BAR 34:06, Nov/Dec 2008
Biblical Views: Of Philistines and Phalluses
“There is in the Hebrew Bible, in prose and in poetry, in religious admonition and in secular love songs, a healthy and unabashed outspokenness which, in a sense, constitutes one of the great glories of the Old Testament.”
I quote scholar Edward Ullendorff’s 1979 article “The Bawdy Bible”1 to prepare the reader for some explicit examples of the Bible’s “unabashed outspokenness.” Blame it on Aren Maeir’s article in BAR’s May/June 2008 issue about the Philistines and their trouble with “hemorrhoids.”a The discovery at the Philistine cities of Gath (Tell es-Safi) and Ashkelon of situlae (small vial-shaped flasks) in the form of uncircumcised penises (see photo) led Maeir to propose that the five golden ‘opalim (nowadays the vulgar Hebrew term for hemorrhoids) that the Philistines delivered to Israel as guilt offerings for capturing the Ark of the Covenant were actually golden versions of Philistine phallic situlae (1 Samuel 6:4). As Maeir states in his article, the cultic contexts in which the tiny vessels were found indicate the “symbolic importance of the phallus in Philistine culture.” The Philistines offered Yahweh golden penis-shaped vessels because, theorizes Maeir, God had afflicted them with some form of penile dysfunction.