Frankincense and Mirth: God's Got a Million of 'Em
Gene Weingarten is on vacation. This column originally was published in 2002.
WASHINGTON -- My friend Pat was leafing through her Old Testament the other day, searching for inspirational stories for her Sunday school students, when she happened upon something that was utterly astonishing but waaay too juvenile for the kids. So she called me.
Pat gave me the chapter and verse. Check it out, she said. It'll make you laugh.
Now, I respect the Bible, but I have never found much humor in it. Sure, you've got to like the wonderfully random names ("Ham") and kooky adjectives ("wroth") and entertainingly indiscriminate smitings. Also, the rules and regs can get pretty amusing ("If a woman approach-eth any beast to mate with it, she and the beast shall be put to death ... "). But by and large, in my experience, the Bible is a pretty laughless tome.
Pat had directed me to I Samuel, Chapters 5 and 6. It was a story about how the Philistines (the lunkheads who would go down in history for their crummy table manners, crying-clown art, public nose-picking, etc.) had defeated the Israelites and wrested from them the Ark of the Covenant. God did not like this. He showed his displeasure by visiting upon the Philistines a pair of plagues: mice, and something my Bible called "emerods." I read right over this. Many people do this with the Bible, because the Bible is full of archaic words ("myrrh") that you have to glide over if you are ever going to get to the smitings.
Anyhow, it turns out this was my mistake. According to the dictionary, emerods are ... "hemorrhoids."
God smote the Philistines with a plague of hemorrhoids.
The Philistines didn't seem to mind the mice all that much. But the hemorrhoids got their attention. Quoting from I Samuel 5:12:
"The outcry of the city went up to Heaven."
The Philistines tried to waddle over to neighboring towns to foist the Ark off on other people, but a plague of hemorrhoids followed not far behind, as it were. Eventually, they decided to give the darned thing back to the Israelites, along with an apology in the form of 10 images carved in gold: to wit, five golden mouse statues, and five golden "figures of their emerods."