M.W. Thomson's Bizarre Tattoo Theories
Date: Fri, 2 May 2003 19:07:28 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Comment on this please
To: [email protected]
Hi, My name is J. and this is an excerpt from Stephen G. Gilbert's book "Tattoo history: A source book".
I'm wondering if you could comment on this please to set the record straight.
"But other historical records and biblical passages seem to indicate that religious tattooing was common among ancient Jews and some Christian sects. As evidence of the antiquity of tattooing among Semites, Scutt and Gotch report that the sun god Baal required his worshippers to mark their hands with "divine tokens in a mystic attempt to acquire strength." The same authors have discovered what is probably the earliest recorded instance of the sacrilegious use of tattooing: a certain Jehoaikim defied the Almighty by having the Sacred Name tattooed on his penis and then compounded the insult by indiscriminately committing incest with family members.
According to biblical scholar M.W. Thomson, Moses "either instituted such a custom [tattooing] or appropriated one already existing to a religious purpose." Thomson quotes Exodus 9 & 16: "And thou shalt show thy son in that day, saying, this is done because of that which the Lord did unto me when I came forth out of Egypt; and it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thy hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes." Thomson theorizes that Moses borrowed tattooing from the Arabs, who tattooed magical symbols on their hands and foreheads. Moses supposedly adapted this custom to his own purposes, creating patterns "so devised as to commemorate the deliverance of the Children of Israel from bondage." According to Thomson, the prohibition in Leviticus referred only to heathen tattooing which had to do with idolatry and superstition, and not to the Moses-approved tattoo designs.
Thomson goes on to cite a number of other biblical references to tattooing. In Deuteronomy Moses scolds those who have "the spot which is not the spot of God's children." ... In Isaiah there is an apparent reference to tattooing in the following passage: (xlix. 15 & 16): "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold I have graven thee on the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me." ...
Thanks for writing.
Obviously tattoos existed in the Middle East at the time that G-d gave the Torah
to the children of Israel. If this were not so there would be no need to forbid them.
Jehoaikim's/Yehoyakim's tattoo is mentioned on my web site:
"...Yehoyakim stretched his foreskin as it is said (II Chronicles 36:8) And the rest of Yehoyakim's matters and his abominations that he did and that was found upon him.... What was found upon him? That he stretched his foreskin. And there are those that say that he tattooed himself"(Midrash Tanchuma Lech Lecha 20).
After I made the web site I found in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 103B) that Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Eliezer disagreed as to what Yehoyakim engraved on his member: one of them said it was the name of the LORD (in order to be sacrilegious), the other said it was the name of an idol(in order to show his devotion to idol worship).
M.W. Thomson's claim that Moses "either instituted such a custom [tattooing] or appropriated one already existing to a religious purpose" is entirely baseless.
The Hebrew phrase for tattoo "k'thoveth qa'aqa"
(see http://www.geocities.com/mnlerner2000/let007.html ) is not used in any of his "proof texts".
Here is an explanation for all of the verses that Thomson cites:
Exodus 13:9 and 13:16 (incorrectly quoted above as "Exodus 9 & 16") have nothing to do with tattoos.
These verses are referring to the biblical commandment of donning Tefillin(phylacteries), which
Jews practice since the Torah was given to this very day. Tefillin are small
black leather boxes that contain certain portions from the Torah. You can learn more
about this at http://www.beingjewish.com/mitzvos/tefillin.html .
Although there is an opinion in the Talmud(Makoth 21A) that the the "prohibition in Leviticus
referred only to heathen tattooing which had to do with idolatry", this is a minority opinion that was not accepted(Maimonides Laws of Idol Worship 12:11, Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 180).
"The spot which is not the spot of God's children" is the King James version of
Deuteronomy 32:5. As one who is familiar with the original Hebrew, I think that
the translation from the Machon Mamre web site is more accurate: "Is corruption His? No; His children's is the blemish; a generation crooked and perverse." In any case, the verse has nothing to do with tattoos.
With regards to Isaiah 49:15-16, let's take a look at the passage starting from verse 14(from the Machon Mamre web site):
"14 But Zion said: 'The LORD hath forsaken me, and the Lord hath forgotten me.' 15 Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, these may forget, yet will not I forget thee. 16 Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of My hands; thy walls are continually before Me."
This "is an apparent reference to tattooing"? Not at all!
Notice "Me" and "My" are written with a capital "M" i.e "I have graven thee upon the palms of My hands" is figuratively referring to God Himself. Thomson's bizarre idea that
"religious tattooing was common among ancient Jews" finds no support from these verses.
The prophet is simply explaining in an allegorical way that the LORD always remembers Zion!
To make a long story short, M.W. Thomson's claims do not have a leg to stand on. His "proof texts"
only prove the dangers of learning scripture from translations and not
from the original Hebrew text. The truth is what I wrote on my web site: 'The rank and file Jew, even those who were not devout in other matters, also considered tattoos as taboo. Just like Jews kept the positive precept of Brith Milah happily and sometimes with great sacrifice, so they kept the negative precept of "and tattoos do not put upon you." '
Hope this helps.
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BACK TO "TATTOOS ARE NOT FOR JEWS"