Then Joseph said to him, "This is the interpretation of it: the three branches are three days; 13 within three more days Pharaoh will lift up your head [יִשָּׂ֤א פַרְעֹה֙ אֶת־רֹאשֶׁ֔ךָ] and restore you to your office; and you will put Pharaoh's cup into his hand according to your former custom when you were his cupbearer."

Genesis 40.18-19: 18 Then Joseph answered and said, "This is its interpretation: the three baskets are three days; 19 within three more days Pharaoh will lift up your head [יִשָּׂ֙א פַרְעֹ֤ה אֶת־רֹֽאשְׁךָ] from you and will hang you on a tree; and the birds will eat your flesh off you."

Pretty grim humor, if you ask me. This one depends on the phrase "lift up your head" being a Hebrew idiom for setting someone in a place of honor.

Heavy honor.

1 Samuel 2.27-31: 27 Then a man of God came to Eli and said to him, "Thus says Yahweh, 'Did I not indeed reveal Myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt in bondage to Pharaoh's house? 28 And did I not choose them from all the tribes of Israel to be My priests, to go up to My altar, to burn incense, to carry an ephod before Me; and did I not give to the house of your father all the fire offerings of the sons of Israel? 29 Why do you kick at My sacrifice and at My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling, and honor your sons above Me, by making yourselves fat with the choicest of every offering of My people Israel?' 30 Therefore Yahweh God of Israel declares, 'I did indeed say that your house and the house of your father should walk before Me forever'; but now Yahweh declares, 'Far be it from Me — for those who honor Me I will honor [אֲכַבֵּ֖ד, from kabed], and those who despise Me will be lightly esteemed.'"

1 Samuel 4.18-21: 18 And it came about when he mentioned the ark of God that Eli fell off the seat backward beside the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for he was old and heavy [כָבֵ֑ד, kabed]. Thus he judged Israel forty years. 19 Now his daughter-in-law, Phinehas' wife, was pregnant and about to give birth; and when she heard the news that the ark of God was taken and that her father-in-law and her husband had died, she kneeled down and gave birth, for her pains came upon her. 20 And about the time of her death the women who stood by her said to her, "Do not be afraid, for you have given birth to a son." But she did not answer or pay attention. 21 And she called the boy Ichabod [אִֽי־כָבוֹד, ikabod = no honor], saying, "The glory has departed from Israel," because the ark of God was taken and because of her father-in-law and her husband.

This one is pretty ingenious. Heaviness and honor derive from the same root in Hebrew. Eli, who along with his sons has been dishonoring God by fattening himself on the choicest parts of the sacrifices, has become heavy, and eventually breaks his neck from it. His daughter-in-law then names her newborn son Ichabod, which means "the honor/glory is no more."

Watching almonds.

Jeremiah 1.11-12: 11 And the word of Yahweh came to me saying, "What do you see, Jeremiah?" And I said, "I see a rod of an almond tree [שָׁקֵ֖ד, shaqed]." Then Yahweh said to me, "You have seen well, for I am watching [שֹׁקֵ֥ד, shaqad] over My word to perform it."

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Re: Hebrew puns.

Post by Secret Alias » Sat Dec 02, 2017 8:55 am

Virtually every name in the Pentateuch is based on a pun. Jacob/supplanter for instance.
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Re: Hebrew puns.

Post by Secret Alias » Sat Dec 02, 2017 8:56 am

"laughing" = mesaheq Isaac = yishaq
“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.”
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Re: Hebrew puns.

Post by Secret Alias » Sat Dec 02, 2017 8:57 am

Moses/the one drawn
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Re: Hebrew puns.

Post by Secret Alias » Sat Dec 02, 2017 9:01 am

Genesis 16.2 Sarai declares “I shall obtain = 'ibbaneh children really means “I shall be built up. But seemingly hidden in the verb is the Hebrew word ben “son” so the verb seems to mean “I shall have a son." It's a play on words.
“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.”
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Re: Hebrew puns.

Post by Secret Alias » Sat Dec 02, 2017 9:05 am

Genesis 49.8 "Your name is rightly Judah (praise); your brothers will praise you."
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Re: Hebrew puns.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Sat Dec 02, 2017 9:06 am

Secret Alias wrote:
Sat Dec 02, 2017 8:55 am
Virtually every name in the Pentateuch is based on a pun. Jacob/supplanter for instance.
Agreed. Frequently these puns are pointed out explicitly, but sometimes they are left unexplained so that the reader can invest a bit of effort and figure it out, I think.
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Re: Hebrew puns.

Post by Secret Alias » Sat Dec 02, 2017 9:08 am

The Samaritan Pentateuch's preservation of Benjamin's name Benyamim (= son of days = old age) changed in the Jewish text. In the case of my son this was true (so much so my Samaritan friend playfully calls him Benyamim to this day).
“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.”
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Re: Hebrew puns.

Post by Secret Alias » Sat Dec 02, 2017 9:11 am

but sometimes they are left unexplained so that the reader can invest a bit of effort and figure it out,
But it also dilutes the ability to read the narrative as history too. It's almost as if this is a fairy story told before a time where there was history. Surely even ancient people recognized that children were named after their parents or their ancestors. The story becomes disconnected from reality once you open that door.
“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.”
― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

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Re: Hebrew puns.

Post by Secret Alias » Sat Dec 02, 2017 9:17 am

And more to the point the 'leaving things unsaid' extends beyond puns. God wrestling with Jacob and grabbing his scrotum is the best representation of this, the secret obsession with the penis in the Pentateuch through the establishment of covenants, Moses's circumcision. Primitive cultures just made phallic objects and worshiped them. The Hebrew obsession with penises is there in literary form but obscured. 'God wants your penis' could be the subtitle of the narrative and no one could seriously dispute it. In the same way the Jewish morning prayer.1

There is so much left out of the narrative and you start realizing the leaving out is not only intentional but much of the story is left in the darkness - I think this is where the notion of an 'oral torah' got its start. Irenaeus speaks in the same manner about Christian scriptures in AH 3.

BTW I think that if someone retold the Pentateuch narrative EXPLICITLY as a penis story it would get a lot of laughs - i.e. you start off with a bisexual Adam, then God wants to kill his descendants, then after failing to drown everyone Noah's sons cut off their fathers balls, then the narratives starts up with God promising to give Abraham 'super sperm' Abraham making people touch his balls after the promise, God touches the scrotum of his grandson thereby giving the super sperm etc. I think Celsus said it when he wrote that if you MADE EXPLICIT all the things which are left on the fringes of these narratives people would be left in stitches. People don't see them because they are always directed to look at the surface. But it's really an exceedingly silly story. I mean Jews buy into this because they are so concerned with their own sperm having magical property properties to create the 'chosen race' or people. The sperm myth continues.2

1 Incidentally the Cairo Geniza has a liturgical fragment that might represent a more positive formulation of this tradition “…who has created me a human and not beast, a man and not a woman, an Israelite and not a gentile, circumcised and not uncircumcised, free and not slave.” Could Paul be reacting to an early version of this blessing when he declared, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female?" I think so.

2. needless to say I am not always sure that Jewishness being passed on through the mother was always adhered to. May have developed in the second century around the time of Antoninus Pius's attempts to dismantle the penis cult.
Last edited by Secret Alias on Sat Dec 02, 2017 9:33 am, edited 3 times in total.
“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.”
― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

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