Your Friday Firestorm #23

And he [Jacob] rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two womenservants, and his eleven sons, and passed over the ford Jabbok. And he took them, and sent them over the brook, and sent over that he had.

And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.

And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.

And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.

And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh.
Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew that shrank.

(Genesis 32: 22-32)


  1. I’ll just throw this out there right now: “hollow of the thigh” = nuts.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    Three thoughts:

    1. The angry dad video you link to actually took place in Rolling Meadows, which is about a 20 minute drive from where I live. When it first happened it was on our nightly news. My nephew lives in Rolling Meadows and is wrestling now, so on Thanksgiving I found this clip on You Tube and showed it to him and his Dad. They couldn’t believe it.

    2. JFS insisted that it was an angel who wrestled with Jacob. I prefer the anthropomorphism of saying it was God himself, which matches the name Jacob gave the place: Peniel, “Face of God.” I realize some people think that for God to actually wrestle with someone is beneath his dignity, but I think it’s cool.

    3. At the end we see that the story also served as an aetiological myth for why the Israelites didn’t eat a certain portion of meat.

  3. The story also shows two interesting things about God. First, He’s reluctant to share His name. Second, He has to flee at dawn.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    There’s a word play in the passage among the verb “he wrestled” [wayye’abeq], Jacob [Ya’akob] and the stream Jabbok [Yabboq].

    The name Israel [HEB Yisrael] can be construed as “he fought [with] El [God],” as it seems to be taken here, but more likely it originally meant “El fights.”

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    In the ancient world, having knowledge of the name or etymon of a god both gave one some measure of power over that being and also could be used in divination to give one power over other men.

    Having to flee at dawn–hmmm, wasn’t that on an episode or two of Buffy?

  6. Steve Evans says:

    God’s a Vampire-stiltskin!!

  7. Does this mean that God transfigured Jacob to let him have a go? No flirting of the eyes (it’s like those miserable psalms, they’re sooo depressing). Yeah, if it were true it would be very cool.

  8. God’s a Vampire-stiltskin!!

    Groooooaaaan. This is the kind of stuff that gets you your rep, man!

  9. Tracy, if you mean his reputation as a genius, a veritable paragon of human greatness — then, yeah.

  10. Clear-cut case of trauma to the sciatic nerve. It’s an old wrestler’s trick that will temporarily disable even the strongest opponents.

  11. (bows humbly)

  12. What else could I possibly have meant?

  13. Justin, that and a hidden foreign object would catapult Jacob’s opponent into the upper ranks of the WWF. I can see it now, Nameless Opponent vs. Hacksaw Jim Duggan.

  14. Never mind — I see now that this match has already occurred.

  15. Kevin Barney says:

    Re: Steve’s no. 1, I found a couple of articles of interest:

    S.H. Smith, “‘Heel’ and ‘Thigh’: The Concept of Sexuality in the Jacob-Esau Narrative,” Vetus Testamentum 40/4 (Oct. 1990): 464-73.

    Lyle Eslinger, “The Case of an Immodest Lady Wrestler in Deuteronomy XXV 11-12,” Vetus Testamentum 31/3 (July 1981): 269-81.

    (I haven’t read these because they are on JSTOR and would cost $29 each for a download!)

  16. Reminds me of a scene in The Kingdom where Jennifer Garner’s character stabs an enemy fighter in the hollow of his thigh.

  17. According to em>Unger’s Old Testament Commentary this is how it went down:

    Vertical Suplex
    Samoan Drop
    Inverted Atomic Drop
    Turn Buckle
    Belly to Back Suplex
    Hollow-o’-the-Thigh Texas Tap

  18. Oh yeah, and immediately after that scene, every male in the theater simultaneously groaned. It was awesome.

  19. So what would Mitt think about this here story?

  20. I’ll just throw this out there right now: “hollow of the thigh” = nuts.

    I don’t think so.

  21. Justin (# 10) is right. It’s that old sciatic nerve sleeper hold/dead leg trick.

    See here for details.

  22. Nick Literski says:

    Heh..gotta love the kind of post-polygamy Victorianism that would find Steve’s post disturbing. :-) Placing one’s hand on the other person’s testicles was a standard form for making an oath. In the scriptures, it was invariably euphamized to placing one’s hand “under the thigh” of the other, as in the case of Abraham’s servant.

    If you believe deity created testicles, why should deity be afraid to touch them, particularly in a clearly non-sexual context?

  23. I have found two items that I believe are related to this discussion.

    The first is a you tube clip, skip ahead to the 5:08 point to see the relevant material.

    The second is an example of wrestling from ancient Greek sculpture and is possibly NSFW. Consider yourself warned.

    As always, I am happy to raise the level of the discussion.

  24. 2 – From reading the text, it seems the primary reason for the myth was about eating the leg.

  25. I don’t think it’s coincidence that testimony and testicles both begin with testes.

  26. Kevin Barney says:

    On the nature of the relationship between testimony and testicles, see a prior post of mine here.

