The intention of every male eater [of testicles] is quite clear: to increase his potency. The best thing of course is to use the testicles of the most potent animal. In Spain these are regarded as the fighting bulls from the bullring, and of these the fiercest fighting bulls from the most renowned bullrings. Consequently, in the famous Florian restaurant in Barcelona you are served a bull's testicles, accompanied not only by garlic and parsley, but by the name of the bull, its weight, a brief history, the pedigree, the place and time of its death and the name of the matador responsible. (Dekkers, 2000, p. 108)
The Hebrew Bible is full of balls. And given that those of us of Middle Eastern background are among God's hairier creatures, the Bible
is full of some shaggy baubles indeed. It is all very well in the polite circles of (usually religiously driven) academia to speak of the
dominant patriarchies of the Bible or of the masculinities that saturate many of its texts, but these are convenient abstractions, a relieved stride towards the euphemisms that enable us to avoid the earthiness of those texts. So I prefer to speak of nuts, onions, oysters, apples, footballs, call them what you will.2
This essay is a simple exercise in linguistic terminology, or rather, it investigates the words used in Hebrew to designate testes. I
undertake this assignment with two basic assumptions concerning language. The first is that words never operate in isolation; they are
part of semantic clusters that produce both the richness of language and difficulties for translators (at a micro-level). The second is that the mechanisms of language are like architecture, for that machinery provides a direct window onto the zeitgeist (or, as I prefer, the
ideologies) and thereby the social formation of its users.
Clusters and Ideologies
Let me say a little more concerning these theoretical points before
fondling a few biblical bangers. The idea of semantic clusters works in
two directions. A semantic cluster may be described as a clan of
meaning, in which a word sharing the same root belongs to the same clan.
This is particularly true of Hebrew, where often verb, noun and
adjective may share the same consonantal root and thereby belong to the
same clan. Secondly, semantic clusters operate in a situation where the
same word may be used for a range of (although not always clearly)
related meanings. For example, the word yarekh may mean
genitals, thigh, hip, hip joint, side, base, deepest hollow, or recess.
In this case, these various senses are obviously connected, but one
applies—or so goes the advice to budding translators—the most
appropriate sense depending on the literary context. In what follows I
operate with a somewhat different assumption, namely that whenever a
word is used it evokes, however implicitly and contextually, the other
senses of its semantic cluster. That is, I am interested not in the
sparseness of meaning but in its richness and fullness. At least a
couple of implications flow from these points: the idea of semantic
clusters illuminates the perpetual problem of lack of fit in
translations, for what we have so often is a partial overlap between two
semantic clusters rather than a tight fit.
Further, semantic clusters also lead to the delectable uncertainty of
translation, the sense that one can never be absolutely sure that this
word is the best one for a translation.
My other theoretical point is that the workings of language provide
an unwitting insight into ideology. In brief, I take ideology in the
classic Marxist sense as unfolding in two related directions: it
designates false consciousness, specific beliefs or opinion concerning a
vital matter (privilege, wealth etc) that are not only mistaken but
support an unjust status quo. But ideology is also—and more neutrally—a
way of mediating the complex reality of the world and our places within
it (Barrett, 1991, pp. 18-34; Larrain, 1983, 1983; Dupré, 1983, pp.
238-44). If the first type of ideology can be dispensed with, the second
is here to stay. And if the first requires critique, the second needs
description and understanding. Much more may be said on [page 43]
ideology, but that is not my task here (see, for example, Žižek, 1994;
Eagleton, 1991; Jameson, 2009, pp. 315-63), save to make one further
point: the power of ideology increases in a direct ratio to its ability
to remain hidden, to seem natural and part of the way things are.
How, then, does language provide a window into ideology? I do not
mean the oft-repeated assertion that the way to understand a people and a
culture is through their language. Or rather, I take this self-evident
truth and give it a twist: it is not the content of the language that
counts, the ideas and beliefs it seeks to express directly, but the
forms and structures—or what I call the machinery and workings—of
language that provide unwitting insights into the deeper patterns of
ideology, precisely those that everyone assumes to be natural. This is
where the analogy with architecture is illuminating: in the same way
that the form—the patterns, lines and fashions—of architecture express
most directly the zeitgeist of an age (Jameson, 1991, pp. 97-129; 1998,
pp. 162-89), so also does the form of language give voice to the
structuring ideological assumptions of those who deploy it.
