“Any that pisseth against the wall”

There you have the “unseemly clause” in the Old Testament, at least according to the KJV, a number of times:

1Sam. 25:22 So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave of all that pertain to him by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall.

1Sam. 25:34 For in very deed, as the LORD God of Israel liveth, which hath kept me back from hurting thee, except thou hadst hasted and come to meet me, surely there had not been left unto Nabal by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall.

1Kings 14:10 Therefore, behold, I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel, and will take away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam, as a man taketh away dung, till it be all gone.

1Kings 16:11 And it came to pass, when he began to reign, as soon as he sat on his throne, that he slew all the house of Baasha: he left him not one that pisseth against a wall, neither of his kinsfolks, nor of his friends.

1Kings 21:21 Behold, I will bring evil upon thee, and will take away thy posterity, and will cut off from Ahab him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel,

2Kings 9:8 For the whole house of Ahab shall perish: and I will cut off from Ahab him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel:

Most translations “sanitize” the term “pisseth.” So, here are the same verses in the NIV 2011.

1Sam. 25:22 May God deal with David, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him!”

1Sam. 25:34 Otherwise, as surely as the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak.”

1Kings 14:10 “ ‘Because of this, I am going to bring disaster on the house of Jeroboam. I will cut off from Jeroboam every last male in Israel—slave or free. I will burn up the house of Jeroboam as one burns dung, until it is all gone.

1Kings 16:11 As soon as he began to reign and was seated on the throne, he killed off Baasha’s whole family. He did not spare a single male, whether relative or friend.

1Kings 21:21 He says, ‘I am going to bring disaster on you. I will wipe out your descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel—slave or free.

2Kings 9:8 The whole house of Ahab will perish. I will cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel—slave or free.

Just the sort of oddity in the Bible my colleague, Claude Mariottini, thinks deserves some scrutiny.
Dr. Mariottini breaks the options into five possibilities in his book Rereading the Biblical Text: Searching for Meaning & Understanding:

1. Males: men or boys of a family.
2. A dog’s actions as a pejorative metaphor for a man.
3. A metaphor for an evil man.
4. The Talmud discusses if it is permissible to urinate on another man’s wall.
5. A metaphor for a man who hopes for progeny (Smith’s view, rooted in “urine omina” in Assyrian Dream Book).

Claude doesn’t think Smith’s view holds the answer, as that view doesn’t work for David in 1 Samuel 25 where there is no suggestion of hoping for progeny. So he sorts the information out:

1. There is an allusion to dogs, so that is the origin of the metaphor (e.g., 1 Sam 25:3; 1 Kings 14:10-11).
2. In the Bible it refers to men pejoratively.
3. Dogs were unclean (Exodus 22:31).
4. In other words, the metaphor for humans is vulgar, an obscenity, and emerges from anger. To say of another man that he is one that pisses against the wall is to say he’s a dog, and to say he’s a dog is an insult of high order.

Claude says the natural equivalent is “S.O.B.”.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • yaddamaster

    this.is.simply.awesome.

  • jonthekiwi

    Think you’ll appreciate this clip then… http://youtu.be/RNCoevpt5TE

  • Rick Presley

    I find it amusing that people who claim to revere the Bible find it necessary to sanitize the language so as not to offend delicate sensibilities. Maybe the problem isn’t what the Bible says so much as our sense of what it ought to say.

  • Kent Anderson

    Well that preaches!

  • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

    That’s funny. I’ve been told that
    unlike Frenchmen, Americans find pissing against extremely vulgar, is it true? J

    Frankly speaking, it is not easy at all for me to understand how someone can seriously think that the Creator of everything expressed Himself in this manner.

    Lovely greetings from continental Europe.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

  • mteston1

    Gives a whole new meaning to being “pissed off.” lol

  • Dave Z

    jonthekiwi, I thought of that guy immediately too.

  • Tara Beth Leach

    First of all, I love this post. Secondly, this YouTube clip is amazing…hilarious and painful all at the same time. I wasn’t sure if I should cry or laugh! Thanks for sharing.

  • ao

    Amen.

  • 4thegloryofgod

    Shouldn’t the real question or the first question be “what does the Hebrew text say?” rather than “what the translator used in his English language version?”

  • Jeff Martin

    I had realized that this phrase was always used in a negative context a long time ago but never could figure out why. This makes a lot of sense. Thanks Dr. Mariottini!

  • http://www.warrenbaldwin.blogspot.com/ Warren Baldwin

    Interesting exegesis!

  • McRobert

    Young’s Literal Translation of the bible uses the phrase “sitting
    on the wall”. Is this an attempt at inclusiveness; women as well as men
    can “sit” on the wall, and if so is it justified by altering the
    meaning to pertain to those who crap on the wall? LOL

  • attytjj466

    Love the colorful metaphor. Oh what we lose by reading english translations. But the metaphor seems to be for a vulgar metaphor for males/ men. SOB really does not fit the above passages. Seems to be a colorful and vulgar way of saying “males”.

  • James G.

    More like eisegesis.

  • attytjj466

    Oh wow what a wild youtube sermon clip. Made my day!

  • attytjj466

    Reminds of a time when I was out in backyard with my son then 4 years old and we both had to pee and I took him behind a tree and we both peed. He asked me “Dad why are we peeing out here on a tree?” And I replied, because we can.

  • kittehtheo

    Curse you. Another book to buy.

  • Bill Donahue

    First, I thought S.O.B meant “Sons of Baptists” as a professor friend of mine once chuckled and said. Gotta use the photo in a Sunday service — but that would just P_ _ _ people off. :)

  • Ben Tobias

    It’s the male prerogative!

  • pastordt

    Way cool. I always love learning another epithet that has biblical sanction. :>) (Have you already addressed Paul’s use of . . . ‘garbage’ . . . in “I count it all (‘garbage’)??


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