My friend Duane Smith has an abnormal interest in the language and culture of ancient Israel and in the languages and cultures of the nations of the Ancient Near East. Duane also has an abnormal interest in the Hebrew phrase “him that pisseth against the wall.”
Duane has written an abnormally interesting article on this subject. The article, “‘Pisser against a Wall’: An Echo of Divination in Biblical Hebrew,” was published in The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 72 (2010): 699-717. In the article, Duane graciously mentioned my name for offering some comments to his article.
I thank Duane for mentioning my name in his article. Duane and I have exchanged a few emails on this topic. The purpose of this study is to offer a few comments on some of the interpretations scholars have offered to interpret this colorful Biblical phrase, to evaluate Duane’s proposal, and to offer another possible way of understanding the meaning of the expression “him that pisseth against the wall.”
The King James Bible uses a very graphic and expressive language to translate a Hebrew phrase that most other English translations avoid translating in its literal sense. The meaning of the phrase, “him that pisseth against the wall,” is obscure and for this reason it has been interpreted differently by different scholars.
The phrase “him that pisseth against the wall” appears six times in the Hebrew Bible:
In 1 Samuel 25:22, the phrase appears in the context of David’s threat against Nabal : “So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave of all that pertain to him by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall.”
In 1 Samuel 25:34, the phrase appears in the context of the reversal of David’s threat against Nabal: “For in very deed, as the LORD God of Israel liveth, which hath kept me back from hurting thee, except thou hadst hasted and come to meet me, surely there had not been left unto Nabal by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall.”
In 1 Kings 14:10, the phrase appears in the context of the words of judgment against the house of Jeroboam: “Therefore, behold, I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel, and will take away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam, as a man taketh away dung, till it be all gone.”
In 1 Kings 16:11, the phrase appears in the context of the words of judgment against the house of Baasha: “And it came to pass, when he began to reign, as soon as he sat on his throne, that he slew all the house of Baasha: he left him not one that pisseth against a wall, neither of his kinsfolks, nor of his friends.”
In 1 Kings 21:21, the phrase appears in the context of the words of judgment against the house of Ahab: “ Behold, I will bring evil upon thee, and will take away thy posterity, and will cut off from Ahab him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel.”
In 2 Kings 9:8, the phrase appears in the context of the words of judgment against the house of Ahab: “For the whole house of Ahab shall perish: and I will cut off from Ahab him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel.”
Most translations understand the phrase “him that pisseth against the wall” to refer to a man and translate the expression to describe a male descendant of the house being threatened. For instance, in the threat against the house of Jeroboam, the NIV translates the phrase as “I will cut off from Jeroboam every last male in Israel.” The American Standard Version translates the phrase as “I will cut off from Jeroboam every man-child.” The New American Bible translates the phrase as “every male in Jeroboam’s line.”
In his article, Duane lists several proposals offered by scholars to interpret this obscure Hebrew expression. I cannot do justice to Duane’s discussion of all the proposed interpretations offered by scholars. Those who are interested in reading the many views offered by scholars, should consult Duane’s article.
In short, most views can be grouped into the following categories:
First, the expression refers to males, men and boys or adult males of a family.
Second, it means dogs as a pejorative for man. One scholar has interpreted the expression to refer to guard dogs or service dogs of the king.
Third, the expression designates an evil person who deserves to be “cut off” from society.
Fourth, the Talmud discusses the phrase in relation to the issue of whether it is permissible for a man to urinate on the side of another man’s wall.
Duane’s interpretation is based on the “urine omina” that appear in the Assyrian Dream Book. He suggests that “him that pisseth against the wall” is “a person who hopes for progeny” (p. 700).
In his article, Duane studies the Assyrian urination omina and dream interpretation and how these urine omina help in understanding this mysterious Hebrew expression. Duane concludes that since the context in which this Hebrew expression is used refers to the elimination of progeny, then, in light of the urine omina, “him that pisseth against the wall” is “a person who hopes for progeny” (p. 714).
Although there is some merit in Duane’s proposal, in my next post I will discuss the reason I believe Duane’s interpretation does not help explain the Hebrew expression “him that pisseth against the wall.” Then, I will offer an interpretation that I believe sheds light on this intriguing Hebrew expression.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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