The same applies to the albondigas of the Bible: three terms appear with significant frequency: yarekh, halatsayim and motnayim.
Each in their own way shows the extraordinary pervasiveness of an
erectile economy that rivaled any in the ancient world. One or two other
words also occur, such as 'ashek, as in the poor man with the crushed testicle (meroah 'ashek) in Lev 21:20 who is forbidden, along with anyone else who has a blemish, from approaching the altar for offerings. 'ashek is but a solitary occurrence, although it does include within its cluster shkhh, which appears only as the Hiphil participle mashkim in Jeremiah 5:8, where the Jerusalemites are described as "horny [meyuzanim] stallions with massive clangers [mashkim]", or perhaps "horny, well-hung stallions" (Carroll, 1986, p. 178). In what follows I begin with some brief comments on halatsayim and motnayim, since they are relatively straightforward, after which I move onto the intriguing and many-folded yarekh.
Of Loins, their Binding and So Forth
The two more obvious terms in the lizard logic of the Hebrew Bible are halatsayim and motnayim.
Strictly speaking, both terms overlap so much that they are usually
translated as "loins," a wonderful euphemism that is supposed to
designate that section of the body between the ribs and the hip bones (halatsayim) or the muscles binding the abdomen to the lower limbs (motnayim)—abs,
in other words. Yet there is one curious, usually unexplained feature
of both terms, hinted at in the brilliant older translation as '"loins":
both words end in the rare dual form. As any student of introductory
Hebrew knows, two classes of dual forms remain, one less obvious
(waters, heavens, Egypt, and occasionally Jerusalem), the other far more
obvious, for they refer to natural pairs relating to the body: eyes,
ears, hands, feet, lips, hands (but also shoes, horns and wings). A
question springs forth: why are the terms usually rendered loins or abs
in the dual form? We are, I would suggest, clearly in the territory of
the little boys, of frick and frack—a suggestion that will become
clearer as the argument stretches out below. In fact, one wonders
whether the Bible is engaged in emphatic overkill, for not only do we
have the rare dual form for halatsayim and motnayim, but we also have two terms that mean the same thing — [page 44]
as the parallelism in Isa 11:5 shows all too well. Is this a case of
naming each of the twins with a name that evokes its brother?
With that basic linguistic point established, it is possible and
somewhat astonishing to see how extensively the sperm factory has spread
itself through the terminology of human emotions, activity and life.
These skittles may actually bless someone (Job 31:20), tremble (Is
15:4), have phantom pregnancies (Jer 30:6 (see Carroll, 1986, pp
574-5)), be strapped up with undies or, as it is quaintly put, a
loincloth (Job 38:3; 40:7; Is 5: 27; see further below), or with the
"underwear of faithfulness" (Isa 11:5), or, if one is feeling down,
sackcloth (Is 32:11). And these references apply purely to the minority
member of this pair—halatsayim.
The term that hangs lower, larger and dominates the scene is motnayim.
I wish to stress three features of these tallywags. First, they are the
seat of courage and strength (Job 40:16; Nah 2:2; Prov 30:31; 1 QH 2:7;
8:33). Perhaps the greatest assertion of this power is not the sword
that may hang over the vital region, but the spermatic spluttering pen.
In a rare moment of scribal self-referentiality, we find in Ez 9: 2, 3
and 11 the curious phrase weqeseth hasofer bemotnayw, usually
rendered as something like "a writing case at his side," or as the King
James Version daringly suggests, "a writer's inkhorn by his side." While
qeseth is a hapax legomenon that most assume to be a
"writing-case" or perhaps "inkpot," I would suggest a tool of the one to
follow, who is none other than the sofer, the scribe, one who writes and numbers; it is the participle of the verb sfr. In other words, what we have here is "the scribal pen(is) upon his potatoes"; qeseth hasofer
is nothing less than another term for this uber-scribe's dong. Or, as
Sir George Mansfield Cumming-Smith, the head of the British spy service
(1909-26), said when he heard that semen is an excellent invisible ink,
"every man his own stylo."
