Sarah as Esther

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Given the importance of religion in Sarah Palin's life, it's not surprising that her ways of talking are full of echoes or allusions that others may not understand or even notice. Earlier today I discussed her phrase "I know that I know that I know this is the right thing for Alaska".  The same interview contained a phrase that may well allude to the book of Esther.

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Kate Snow:
Is it possible, governor, that this could be the end of your political career?
Sarah Palin: I said before I stood in front of the mic the other day, you know, politically speaking, if I die, I die. I- so be it.

Compare Esther 4:14-15:

King James version:

Then Esther bade them return Mordecai this answer,
Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish.

Translation by Eugene H. Peterson (The Message):

Esther sent back her answer to Mordecai: "Go and get all the Jews living in Susa together. Fast for me. Don't eat or drink for three days, either day or night. I and my maids will fast with you. If you will do this, I'll go to the king, even though it's forbidden. If I die, I die."

[Update 7/8/2009 — As evidence that the connection with Esther is one that comes easily to mind for people who see political action in biblical terms, here's a June 25 passage from the blog of  "Coach" Dave Daubenmire,  "founder and President of Pass The Salt Ministries  and Minutemen United"

Let’s be honest here, Sarah Palin was the only reason that John McCain didn’t get Walter Mondaled. Most evangelicals voted for Sarah Palin, not Juan McCrud. As I loved to explain to my friends, Sarah Palin was God’s man.

Just like in the times of Esther there didn’t seem to be a man to do the job. Like the young shepherd boy David, Mrs. Palin had toiled faithfully in obscurity of Alaska sharpening the down- home, mom and pop values which connected in the heartland like David’s stone to the forehead of the biblical bully from Gath.

The metaphorical equation of Sarah Palin's impact on the Republican base and the stone's impact on Goliath's forehead is one that Coach Daubenmire might, on reflection, decide to withdraw. But I think he'd stick with idea of Sarah Palin as Esther, stepping forward to save God's people because of the opportunity afforded by her beauty.

Or read "Esther's First Impression Changed the World", in the Women's Ministries Unlimited section of the Assemblies of God USA web site:

[T]he king's search committee launched a crusade to find the most beautiful women to serve the king […] We have all had paramount interviews. Esther's was essentially a beauty contest, but God uses beauty for a greater purpose.  […]

Esther had a high calling to influence King Xerxes. To approach the king was unlawful, and the punishment could be death. In some ways, you could consider this a second first impression with much higher stakes.

"If I perish, I perish," she said. Esther's courage, conviction, and trust in the Lord would save a whole lineage of people. She could not be silent.

Queen Esther must have clothed herself in pure elegance, for the king extended the golden scepter and offered her half the kingdom! Clearly, the impression she made on the king saved her people.

How astonishing is God's sovereignty over all his people! May we, like Esther, open ourselves to being used by God—beginning with making a favorable first impression. Who knows? It might just change the world.

And resigning "to usher in what it is that needs to be done in our state or our country" can certainly be seen as trying for "a second first impression with much higher stakes". ]

[For discussion of a case where George W. Bush used a phrase with possible religious resonances, called by some "dog whistle politics", see here.]


  1. Yuval said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 2:18 am

    Ah, the (un)subtlety of translation.
    Ka'asher avadeti, avadeti. Modern Hebrew will have that as "when I perished, I perished" (in a somewhat aristocratic dialect), which certainly isn't the original Biblical meaning (different tense system and all), but I can't shake the feeling that something here IS lost: the original text implies determinism – Esther says that she has already crossed the Rubicon, when she accepted the role of Queen, and has no way back, so this will be just another chance of that decision bringing her down. The translation suggests that going to the king is the critical action, and does not place it in the context of the whole role Esther took on herself, of saving the Jewish people through becoming Queen of Persia.

  2. Nathan Myers said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 2:19 am

    I was charmed to learn that the names Esther and Mordecai (which latter I wanted to name my son, but didn't, sigh) are adaptations of the Babylonian gods' names Ishtar and Marduk, and imply that Esther and Mordecai were thoroughly assimilated. I suppose the modern equivalent might be Jews living in Mexico named Maria and Jesús.

