Mailbag: Three Hallows Spotted in Genesis?

I hope you enjoyed the Hedwick inspired Spotted Dick! Today’s question is  — Is there a Biblical root for the three Hallows?

I was reading up on the Bible and found something and it seemed that Harry Potter correlated to it. I was wondering of your opinion of whether or not it is something significant and JK’s meaning for using it in the books. In Genesis 38 there is the story of Judah and Tamar where he is about to sleep with her and she asks him to give her something as a collateral to make sure he sends her the goat that he will owe her. She asks for his “signet-ring, his cloak, and the staff”. The Deathly Hallows are way too similar to these three things for me to think that JK Rowling did not use those three objects as some allusion to the Bible.

What do you think?

My first impulse, forgive me, is to say, no chance.” But this is more likely than I thought. For those of us not familiar with Genesis 38, here is the text in question. Note especially verse 18:

Judah and Tamar

1 At that time, Judah left his brothers and went down to stay with a man of Adullam named Hirah. 2 There Judah met the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua. He married her and made love to her; 3 she became pregnant and gave birth to a son, who was named Er. 4 She conceived again and gave birth to a son and named him Onan. 5 She gave birth to still another son and named him Shelah. It was at Kezib that she gave birth to him.

6 Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. 7 But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the LORD’s sight; so the LORD put him to death.

8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. 10 What he did was wicked in the LORD’s sight; so the LORD put him to death also.

11 Judah then said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Live as a widow in your father’s household until my son Shelah grows up.” For he thought, “He may die too, just like his brothers.” So Tamar went to live in her father’s household.

12 After a long time Judah’s wife, the daughter of Shua, died. When Judah had recovered from his grief, he went up to Timnah, to the men who were shearing his sheep, and his friend Hirah the Adullamite went with him.

13 When Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is on his way to Timnah to shear his sheep,” 14 she took off her widow’s clothes, covered herself with a veil to disguise herself, and then sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. For she saw that, though Shelah had now grown up, she had not been given to him as his wife.

15 When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. 16 Not realizing that she was his daughter-in-law, he went over to her by the roadside and said, “Come now, let me sleep with you.”

“And what will you give me to sleep with you?” she asked.

17 “I’ll send you a young goat from my flock,” he said.

“Will you give me something as a pledge until you send it?” she asked.

18 He said, “What pledge should I give you?”

“Your seal and its cord, and the staff in your hand,” she answered. So he gave them to her and slept with her, and she became pregnant by him. 19 After she left, she took off her veil and put on her widow’s clothes again.

20 Meanwhile Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite in order to get his pledge back from the woman, but he did not find her. 21 He asked the men who lived there, “Where is the shrine prostitute who was beside the road at Enaim?”

“There hasn’t been any shrine prostitute here,” they said.

22 So he went back to Judah and said, “I didn’t find her. Besides, the men who lived there said, ‘There hasn’t been any shrine prostitute here.’”

23 Then Judah said, “Let her keep what she has, or we will become a laughingstock. After all, I did send her this young goat, but you didn’t find her.”

24 About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant.”

Judah said, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!”

25 As she was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law. “I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said. And she added, “See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.”

26 Judah recognized them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not sleep with her again.

27 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 28 As she was giving birth, one of them put out his hand; so the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his wrist and said, “This one came out first.” 29 But when he drew back his hand, his brother came out, and she said, “So this is how you have broken out!” And he was named Perez.[Perez means breaking out] 30 Then his brother, who had the scarlet thread on his wrist, came out. And he was named Zerah.[Zerah can mean scarlet or brightness]

The King Jame’s Version has “And he said, What pledge shall I give thee? And she said, Thy signet, and thy bracelets, and thy staff that is in thine hand. And he gave it her, and came in unto her, and she conceived by him” for Genesis 38:18. Young’s Literal Translation, the ugly word-for-word piece for folks who cannot understand the Hebrew or more dependable Septuaguint Greek, has “and he saith, `What [is] the pledge that I give to thee?’ and she saith, `Thy seal, and thy ribbon, and thy staff which [is] in thy hand;’ and he giveth to her, and goeth in unto her, and she conceiveth to him.”

Genesis 38 is a great passage and it is usually a surprise to first time Bible readers. Prostitution? Entrapment? Masturbation? Temple whores? Not the fare you’d expect in the Church Lady’s book, right?

