Friday, June 15, 2012

A few words on the genitals of donkeys and the emissions of horses

In Ezekiel 20:23, the prophet famously declares:
There [in Egypt] she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses.
In context, this comparison is clearly meant metaphorically. The passage describes the depraved activities of two sex-starved sisters. (As David Plotz put it memorably: "Let's just say that they put the "ho" back in Oholah and Oholibah.") Both are married, but previous to the wedding both were whores in Egypt. After the wedding they opened their legs for Assyria. The famous verse, cited above, describes Oholibah's pre-marriage whoring when she threw herself at Egyptian men with bestial sexual capacities.

23:4 tell us clearly what Ezekiel has in mind. "Oholah is Samaria, and Oholibah is Jerusalem" Thus, the whole passage is an allegory for God's relationship with the Israelites, and their incurable fondness for strange Gods, and foreign cultures. (Compare with Ezekiel 16) Though the Egyptians are being mocked as sex-starved and worthless, in no sense is the passage an attempt to tell us anything about the status of gentiles. The point is that the Jews are God's unreliable wife.

By the time, we get to the Talmud, the understanding of the passage has changed. "Their  genitals were like those of donkeys" is no longer understood figuratively. Instead it is treated as a concrete tangible reality with practical  halachic ramifications, practical  halachic ramifications that apply to all non-Jews rather than to Egyptians alone. For instance:  Non Jews have no halachic fatherhood, because their semen is as worthless as horse semen; consequently there is no halachic incest between non-Jewish paternal siblings.

Did Ezekiel have any of this in mind, when he wrote out the story of the two sisters? Was his remark about gentile genitalia an attempt to say anything definite about gentile identity? Of course not. Ezekiel, like Hosea and Jeremiah, is using the metaphor of sexual jealousy as part of a grand argument against Israelite depravity. He's not attempting to tell us anything about the status of non-Jews. He's attempting to encourage Jews to better behavior.


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