  3. Yuval said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 2:26 am

    @Nathan: Esther was originally named Hadassah, a proper Jewish name, and changed it to Esther to conceal her identity when running for Queen.

  4. Mark P said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 8:22 am

    It has been my impression that the use of Biblical language in everyday speech was not uncommon many years ago, when the Bible might have been one of the few books in a house and it was read often (at least in parts of the US). I think it's less common today, but probably not uncommon in certain groups, including some fundamentalist Christians.

    I think there is a division among fundamentalists. There is a segment of that population that is almost entirely unfamiliar with the Bible. They insist that they believe it to be literally true but can't tell much about what's actually in it. And then there is a segment of that population that is very familiar with at least parts of the Bible and in some cases may use Biblical language in everyday speech. Apparently Palin and Mark Sanford are in the latter group. It would be interesting to see how often they use biblical references.

  5. Chris said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 8:58 am

    @Nathan Myers: ISTM that an even better modern equivalent would be the descendants of Native Americans living in Mexico named Maria and Jesús. (Or the descendants of Irish Celts named Mary and Joseph, etc.)

    @Mark P: I think some Biblical language in everyday speech is still fairly widespread – prodigal son, good Samaritan, X thinks Y walks on water, etc. "Thou shalt not X" is occasionally snowcloned to give a sense of "You may not understand why this would be a bad idea, but trust me, don't do it."

    Obscure passages like this one are another matter, though.

  6. Mark P said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 9:57 am

    @Chris: Yes, there is a lot of Biblical language in everyday use in English, just like there are Shakespearean expressions in common use. Many of these expressions have been so thoroughly incorporated into everyday use that they have become cliches, and some people might not even know where they originated. But you are right about obscure passages and usages.

  7. bianca steele said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 10:04 am

    "Just like in the times of Esther there didn't seem to be a man to fill the job"–what job was that? Esther's job, anyway, was to make sure her uncle was the king's favorite counselor.

  8. Emily said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 10:05 am

    @Mark P: Reminds me of a bit of satire I picked up from a source I no longer remember: "All quotes are either from the Bible or from Shakespeare".

    On-topic: I wonder if Palin was consciously using a Biblical allusion, or didn't realize she was doing so. I initially thought that "If I die, I die" sounds like a fairly typical sort of tautology. Might also be interesting to see which version of the Bible she uses; I know some evangelicals are "King James Only".

  9. bianca steele said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 10:29 am

    FWIW, this painting is currently on display in Boston, on loan from the Prado in Madrid.

  10. bianca steele said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 10:32 am

    Sorry, wrong painting: s.b. the Royal Collection of HM Elizabeth II.

  11. Yuval said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 11:15 am

    @Emily: Do you think the first verb that comes to mind in a situation like Palin's is "die"?…

    [(myl) That was the question that I asked myself. "If I fail, I fail" would be a more obvious choice, I think. Of course, there's the "I'm dying out here" of stand-up comedians and other live performers, and maybe Gov. Palin picked that idiom up in her journalism courses or journalism work. But I'll bet that she's encountered the Esther story in bible study more than once, as an image of a woman risking everything for a religious/political goal. ]

  12. Jonathan Lundell said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 11:26 am

    Updating the Esther story: Maria, a hot Latina, gets Obama to throw Michelle over, make Maria the First Lady, and execute Janet Napolitano, who was about to deport all the Hispanic illegals. There's the Mordecai side plot and the assassination plot to add a little suspense. I see it as an HBO mini-series.

  13. Faldone said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 11:41 am

    "All quotes are either from the Bible or from Shakespeare"

    I think it was Mark Twain that said that.

    Or either him or Oscar Wilde, one.

  14. Bill Walderman said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 11:48 am

    'some evangelicals are "King James Only".'

    This obviates the need to actually learn Hebrew or Greek, or to worry about messy issues like historical context and variant readings in the manuscripts.