Unfortunately, I don’t think we have a match for the three Hallows because of the missing Cloak. The word in question, the Hebrew pathil is a real stretch for “cloak,” though I found one KJV commenter, John Gill, noting the possibility but not willing to make that leap:

And he said, what pledge shall I give thee? [Being willing to part with anything for the gratification of his lust:] and she said, thy signet, and thy bracelets, and thy staff that [is] in thine hand;

[She asks all these, that if one should be lost, or fail of being sufficient proof, the other might: the first of these the Septuagint version renders, “thy ring”; the ring upon his finger, which had a seal on it, and was the signet of his right hand; so Onkelos and Ben Melech: the second word seems not so well rendered, since “bracelets” were wore by women and not men: Jarchi takes it to be a garment with which he was covered; so Ben Melech and the Targum, a cloak, which is not likely, that she should desire him to strip off his clothes: it seems to be either a covering of his head, a wrap of linen such as the Turks wear, or else a handkerchief he had in his pocket; and the staff in his hand was either his walking staff or a shepherd’s crook or staff:]

So, close but no cigar. There are other explanations for the three Hallows of a spitiritual, even metaphysical kind — see Deathly Hallows Lectures and my Ring Composition and Ring Cycle  notes ! — and the straight biblical tit for tat doesn’t line up.

And, if this were the analogy, how would this match the ‘Tale of Three Brothers’?

Your comments and corrections, please.


  1. I’ll agree with the conclusion. Looking at the Hebrew and associated resources, the help for figuring out what that second word means is really sparse. Brown, Driver, Briggs, a popular Hebrew lexicon has a little note that the pathil could be the cord which keeps the seal attached to a person (which would only further remove the seal from being associated with the resurrection stone). Resources for the Septuagint* don’t even given a translation for word (though I don’t have the best resources for that).

    My only other thought is to find out what bible translation JK Rowling would be most familiar with. The argument being that while the Bible is a shared text, people often assume that their preferred translation of Bible is a shared text on par with the Bible as shared text. Depending on either Rowling’s preferred translation or the most popular translation in England (both things I don’t know), more or less strength could be added to the argument. It really doesn’t matter what the Hebrew means if 90% of population doesn’t consult it. I might even use as an example the fact that Ron doesn’t identify the Deathly Hallows symbol with his childhood stories. Even though he knows the shared text, he has never looked into the source history around it. The same could be said for Viktor Krum.

    *Sidenote: Septuagint as the more dependable text? I find that an odd statement, there might be more manuscript evidence for it, but generally where the Septuagint and Masoretic text (Hebrew) disagree the Septuagint is in error.

  2. I did a quick reading of the several different translations we have here at home, and I wondered what translation has cloak instead of cord or bracelets, which is what all of mine have. Several have the explanation that the ring was used to mark documents and the cord was a way to keep the owner from losing it. But as you said, John, none of that really matches with the three hallows, as far as use. And they don’t seem to have been used in that way by Tamar, only that by having the signet it proved that she had been with Judah, a sort of protection for her story. But no bringing back the dead or using the staff like a wand to kill or have power over others. And the cord or bracelet doesn’t have any resemblance to a cloak.

    So many of Jo’s stories and creatures are from some old myth or legend. Is it possible, though, that in this case she really did come up with a new one rather than re-inventing something old.

  3. Viktor Richardson says

    A few perhaps stretched observations:

    Tamar should have been the wife of all Three Sons of Judah and is therefore a stand-in for the three Hebrew brothers.
    The Three Peverell brothers may likewise be story stand-ins for Tamar.

    Tamar requests Judah’s valued objects at the edge of a place of danger and temptation named Enaim, which in Hebrew means “two fountains.”
    The Peverell brothers request “Death’s” valued objects at a place of danger and temptation by the edge of a river.

    Two of the three sons of Judah are “put to death” by God.
    Two of the three Peverell brothers suffer death which is God’s tool.

    Judah begrudgingly allows Tamar to, “Live as a widow in your father’s household until my son Shelah grows up.”
    “Death” begrudgingly allows Ignotus to live with his household until his son grows up to inherit the cloak. Neither Judah nor “Death” ended the arrangement on their own terms

    Tamar sought immortality via offspring through the promise of the Christ, who would be born from the line of Judah. Christ is our strength, our shield and our hope of resurrection.
    The Peverell brothers sought immortality through the three gifts of God’s tool, “Death”. The Deathly Hallows represents strength (the wand), a shield (the cloak) and a hope of resurrection (the stone)

    Tamar sought to overcome a death sentence through the protection of three hallowed objects.
    The Peverell brothers sought to overcome Death’s sentence through the protection of three hallowed objects.

    Judah’s Hallows were instrumental in saving Tamar but, it was ultimately Judah’s humble repentance i.e. love, not the objects, which saved.
    The Deathly Hallows were instrumental in saving one Peverell brother and Harry but, it was ultimately a humble acceptance of God’s will i.e. love, not the objects, which saved.

