1 Samuel 24 -did Saul go to the toilet or simply sleep?

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Eoghan

Puritan Board Senior
I only came across this when I read John Gill's commentary where he discusses how Saul would have wrapped himself up to sleep, covering his feet in the process.

and Saul went in to cover his feet; the Targum is, to do his necessaries; and so Josephus (a); and the Jewish commentators generally understand it of easing nature; and as the eastern people used to wear long and loose garments, these, when they performed such an action, they used in modesty to gather them close about them, that no part of the body, their feet, and especially the parts of nature which should be concealed, might be seen; but the Syriac and Arabic versions render it, "and there he lay" or "slept"; which suggest, that his going into the cave was in order to take some sleep and rest, when it was usual to cover the feet, both to prevent taking cold, and the private parts of the body being exposed to view; and this accounts better for Saul not hearing David's men in the cave, and for his being insensible of David's cuttings off the skirt of his garment, and best agrees with the use of the phrase in Jdg_3:24; the only place besides this in which it is used; See Gill on Jdg_3:24,

(a) Antiqu. l. 6. c. 13. sect. 4.

He referenced Judges 3:24 where Eglon is killed and left in his summer chamber in peace while Ehud escapes. This seems very much like he was sleeping. I was surprised to find the ESV renders 1 Samuel 24:3 as toilet and references Judges 3:24 as the other place supporting that interp. instead of a translation?

I was further confused to find PHILLIPS explaining how Saul uncovered his feet in the process of undressing!

It does make me wonder just where the line between translation and interpretation lies.

Would you agree with me that "covering the feet" speaks more naturally of a wrapping up for a snooze or siesta?

[BIBLE]1 Samuel 24:3[/BIBLE]

[BIBLE]Judges 3:20-24[/BIBLE]

Why does the ESV give this interpretation?
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
I can't speak about the Hebrew, though I've read that the Judges passage in particular is tricky. Surely, though, the details about what happened when Ehud struck with his sword seem like they may be included to show why the king's servants (who could not see him but could smell) would think he was relieving himself. So in that case, context supports the ESV interpretation... and makes the whole account darkly humorous.
 

Eoghan

Puritan Board Senior
I see you have really entered into the text Jack and would probably not flinch from a more authentic reading with smell-aroma. I searched in vain but LarkNews does have an article on Nativity plays augmented with the authentic smell of donkeys etc...

I think the practice of avoiding the heat of the day in an arid landscape fits better. Hence the emphasis on the cool room in Judges and David (a shepherd) retreating to a cave where he would more naturally have taken his sheep to rest in the heat of the day.

That said I do like your insight, even if I am revolted by it. It puts me in mind of the gents toilets at my place of work after someone has had a curry...
 

Eoghan

Puritan Board Senior
In your interp. Jack, how does covering your feet relate to toilet?

P.S. Found my first sermon in which Saul is having a siesta! I guess they must be following the KJV and not the "steer" from NIV and NASV (I do love my NASV though)
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
In your interp. Jack, how does covering your feet relate to toilet?

I'm not the guy to ask about subtle Hebrew translation issues, but I have heard that "feet" is sometimes used in biblical Hebrew as a euphemism for more private parts of the body.

There are plenty of other places in the Old Testament where a character clearly goes to sleep. Do any of them use the expression "covered his feet"? If not, we might guess it means something else... something that fits what servants would assume if they found a locked dooor with bowel smells emanating from it, or something that fits what an army commander would be up to if he went into a cave without his guards.

Then there's Ruth lying with Boaz and uncovering his feet. What's that about? In that case, I'm hoping it's not a euphamism. So it gets complicated.
 

Logan

Puritan Board Junior
Poole discusses both interpretations and favors that Saul went in to sleep rather than relieve himself. Trapp definitely thinks it is relief.