    [(myl) Not, apparently, the Assemblies of God — the Bible Reading passages in this document, for example, are from the New International Version and the New Living Translation, and their page on "Bible Translations" says:

    Today it is safe to say that other translations besides the King James Version have found a well-deserved place in many Assemblies of God homes and churches. Some of these are the 1973 NIV, the New King James Version (NKJV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), and the Revised American Standard Bible (RASB). These, like the King James Version, are produced by committees of scholars. Of course, all versions have strengths and weaknesses. To simplify the choice of versions in curricular materials and headquarters publications, the Assemblies of God has officially approved two versions: the King James Version and the New International Version. Other versions are also quoted, but their use is always identified after the quotation.


  15. Speculator 5000 said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 12:00 pm

    @Nathan: Those aren't the only Jews who took "assimilated" names — Daniel and his three friends were linguistically assimilated too. "Daniel he gave [the name of] Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, [of] Shadrach; and to Mishael, [of] Meshach; and to Azariah, [of] Abed-nego." Each Hebrew name contained a form of "Elohim" or "Yahweh", only to be was replaced in at least some cases with the name of a Babylonian god. "Belteshazzar" apparently means "Bel protect the King".

    But I wouldn't make the statement "thoroughly assimilated" by any means. You can be sure the Jews still spoke in Hebrew to each other, using their real names, and the Jews in "Esther" and "Daniel" weren't afraid to stand up for their religion. Naturally, though, they would still accept or take names for themselves that would make them stand out less in a foreign land. Nobody likes being judged by their name before they even enter the room. Thus Jews have been changing their names down to this day, even in America.

  16. Mark P said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 12:13 pm

    Regarding the choice of "die" I think it's safe to say that Sarah Palin can be melodramatic at times.

  17. Jonathan Lundell said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 12:43 pm

    Here's another formulation that's fairly common among evangelicals:

    The Bible is God’s Word to us. It was written by human authors, under the supernatural guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is the supreme source of truth for Christian beliefs and living. Because it is inspired by God, it is the truth without any mixture of error (in the original manuscripts).

    The parenthetical is, of course, a pretty sizable loophole.

  18. David Eddyshaw said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 12:44 pm

    As one of what is probably rather a small subset of LL readers who would also self-describe as Christian fundamentalists, I would certainly myself have heard echoes of Esther in Sarah Palin's statement, and if I'd used similar language it would be with a deliberate reference which I would expect my co-religionists to pick up on.

    On the other hand, I certainly wouldn't have picked up any dog-whistle from the "know that I know that I know" thing. Maybe I'm just poorly educated.

    More seriously, this could well be the effect of being British – shared theology doesn't seem to result in great cultural resemblance across the Atlantic. I suspect there are pretty profound cultural differences within American fundamentalism come to that; myself I seem to recognise at least a High Calvinist type (basically miserable, prone to overanalysis) much like mine, and a quite different exuberant go-getting American pentecostal type which strikes me as intriguingly exotic (British code for "not quite the thing".)

  19. David Eddyshaw said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 1:03 pm

    @Jonathan Lundell:

    I don't think it's really such a sizeable loophole, at least in the case of the New Testament, for which the manuscript evidence is overwhelmingly the best of any ancient book; what textual problems there are don't affect any basic doctrine.

    I must admit though that this particular formulation is sometimes used in what I can only say is poor faith to wriggle off the hook in cases where it is impossible to maintain that the text as we have it is entirely free of error (for example in obviously parallel accounts of the same events in Kings and Chronicles, which give different numbers for the size of armies). The point of it is to try to safeguard a particular doctrinal view of what it means to say that the Bible is "infallible"; in the technical context of this discussion among Christians, "infallible" means "cannot lead astray in matters of faith" and doesn't necessarily imply "free of all error".

    My impression (as an insider) is that very few of those whom claim to believe that the Bible is infallible actually give the matter much thought, happily supposing that somebody else must have satisfactorily resolved all the difficulties for them, so that they needn't worry about it.

  20. Mark P said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 1:20 pm

    " …doesn't necessarily imply "free of all error"."

    I must be familiar with a different order of fundamentalists. "Free of all error" is exactly what most of the ones I know believe.