    (You know BCC is becoming truly encyclopedic when that subject has already been posted on!)

  27. A few weeks ago, the tables and chairs were cleared away in Sister Mansfield’s seminary class, and two wrestlers in the class acted this out. A light bulb in the ceiling had to be replaced, a tiny cost for a few spirited minutes in the hands of the students.

  28. yikes!

  29. John C, where do I get a copy of that sculpture for my yard?

  30. I don’t think this has anything to do with post-polygamy Victorianism, unless those Jewish folks who interpret the Midrash are post-polygamy Victorians.

    This episode also has practical implications for future generations. “Therefore, the children of Israel do not eat the gid ha’nasheh which is upon the hollow of Jacob’s thigh, even in the sinew of the thigh-vein (32:33).” The Torah structured that for eternity, whenever the descendants of Jacob wanted to gratify their physical needs through the consumption of any ruminant, they would be required to first remove the sciatic nerve.

    More here.

  31. I’ll just throw this out there right now: “hollow of the thigh” = nuts.

    We’re all mature adults here. We can grow up and call them balls.

    Which reminds me of watching my little brother playing catcher in a baseball game when he was 6 or so. After taking a pitch in the hollow of his thighs, he let everyone know quite loudly that he had just “got hit in the nards”.

  32. Justin (# 10) is right. It’s that old sciatic nerve sleeper hold/dead leg trick.

    See here for details.

    Painful and laughable to watch. It brings back repressed memories of the fun I had at Scout Camp when I was a lad. I wonder if anyone ever tried the trick out on Joseph Smith.

  33. Kevin Barney says:

    It’s an open questin whether this is a euphemistic usage (it could just be the hip socket or some such), and nitsav is right to raise it.

    The first article I gave the cite for above, as I had suspected from the title, contains a long section arguing (following the work of Stanley Gevirtz), for the eupemistic interpretation. I don’t have time to try to summarize his argument, which is highly technical in any event.

    The other article, which I have not yet had the chance to read, is a commentary on this verse:

    When men fight with one another, and the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him, and puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts, then you shall cut off her hand; your eye shall have no pity.

    Deuteronomy 25:11-12 (RSV)

    Who said the OT is dull?

  34. FYI, for anybody interested in further study, there is a lengthy article about “Godwrestling” in the Nov 2005 Sunstone. It’s worth a read.

  35. Sleeper hold? Sleeper hold??

    God don’t need no stinkin’ sleeper hold!

    It was Monkey steals the Peach, obviously. Sheesh.

  36. So was this a “Monkey Steals the Peach” move?

  37. This episode also has practical implications for future generations. “Therefore, the children of Israel do not eat the gid ha’nasheh which is upon the hollow of Jacob’s thigh, even in the sinew of the thigh-vein (32:33).” The Torah structured that for eternity, whenever the descendants of Jacob wanted to gratify their physical needs through the consumption of any ruminant, they would be required to first remove the sciatic nerve.

    LOL. I’ll admit, Mark IV, that before I visited your link, I thought you were joking around by inserting a reference to the sciatic nerve.

  38. 35. From the caption “The impact will lift the enemy off the ground.”

    No doubt.

  39. Damn you, MCQ!!!

  40. Sorry Tim.

    You know Steve created this whole Firestorm just to see how long it would take to end up there. I just couldn’t wait any longer.

  41. I think we should rename this “Ball-storm #1”

  42. MCQ, I kind of figured. It’s amazing it took almost 40 comments for it to happen.

  43. I really look forward to these Friday Firestorms. I now know the biblical basis for certain advantageous business situations.

    My wife, who has no time for blogging, understands this site is frequented by many intelligent professionals and academics, and I can’t wait to share this one with her.

  44. Steve Evans says:

    Actually the only person who has hit the nail on the head on why this Firestorm exists is Tracy (#19).

  45. If I recall, the JST replaces thigh with hand more than once. And if we take into account the fact that one of the definitions of the hebrew verb here is crucify, this is more suggestive of Jacob receiving his endowments. Hence, the sunrise would serve as entering the Celestial Room.

  46. the only person who has hit the nail on the head

    Now I’m confused. I thought we were talking about something else.

  47. I’m with the narrator, Steve. Now you’re saying Romney is a ninja?

  48. DavidF,
    Uncanny timing for such thoughts, following, as they do, Steve’s #44.

  49. Romney’s been a ninja his whole life. He mostly uses his skills to stealthily kill varmint, as it were.

  50. Were there any resurrected angels with physical bodies prior to the resurrection of Christ?

    If so, how’d they get them? (Maybe they’re Grandfather-God’s angels…)

  51. FWIW, according to, “testes” and “testify” are apparently not related.

  52. Hmm, I thought Romney might have been the guy in the white suit in “Monkey Steals the Peach” from MCQ’s # 35.

  53. Oh, and Mike Huckabee is the Ninja.

  54. 53 – No, Huckabee isn’t the Ninja, but he did hire one!

