God’s rainbow

From his waist down I saw something that looked like fire. There was a brilliant light around it, like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds after the rain. This was the appearance of the surrounding brilliant light; it looked like the glory of the Lord.

The usual translation of Ezekiel 1:27–28 is leaving a few things out. Like the movement of the prophet’s eyes.

And I saw something like the view of electrum from the appearance of the loin and up, and from the appearance of the loin and all the way down, I saw something like an appearance of fire, and its radiance was all around. Like an appearance of a bow whenever it is in the cloud in a day of rain, so was the vision of the radiance all around. (Ezekiel 1:27–28, NET Septuigent)

To the middle of God and up, back to the middle, and back down. As if, notes Howard Eilberg-Schwartz, “his eyesight is irresistibly drawn back to the mid-section of the deity’s body.” (“God’s Body,” Religious Reflections on the Human Body, 144.)

Maybe we don’t see anything unusual? “In restricting the explicit mention of bodily terms to ‘loins,’ the appearance of the cosmic divine body here is left vague,” says Mark S. Smith. “It is evidently intended to be difficult to understand.” (Where the Gods Are, pg. 23.)

Because Ezekiel doesn’t say what part of the ‘loins’ he sees, I think Smith is saying, the passage is ‘difficult to understand’—and dismiss.

But what if Ezekiel does?

“Since Ezekiel’s reference to the קֶּ֡שֶׁת, rainbow, follows a reference to God’s מָתְנָיו֙, loins (Ezek. 1:27x2), it seems likely that Ezekiel understand the קֶּ֡שֶׁת as God’s phallus,” notes Gershon Hepner. (Legal Friction: Law, Narrative, and Identity Politics in Biblical Israel, pg. 148.)

This vision, we should keep in mind, is repeatedly noted as a “likeness,” a visualization the prophet is given to study and learn from. At God’s groin, he sees a rainbow. This, we realize, augments and explains Genesis 9:13, when God “set my rainbow in the clouds” over the flooded earth.

God is re-establishing himself as Father over the earth. A rainbow connects earth and sky. As the earth is female (cf. Romans 8:22), and God male, the rainbow functions—in divine terms—as a phallus.

Ezekiel isn’t done with divine penises.

She lusted after their genitals — as large as those of donkeys, and their seminal emission was as strong as that of stallions. (Ezekiel 23:20)

‘She’ is Israel, seen—divinely—as God’s wife. She’s been off other ‘men’. In human terms, this is Israel’s male leaders seeking treaties and protection from surrounding countries, and so their gods.

God isn’t like a donkey. His penis is like a rainbow.

Of course, there’s many penises in the Bible, and the text forces us to do something odd? We have to hunt for them.

“Although the Hebrew Bible is deeply phallocentric, the penis almost never receives a textual name of its own,” explains Rhiannon Graybill. “Instead, it is referred to as “flesh” (bāsār) or identified, through contiguity or metanomy, as “feet” (raglāyim, margelot), “loins” (halāsayim), “thigh” (yārēk), “heel” (āqeb), or “hand” (yād).” (“Male-Female Sexuality,” Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Gender Studies, pg. 446.)

This is a ‘paradox’, as Athalya Brenner notes. In Jewish experience, where the penis is the marker of “the special link between this society’s god and the members of the community,” it is given “scanty usage of the few, euphemistic recorded terms.” (The Intercourse of Knowledge, pg. 34.)

I think this suggests that the penis, in the Old Testament, is a mystery. It is the source of male power. In Genesis, for example, oaths between men take place in an unusual position.

So the servant placed his hand under the thigh of his master Abraham and gave his solemn promise he would carry out his wishes.

In Genesis 24:9, and then in 47:29, a hand is placed on a yārēk, or ‘thigh’.

It is really a thigh?

In Genesis 46:26, the literal meaning of “all people…who came from his yārēk” is translated: “All the direct descendants of Jacob . . .”

In this case, a thigh isn’t a thigh.