    The historic Peverell family Coat of Arms consists of Three Stalks of wheat wrapped around with Fabric Ribbons upon a plain field. The family gained land and titles after Crossing the Channel and fighting alongside William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 C.E. They were present at the death of King Harold (Harry).

    The Three Sons of Judah:

    Er, the first born, means “watching” which is what the second Peverell brother was restricted to with the girl he recalled from death. Er is symbolized by the circle or eye in the D.H. emblem.

    Onan, the second born, means “strength” which is the essence of the Elder Wand. Onan is symbolized by the vertical staff of the D.H. emblem. We will not go into phallic symbolism concerning Onan!

    Shelah, the third born, means “request rest”, which is exactly what Ignotus Peverell humbly asked and received from “Death”. Shelah is symbolized by the triangle in the D.H. emblem. The three part unity enclosing the whole.

    The Three Hallows:

    Judah’s “staff in they hand” is close enough to the “Elder Wand” for any wizard analogy.

    Judah’s Signet Ring given to a whore is a dead ringer for the second brother’s Signet Stone that would become a dead Ring “whore cross”.

    Judah’s fabric Ribbon/Cord/Collar around the neck is also close enough to a fabric Cloak around the neck in a story which must pass the Sleeping Dragon Test.

    Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus!

  4. Viktor Richardson says

    PS, Shelah was the boy who lived!

  5. I don’t know, Viktor, that all seems like too much of a stretch to me. I’ll be interested to hear what John has to say.

  6. Bethany, I tend to agree with John on the textual question regarding which was source for the New Testament church folks.

    Here is the wikipedia introductory material site:

    Note well the initial two paragraphs:
    “The Masoretic Text (MT,

  7. s the authoritative Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible regarded almost universally as the official version of the Tanakh.[citation needed] It defines not just the books of the Jewish canon, but also the precise letter-text of the biblical books in Judaism, as well as their vocalization and accentuation known as the Masorah. The MT is also widely used as the basis for translations of the Old Testament in Protestant Bibles, and in recent years (since 1943) also for some Catholic Bibles.[1] In modern times the Dead Sea Scrolls have shown the MT to be nearly identical to some texts of the Tanakh dating from 200 BCE but different from others.

    The MT was primarily copied, edited and distributed by a group of Jews known as the Masoretes between the seventh and tenth centuries CE. Though the consonants differ little from the text generally accepted in the early second century (and also differ little from some Qumran texts that are even older), it has numerous differences of both greater and lesser significance when compared to (extant 4th century) manuscripts of the Septuagint, a Greek translation (made in the 3rd to 2nd centuries BCE) of the Hebrew Scriptures that was in popular use in Egypt and Palestine and that is believed by scholars[citation needed] to be the source often quoted in the New Testament.”

    The Massoretic text was not established until the seventh through tenth centuries. Rather late. The evidence for the Septuagint content is rather extensive.

    Which “version” of the text one “receives” depends upon what principles of decision making are employed. Does one receive the text from Holy Mother Church? of from the revision based on Enlightenment-devolved criteria about criteria for reliability, with all that entails in regard to human input/exclusion?

    But, this debate, though apparently resolved in favor of the historicocritical proponents in regard to Protestant versions of the Bible, and the occasional Roman Catholic translation, is not the de facto position of Holy Mother Church.

    This rather large subject has been debated since Erasmus’ critical edition of the New Testament and continues.

    I personally incline to the Textus Receptus (Septuagint based) versions, when and if doubt arises.

    (Sorry for the split. The Hebrew letters gave the system a hiccough!)

  8. “Septuagint as the more dependable text? I find that an odd statement, there might be more manuscript evidence for it, but generally where the Septuagint and Masoretic text (Hebrew) disagree the Septuagint is in error.”

    As Inked has pointed out, the Septuaguint is older than the Masoretic text, was the text of the Jews not only in the Diaspora at the time of Christ but also in the Holy Lands, and , because we have many more copes of it in the manuscript collections, we know we have a relatively valid, incorrupt text of the Hebrew Scriptures in the translation accepted by Jews of the period. I’m sure sincere people can disagree with my assessment of that historical sum as one meaning the Greek Old Testament is the “more dependable” text (I know it isn’t what they teach at politically correct religion departments and seminaries…). Having said that, this isn’t (a) a cut and dried issue as you imply — at least not in favor of the Masoretic text — and (b) it’s not what the post was about.

    Let’s move back to that and NikeNipter’s phenomenal tie-in of The Tale of The Three Brothers and Genesis 38.

