Judges 5:25: Jael's Cunning

Verse 25:[1] (Judg. 4:19) He asked water, and she gave him milk; she brought forth butter in a lordly dish.

[And in a bowl of princes (similarly Munster, Pagnine, Tigurinus, Montanus), בְּסֵ֥פֶל אַדִּירִ֖ים] In a bowl of the eminent, or of nobles (Vatablus); in a simpulum of the magnificent (Junius and Tremellius, Piscator). A simpulum, both here and in Judges 6:38, is a vessel designed for sacred and magnificent things (Junius, Piscator). From סֵפֶל/sephel the word simpulum [concerning which, if there is time, see Bochart’s Sacred Catalogue of Animals 1:2:49:548] came to the Lydians,[2] and thence from the Lydians to the Etruscans,[3] and then to the Romans. It is interpreted as a Cyathus[4] by Varro[5] in his Of Agricultural Topics[6] 4, Festus,[7] and Greco-Latin Glossaries. Pliny also makes mention of it in Natural History 35:12 (Grotius). They understand, either, 1. in a bowl of the sort in which noble men are wont to drink (Vatablus, Lapide, similarly Lyra, Menochius). But it is not likely that in this house, which spurned wine and all luxury and delicacies, there were such vessels (Bonfrerius). Or, 2. in a very great bowl. For eminent men are wont to be greeted with very large drinking vessels. Cicero Against Marcus Antonius 2:63: If this had happened during supper amid those vast drinking-cups of yours, who would not have thought it scandalous? (Martyr). So that he might drink amply, plentifully, and unto satiety (Malvenda, similarly Montanus’ Commentary, Serarius). [That אַדִּירִים, majestic ones, the Septuagint conjoins with what follows, and thus divides the verse, She gave milk in a bowl: the butter of the excellent she brought.]

[Butter (thus Munster, Tigurinus), חֶמְאָה] The milk of butter (Junius and Tremellius, Piscator, Vatablus, Drusius), that is, fresh, and not pressed (Junius, Piscator, Drusius): or, the milk out of which the butter had been pressed (Vatablus, Kimchi in Drusius). The milk of butter, which remains after the butter. It weighs the heart down, and clouds the mind. Or she gave to him butter to eat after she had given him milk to drink. For בְנאֺד, in the skin, she gave him milk to drink (Kimchi in Drusius). Butter, in the place of milk, whence butter is taken. Thus bread is put in the place of the grain from which bread is made (Drusius). Butter here is the cream and fat of milk, which was not separated from the milk, from which butter is wont to be made (Bonfrerius).

Butter, or, cream, that is, the choicest of her milk; so the same thing is repeated in differing words. In a lordly dish; which you are not to understand of such a stately and costly dish as the luxury of after-ages brought in, which is not agreeable to the simplicity, either of this family, or of those ancient times; but of a comely and convenient dish, the best which she had, and such as the better sort of persons then used.

[1] Hebrew: מַ֥יִם שָׁאַ֖ל חָלָ֣ב נָתָ֑נָה בְּסֵ֥פֶל אַדִּירִ֖ים הִקְרִ֥יבָה חֶמְאָֽה׃

[2] Lydia was on the western coast of Asia Minor.

[3] The Etruscan civilization preceded that of Rome on the Italian peninsula.

[4] A cyathus was a ladle, holding about a twelfth of a pint.

[5] Marcus Terentius Varro, or Varro Reatinus (116-27 BC), was a Roman statesman and scholar, called “the most learned of the Romans.”

[6] Rerum Rusticarum Libri Tres.

[7] Sextus Pompeius Festus was a second century Roman grammarian. He composed an epitome of Verrius Flaccus’ De Verborum Significatu.

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