As some abnormal readers may remember, I’ve been working on an essay in support of reading the appearance of the snake in Genesis 3 in the light of ancient Near Eastern divination. This project is now over a year and a half in the making. I did allow myself a rather considerable diversion to think about the Eagle-Snake omen in Homer. Anyway, my to do list from the Genesis 3 snake project is down to about fifty unresolved concerns but for every two I check off my list I add one. This is a considerable improvement from three months ago when I was adding two issues for every one I “resolved.”
It was with interest that I read Joel Lohr’s essay, “Sexual Desire? Eve, Genesis, 3:16 and תשוקה.” Addressing Eve, וְאֶל-אִישֵׁךְ תְּשׁוּקָתֵךְ in Genesis 3:16 is generally rendered “your (sexual) desire will be for your husband.” Lohr wants us to understand תשוקה here as “turning” or “return.” He notes LXX καὶ πρὸς τὸν ἄνδρα σου ἡ ἀποστροφή σου, “and your return (recourse) shall be to your husband (NETS with note),” along with other ancient versions and interpreters. He sort of rejects the possibility that, based on the LXX (and elsewhere), we should read the Hebrew תְּשׁוּבָתֵךְ rather then תְּשׁוּקָתֵךְ. But he thinks there is an overlap in semantic range between the two words that might both account for and be supported by several ancient renderings. Lohr has a number of other interesting things to say about all this and I’m not sure that I’m completely ready to buy everything he has to sell. His suggestion has stimulated my wilder speculative juices.
Take a look at omen 31 of tablet 23 of omen series Šumma Alu ina Mēlē Šakin. I choose this as a heuristic example. Any one of a dozen or so others would work as well.
[If] a snake falls in the middle of husband and wife and falls near between them and they see it, they will divorce (TAG4.ME, izebbȗ(?) and [. . .]
It would be nice to know for sure what comes after the “and” (-ma). My best guess, and it is not much more than a guess, is that the lacuna would read in translation, “they will die.” See omen 29 of the same tablet, “they will divorce, they will die (TAG4.ME UG7.UG7).” This possible reconstruction is itself interesting in the light of the whole of Genesis 2 and 3 but I don’t want to go there just now.
I do want to point out that if the intervention of the snake in Genesis 3 resulted in the divorce of the man and the woman then her “return” תשוק[ב]ה to her husband makes more sense than one might think on a reading that does not comprehend the divination context for which I am arguing. One might want to consult Jeremiah 3:1 (הישׁוב ) on this. But this interpretation would also take the meaning in a different direction than I think Lohr wants to go.
Another thing: Genesis 2 and 3 are extremely rich in linguistic complexity and interplay. Puns are everywhere. I also wonder if the issue that Lohr highlights doesn’t derive from an incomplete, partial implicit pun between תשוקה and תשובה in Genesis 3:16.
Okay, so I may have added three or four things to my to do list this time.
Lohr, Joel, “Sexual Desire? Eve, Genesis, 3:16 and תשוקה,” JBL 130:2 (Summer 2011), 227-246