1 Samuel 5 – Hemorrhoids & the Wrath of God

I have been reading each morning recently from the Old Testament in the NJPS.  And, it seems like each day I’ve been noticing things I’ve not seen before.  And, today is certainly no exception. I suppose when I have read through 1 Samuel before, I probably read from the NASB or ESV.  And, I believe I am probably accustomed to seeing the word ‘ophalim (Qeretehorim) in 1 Samuel 5 translated as “tumors.”  So, I was a bit surprised this morning to read that God had stricken the people with “hemorrhoids” in 1 Samuel 5 in the NJPS (though it seems I vaguely remember hearing about this in passing).

1 Samuel 5.6

The hand of the Lord lay heavy upon the Ashdodites, and He wrought havoc among them: He struck Ashdod and its territory with hemorrhoids,

1 Samuel 5.9

And after they had moved it, the hand of the Lord came against the city, causing great panic; He struck the peopl of the city, young and old, so that hemorrhoids broke out among them.

1 Samuel 5.12

… and the men who did not die were stricken with hemorrhoids. The outcry of the city went up to heaven.


After having a look at the lexicons, the real question is why all translations don’t read something like “hemorrhoids.”  Even when “tumor” or “boil” is given in the lexicon entry it is qualified as likely a tumor or boil “of the anus” – see Holladay and Gesenius.  I’m sure it is probably a felt need for using euphemism.

At any rate, God seems to use everything at his disposal to inflict his wrath on the Philistines who have taken the ark of the covenant.  What is equally interesting is the solution to the problem.  If you’ve not read that story or at least not read it with the word hemorrhoid in the translation, you should definitely read it or re-read it in 1 Samuel 6.  But, I’ll go ahead and spoil it … the Philistines end up having to make 5 golden hemorrhoids among other things.  I don’t know about you, but I think that would be at least as interesting an archaeological find as the ark of the covenant …

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