    [(myl) I've been surprised by the lack of public consequences from the grammatical implications of biblical inerrancy. ]

  21. David Eddyshaw said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 1:42 pm

    @Mark P:

    Quite possibly; the position you describe is called "inerrantism" and its proponents tend to look down on those who merely believe that the Bible is infallible as dangerous liberals unworthy of the name of "fundamentalist". More-fundamentalist-than-thou, in fact. More charitably, I think the fear is that this is a slippery slope: admit any error, and where do you stop? What is to stop you throwing out doctrines which happen to be unpopular in contemporary secular society?

    This is probably to some extent a difference between the US and the UK; the full-blown inerrantist position is not much in evidence here in Britain among evangelical Christians.

    You would probably get some interesting results if you were to ask your inerrantist friends what they actually *mean* by "free of all error"; I find in practice the answer is so hedged about with qualifications as to what actually *counts* as an error that in practice they are not saying anything very different from those who don't describe their position as inerrantist. As I said above, I think little actual thought generally goes on about the use of these labels, which are essentially being used as a sort of self-defence.

  22. Emily said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 1:50 pm

    @Mark P and Yuval: Indeed, I thought Palin was just being melodramatic, which isn't uncommon for her.

  23. David Eddyshaw said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 2:03 pm

    Talking of grammatical error in the Bible, Revelation provides examples of unequivocal errors not only in translation, but in the original Greek
    eg Rev 1.4 'apo ho on …'

  24. dr pepper said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 2:17 pm

    @Jonathan Lundell said,

    (A quote follows. May the Ten Plagues afflict the creators of WordPress if it doesn't work.)

    Here's another formulation that's fairly common among evangelicals:

    The Bible is God’s Word to us. It was written by human authors, under the supernatural guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is the supreme source of truth for Christian beliefs and living. Because it is inspired by God, it is the truth without any mixture of error (in the original manuscripts).

    The parenthetical is, of course, a pretty sizable loophole.

    Hardcore KJV onlyists do not allow that loophole. Their claim is that God himself sat in with James's scholars and made sure that the words came out right. As a result, the KJV is the only true version, more accurate than the manuscripts it was translated from, or any other manuscripts.

  25. dr pepper said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 2:21 pm

    Also, in the story of Esther, what word is in the original that gets translated as "jew"? Is it one that means "inhabitant of Judah" or "member of the hebrew ethnicity", or "follower of Yahweh"?

  26. Bloix said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 2:23 pm

    This is a phenomenal catch – it seems certain that she's comparing herself to Queen Esther, which is her usual narcissism in full flower: resigning from the governorship is being compared to act of political courage undertaken to save her people.

    "You can be sure the Jews still spoke in Hebrew to each other"
    Well, Esther and Mordechai didn't speak anything to each other, as they are fictional characters created many years after the time of Xerxes I or perhaps Artaxerxes I (one or the other is the King Ahasuerus of the story). But if they had existed, they – like other Persian Jews who stayed behind in the post-exilic period – would almost certainly have spoken to each other in Aramaic.

  27. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 3:15 pm

    Separate from Scripture, there's the possible influence of the Virgin Prunes:…If_I_Die,_I_Die. I thought of that first, but maybe that's because I only know Esther in the King James Version . . . To the extent the VP lp title was supposed to be an allusion, I don't know what it was, but it ought to be easier for Prof. Liberman to find a sullen Goth kid lurking around West Philly than an evangelical.

  28. acilius said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 3:16 pm

    @David Eddyshaw: "the New Testament, for which the manuscript evidence is overwhelmingly the best of any ancient book" The phrase this brings to mind is "damning with faint praise." Being the best attested ancient text is rather like being the world's most famous waiter. I don't disagree with your basic point, though.

  29. Nathan Myers said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 3:27 pm

    David Eddyshaw: …what textual problems there are don't affect any basic doctrine.

    I can't tell if you're joking. The translation error that led to the word "virgin" has certainly had serious, not to say comical, doctrinal consequences.

  30. Bloix said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 3:28 pm

    Dr Pepper, you ask a very interesting question, to which I just happen to know the answer. Esther is the first book of the Bible to use the word Yehudi (Jew) and the first reference to Yehadut (Judaism) as a distinct belief system. It even has a word meaning to convert to Judaism ("hityahed"), showing that to the author of Esther, Judaism was a religion, not an ethnicity.

