19 March 2016

S Joseph, and Joseph, and Potiphar, and two or three others.

Attentive readers of Scripture will have noticed that the Ioseph typikos, of whom our blessed Lady's chaste Spouse is the Antitype, is decribed (Genesis 39) in the Vulgate (and the Neo-Vulgate) and the Septuagint  as having been sold as a slave to Potiphar, Eunuch of Pharaoh. Indeed, Brown Driver Briggs gives "Eunuch" as the central meaning of the Hebrew SRIS. Eunuchs were very often Great Men in ancient kingdoms because a sovereign could be moderately confident that they would not spend their time squirreling away state resources for their own offspring. Since, therefore, great officers of state were often eunuchs, it will often yield apparently good sense to translate SRIS as "Officer" or "Courtier" or (Tyndale) "Lorde". And, of course, that will prevent naive people from blurting out "But how can a eunuch have a wife?" Nor will puzzled children, after Mattins, ask their maiden aunts what a Yew Nuck is.

And, indeed, all the proliferating English Protestant Bibles which derive from the King James Bible do so translate it. But, surprisingly, so do the Catholic Knox and Jerusalem Bibles (and, even more oddly, they do so with never even an explicatory footnote). Only the Geneva Bible and the Douay-Rheims-Challoner Bible courageously give "eunuch". (John Wycliffe, sometime Master of Balliol College in this University, or a collaborator of his, rendered it "gelding"!)

Translating the term accurately as "Eunuch" would give a piquancy to Potiphar's wife's rather urgent desire for sexual intimacy ... as I am sure has already dawned upon some readers. Yes, whatever the distance, I can read your minds ... never forget that ...

Wikipaedia, by the way, has some stuff about there being a medieval Jewish legend that Potiphar's wife was called .... Zuleika. Nice one, Sir Max!

Incidentally, a few terms ago a 'transgender' undergraduate calling itself Zuleyka stood for Union Office here in Oxford ... ... ... no, dear, you've got it wrong ... it was Potiphar who was the eunuch ...

3 comments:

Thomas said...

There are eunuchs from birth, eunuchs men have made so, and those who make themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 19:12). St. Joseph being both married and yet celibate for the sake of the kingdom, indeed directly for the sake of The King, could perhaps be seen as a patron of both celibate and married clergy in their common dedication to the work of the kingdom.

Banshee said...

Somewhere, there's a nice interplay between Joseph having problems with a eunuch and his wife, and the legend of Joseph and his bride Aseneth. I'll have to think about it.

John F H H said...

Eunuchs were very often Great Men in ancient kingdoms because a sovereign could be moderately confident that they would not spend their time squirrelling away state resources for their own offspring

Possibly more important than money-hoarding was the assurance that the eunuch could not father a child by the sovereign's wife (or wives).