Despite all this power, they may also be broken (Ezek 21:11 [ET
21:6]), loosed (Is 45:1), crushed (Deut 33:11; Sir 30:12), afflicted (Ps
66:11), filled with anguish (Isa 21:3; Nah 2:11), burn in illness (Ps
38:7), or be struck through (Deut 32:22; Sir 32:22). One may also, with
due preparation, peer at God's whirlygigs (Ezek 1:27; 8:2), but you will
never quite be the same again (see more below on Jacob's nuts). More
than seeing the world from the end of one's penis, these bullets are the
seat and source of a man's strength. It is not for nothing that
Rehoboam says to the Israelites who demand a relaxing of the onerous
conditions of service from Solomon's rule, "My limp cock is thicker than
my father's cubes" (1 Kgs 12:10; 2 Chr 10:10) (see especially Boer,
The second item worth emphasizing is that a man's love apples are not
merely the object of a verb, for they may also be the subject, actively
setting an agenda of their own. So we find that doohickeys may well be
full (Isa 21:3), arise (Deut 33:11), shake (Ps 69:24 [ET 69:23]; Ez
29:7—on emendation), stand up, (Ez 29:7), be a flood marker (Ez 47:4),
and even boast (1 QH 10:33), but also—should one forget to observe due
hygiene—fester away (Ps 44:20 [ET 44:21]—with emendation). We saw the
same situation with halatsayim a little earlier, where a man's bolivers may take on a mind of their own and bless someone, if not God himself.
At one level, these preliminary conclusions should come as no
surprise, for the overlaid and often conflictual patriarchies of the
Bible are well known, at least at a general, theoretical level. However,
in the nitty-gritty realm of language we can see [page 45] how pervasive and entrenched that world of the willie is. The basic sense of halatsayim and motnayim—duals
we must remember that refer to a man's marbles—soon spreads to include
courage, strength and weakness, so much so that they take an active role
in the world apart from their owner. Their importance is indicated by
the fact that they become the place where one hangs all that is vital,
along with the vitals that already hang there.
Yet—and thirdly—as with any hegemony, this one of the booboos is not
always as swaggering as one might expect. Those squashy, wrinkled
pouches also show some vulnerability, susceptible to crushing, trembling
and even unwelcome burning feelings and the odd festering. Hence the
overwhelming concern with "girding one's loins" in the Hebrew Bible. As
we might expect by now, "girding" is a euphemism for a much more
specific act. What a man actually did was strap up or bind (hgr and the noun hagor)
his punching bag as part of getting dressed and preparing to head off
somewhere (Ex 12:10; 2 Sam 20:8; 1 Kgs 2:5; 20:32; 2 Kgs 4:29; 9:1; Dan
10:5; so also the hapax legomenon of shns in 1 Kgs 28:42), or more strongly capture and imprison them ('sr) as one does enemies (Job 12:18). Even more specifically, a man puts on the close-fitting loincloth ('zr and the noun 'ezur),
a term that should really be rendered the "egg bag" (2 Kgs 1:8; Isa
11:5; Jer 1:17; Ez 23:15). Or, in Jeremiah's words, "the egg bag [ha'ezur] clings to [dhavaq] a man's eggs" (Jer 13:11). As Eilberg-Schwartz points out (1993, pp. 101-2), albeit without the specific reading of motnayim,
this reference comes from Jeremiah's parable of the "loin-cloth," in
which the closeness of the cloth to a man's balls is a somewhat erotic
image of the closeness of God to the men of Israel.
Precisely how a man strapped himself up said much about his toughness
and/or importance. For instance, to wear a leather cock sack ('ezur 'or,
2 Kgs 1:8) was obviously a sign of the rugged wilderness and thereby
the ruggedness of its wearer—as we find with Elijah (2 Kgs 1:8). On the
other hand, if a man had done wrong and feared divine wrath, then rough
and scratchy sackcloth would take the place of the loincloth (1 Kgs
20:31-2; Jer 48:37; Am 8:10), which suggests that the biblical mark of
repentance was the act of scratching one's crotch, obsessively. And of
course one longed to take it off at the first opportunity (Isa 20:2).
Under normal circumstances a careful strapping of a man's seeds would
be done with a soft cloth so that they didn't bounce about on a long
trot (Jer 13:1-4). But if one happened to be a priest, then one took
extra care. The deep importance of wrapping and strapping a man's soft
marshmallows is exhibited no better than in Ex 28:42 (see also Ez
44:18). We are on Mt. Sinai with Moses and Yahweh, with the latter
holding forth on the interior decoration of the tabernacle and the
priests garments (Exodus 25-31) in what turns out to be the main reason
Yahweh called Moses to Sinai in the first place (see Boer, 2001). In the
text in question, Yahweh provides Moses with instructions as to the
garments the priests are to wear in the future (George, 2009, pp. 5-6),
especially the mikhnese-vad, which are to cover everything from motnayim we'adh yerekhayim.
