I’ve often wondered why Spielberg couldn’t have been more true to the bible about the way the Ark of the Covenant supposedly punished people. Bums bursting out in hemorrhoids (I Sam 5:6,9,12) would have been more amusing than melting faces, though I suppose demanding an R-rating to appreciate. But now it looks like God’s judgment may have been more risque than even that. In a recent BAR article, Did the Captured Ark Inflict the Philistines with E.D.?, Aren Maeir suggests that the Ark zapped people with erectile dysfunction, not hemorrhoids. From the article:
“I’ve always been troubled by the Philistine hemorrhoids. The Hebrew word is ‘opalim (Mylpe). That was supposedly their affliction when they captured the Ark of the Covenant and placed it before a statue of their god Dagon… These ‘opalim have caused scholars lots of problems. The root of the word is ‘pl (lpe, or Ophel, as in the acropolis [upper city] of ancient Jerusalem), which means ‘high’ or ‘rise,’ hence a swelling. But there is something strange, even a bit peculiar about ‘opalim. Is it a vulgarity? Is it simply too intimate for use in a holy text? Or does it perhaps mean something entirely different?”
Like Maeir I’ve always had a hard time getting my head around the business with the golden hemorrhoids (I Sam 6:4-5). How would hemorrhoids be crafted to distinguish them as such? (Maybe I should snip one of my own sometime and examine it carefully.)
Based on recently recovered archaeological evidence (of which there is admittedly plenty), Maeir suggests that ‘opalim refers neither to hemorrhoids or tumors — nor even the bubonic plague — but to penises:
“I suggest that the ‘opalim with which the Philistines were afflicted after they captured the Ark of the Covenant and placed it in the temple of Dagon involved penises rather than hemorrhoids. It is unclear precisely what the nature of the affliction of the Philistine membra virile was. Perhaps it was the failure to attain erection, the condition referred to today as E.D., or erectile dysfunction. Or perhaps it was some malady causing penile pain.
“The root of ‘opalim, which means ‘a rise,’ suits the penile context as well as it does a hemorrhoid swelling. But it is far easier to visualize the Philistine offering, apparently to placate the Israelite God, as golden penises than golden hemorrhoids. Although we have much Philistine cultic material, nothing in it suggests the possibility of a visual reproduction of a hemorrhoid. Understanding ‘opalim as penises, on the other hand, has excellent parallels in the archaeological record.
“The word ‘opalim is still very much a dirty word, inappropriate for use in the synagogue. But it would be quite appropriate (for reading), given the fact that the Biblical text is clearly making fun of the Philistines and their penile malady.”
I suppose the melting faces in Raiders of the Lost Ark were more dramatically effective than either hemorrhoids or erectile dysfunction. But a fun article in any case, and interesting enough suggestion from Maeir. And speaking of Spielberg, the fourth Indiana Jones film is just around the corner.
UPDATE: On his blog Maeir says that the specific point about E.D. was not his idea and incorporated into the article for sake of popularization (sensationalism?). I guess nothing about BAR suprises me anymore. Thanks to Chris Heard for pointing this out in comments.