    Really, I have to take the connection much more seriously now than I did. Your response, NN, was more interesting and detailed than my original post and shows all the creative thinking that mine lacked. I have to suggest here, if only as an aside, that, if the author had said the traditional source material for her Three Brothers Beedle tale was Genesis rather than Canterbury Tales, NikeNipter’s explanation would be the interpretation I would lean on as explanation for that connection.

    Please understand, before anyone writes to ask, that this does not mean I have changed my mind about the weight we give Ms. Rowling’s input about what her stories mean. I don’t give any more weight to her interpretations of her stories than I do NikeNipter’s; I give weight to each as they seem valid with the text(s) we have. What Ms. Rowling does do in interviews that I find especially helpful is ask readers to look at specific passages that are important to her and to read books that were meaningful to her.

    In brief, she provides helpful lines of sight rather than clear cut interpretations. In the case of The Three Brothers the only line of sight we get is Chaucer — and I don’t think we get a tit-for-tat biblical allegory anywhere in the seven book series, even in Harry’s various resurrections from his annual near or faux-death.

    So I start out skeptical. I like NikeNipter’s parallels very much but find myself coming to a different conclusion about how it all adds up. Even allowing the staff for a wand (and why am I making that allowance? they’re both pieces of wood?), the Signet Ring is a hard connection for the Stone, though the Stone was placed in a ring, and the Cloak is nowhere (I suspect the ‘cord’ or ‘bracelets’ involved are something like Tefillin and the interpreters are stretching for a Tallit or prayer shawl. They’re related but they aren’t the same thing and they aren’t easily confused.

    But, again, I’m much closer to accepting the idea of a Genesis 38 foundation of the Hallows than I thought I would ever be thanks to NikeNipter. My hat’s off!

  9. Great work everyone. My question is how many other stories/fairy tales involve the giving of rings, cloaks/clothing and staves/swords/wands with special powers and the use of same to identify persons as something other than what they were thought to be. We see versions of the Tamar story all over the place (think of Shakespeare’s Alls Well as Ends Well, for example). I loved the Story of the 3 Brothers because it felt like a real fairy tale — something that was told orally for hundreds of years before it was ever put on paper. I’m also a firm believer that the images and stories that most resonate with us collectively as humans, and that are repeated over multiple cultures, have their origins in the Bible. That is, our brains are hard-wired as it were, to recognize as significant the things that God said were significant — even if they are only echoes in fairy tales. I would further argue that those who claim that the Bible is a collection of rehashed myths have it completely backwards. That, in fact, the myths and stories are just jumbled pieces of God’s original story. So, I would posit that The 3 Brothers is an echo, albeit not necessarily an intentional echo, of the original story of Tamar.

  10. I’ll say first off that I don’t think Gen 38 is a direct image source because, as has been well stated, the tit-for-tat does not tie out. I find this to be particularly the case regarding the role the cloak specifically plays, versus any role the cord plays in Gen 38. As best as I am able to understand Gen 38 in studying it, whatever the physical nature of the “cord” and its general material purpose might be, it’s role within the story of Tamar is the same as the staff and signet: identifying marks of Judah. While the 3 elements in Gen 38 perform a further function in that story, that of leverage/protection (based precisely in their identifying capacity), which might be held in common with the Hallows (as leverage over or protection from the original owners, Judah and Death), the initial role as identifiers is not really present in the Hallows (imho).

    I will also say that for the argument to work on the material level you would not only have to support that the object in Gen 38 could be an article of clothing to be worn, but also that JKR has access to a particular tradition that translates and interprets that way, not only plausibly but at least likely. Her project in writing the books does not seem to me to be one in which she would be utilizing BDB for the Hebrew or BDAG or LSJ for the Greek … perhaps Lewis and Short to check Latin roots for the spells, but even then more likely a pocket Latin dictionary with less range of translational possibilities or eytmology, and even less Greco-Roman citation evidence (although, based in the spells, it seems to me like she is consciously using Latin vocab, among others such as French and German, in both spells and some names).

    I think it a better method, at least as far as trying to pin out concrete sources, to stick with her stated source, Chaucer. I have not read the statement by her, or the Chaucer tale in question (or at least since the misty and hazy days of undergrad, if even then), so I am relying on what has been conveyed in this thread, but it does seem most of her exemplars are classical and medieval/Renaissance. Many of these exemplars have their own exemplars in Biblical texts, but I think for direct sources, if there is a classical/medieval/Renaissance example (especially one stated by her), that is the first best candidate. And many times the Biblical exemplars undergo some type of change in the interpretational process of those later authors/artists using them. As an example, the tradition of fear of name usage begins very early in Ancient Near Eastern cultures and (at least so most scholars think) feeds into instances like Jacob trying to get the name from God in the wrestling match in Gen 32, and the variety of presentations of the divine name in Exodus, but the more sure path for a source is medieval Jewish name magic and other taboo thought of the same period (a wonderful paper was presented on this topic in 2006 at Lumos, in Vegas, and that even before JKR directly dropped the name taboo element in DH … I wish I could remember the name of the woman who presented it; she did a great job …the one I am dying to return to if I can ever find the time is the source-work on Abracadabra coming originally from Hebrew/Aramaic “vanish like a word,” for the purposes of trying to argue for JKR putting what I would call a semi-Derridian spin on it).