Though as Elizabeth Wyner Mark notes: “We would rather keep our usual discreet terminology in the case of, for example, ‘the oath on the thigh’ than face the frank image conveyed by the unveiled alternative: a man pledging a solemn vow while holding the penis of one of the patriarchs of Judaism.” (“Wounds, Vows, Emanations” in The Covenant of Circumcision, pg. 3.)

The usual translation of Genesis 32:25 has the angel wrestling Jacob, and dislocating his ‘hip’.

Is this a hip? The angel, as Ziony Zevit translates, “touched the hollow of his yārēk, and struck (a powerful blow at) the hollow of his yārēk of Jacob while struggling with him…and he limped on account of his yārēk.” (What Really Happened in the Garden of Eden?, pg. 145.)

Some guidance about the anatomy involved is provided in Genesis 32:32. In remembrance of Jacob’s injury, we learn, “the Israelites do not eat the sinew which is attached to the socket of the hip . . .”

The word translated ‘sinew’ is gid. As Marks notes, there is a long Jewish tradition of mocking those who think a gid is a penis. This seems a clue that it is a penis? “In fact,” she notes, “gid does appear in the Talmud and the Zohar with the meaning of penis (and retains that meaning in modern Hebrew dictionaries).” (Marks, pg. 12)

We know Jacob’s hip isn’t ‘dislocated’. As translator Robert Alter notes, the form of ‘touch’ used in the wrestling scene means to barely touch. “The adversary maims Jacob with a magic touch, or, if one prefers, by skillful pressure on a pressure point.” (The Five Books of Moses, pg. 180.)

This ‘magic touching’ is an important Old Testament concept. It occurs again in Exodus 4:25 when Moses’ wife circumcises their son and ‘touches’ the foreskin on Moses’ ‘feet’ (which also probably means: his penis). “This is not part of the normal ritual of circumcision,” as Michael Heiser notes. “It consequently only makes sense if Zipporah has circumcised her son, Gershom, and then symbolically transferred that circumcision to Moses by taking the foreskin and touching Moses’ genitals.”

This ‘touching’ is a divine sign. It occurs again in Exodus 12:22, when the Israelites are instructed to ‘touch’ the blood of the sacrificed lambs on their doorpost, to ward off the angel of death. The magic touch, Marks adds, “like circumcision itself, protects as well as it injures.” (Marks, pg. 14)

In Jacob’s wrestling, likewise, there is protection via injury. As Howard Eilberg-Schwartz notes, “the entity ‘Israel’ only comes into being at the moment of emasculation.” (God’s Phallus, pg. 155.)

Jacob’s maleness is damaged, and in memory of that, his culture later won’t eat penises. The effort is to diminish male energy.

Ziony Zevit goes back to Eden, wondering if the human story begins with a wound to the penis.

A clue might be Adam’s statement on meeting Eve, calling her “bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh.” (pg. 146) If a rib, or any bone had been taken from him, how does it also include flesh?

The solution could be that Adam’s word for ‘flesh’, bāsār, is a common term for penis, as in Ezekiel 16:26 or 23:20. But how could a bone come from Adam’s penis? Zevit has an idea.

Among mammals, all insectivores, bats, rodents, all carnivores, and most primates have a bone called a baculum, or os penis and sometimes os priapi, that occurs as a stiffening rod in the penis. Human males (like spider monkeys) lack this bone and rely instead on fluid hydraulics to maintain erections.

The story would then be telling us the female was formed by weakening the penis.

As circumcision, and scenes like Jacob’s wrestling, are about weakening it further. Because God’s believing humans must be a woman.

Let’s return for a moment to Genesis 1:27.

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (ESV)

The ‘him’ in the second line refers to divine identity. The macroscopic standing that humanity has in the spiritual world.

We were created male—with dominion over the planet. We were in charge.

The third line, ‘male and female’ refers to the physical world. There, we were sexually differentiated.

The problem is that in Ezekiel 16, in the Song of Songs, in every reference to Israel as the ‘wife’ of God—humans, divinely, are a she.

The idea I’d like to introduce is that there’s been a spiritual sex change.