    Yehudi (m.) or Yehudit (f.) literally means Judean, of the tribe or the kingdom of Judah. If you remember your biblical history, you'll recall that after the death of Solomon, the kingdom of Israel broke apart into Israel in the north and Judah or Judea in the south. (Judah was one of the sons of Jacob, and his decendants formed the tribe of Judah.) The Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians and its Jews were killed or enslaved, and disappeared as a separate ethnicity (they are the "ten lost tribes.") The Kingdom of Judah was later conquered by the Babylonians and taken into exile as slaves ("by the rivers of Babylon we sat down, and there we wept as we remembered Zion.") Then, in the 6th c., Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered the Babylonians, and allowed the Jews to return to Judah – but not all of them did, and many stayed and prospered. There they were known as Judeans, or yehudim – the word that became "Jews" – since they had come from the conquered kingdom of Judah. (The lingua franca of Persia was Aramaic, which is very close to Hebrew and similar enough that the word Yehudi works in both Hebrew and Aramaic.)

    You mention "Hebrew." That's a biblical word, first attached to Abraham 'ha-ivri" (the Hebrew), and its etymology isn't clear but it may mean "the one who crossed over" – perhaps over the river Euphrates, perhaps over something more spiritual. The most common word for the Jews in the Bible and the rabbinic literature is "Israel," either on its own as a collective noun, or in the phrase "bnei Israel," the children of Israel.

  31. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 3:41 pm

    @David Eddyshaw: Or Revelation is written in a distinctive Greek idiolect of which it is the only surviving example . . . I do remember taking NT Greek (I think I got credit toward the Linguistics major!) back in my lost youth and the class being told by the professor that St. John had done various things with case endings etc. that would have attracted furious deployment of the instructor's red pen had we done them in our own introductory Greek classes, but, you know, his prose was nonetheless canonical Scripture and ours wasn't.

  32. David Eddyshaw said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 3:42 pm

    @dr pepper:

    "Also, in the story of Esther, what word is in the original that gets translated as "jew"? Is it one that means "inhabitant of Judah" or "member of the hebrew ethnicity", or "follower of Yahweh"?"

    The word used is יהודי "Yehudi" i.e.Judah-ite, the normal later Hebrew word for the people after the first exile. The majority of the tribes comprising the pre-exilic Hebrews ended up "lost", and the Judah tribe were the majority of those left. "Judah" is a person, not a place, the tribal ancestor; the kingdom is "Judaea".

  33. David Eddyshaw said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 4:12 pm

    @Nathan Meyers:

    Sure, but that's not a *textual* error: there's no doubt on that level that the original text of the New Testament had "parthenos", reflecting the Septuagint's *mistranslation* of the original Hebrew in Isaiah.

  34. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 4:25 pm

    @ Nathan M.: the Spanish given names Maria and Jesus ultimately derive via several intermediate steps from the Hebrew names conventionally Anglicized as Miriam and Joshua.

  35. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 4:36 pm

    @ David E.: fundamentalists could avoid a lot of difficulties if they became LXX-Onlyists. We really can't know if that was a mistranslation unless, at a minimum, we have direct access to the Hebrew text the LXX translator was working from, and we don't. What we can be more sure of is that the LXX was produced at a time when Jewish-v.-Christian exegetical controversies did not yet exist, whereas the MT manuscripts we do have tend to postdate those controversies.

  36. David Eddyshaw said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 5:08 pm

    @J W Brewer:

    I think you may be alluding to the idea that the Jews deliberately altered the text of Isaiah long after the time of the LXX in order to discredit the Christian interpretation.

    This has, more's the pity, been seriously advanced in an attempt to explain away the problem, but I must say it has always struck me as ludicrously improbable. It's inconceivable that the Massoretes would have messed with the text, and their attitudes didn't spring from nowhere, but reflect centuries of concern for exact preservation of the text which surely goes back at the very least to the catastrophe of Titus' destruction of Jerusalem.

    I suppose that the best you can say about it is that the LXX was a translation made by Jews for Jews with no reason whatsoever to consciously misrepresent their original; on the other hand, its quality as a translation is notoriously pretty patchy … good intentions aren't always enough when it comes to translation.

