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YHWH’s Hand and the Iconography of the Blow in Psalm 81:14–16

From: Journal of Biblical Literature
Volume 132, Number 4, 2013
pp. 865-882 | 10.1353/jbl.2013.0052



Psalm 81 contains a divine oracle in which Yhwh promises to act against Israel’s enemies. The nature of that activity, however, is unclear, particularly as v. 15b describes it: ועל צריהם אשיב ידי. How does the verbal action—ostensibly some sort of “turning” (√שוב)—relate to the verbal object of the sentence, ידי (“my hand”), as well as the prepositional phrase beginning with על On the basis of evidence from the immediate literary context as well as iconographic data from the ancient Near East, this essay argues for a translation “I will rear back my hand above their foes.” The text thus provides a literary instantiation of the iconographic trope of the Egyptian king lifting his hand menacingly above his subjugated enemies. As such, it reflects both a borrowing and a bold reappropriation of Egyptian imagery. The allusion to the “iconography of the blow” reminds the community that Yhwh has supplanted the pharaoh in his position of dominance and now stands ready to vanquish any other foe who might oppose them.

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