When is a Foot Really a Penis? And Other Things the Bible Taught Me.

Mary Magdalene

Image via Wikipedia

When I was about seven or eight, I had a coloring book that retold stories from the Old Testament.

I know what you are thinking.


I am fairly certain it arrived in my Easter basket along with a Skip-It, a new box of Crayolas and some chalk. The Easter Bunny was flush that year.

One of the stories was from the Book of Ruth, and as that is my mother’s name, it caught my eye. The drawings depicted a woman who also reminded me a lot of my mother physically though her obedient behavior and willingness to be a follower was not something I have ever associated with Mom, no matter what she may say about her demeanor back then.

Dad thought the story of Ruth‘s betrothal and marriage to a man named Boaz was a hoot because Boaz essentially seals the engagement by offering one of his sandals to Ruth’s kinsmen. He shared the story with all of his friends and some of them loved it so much that he was forever after known as “Boaz” in particular circles.

But I have told this story before.

What is interesting enough to prompt me to bring it up again springs from a couple of book reviews on two works soon to be published on biblical interpretation.

Fascinating stuff? More than you know.

In the days of the Protestant Reformation, one of the big deals the reformers sought – and the Catholic Church fought against – was printing the Bible in common language instead of Latin. Reformers believed that even the lowest rungs of society would benefit from being able to read the word of God for themselves. Rome cringed and declared that ordinary folk weren’t capable of interpreting scripture correctly. They would inevitably read the Bible wrong and heaven only knew what would come of that.

Ironically, the old school Catholic Church was correct to be concerned. The Bible is probably one of the most poorly understood and badly interpreted texts ever.

The authors of the new books want to set a few language and interpretation issues straight because they feel that the Christian right and the political right in the United States are deliberately promoting non-ideas and values based on faulty knowledge of the Bible.

Which brings me back to feet – Boaz’s – and Ruth.

In the story of Ruth, she pretty much puts the moves on Boaz at the insistence of her mother-in-law, Naomi.  Naomi’s late son was Ruth’s husband and Ruth had left her own tribe to be with him. Upon his death, custom dictated that Ruth could/should return to her own people but Naomi had no one immediate to help her and Ruth felt obligated to stay.

But when Boaz showed up on the scene, the wise Naomi pushed her daughter-in-law to move along. She knew that a second marriage for the childless widow was a better long-term plan for Ruth than staying with her.

My favorite “revelation” from the review talks about how sex is hidden in the Bible.

Basically there is sex on every page, but only if you know where to look for it.

As an eight year old, I had no idea that people had sex beyond kissing, and my Catholic school training certainly never covered Bible porn. Still, I knew there was more to Mommy and Daddy interactions than what was apparent to my eyes, and when I read that Ruth spent her wedding night sleeping at Boaz’s feet, I was puzzled.

“Why did she sleep at his feet when they were married?” I asked my Dad.

“Because in the old days, women were trained better, ” he quipped.

But according to scholars, there are more than a few places in the Bible where a foot is not a foot at all.

When biblical authors wanted to talk about genitals, they sometimes talked about “hands,” as in the Song of Solomon, and sometimes about “feet.” Coogan cites one passage in which a baby is born “between a mother’s feet”; and another, in which the prophet Isaiah promises that a punitive God will shave the hair from the Israelites’ heads, chins, and “feet.” When, in the Old Testament, Ruth anoints herself and lies down after dark next to Boaz—the man she hopes to make her husband—she “uncovers his feet.” A startled Boaz awakes. “Who are you?” he asks. Ruth identifies herself and spends the night “at his feet.”

My. My.

Now I wonder what the whole sandal thing was really all about.

Naturally this begs a bit of further exploration in terms of the rather famous New Testament incident involving Mary Magdelene washing Jesus’s feet and drying them with her hair.

As I remember, the disciples were quite scandalized and if the feet in question weren’t feet at all – that makes sense – and really sheds a different light on the Saviour.

But sometimes feet are feet. Like a cigar is just a cigar.

I won’t be telling the real story of Ruth’s foot worshipping to my mother, but it’s too bad Dad isn’t still around to hear the tale. That would set his ears to wiggling and earn me a look for sure.