In which case, the references to penises being physically damaged, somehow impaired and textually omitted — begin to look more interesting.

Sex changes for spirit beings are routine in the Old Testament.

“The gender of Jonah’s fish changes twice in the course of its appearance in the book,” observes Thomas M. Bolin. Grammatically, the fish is male in 2:1. When a swallowed Jonah is praying, it becomes female (2:2). When God tells the fish to expel Jonah, it become male again (2:11).

Later in the New Testament, the fish becomes an image of the death Jesus is to undergo. These later references (cf. Matt. 12:40) are grammatically neuter.

To read 2 Sam. 19:26 in translation, we might not notice a curiosity.

He replied, “My lord the king, my servant deceived me! I said, ‘Let me get my donkey saddled so that I can ride on it and go with the king,’ for I am lame.

Before being saddled, notes Oded Borowski, “the masculine form ḥămôr is used with the feminine form of the verb.” (Every Living Thing: Daily Use of Animals in Ancient Israel, pg. 127.) As the phallic donkey in Ezekiel 23:20 suggests, the gender of donkeys is an important spiritual term. The one Jesus rides in Matt. 21:2 is female. In John 12:14, it’s ‘little donkey’, neuter.

We wouldn’t see the ‘problem’ in Psalm 42:1:

As a deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God!

“The noun ‘deer’ is masculine, but the verb (v. 2a) is feminine, probably to agree with the gender of ‘my soul’ (v. 2),” notes Samuel L. Terrien. “Thus the panting animal could also be a female.” (The Psalms: Strophic Structure and Theological Commentary, pg. 351.)

Or perhaps there’s a theology of gender changes which is not being tracked by current modes of scholarship.

Many scholars note the ‘problem’ in Ezekiel 1:5–25: “the arbitrary usage of feminine verbal forms and suffixes with masculine subjects and vice versa” as Janina Maria Hiebel notes. (Ezekiel’s Vision Accounts as Interrelated Narratives, pg. 60.)

As Walter Wink explains: “Throughout the vision there are feminine plurals of verbs, and feminine pronouns are used of the ‘living creatures’ where one would have expected masculine forms exclusively. Almost one-third of these verbs and pronouns — 12 out of 45 — are feminine.” (The Human Being: Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of the Man, pg. 29.)

It’s also true of the cherub in Ezekiel 28 —the Lucifer figure. “The text is full of problems: there is a mixture of masculine and feminine forms to describe the figure,” notes Margaret Barker. (Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment, pg. 212.)

Could this not be ‘arbitrary’ or ‘problems’, but a system of gender changes on a spiritual level of which current scholars are unaware?

And readers not even told exists.

In this system, humans were created ‘male’ and then become ‘female’. Dominion over the earth, i.e. maleness, is taken at the Fall. All spiritual standing is removed. Given animal skins, humans are seen as animals.

Over the course of Genesis, they are nurtured back to spiritual standing. As in Ezekiel 16, the narrative of Israel is an infant girl being taken up by God, raised to maturity, and married.

But created ‘male’, there is residual maleness, and femininity to be cultivated. Circumcision, and Jacob’s wounding, are strategies in that effort.

Which brings us to Joseph.

In Genesis 37:3, Joseph gets a coat from Jacob, his father. Owing to a mistranslation in the Septuagint, it became known as “the coat of many colors.” In Hebrew, the garment is a ketonet passīm — a phrase used one other time. In 2 Samuel 13:18: “She was wearing an ornate robe, for this was the kind of garment the virgin daughters of the king wore.”

A scholar comments: “Since the ketonet passīm was the kind of garment that daughters of kings wore, the garment probably was associated with people who were royalty, with officials who had high rank in the palace, or with people who had an exalted position in society.”

When I think of a young man in a coat worn by a princess, I’m struck not that it’s a robe for royalty, but for a girl.

That Jacob is wearing a female garment is an important fact in his story. The spiritual entity of ‘Israel’ is, spiritually, becoming female.

