I brought the latest issue of Biblical Archaeology Review with me to sacrament meeting on Sunday. I glanced at the cover and saw the captioned tagline (just above “The Secret Knowledge of Judas Iscariot”). The provocative description was a reference to an article by Aren N. Maier, “Did Captured Ark Afflict Philistines with E.D.?”, which you can read here.
The short version: 1 Samuel 5-6 recounts how the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant from the Israelites in battle. They took it back to Ashdod and put it in front of a statue of Dagon. The next day they found Dagon toppled. They propped it back up, but this kept happening. The hand of the LORD was heavy on the Ashdodites, and he afflicted them with [or in their] ‘opalim.
The meaning of ‘opalim is uncertain. It has traditionally been taken as hemorrhoids. The KJV renders emerods; most modern translations are squeamish about this and euphemize this as tumors or sores. The root ‘ophel is used for the upper city of ancient Jerusalem, and conveys the sense of a hill, a height or a rise, and thus a swelling. It’s kind of hard to imagine what the five golden hemorrhoids would have looked like.
But there is a theory that the ‘opalim were not hemorrhoids, but rather penises. This is driven by archaeological discovery of cultic situlae in the shape of penises, which were actually a common cultic representation in Philistia. (The print version of the article has lots of pictures.) The sense of something that rises would fit.
Either way, the word is meant to be scatalogical and an insult to the Philistines.
So, what do you think of this theory?