Usually one finds the first phrase rendered as "linen breeches," which
misses the soft, silky nature and high quality of what are really
underpants—so "best quality linen undies." And in the phrase motnayim we'adh yerekhayim
we have not so much a zone of the body described—from "loins to thighs"
as most would have it—but an emphatic usage that stresses the
importance of the priests' nicknacks. Motnayim we have met and yarekh we will [page 46] meet shortly, but it is worth noting that yarekh appears here in a rare dual form, yerekhayim.
In that light, I would suggest that both words really refer to the same
vulnerable sacks—so let me suggest "crystals and diamonds," to enhance
their value of course. In sum, these priests are to have "the finest
linen underwear to cover their flesh, especially their vital diamonds."
They must be afraid of something if they need such protection, for no
matter how much a man might try to protect them by binding a loincloth
around his bijoux de famille, they remain exceedingly fragile.
Yarekh: Shaken, Kneed, Stewed and Luscious
Thus far I have been interested in the obvious terms for ping and
pong, noting how they form a crucial matrix for understanding the
worldview of the biblical Hebrew. But now I come to my prize exhibit, a
far more subtle term that evinces the full workings of semantic
clusters: yarekh. The basic sense of yarekh, at least
according to Koehler and Baumgartner's lexicon, is the "fleshy part of
the upper thigh" (Koehler, Baumgartner, & Stamm 2001, vol. 1, p.
439), or more generally the region between one's hips and upper thighs.
Within its semantic cluster we also find thigh, hip, hip joint, side,
base, hollow or recess. But it also means couilles.
The Yarekh Shake
So let us begin our exploration of yarekh with what I would like to call the "yarekh shake"
of Genesis 24:2 and 9, as well as Genesis 47:29. In these cases, one
grabs another man's genitals and makes an oath. So, in Genesis 24:2-3 we
find, "Put your hand in the place of yerekhi
and I will make you swear by Yahweh, the God of heaven and the earth,"
while in Genesis 47:29 the text reads, "Put your hand in the place of yerekhi
and promise to deal loyally and truly with me." The implication: if you
don't abide by this oath, may Yahweh rip your bloody rocks off! Or, as
Ullendorf puts it in his quaint prose, "the sacredness attributed to
this organ would lend special solemnity to an oath of this character"
(Ullendorf, 1979, p. 445).
The context for the first yarekh handshake is Abraham's concern in
Genesis 24 that he may well be in the grave before Isaac gets around to
choosing a wife (Gunkel (1997 , p. 244) indeed argues that in its
initial form the story may have included Abraham's death). So Abraham
calls on his old, trusted and nameless slave to swear that he, the
slave, will not procure a wife from among the Canaanite women but find
one from among Abraham's own relatives (the incest taboo
notwithstanding). Eventually the slave will set out to bribe Rebekah to
come and marry Isaac (Gen 24:10-61), but not before Abraham tells him to
grab Abraham's own nutmegs and swear that he will find a relative for
Isaac to marry. Verse two has the instruction and verse nine its
execution, although one gains the impression from the way the story is
structured that the slave has taken hold of Abraham's swingers when
instructed to do so in verse two and then fondles the patriarch's
doodads during the entire exchange between the two of them (until verse
eight). This is certainly the literary effect of the passage, in which
the well-hung origins of the Abrahamic religions sit snugly in a
The context for the other occurrence in Gen 47:29 is very similar.
Here the ageing and fading Israel/Jacob calls on Joseph to grab his
father's danglers and promise not to bury him in Egypt, but to take him
back to Canaan and bury him with [page 47] his fathers. Here we find the same phrase: "Put your hand in the place of my yarekhi."
A number of features stand out in these two stories: the one who has
his cojones fondled is old and close to death; only the one who swears
the oath grasps the family jewels of the one to whom he swears; handling
a man's shaggy bearings has profound legal implications;
the oath concerns clan matters, either finding a woman for a son among
one's own relatives or ensuring that one is buried with one's ancestors;
yarekh obviously concerns a range of very legal matters in
relation to continuity and descent, in short, what issues from the
patriarch's chestnuts (on that see more below).