  37. Karl Weber said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 5:27 pm

    Katherine Harris of Florida recount fame reportedly used to quote the same words to liken herself to Queen Esther: "If I perish,I perish."

  38. David Eddyshaw said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 5:38 pm

    @J W Brewer:

    It occurs to me I've done you the discourtesy of carelessly misrepresenting your position; you're in fact just pointing out that there were different texts of the scriptures in circulation around at the time of the LXX (which is certain) so there's nothing impossible about the MT being based on a different textual tradition, without any skulduggery being imputed to anyone. Come to that I can quite easily imagine that if I were faced with a choice of two equally good witnesses to the text of my scriptures, I would tend to pick the one less likely to conduce to a seriously heretical misinterpretation …

    I must admit I never thought of it in quite those terms before (see, LL is *educational*) but it does still strike me as a bit too convenient as a solution. Must be the Calvinist strain coming out …

  39. Jonathan Lundell said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 5:40 pm

    David Eddyshaw writes (in part):

    The point of it is to try to safeguard a particular doctrinal view of what it means to say that the Bible is "infallible"; in the technical context of this discussion among Christians, "infallible" means "cannot lead astray in matters of faith" and doesn't necessarily imply "free of all error".

    My impression (as an insider) is that very few of those whom claim to believe that the Bible is infallible actually give the matter much thought, happily supposing that somebody else must have satisfactorily resolved all the difficulties for them, so that they needn't worry about it.

    WRT the technical discussers vs the happy supposers, I'm reminded of a comment of William James (I don't have the reference or wording at hand) to the effect that we shouldn't confuse the priestly/seminarian version of religion with that of the flock-at-large. The former tends to be quite sophisticated, even at evangelical seminaries, with terms like "infallibility" quite as technical as, say, "supervenience" for a secular philosopher. The priesthood (I use the term loosely, and include lay theologians) is generally inclined, in my experience anyway, to shield the laity from the profound mystery of the, um, profound Mystery at the core.

    None of this really matters to the Sarah-as-Esther business, though, which requires only the Sunday-school bible story to be understood.

  40. David Eddyshaw said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 5:59 pm

    @Jonathan Lundell:

    Very true; that William James knew a thing or two …

    The sort of fundamentalist tradition I belong to is in fact all too keen on the technical discussion bit (a tendency to disappear up our own fundamentals?)

    The happy supposers are the guys actually doing the stuff that makes things better …

  41. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 6:03 pm

    @ David E. I appreciate the courtesy and you have correctly divined the theory, which is certainly not original on my part. I am agnostic as to the good faith vel non of the Masoretes, although "inconceivable" seems like a pretty strong claim on your part. I have read at second-hand that some of the Dead Sea Scrolls fragments that do not coincide with the MT can be plausibly understood as evidencing a variant Hebrew text that would satisfactory account for certain MT/LXX inconsistencies, whereas other fragments seem to agree with neither MT nor LXX but represent some third textual tradition. Don't know if any of those fragments might bear on the parthenos question, or even the text of Esther (which is of course very different in the LXX).

    If Gov. Palin were not limited to the Hebrew/Evangelical canon but had the whole LXX available to her, she could consider Judith as another fine example of a Biblical woman who took an active leadership role in public affairs.

  42. Nathan Myers said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 6:10 pm

    @J W Brewer: Are we sure none of the apparently Hebrew names ultimately derive from Babylonian or Sumerian? Of course we'll never know if they're really Harappan.

  43. David Eddyshaw said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 6:21 pm

    @J W Brewer:

    Sarah Palin as Judith … this could be a whole new departure in US foreign relations.

    I don't want to think about this any more.