In his important 1974 essay, “The Image of the Androgyne: Some Uses of a Symbol in Earliest Christianity,” Wayne A. Meeks discusses the theme:

Change of clothing and other rites de passage is of course a particularly well-known phenomenon, which may symbolize the power of the deity represented by the new garb. Incidentally, transvestism in initiatory rites is not unusual, for the initiate is conceived of as in a liminal state, participating in divine power and therefore momentarily transcending the division between male and female.

In human reality, scripture heavily favors the woman of action, and no important female in the Bible is on some level not taking male prerogative, by deception and theft as needed, because the male powers she faces are oppressive: Tamar, Rebecca, Ruth, Esther.

There’s a concurrent effort to masculinize the female, that is, but the more particular focus in scripture is the feminine male—the son who emerges from female care to destroy conventional male structures.

Which brings us to Moses, saved and nurtured through female care. He is continually a feminine spirit. In Exod. 3:11 he asks if he’s fit to “bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt.” It’s the language of birthing.

Or speaking in Numbers 11:12:

Did I conceive this entire people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your arms, as a foster father bears a nursing child,’ to the land which you swore to their fathers?

The curious difficulty in finding a son to do the work of God is the effort to find the boy who is his mother’s son. Unusual, awkward, exiled, hunted, and with an ease his (masculine) brothers can’t muster and don’t understand, placing himself in God’s care.

Which brings us to David.

My brothers were handsome and tall,
but the Lord was not pleased with them.

As in Psalm 151 (included in the LXX and Dead Sea Scrolls), David is not a conventionally male presence. He’s small. He’s beautiful.

He plays his harp softly. In his psalms, God speaks through him. Throughout his life he speaks in the language of feeling, whose gender boundaries are hard to identify.

I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother;
you were very dear to me. 
Your love for me was wonderful,
more wonderful than that of women.
(2 Sam 1:26)

In a translation of Psalm 16:2, attributed to him, we’d find:

Indeed I am composed and quiet,
like a young child carried by its mother;
I am content like the young child I carry.

How often is biblical translation and scholarship working off assumptions about David referring to himself as male? Processing the manuscript evidence and grammar, Melody D. Knowles re-translates:

Like a weaned child on me its mother
Like the weaned child on me is my soul

Scribes, as she notes, must’ve “made an interpretive decision regarding the sex of the speaker and obfuscated the female voice in the text.” (“A Woman at Prayer: A Critical Note on Psalm 131:2b,” Journal of Biblical Literature, Summer, 2006, pg. 387.)

As the deer in Psalm 42:1, David experiences his spiritual self as female.

With the biblical hero becoming feminine, the spiritual focus shifts to images and objects that represent or embody God’s maleness. Like the stone pillars.

So Jacob set up a sacred stone pillar in the place where God spoke with him. He poured out a drink offering on it, and then he poured oil on it. (Genesis 35:14)

Like the rainbow, the pillar connects heaven and earth. It’s a miniature of the stairway to heaven that Jacob saw in that spot. “Both the pillar and the stairway have a ‘head’,” notes Victor P. Hamilton. (The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18–50, pg. 246.)

Though the pillar isn’t described, its shape is suggestive.

“Although the Hebrew does not require this interpretation, it is possible that here the pillars (maṣṣēbâ; NIV, “sacred stones”) are the kind of phallic images common to fertility cults throughout the ancient world,” notes Duane A. Garrett and Paul Ferris in Hosea, Joel: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (pg. #).

The pillar continues to pick up meaning.

Here is this pile of stones and this pillar I have set up between me and you,” Laban said to Jacob. (Genesis 31:51)

“Laban sees heap and pillar both as witness that Jacob will treat his daughters properly, and as boundary marker between the two of them,” notes John Pairman Brown in Sacred Institutions with Roman Counterparts. (132)

If the pillar regulates male conduct, it has spiritual importance too. Laban’s household doesn’t worship Yahweh (cf. Genesis 31:34). Laban must be marking the space between gods.

In Genesis 35:20, Jacob builds a pillar to mark his wife’s grave. Moses builds one in Exodus 24:4. “You have forgotten the Rock who fathered you,” accuses Deut. 32:18.