Jacob's Nuts and Co.
Can the same be said for other occurrences of the term? In some cases, yes, but in other cases yarekh would
need to swing a little to incorporate the sense of low hangers. Let us
take the more obvious instances first, for here we find that
translators—for the sake of good religious decency—are all too keen to
hide these biblical jingleberries from public view, slipping on a pair
of briefs if not a full cloak as soon as possible. One such case
concerns the knackers of yet another patriarch in Genesis 32, which
should really be called the story of Jacob's nuts.
At this moment in the narrative, Jacob is about to return to Canaan to
meet his brother, Esau. Both are resplendent in clans, cattle and armed
men, but Jacob is left alone at the ford of the Jabbok where he wrestles
all night, desperately and alone, with a "man" who turns out to be
God—that is, his demons, his past, his fears for the future, his
estranged brother. Unable to prevail over Jacob, this God touches Jacob
on kaf-yerekh (Gen 32:26, 33 [ET 25, 32]).
Now, this phrase is usually rendered as the "hollow of the thigh" or
the "socket of the hip joint" (Gunkel, 1997 , p. 347; Brett, 2000,
pp. 98-9), with the rabbinic commentators going so far as to identify
the sciatic nerve (Jennings, 2005, p. 253). But the more basic sense of kaf is hand, which is a common euphemism for penis, so I would suggest that kaf-yerekh simply designates Jacob's block and tackle.
Picture the scene for a moment: some thug accosts Jacob at the ford but
can't prevail over him, so in the tradition of street-fighting he knees
him in the nads. Despite the excruciating pain, in which Jacob's itchy
and scratchy (kaf-yerekh Ya'aqov—verse 26/25) are turned inside out (teqa'), he hangs on for a blessing. Once granted, Jacob limps from the scene because of his excruciatingly painful yarekh (verse 31/32).
At this point the Hebrew text is a little too hasty in seeking an
etymological explanation for what went on, suggesting that this story
explains why Israelites do not eat the schlong and stones (verse 33/32)
of an animal. But the true etymology of the story shows up a little
earlier, for in the blessing, Jacob has his name changed to Israel,
meaning "God struggles" or "the one who struggles with God." For most
men a solid knee in the nut cups makes one feel as though you have met
your maker. Make that a blow to the plums by a divine thug and it
certainly does feel like one has seen the face of God (Peni'el—verse 31/30).
The evidence for the bean bag bias of yarekh is certainly thickening. Let me be perfectly clear: I seek to give due attention to this sense of yarekh
where appropriate but I do not wish to extend this meaning beyond what
it can reasonably bear. For instance, in Ezekiel 24:3-4 the text reads:
Set on the pot, set it on
pour in water also;
put in it pieces of flesh,
all the good pieces,
yarekh and shoulder;
fill it with choice bones.
Now the usual translation of yarekh here is "thigh," but
given the polemical context and the semantic cluster of the term, I
would suggest that "prairie oyster" is perfectly viable. So, along with
the flesh, shoulder and bones, this text provides a basic recipe for a
delicious stew. Further, in the summary of Samson's slaughter (yet
again) of the Philistines, "hip and thigh" (shoq al-yarekh)
in Judg 15:8 may simply be rendered "he smote them hip and nut
sack"—much like the expression "arse over tit." And then the description
of the lamp stand—that is the menorah—in the tabernacle (Ex 25:31) is
more than suggestive. The text reads yarekhah weqanah, usually
rendered "base and shaft," but given the obvious nature of the
arrangement, I would suggest that "globes and pole" is both a fairer
translation and reveals the ideological workings of a text like this.