  55. RE #50,

    Resurrected angels, no. Corporeal angels, no problem. Someone taken up in the City of Enoch, for example, could’ve filled this role.

  56. I thought we decided it was God himself, thus no corporeality problem exists.

  57. So if I’m Mike Huckabee, is it the hand, the sciatic nerve, or the privates of a very large God?

    Man, I am so probably lightning bait at this point. Thanks, Steve.

  58. I have no response. I’m laughing too hard.

  59. Jacob M, # 55,

    Huckabee needs Conan’s Wlaker Texas Ranger Lever!

  60. It must be Frydae, as I can’t even spel “Walker Texas Ranger”. I’m surprised I spelled Conan right.

  61. Not to be technical… but the sciatic nerve runs down the back of the leg. I think of the hollow of the thigh as the front and inner part of the thigh. Not that it really matters.

  62. I always wondered if this story meant that Jacob actually was a woman, but that’s just my twisted sense of humor.

  63. Maybe God’s secret weapon was a rope!

    (go to 4:45 into the video to catch what I mean)

  64. Kevin Barney says:

    I’ve finally had a chance to read the Smith article completely. He not only argues that the hollow of the thigh is euphemistic for the genitals, but also that the heel of Esau that Jacob grabs while in the womb is similarly a euphemism for the genitals, so that Jacob was actually grabbing his brother’s penis. Again, the argument is detailed and technical, too much so for me to try to reproduce here.

  65. Was it compelling? Come on, Kevin — take a stand!

  66. Kevin Barney says:

    I’m inclined to read it as a euphemism, but it’s not a slam dunk.

    I’ve now also read the Eslinger article. She argues that Jacob should actually be the subject of the verb in the Genesis passage; that is, it was Jacob who did the “monkey steals the peach” move on God and not the other way around.

    She also suggests that the Deuteronomy passage is a classic case of lex talionis, in which the punishment matches the offense (“an eye for an eye, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot”). The woman grabbed the private parts of the man to protect her husband, and the text says her “hand” should be cut off. But she grabs the man’s scrotum with her hand (yad), but it is her kap that is cut off. Hebrew kap literally means “hollow,” and is the same word used for the “hollow” of Jacob’s thigh (i.e., scrotum). Her argument is that, even though she is not a man and therefore her injuring the man’s scrotum cannot technically be punished by damage to hers (since she doesn’t have one), the punishment is nevertheless not to her actual hand but to the feature on a woman that is coordinate with the scrotum, the labia. (Lots of interesting commentary on the euphemistic uses of the word kap in the Song of Songs. Kind of gives “in the hollow of his hand” a new meaning…

    So the lex talionis import of this case is to extend “an eye for an eye, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot,” by adding “a kap for a kap,” i.e., “a labia for a scrotum.”

    (The article is highly technical and you really need to be able to read Hebrew to follow it closely, but this is the gist of it.)

  67. So, Kevin, based on #64, does this mean that Jacob was a man, but God is a woman? *grin*

  68. Eric Boysen says:

    I can hardly think of a way of demonstrating trust at a deeper level than allowing someone to hold one’s testicle, but why should the supplicant be the one to do the holding? I would think the symbolism would work better the other way.

  69. I don’t know enough Hebrew or Greek to hang with Barney, but I am familiar, through personal experience, with the arcane lingo of football coaches. In that milieu, to “give him the business” is the euphemism that is employed to describe the act of striking one’s opponent in the groin at the bottom of a football dogpile.

    With that background, I can now direct you to two classic youtube clips, here and here.

    I love the referee’s hand signals. Quote of the year, indeed.

  70. The Mosaically forbidden blood-vessels in animals comprise the main arteries and the nervus ischiadicus (“gid hanasheh”; Gen. xxxii. 32).Jewish Encyclopedia

    In Hebrew, Genesis 32:32 the “sinew that shrank” is called the giyd nasheh-and the Mosaic law forbade anyone to eat the nerve that runs from the hip joint through the thighs. (Steve I was not aware that the Hebrews ever ate testicles at any time, especially prior to Gen 32) Jacob “limped” (halted on his thigh)from having his hip out of joint.

    In Hebrew “kaph” refers to the palm, center or cupped part of the hand which is the hollow (as it also resembles the hollow in the hip where the head of the femur rests) and according the Gesenius’s Lexicon only rarely does the word mean the the whole hand which it does when referring to a severed hand as it does in Duet 25:12. “Yad” is more often used to indicate the whole hand. Perhaps Eslinger doesn’t read Gesenius or simply doesn’t understand the nuances of Hebrew.

    In Gen 40:11 the word “hand” appears twice in English, but both Hebrew words are used, yad for the first and kaph for the second.

    Cutting off the hand of a thief was common practice in ancient times and since damaging a man’s ability to have “seed” or continue his line could be viewed as stealing his future-cutting off a hand would actually be appropriate.

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