Euphemisms for Sexual Relations in the Bible
or Wink Wink Nod Nod (an English euphemism for secret information everybody already knows)
The Hebrew Bible is full of wordplay i.e. Paronomasia. There are lots of parallelisms, similes, puns, idioms, and euphemisms, etc. many of which are impossible to translate.
When the paronomasia is a euphemisms, some translators will choose to woodenly translate it word for word, others substitute an English euphemism, and some of the more modern translations opt for stating directly what was meant. All three of these solutions leave the English reader missing some of what is being communicated, and often cloud the issues rather than bring clarity. Finding the right word can be quite difficult, what one culture’s euphemism might be, may use that same words for something completely different, e.g. Where in Hebrew uncovered or nakedness can mean a sexual encounter, to the ancient Greeks it meant drunkenness. When in English we speak of someone’s nose being red, we mean drunkenness, however ancient Hebrew it means angry. In English the heart is the seat of emotions, where in ancient Hebrew it was the bowels. So translators must decide how best to express these ideas. It all come down to, is the idea or the word more important?
Like all cultures the ancient Hebrews did not openly speak of sexual things. The use of euphemisms for such activity is practically universal. So a translator must decide, is the passage in question a euphemism or is the plan ordinary meaning meant?
To Lay With
This little phrase can mean many things, from bestiality, or sleep, or death. Just as it does in English. Context is everything, and that is the problem with euphemisms, they almost always mean something else as well as the wink wink nod nod, meaning.
When Jacob came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him, and said, “You must come in to me; for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he lay with her that night. Gen. 30:16
. . . she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and got out of the house. Gen. 39:12
. . . but let me lie with my fathers; carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burying place.” He answered, “I will do as you have said.” Gen. 47:30
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. Lev. 18:22
. . . the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down within the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was. 1 Sam. 3:3
Uncovering the Nakedness
Uncovering the Nakedness of a close relative, is incest. This is pretty obvious in Lev 18 that incest is what is meant. As the whole chapter is just one long list of all a persons nearest kin.
“None of you shall approach any one near of kin to him to uncover nakedness. I am the LORD. Lev. 18:6
Cover with One’s Cloak, Standard, or Garment
This one can be a little difficult to decide, as people are covered up for all kinds of reasons besides sexual ones. Another problem that can cloud the facts, is that there are many kinds of cloaks, robes, or standards to be covered up with. And since the early translators of the Bible were all celibate monks, they tended to minimize the sexual content. The early translations of the Bible often carry more prestige than is warranted. Leaving all future translators not wanting to differ too much from first the Latin Vulgate and later for English readers the King James Version. In some circles, to disagree with the King James often brings out accusations and or denouncements of having produced a heretical translation. Trust us, there are enough heretically bad translated passages out there to go around. No Bible is prefect, and no translator can possible but aside all their preconceived notions. Even some of the worst translations were done with good intentions. It is important for even the casual reader of the Bible to know who and why the translation they are using was made. That way at least one will have an idea where the translators prejudices may reside.
Ruth offered herself right there and then to Boaz. She was not interested in the finer details of the law, she wanted a son for her dead husband. (See Also: Ruth Chapter 3)
He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your maidservant; spread your skirt over your maidservant, for you are next of kin.” Ruth 3:9
No one wanted the king’s robe or mantle, as the Babylonian army was pressing down on Jerusalem.
When a man takes hold of his brother in the house of his father, saying: “You have a mantle; you shall be our leader, and this heap of ruins shall be under your rule”; in that day he will speak out, saying: “I will not be a healer; in my house there is neither bread nor mantle; you shall not make me leader of the people.” Is. 3:6-7
Eliakim will receive all the authority of Shebna.
In that day I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your girdle on him, and will commit your authority to his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I will fasten him like a peg in a sure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his father’s house. Is. 22:20 -23
This is what was upsetting to Joseph’s brothers. Jacob had given him a cloak of authority.
Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a long robe with sleeves. Gen. 37:3
The Song of Solomon has the most euphemism and or allusions to sex in the Bible. It is after all an erotic poem. But this one verse has been worked over by both the drinking police and the sexual prudes.
He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. Song 2:4
What it actually says is, He brought me to the wine house (which we would call a cellar) and covered me with his standard (meaning sexual intercourse).
Just when things are beginning to get clear, and we are all pretty sure what the text is really indicating. With uncovering someone’s nakedness is morally wrong sex, and covering someone is morally acceptable sex. And being under someone cloak can mean intimacy or authority. We come to the strange tail of Noah’s drunkenness.
20 Noah was the first tiller of the soil. He planted a vineyard; 21 and he drank of the wine, and became drunk, and lay uncovered in his tent. 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. 23 Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it upon both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. 24 When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers.” 26 He also said, “Blessed by the LORD my God be Shem; and let Canaan be his slave. 27 God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his slave.” 28 After the flood Noah lived three hundred and fifty years. 29 All the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years; and he died. Gen. 9:20-29
The question comes down to, is someone trying to take Noah’s authority, or is someone having sexual relations with Noah or Mrs. Noah? Or possibly someone is trying to show that they have taken Noah’s authority by sleeping with his wife [see Rueben]. Depending on how one answers these questions will have a great deal to do with ones interpretation of what was going on. It is interesting that Canaan the son of Ham and the father of Nimrod as well as the fore father of the Phoenicians, gets the curse.
To know someone in ancient Hebrew usually denotes a certain amount of intimacy. How intense that intimacy is usually explain in the passage in question.
Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.” Gen. 4:1
Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch; and he built a city, and called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch. Gen. 4:17
And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another child instead of Abel, for Cain slew him.” Gen. 4:25
Modern translators have taken this simple “to know” and translates it in someway more direct manner, as in “had sex” or something of the kind. Although that may clear things up for the casual reader. A great many passages depth of meaning will then go unrecognized. Then this same casual reader may miss what the Psalmist is saying in the song written for the Alamot to sing.
“Be still, and know that I am God. I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth!” Psa. 46:10
This is not a casual “to know”. This is a call from God to have an intimate relationship with Him. Even though He is exalted among the nations, He wants to be intimate with the individual believer just as a man is with a woman. He is calling for a deeply intense, closely personal, faithful relationship, that can only be expressed to our finite minds in sexual terms. That is after all the whole point of the Song of Solomon, and in a less graphic manner the whole Bible. We are to be God’s lover. We are to respond to God as a wife to her husband. Unfortunately we have a tendency to let our spiritual leaders step in-between us and our Beloved. We let them tell us what our lover is like instead of picking up the love letter he left us, for ourselves. Even a bad translation is better than second hand information.
We must KNOW God. There are no easy short cuts to an intimate relationship with God. We must not let someone’s teachings or ideas get between us and our lover. The consequences can be spiritually devastating.
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. 18 A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will know them by their fruits.
21 “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’ Matt. 7:15-23
Acquiring and maintaining an intimate relationship with God is paramount. As children we are taught to worship our parent’s God. As young adults we a taught to worship the congregation’s God. But at some point everyone must begin to worship God on their own, as their own lover. At some point every one must on their own go into the kings chambers, and begin their own intimate relationship with God. He calls to us in a most alluring way. He draws us to him. We must make haste. Once in the king’s chambers we will never be the same.
Draw me after you, let us make haste. The king has brought me into his chambers. We will exult and rejoice in you; we will extol your love more than wine; rightly do they love you. Song 1:4