A few months ago I started reading the book of the prophet Isaiah again, because there was a series of weekday evening talks at church. I stopped going after the first one because IMO the bishop was too boring a speaker and had too many weird pet theories about the structure of the book. I also disagreed with him that if, as modern scholars believe, Isaiah was written by more than one hand, that somehow is denying its validity, because if it’s inspired by God what does it matter how many people were inspired?
Anyway, I’m still trying to read through it on my own. The version of the Bible I currently use is the NET Bible in the CadreBible Android app. I found it worth paying for the full version because, while the translation is frankly awkward, where it shines is the massive amount of annotation on the translations and a bit on history and geography. While I may not agree that something needed to be paraphrased to make it understandable in modern English, at least there is something telling me clearly what the original phrasing was.
One of the interesting notes in the early part of Isaiah is on 7:20:
At that time the sovereign master will use a razor hired from the banks of the Euphrates River, the king of Assyria, to shave the head and the pubic hair; it will also shave off the beard.
The more common NIV says:
In that day the Lord will use a razor hired from beyond the Euphrates River—the king of Assyria—to shave your head and private parts, and to cut off your beard also.
The note on this verse in NET says:
Heb “the hair of the feet.” The translation assumes that the word “feet” is used here as a euphemism for the genitals. See BDB 920 s.v. רֶגֶל.
Some time later I was browsing through the story of Ruth because it’s short and fun to read. Also, feminist-ish. And I went WAIT A SECOND because there’s this bit where “feet” is used in a strange context although this verse wasn’t annotated in NET (the current online version has been updated so there is a note on it now). Naomi advises Ruth to sneak into Boaz’s barn at night and do this (NIV version):
When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.
So without knowing about that euphemistic use of “feet” in ancient Hebrew, one is left with a slightly amusing mental image of Boaz waking up at night because his feet were cold. Knowing it, one has a much more vivid picture of him half-asleep, absent-mindedly scratching his balls, and then suddenly going OPOCOT MAK on finding this tigress in pussycat disguise leaning over him.
It kind of reminds me of what I was told recently by a Wildlife Conservation Society worker who’s doing human-elephant conflict mitigation around Taman Negara. She said that a number of the Jakun “clients” were uncomfortable being around her, because in their culture, if you kena tangkap basah (yeah, literally caught getting wet), the elders can force you to marry the other party!
One has to also wonder what Ruth’s reputation in the community had been when she first got there. Even though Boaz had a good report of her taking care of her MIL, young widows in both ancient and modern times may not be considered respectable… A thousand or so years later, St. Paul advised young widows to remarry to avoid getting into trouble. At the Freedom Film Festival 2011, the film “Huruf J” about the status of ethnic Malay divorcees in Malaysia was shown (the same word “janda” is used for widows and divorcees if I understand correctly). Besides economic problems like loss of income and frequent failure of the men to pay child support, they also have to face stigma and sexual harassment because of the perception that J also stands for “jalang”, that is, a slut.
Anyway, back on topic. The other thing I bet you didn’t know about Isaiah is that he predicts a zombie apocalypse in 26:19-20:
Your dead will come back to life;
your corpses will rise up.
Wake up and shout joyfully, you who live in the ground!
For you will grow like plants drenched with the morning dew,
and the earth will bring forth its dead spirits.
Go, my people! Enter your inner rooms!
Close your doors behind you!
Hide for a little while,
until his angry judgment is over!