A reference like Deut. 16:22 (“do not erect a sacred stone”) is sometimes taken to mean that stone pillars are specific to worship of pagan gods, and must go.

But they’re present, and approved, in references like Hosea 3:4, where God says: “For the Israelites must live many days without a king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred fertility pillar, without ephod or idols.”

As Mayer I. Gruber, in Hosea: A Textual Commentary, notes:

Since there seems not to be the slightest hint in Hos. 3 or anywhere else in the book of Hosea that a maṣṣēbâ is something that the God of Israel intrinsically destests, it should be assumed that Hos. 3 shares with the Jacob cycle of stories in the book of Genesis, specifically Gen. 28:18, 22; 31:13, 45; 35:14, the notion that a maṣṣēbâ is a piece of stone standing upright upon which one pours oil as an expression of devotion to God. (pg. 178)

But we turn from that commentary to the translation of Hosea 10:1–2, where the altars and ‘fertility pillars’ are apparently bad.

The Lord will break their altars;
he will completely destroy their fertility pillars.

And we realize the altars and pillars are good. In discipline, they are being taken away. As she is God’s wife, Israel is to keep only to her husband’s penis.

The pillars serve other male functions, like a watchful husband, marking the space of his home, defensive, wary of intruders—the rival gods.

In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the heart of Egypt, and a monument to the LORD at its border. (Isaiah 19:19)

Note 2 Samuel 18:18, where Absalom, childless and facing the extinction of his line, build a pillar.

He named the pillar after himself, and it is called Absalom’s Monument to this day.

The word ‘monument’ is yād. Izaak J. de Hulster notes the “common Hebrew euphemism in which yād can refer to the penis.” And in the verse, ‘monument’ and ‘pillar’ are “near synonyms.”

Now look at Isaiah 56:5:

I will set up a permanent monument for them that will remain.

As de Hulster comments:

In this context, the promise of a monument (yād) is given to eunuchs (individuals who were castrated at a young age) or to those who were impotent or willingly celibate. Thus, while the basic (though atypical) meaning of yād in this verse is “monument,” ancient readers would also have picked up on how the promise of a yād (in its euphemistic sense) was fitting given the situation of a eunuch. (“‘A Monument and a Name’: Isaiah 56 and the Aniconic Image,” Iconographic Exegesis of the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament, pg. 183)

That is to say: The eunuch will be rewarded with the penis of God.

It’s hard to shake the feeling in the Old Testament not getting the full effect. That there might’ve been changes.

In 1 Kings 12:10, the young men rebelling against the father say, “My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist.” In later translations, all physicality is gone: “I am a lot harsher than my father!”

But as Athalya Brenner notes, the message that makes more sense is a taunt: “My small [finger] is thicker than my father’s penis.” (The Intercourse of Knowledge, pg. 37.)

Could penis references have been removed?

Consider the ephod. It seems to be a garment worn by priests or in the temple (cf. Exodus 28:4, 29:5, 39:2; Lev. 8:7, etc.).

In Judges 8:24–27, many gold earrings are gathered to make one, and whatever it is would be intended, originally, to indicate Yahweh’s rule. “The Lord will rule over you,” as Gideon had said. But it proves idolatrous. “All the Israelites prostituted themselves to it by worshiping it there. It became a snare to Gideon and his family.”

It has a tendency to disappear. For 1 Samuel 14:18, the reader can find, in different translations, two different verses. In the NIV, Saul says, “Bring the ark of God.” In the NET: “Bring near the ephod.”

But in many scenes of scripture it’s a divination device, as in 1 Sam. 14:41, the only reference describing how it was used, and another passage considered ‘mutiliated’ in the MT and more reliable in the LXX.

Then Saul said, “O Lord God of Israel! If this sin has been committed by me or by my son Jonathan, then, O Lord God of Israel, respond with Urim. But if this sin has been committed by your people Israel, respond with Thummim.”