Out in the Cluster
What, then, of the other uses of yarekh? Before we brush
over these senses of the term, let me invoke the idea of semantic
cluster. I agree that it would be silly to argue that every occurrence
of yarekh means the boys down under, although I stress that in
some cases (those I have surveyed above) that sense has been suppressed
far more than it should have been. However, even if the meaning of
gooseberries is not explicit, I suggest that whenever the word is used
it implicitly evokes its full semantic cluster. One sense may rise to
the surface above the others, but it is structurally connected to those
other senses; without them it would be orphaned. This argument has
ramifications for the salami logic of Hebrew and those who used that
language, for beneath a range of apparently innocent meanings we also
find the charlies. So, for example, the primary meaning of yarekh is often "thigh": one strikes a yarekh with one's hand (Jer 31:19; Ez 21:17) and one straps a sword to one's yarekh
(Ex 32:27; Jud 3:16, 21; Ps 45:4; see also Neh 4:18 [ET 4:12]). Or the
word may, metaphorically, mean a "side," especially of the tabernacle
(Ex 40:22, 24; Num 3:29, 35) and perhaps also of the altar (Lev 1:11; 2
Kgs 16:14). However, if we keep in mind my comments concerning semantic
clusters, then even in these cases the buttons are never too far from
the surface. You may indeed strap your sword to your thigh, but as you
do so the sense of yarekh incorporates the clock weights
between your legs, of which the sword is but a prosthetic addition. Or
when you refer to the tabernacle, you may also be invoking the
tabernacle's orchestra stalls, or indeed the altar's clappers.
Nevertheless, an astute reader of the Hebrew Bible will object that on two occasions—Numbers 5 and Song of Songs 7—yarekh actually refers a woman's [page 49]
equipment. The appearance in Numbers 5—where we have the ludicrous and
magical procedure for a man to verify or falsify his vague jealousies
concerning his wife's possible infidelities (see further Boer,
2006)—refers quite clearly to a woman's yarekh. The magic potion ("waters of bitterness") concocted by the priest-cum-witch-doctor is supposed to cause her yarekh to fall away, at least if she is guilty (Num 5:21, 22, 27). Is yarekh a thigh in this case? Is it a womb and thereby parallel with beten?
Or is it her cunt that must, if she is guilty, sag like that of old
woman? The last sense (without the sagging) is supported by the Song of
Songs 7:2, where we read: "Your curved cunt (yerekhayik) is like ornaments, handwork of an artisan." But perhaps yarekh
in both these cases refers only in a secondary manner to the vagina.
Let me put it this way: if we keep in mind the title of that old AC/DC
song, She's Got Balls, then the use of yarekh in these situations may refer to the fact that she does in fact have cannon balls, as in she won't take no shit. Or it may be a more earthy reference to what are variously known as meaty flaps or luscious lips.
I have been engaged primarily in an exploration of what may be called
the gonad economy of biblical Hebrew, although I have on a couple of
occasions noted the implicit fragility of these exposed and swinging
bags of gristle. Throughout my argument has been the assumption that at
this formal level of linguistic usage—in which halatsayim and motnayim become
key terms for strength and weakness, bravery and illness, even actors
in their own right and in which the semantic cluster of yarekh
exercises a subtle extension into oaths, tabernacles, lamp stands,
culinary delights and vital engagements with the divine—we can trace a
pervasive albeit inconsistent ideology of testicular dominance that has
worked its way into the sinews and fibers of the language itself.
The splattered supremacy shows up best in one usage I have kept until now, namely, the two phrases yatsa' halatsayim and yots'e yerekh.
The first of these (found in Gen 35:11; 1 Kgs 8:19 and 2 Chr 6:9) was
once translated with a phrase that I still use in reference to my
children, "fruit of one's loins," but the second (Gen 46:26; Ex 1:5;
Judg 8:30) usually makes do with "offspring." We can do much better than that, for yatsa' halatsayim really means "the issue of his spunk holders," while yots'e yerekh
should be "those going out of ye olde creamery." For these terms evoke a
very earthy, active image, much like the money shot in porn, the
spermatic spurt in which a male can already see his descendants leaping
forth from the end of his dick. Actually, we can come even closer to the Hebrew, keeping mind the alliteration of both yatsa' halatsayim and yots'e yerekh: ball burst, or perhaps baby blast, or rather, given the linguistic logic, father lava.
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Transliteration of Hebrew follows the General-Purpose style as per the Society of Biblical Literature Style Guide.
A non-exhaustive list includes albondigas, apples, bangers, baubles,
beecham's pills, bean bag, bearings, berries, bijoux de famille, bird's
eggs, bolivers, booboos, boys down under, bullets, bum balls, buttons,
cannon balls, charlies, chestnuts, clangers, clappers, clock weights,
coffee stalls, coin purse, couilles, cojones, crystals, cubes,
danglers, diamonds, doodads, doohickeys, eggs, family jewels,
footballs, frick and frack, globes, gonads, gooseberries, grapes, itchy
and scratchy, jingleberries, Johnny bench nut cups, knackers, knockers,
little boys, love apples, low hangers, male mules, marbles,
marshmallows, mountain oysters, mud flaps, nads, niagara falls,
nicknacks, nutmegs, nuts, nut sack, orchestra stalls, oysters, pebbles,
pee-nuts, pills, ping and pong, plums, potatoes, punching bag, rocks,
seeds, skittles, sperm factory, spunk holders, stones, swingers,
tallywags, testimonials, the twins, vitals, ye olde creamery, and
whirlygigs. In what follows I seek to repeat not one term for testicles.