  44. CWV said,

    July 9, 2009 @ 7:27 pm

    I know I'm a bit late to the party with this, but I realized when driving home that Palin's "if I die, I die" quote may have in fact been an allusion to lyrics from the new Wilco album, which came out just three days before she announced her resignation. On the song "I'll Fight," Jeff Tweedy sings:

    And if I die
    I'll die, I'll die alone
    Like Jesus on the cross
    My faith cannot be tossed
    My life will not be lost
    If my love comes across

    Perhaps not as likely as the evangelical explanation, but Palin never ceases to surprise. Of course, given the ethical scandals that have plagued her recently, perhaps the lyrics to "Bull Black Nova" would have been more fitting:

    It's in my hair
    It's on my clothes
    It's in the river over the road
    It's shining down, my angry star
    Hanging on the hood of my car
    I'm not going far
    I'm not going far
    It's coming down
    They're coming up the shoulders
    What have they found?
    I wonder if they know
    I'm in a bull black Chevy Nova
    Silhouetted by the setting sun
    This can't be undone
    This can't be undone

    Or, if Dahlia Lithwick's hypthesis is believe, then perhaps the most appropriate lyric would have been:

    You and I
    We might be strangers
    However close we get sometimes
    It's like we never met.

    Who knew that Wilco (the album) was actually a Sarah Palin tribute album?

  45. bingobangoboy said,

    July 10, 2009 @ 1:00 am

    This line can only possibly be a reference to Rocky IV. (from about 9:15 on this clip)

  46. Chris Laughrun said,

    July 10, 2009 @ 5:24 pm

    With respect to the Bible and Wilco, I think we've been missing something here. An unwanted embarrassment? Self-banishment? The quote itself? The passus classicus is obviously P.24 from The Secret History of the Mongols:

    Bodoncar uruq a ese to'aqdaju ede atala ya'un ke'eju qol da'aritu qodoli se'ultu Oroq singqula i uniju uku'esu inu ukusugei a'asu inu asuqai ke'eju Onan Muren huru'u yorciju talbiba yorciju Baljun Aral gurcu tende ebesun nembule ger kiju tende aba sa'uba

    Bodoncar, no longer counted among the family, said “Why should I stay here?” Mounting a black-striped gray with saddle sores and a bald tail, and saying “If I die, I die. If I live, I live!,” he rode along the Onan River. Arriving at Baljun Island, he made a grass hut for a tent, and lived there.

    Now that’s dog-whistle rhetoric!

    Problem solved. Easy peasy. Send me my check.

  47. Richard Careaga said,

    July 11, 2009 @ 2:25 am

    In support of the view the phrase may not be allusive, consider the report of Albert Ellis' use as a preschooler:

    During a ten-month hospitalization for nephritis, which he got when he was four and a half, he eased his anxiety and loneliness by telling himself, “If I die, I die—fuck it—it’s not the end of the world.”

  48. Dave (Balashon) said,

    July 14, 2009 @ 4:28 am

    I wrote a bit about the interpretations of the Hebrew verb "avad" (which you have translated above as "die") here:

  49. Aaron Davies said,

    July 14, 2009 @ 9:42 am

    @yuval (re very first comment): reminds me of the difficulties in trying to translate Μολὼν λάβε (the spartans' "come and take them") "correctly". apparently the tenses and moods actually convey that defeat is assumed; it's something like "when you have defeated us, then you will take them". the problem is the attitude: all the standard english translations come out belligerent, not fatalistic or resigned; a completely literal interpretation of "over my dead body" or heston's "out of my cold, dead hands" would work, but nobody uses the phrases that way.

  50. Aaron Davies said,

    July 14, 2009 @ 9:43 am

    @Speculator 5000: there's a joke in one of isaac asimov's books about israel hiring a PR agency to improve their image: the first piece of advice is to change the country's name to "irving".

  51. John Cowan said,

    July 17, 2009 @ 1:01 pm

    I was discussing the LXX vs. the MT with Mark Shoulson yesterday, and it occurred to me that the LXX is something like the Samaritan Pentateuch: it is the result of a non-inerrantist editing process that freely cleans up inconsistencies in the original (we were talking about the genealogies in Genesis 46 vs. their equivalents in Numbers), but then (probably precisely because it is not inerrantist) is more subject to random corruptions later. Such a process seems to me to account for most of the non-tendentious differences between the MT and the SP (Mark has published a side-by-side edition of these); the SP is actually for the most part a better text, not in the sense of being more original, but in the sense of having been better copy edited to start with — but with a less reliable transmission chain since the original split than the MT has had.

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