My own thoughts on relieving vs sleeping are as follows:

In support of relief:
Saul slept with his men on other occasions, not by himself.
Poole says the common understanding is that he went to relieve himself in both places this phrase is used.
Saul's cloak could have been to the side, thus David could get to it even if Saul was awake.
It always made more sense to me that Eglon's servants waited until they were embarrassed because of his relieving himself, rather than just sleeping. Ehud escaped while they tarried (implying shortness of time to me), if they waited because they thought he was asleep I would assume it would be many hours.


In support of sleeping:
He could have slept with his men later because he was now afraid of sleeping by himself, but before this incident would sleep by himself.
It makes more sense that David could sneak up and cut off a piece of robe if Saul was asleep, though we can assume God was behind it either way.
In the account of Boaz and Ruth, Ruth "uncovered" Boaz's feet, implying it was the custom to cover them in sleep?
Henry believes sleeping to be more probable though he mentions both.

In other words, there is no clear consensus or evidence for either in my mind, though I lean toward the relieving camp. As for the ESV translating it, I suppose they could have left it at "covered his feet" and not tried to interpret it, but Hebrew being a picturesque language they could have done that in other places too. I recall the KJV using "pisseth against the wall" for example. Perhaps the ESV folks thought "relief" would be ambiguous enough that it could mean sleep as well?
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
Poole discusses both interpretations and favors that Saul went in to sleep rather than relieve himself. Trapp definitely thinks it is relief.

My own thoughts on relieving vs sleeping are as follows:

In support of relief:
Saul slept with his men on other occasions, not by himself.
Poole says the common understanding is that he went to relieve himself in both places this phrase is used.
Saul's cloak could have been to the side, thus David could get to it even if Saul was awake.
It always made more sense to me that Eglon's servants waited until they were embarrassed because of his relieving himself, rather than just sleeping. Ehud escaped while they tarried (implying shortness of time to me), if they waited because they thought he was asleep I would assume it would be many hours.


In support of sleeping:
He could have slept with his men later because he was now afraid of sleeping by himself, but before this incident would sleep by himself.
It makes more sense that David could sneak up and cut off a piece of robe if Saul was asleep, though we can assume God was behind it either way.
In the account of Boaz and Ruth, Ruth "uncovered" Boaz's feet, implying it was the custom to cover them in sleep?
Henry believes sleeping to be more probable though he mentions both.

In other words, there is no clear consensus or evidence for either in my mind, though I lean toward the relieving camp. As for the ESV translating it, I suppose they could have left it at "covered his feet" and not tried to interpret it, but Hebrew being a picturesque language they could have done that in other places too. I recall the KJV using "pisseth against the wall" for example. Perhaps the ESV folks thought "relief" would be ambiguous enough that it could mean sleep as well?

As far as I can tell, the universal consensus of modern interpreters and modern translations, both Christian and Jewish, is that it is a euphemistic reference to relieving oneself. Most languages have such euphemisms (such as "relieving oneself" and "going to the bathroom"). This understanding seems to go back at least to the Septuagint, which translates the Judges passages as "exhausting/emptying the feet." On the other hand, Josephus seems to read the passage as implying that the servants thought their master to be asleep, so the alternative view has ancient precedent as well. But why have a euphemism for being asleep? I can't think of any passage where this connotation is clear. The Ruth passage is not really a complete parallel, since the word for feet here is slightly different, implying "the place of his feet" rather than his feet themselves. On that passage, see my commentary.

As to how to translate euphemisms, that is a question that every translation has to wrestle with. Most translations will sometimes translate them literally and at other times try to find suitable euphemisms in the target language. For example, the KJV translates Deut 23:13 as "when thou wilt ease thyself abroad" while in this case the ESV is literal "when you sit down outside". Context makes it clear that it is a particular kind of "sitting down outside" in view; hence the HCSV "when you relieve yourself". My preference as a translator is probably to try to find a corresponding euphemism to make the meaning of the text clear but to put in a footnote with the literal reading (as the ESV does in both Judges 3 and 1 Sam 24). But translation is always challenging and much easier to criticize than to do well.
 
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