But when David, famously, wears one in 2 Samuel, 6:14, he seems to be naked or nearly so. His wife is unamused.

“How the king of Israel has distinguished himself this day! He has exposed himself today before his servants’ slave girls the way a vulgar fool might do!” (2 Sam. 6:20)

Confusion has long been noted. “The Masoretic text shows signs of having been tampered with,” notes Theodore C. Foote in a 1902 article, puzzling through the evidence. “The only description given in the O.T. shows that the ephod was something depending from the shoulders to the waist, and put on over a long robe. But this entirely fails to satisfy the narrative in 2 Sa. 6.”

There, he notes, “David does not wear it, it is hung about his loins by a girdle. In the same way a sword is girded upon the loins.” What was it? Maybe “a pouch, large enough to put the hands into, which was hung at the waist of the person using it.” An object that later editors perhaps tried to write out of scripture? as if “they considered it indecent, either because it was too scanty for a loincloth, or perhaps, because it had some connection with the phallic worship of the Canaanites.” (“The Ephod,” Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 21, №1, pg. 7, 43.)

Are two separate objects being intermixed or overwritten—a priestly garment and an ‘indecent’ object? Theodore W. Jennings notes:

The confusion is expressed in the Septuigent where a different term is often used for the priestly garment, reserving “ephod” (transliterated from Hebrew) for the fetishlike object in Judges and 1 Samuel. When Exod 28:6–14 describes the priestly vestments of Aaron, the LXX uses the term epōdima to translate the Hebrew word ‘ephod and speaks of it as having shoulder-pieces/straps. Thus we seem to have a progression from ephod as an undergarment covering the loins (David’s dance), to an outer garment (Chronicles), to a garment that is worn over the chest and shoulders (Exodus) rather than below or at the waist. It is only the first meaning that we can use to make sense of the fetish objet sometimes confused with the ark.

Could what’s known as the ephod be the epōdima, the priestly garment, and not the oracular ‘fetish object’?

The anti-Christian writer William Harwood, in Mythology’s Last Gods: Yahweh and Jesus, thinks he knows.

It was a gold-plated embroidered wooden phallus, so constructed that the High Priest could wear it in erect or detumescent positions. It was hollow, so that black and white pebbles representing testicles could be inserted at the base and rolled out through the glans for the purpose of asking Yahweh questions. If the white pebble (uwriym) emerged first, Yahweh’s answer was ‘Yes’. When the black pebble (thumiym) emerged, then the answer was ‘No.’

I look back at Exodus 28, the long description of the priestly attire. “They are to make the ephod of gold, blue, purple, scarlet, and fine twisted linen, the work of an artistic designer.”

I’m not sure if the passage is intact, what the garments were to look like, or what the ephod is. But I wonder if that passage, 28:6, was instructions for a rainbow phallus.

I think of the experience of wearing—whatever David was wearing. Putting a penis in a sacred sheath seems almost vaginal. At the same time, it’s accentating phallic energy. But the energy, now, is God’s.

It may be a training device to connect with God’s maleness. To think of his penis as the source of abundance, and of answers. “For you have been,” he says in Psalm 61:3, “a strong tower against the foe.”

The ephod appears to have been destroyed with Solomon’s Temple, with no further references to it. I think it served its momentary purpose. To teach Israel to begin listening to God as a wife.

… Christianity and penises.

No more circumcision. “Christianity did not separate itself from Judaism,” notes Athalya Brenner, “until the connection between the penis and the divine was severed.” (pg. 35).

Circumcision disappears. In the New Testament there are several key references to penises, but the mystery seems no longer present, as if it was solved.

Jesus seems not to refer to circumcision, though in the gospel of Thomas he’s quoted denying its importance. “If it were useful, their father would beget him from their mothers (already) circumcised. But the true circumcision in the Spirit has proved useful in every way.”

Notes. Circumcision and baptism.

The spectacle of the galli, the priests of Cybele who cut off their penises. They’d live their days dressed in women’s clothes.

Galatians 5:12: “I wish those agitators would go so far as to castrate themselves!”

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