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Adam’s Nose

August 8, 2013

Yes, it’s true. I feel called back. I have been reading and want to say something as a female writer. But do I want to discuss female issues? Yes, always!

However, today my question is about Adam’s nose. What is it doing here, and why does nobody talk about it? Too polite, I’m sure.

בְּזֵעַת אַפֶּיךָ

תֹּאכַל לֶחֶם

In the sweat of thy face,
Thou shalt eat bread.

εν ιδρωτι του προσωπου σου
φαγη τον αρτον σου

The word here is אף and not פּנים. There seems to be some kind of euphemistic reluctance to  calling a nose a nose. Check out the different times it is called the “face.” Why not say that the ring was in her nose? Is face any better? Why not say that they bowed nose to the ground instead of face to the ground? Seems a little odd to me.

Perhaps, it wasn’t Adam’s nose that is in focus in Gen. 3:19. Maybe it is the hard breathing involved in tilling the ground, or how angry Adam felt, or whatever? It still seems like a copout to call a “nose,” that protruding member, the “face.”

9 Comments leave one →
  1. August 9, 2013 8:11 am

    Now this, Suzanne, is a brilliant observation! What is so difficult about giving Adam or Rebekah a nose?

    It’s not as if the LXX translator didn’t have this choice (a choice clearly taken for the idols who “have noses” – ῥῖνας ἔχουσιν – in the Psalms, here for example and even added in the Greek by the translator here).

    Maybe it’s the sweat and the snot, the messy body secretions that noses and nostrils give off. Nemesius, who studied Galen’s science and who wrote On the Nature of Humans, observed streams of secretions from pores and noses (see “περὶ τοῦ θρεπτικοῦ”, or CHAPITRE XXIII here):

    ἐκκρίνεται δὲ τὰ περιττὰ
    διὰ γαστρός,
    δι’ οὔρων,
    δι’ ἐμέτων,
    δι’ ἱδρώτων,
    διὰ στόματος,
    διὰ ῥινῶν,
    δι’ ὤτων,
    δι’ ὀφθαλμῶν,
    διὰ τῆς ἐκπνοῆς,
    διὰ τῶν ἀδήλων πόρων.

    And in the “frigid romance” Adventures of Hysmine and Hysminias by Eumathius, there’s this (which would have been flat and tragic to reduce to a mere προσωπους):

    καὶ ἡ Ῥοδόπη τῇ κλίνῃ παρακαθίσασα ἥπτετό μου χειρῶν,
    ἀπεμάσσετο τοὺς ἱδρῶτας,
    ὅλον ἐκοινοῦτό μοι τὸ δυστύχημα,
    τὴν ψυχὴν ἀνεκτᾶτό μου
    τὰς ῥῖνας
    ὑγράν μοι χεῖρα κατεπετίθει τῷ στέρνῳ
    καί μοι τὸ περικάρδιον ἔψυχε.

    On female issues by female writers, what you’ve written also reminds me of something I read this very morning, the [silent, absent, unnamed, characterless, faceless] mother’s perspective on the prodigal son parable, by Julia Marks. She might as well have had a runny nose. She toils and sweats from her face and her nose like Adam. The writer asks:

    Are children so different than loaves of bread, she wondered?

    Don’t they need to be kneaded, turned, left alone to rise, and cooked tenderly so that their best is expressed?

    Or did her tears join with the drops of sweat that dropped onto the worktable below her?

  2. August 9, 2013 11:19 am

    God and us are nose to nose – or anger to anger.

  3. August 10, 2013 1:09 am

    I have to admit I was weeding these past two days in a garden that holds some anger for me – and the sweat was running down my brow and off my nose. How curious that you would point this out to me… great to hear your voice again – all the best

  4. August 10, 2013 10:01 am

    Bob, Do you know whether Everett Fox (or by chance Robert Alter) ever play on the Hebrew meanings of אף (anger / nose) with their respective English translations of “The Five Books of Moses”?

  5. August 10, 2013 12:01 pm

    Sorry, Kurk, I don’t know about their translations. In the psalms, I have not seen such a play – but I have done it in my Sunday school classes by wrinkling up my nose to show ‘anger’. (I teach 5 minutes of Hebrew a week when I can – the kids enjoy the fun.) I think one needs more than words to play on the nose/anger axis in English.

  6. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    August 10, 2013 2:17 pm

    Hi Bob,

    Yes, its been so dry here all summer, but I hope it will rain today and give the garden a good soak. Otherwise I’ll be out watering again. Nobody ever believes that the summers are very dry in Vancouver.


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