As for the penis, I can only bow to the comprehensive list at
For a more serious study, albeit not without its own attractions, see Cornog (1986).
As one example, the Danish word køre
refers to both driving a car (or truck or bus) and riding a bicycle.
Danes will often speak of driving a bicycle, or simply "driving" to
somewhere when they mean riding a bicycle. To an English speaker it
sounds odd, since the semantic cluster of "drive" does not include
bicycles. (The same thing can happen even within the same language: For
example, in Canadian English to "visit" may mean to spend time with a
person, whereas in British English it can only mean to pay a visit, or
visit retribution, or to examine.)
For a full discussion of this text, see the companion piece to this
article, "Too Many Dicks at the Writing Desk, or, How to Organise a
Prophetic Sausage-Fest" (Boer, 2010).
We should not be surprised at the frequency of the term in Ezekiel,
given the graphic sexual nature of much of his imagery—the source for
more than one exploration of the text's or even the reputed author's
psychological state (Halperin, 1993; Schmitt, 2004; Garber, 2004;
Dhvq also has the sense of sticking to something, which is always a risk with a soiled and smelly egg bag.
In a brilliant circumlocution, Gunkel calls it the "oath by the reproductive member" (Gunkel, 1997 , p. 248).
Tahat may also have the sense of "in the place of" apart from its more usual "underneath."
Edwardes (1965, p. 65; 1967, p. 59) points out that in Latin one also
finds a distinctly legal sense, since the words "testicle" and "testis"
are derived from the roots testiculi and testes, meaning "the (two) witnesses".
Eilberg-Schwartz (1993, pp. 152-3), following Smith (1990), argues that yarekh
does indeed refer to the genitals—Eilberg-Schwartz's obsession is the
penis—but only as a euphemism. Obviously, I go a step further.
Gunkel makes the intriguing suggestion that—given the
indeterminateness of the pronouns in verse 26—it may well have been
Jacob who kneed the god in the divine bum balls (Gunkel, 1997 ,
pp. 349-50). By verse 33 we find a later and more "acceptable"
Rashkow (2000, pp. 133-9) comes closest to my reading, interpreting the
story as a dream embodying the castration anxiety. Yet she does not
join the dots. In this respect kaf functions in a fashion similar to regel: with a primary sense of "feet," it often designates the genitalia—as when Ruth lies at the "feet" of Boaz in Ruth 3:14. Regel is the topic of another study.
Jennings's effort (2005, pp. 253-9) to read Genesis 32 as a
paradigmatic homoerotic story (see also Carden, 2006, p. 50)—full of
fury, violence, blessing and love—would have been enhanced immeasurably
had he realized the import of the Hebrew.
Shoq al yarekh seems to me to be a rather idiomiatic way of saying the same thing, with yarekh and shoq sounding much the same.
This sense also applies to hagerah … motneha in Proverbs 31:17, where "gird her loins" refers to the super-woman of Proverbs 31.
In a work concerned with procreation and politics, I find it exceeding
strange that Brett (2000) has completely missed the importance of
Without even the trace of a fear of the nocturnal emissions that
troubled the church fathers so. Concerning those patriarchal anxieties,
see Brakke (2009).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Roland Boer is Research Professor of Education and Arts, University of Newcastle, Australia. He has published extensively in biblical studies, Marxism, postcolonism, cultural studies, literary theory and political theory, including Marxist Criticism of the Bible (Continuum 2003), Political Myth (Duke 2009), Criticism of Religion (2009), and Criticism of Theology (Brill, 2010). For more information on the professional work of this author, visit his personal website.
ABOUT THE JOURNAL: The Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality (JMMS) is an online, scholarly, peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary journal. JMMS is published twice a year with provision for other special editions. JMMS seeks to be as inclusive as possible in its area of inquiry. Papers address the full spectrum of masculinities and sexualities, particularly those which are seldom heard.