11 thoughts on “When is a Foot Really a Penis? And Other Things the Bible Taught Me.

  1. Boaz didn’t make the contract with the other man in line to inherit Ruth’s deceased husband’s property (including herself) until AFTER Ruth approached Boaz that night while he slept. They were not formally married until afterward this not a couple until then. But if they had done the wild thing, as seems to be implied, she could have easily been seen as his concubine, leaving him and her guiltless according to their culture…sad to say.

    Also Mary Magdalene was not the Mary who anointed Jesus but Lazarus’ sister Mary did it. Also Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute. In fact, she wasn’t even a loose woman. She had been possessed by seven demons from which Jesus delivered her. Then she went on to become the apostle to the apostles since Jesus sent her to them with instructions about His resurrection and meeting with Him later, she being the first person He appeared to in His resurrected form.

    But yeah…feet are sometimes used as a euphemism in the Old Testament, not the New Testament, for men’s genitalia. If it were the case in the NT, too, then when Paul says that women cannot become the special responsibility of the Church and basically married to Jesus unless they were 60, have been faithful to their husbands only, and have WASHED THE FEET OF THE SAINTS would be…um…scandalous to say the least. So it is solely an OT thing.

    Now consider why men’s genitalia was circumcised to indicate a relationship with YHWH in the OT. Keep in mind that our soul and heart must be circumcised spiritually for us to belong to Jesus, the Holy Spirit then writing His Law of morality on our heart and soul after we receive Jesus as Savior when the Holy Spirit takes up residence in us. So then, you must ask yourself about the priesthood being called “Levites,” meaning “joined” or “union.” And as believers in Revelation chapter 1, we are said to be a “kingdoms of priests” or “kings and priests” before the Lord, becoming in essence the new ones He has joined Himself to as the Holy Spirit imparts Himself to our heart and soul. Understanding the NT is rooted in understanding the symbolism of the OT since that ancient culture was all about symbolism. A lot more could be said that way without saying hardly anything and upsetting “sensitive” people.

    Take for example being equipped with the shoes of the readiness of spreading the Gospel. Since you understand what feet were seen as in the OT while keeping in mind that sexual immorality is forbidden/sin in the OT and NT, the symbolism Paul uses in this instance brings to mind propagation of the Gospel in a holy/non physical manner. He is, it seems, alluding to the action of casting out seed or semen among people to bring about newborn babies/children/offspring in Jesus through preaching the Gospel to others.

    Anyway, it’s always important to keep in mind applying what one learns in Scripture that may seem disturbing to other Scripture in order to better understand what is being said. It’s almost like speaking in code but breaking the code in order to understand what’s being said. Jesus said He spoke in code/parables specifically so that only believers could really understand what He’s been saying. And the reason seems obvious when things like this genitalia vs. feet ordeal comes up. Think how disgusting the world would make this out to be if He didn’t keep it hidden from them.

    So though revealing what Scripture really means is a lot of fun, be very careful in how you interpret it…making sure that all of it, both OT and NT, are kept in mind. That was the problem with the gnostics. They did not.

    I hope that helps.

  2. Right about Ruth. She rode the boss bologna pony all night long and Boaz was too drunk/horny to say no. Also, as far as Bible Porn goes, nothing holds a candle to the 38th chapter of Genesis. Btw, wrong on Mary Magdalene. Judas was scandalized because it was expensive ointment. In general, the OT uses non sexual language for sexual things, the NT uses sexual language for non-sexual things.

    1. The Mary question as it was drummed into us by the priests and nuns was a question of her profession. I know about the Judas and the oil – thanks ironically to Jesus Christ Superstar – but my earliest recollections of the story never focused much on that. Maybe b/c Judas has his own issues where the lore is concerned.

      Do agree that the NT leans as far away from sex as it can get.

    1. It’s my understanding that the “laying” together was the final act of sealing the contract that Boaz initiated with the whole sandal exchange. But according to my Catholic learnings in school, they were a couple and Jesus is descended from their line.

  3. Just a tidbit — it wasn’t Mary Magdelene who anointed Jesus’ feet. It was Lazareth’s sister, Mary of Bethany.

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