    I would say to stick with the source that (1) is more defensible (usually the classical/medieval/renaissance, especially when we have authorial input), and (2) contributes the most to the understanding the thematic dynamics (and bringing in the further-back Biblical exemplars can definitely do that through concrete elements/roles that tie out, in which case I say, the more the better).

    Having said all that, however, I do think looking for Biblical exemplars can be a rewarding venture. The Gen 3 story of the temptation in the garden is well known enough in itself, and known within Western civilization to be a much used model, that I think I would be justified in positing that it is at least one of the sources used in the Godric’s Hollow section of Deathly Hallows (I may here seem to be breaking the principle I just stated, but that is why I appealed to how well the Gen 3 story is known, both in its Biblical form and in its usage in the Western tradition, and I do believe the themes connect and would be appealing to her, and either way I think the comparison contributes to a deeper understanding of what is going on in the GH trip in DH). Upon emerging from a garden type setting (the graveyard), a couple (Harry and Hermione disguised particularly as a married couple, walking in, I think, a very couple-affection positioning of arm around shoulder and arm around waist) are tempted/deceived by a snake. In this particular instance I think that the temptation “fruit” is “objective history,” directly opposed to some forms of understanding less impacted by Cartesian “res extensa” materialist concepts – Harry’s motivator, clearly stated in text (when Hermione finally agrees to make the trip and mentions the sword as her motivation), is not the sword, but knowledge and understanding, not here of good and evil, but of the past, in the person of Bathilda Bagshot, the arch historian.

    Returning to the issue of Gen 38 and the Hallows, I do think that the issue of leverage over a more powerful character is really fascinating, and I find it an intriguing aspect that the Gen 38 story is gender tinged, with Tamar seeking justice in a situation in which the injustice that has been done her is within a distinct patriarchal power setting. Here again, however, on the material level of a direct source, Tamar and Judah could not really in any sense be argued to depart the tale as old friends – Judah simply lost the battle of wits and was forced to concede.

    I think a sound principle in looking anywhere for sources is to have it clearly in mind that JKR is not engaged primarily in a project of finding a new way to tell the old stories (not that I am accusing anybody of saying that, but I do think that we all, myself included, have a tendency toward that when we are proposing a source from a field or text in which we are particularly vested, and so maybe such a warning should apply even more strongly to myself, being as my “bag” is doing Hebrew Bible in the context of an academic Theology department at a Catholic-Jesuit university). Any source functions for her only insofar as it enables her to tell the story/theme she wants to tell (although I agree with John that once that story is on the page, she has to argue for her interpretation along with others … authorial intent is always, at least I think, tricky – I don’t think you can pitch it but I also don’t think you can be dominated by it; I would say that even within authorial intent you have to pay attention to what I would call “sub-intent” – “intentions” arising from the subconscious rather than the conscious region).

    But another thing I find interesting in the Gen 38-Hallows comparison is the issue of objects of authority being used in a ruse. Here we do perhaps have a commonality of theme (although still not of the actual image and direct role itself). It is a fascinating coincidence that the very same element which we have had such a hard time pinning down to a direct correspondence is the one that provides this commonality of theme: the cloak. If we don’t limit ourselves to just the 3 objects of Judah in Gen 38 (of course, in taking this step we are distinctly stepping outside of the project of looking for a direct source), an element that corresponds to the cloak is the garb of a prostitute, for this is the clothing element used for disguise. But in the end the cloak of the Hallows is primarily protection, and all 3 of the objects from Judah perform this function in Gen 38, but not in a direct physical manner. Hence, again, I will have to side against seeing the Biblical passage as a direct source for the tale.

    All in all, I guess what I am saying is that, while I definitely do not think Gen 38 functions as a direct literary source for the Hallows, I find the discussion really engaging because it shows the HP texts using some similar character/theme devices as a Biblical story. This is one of the ways I myself use the HP series in teaching my Intro to Old Testament class for college sophomores (for instance, I find Dumbledore’s take on prophecy particularly helpful for conveying the Hebrew Bible understanding what prophecy is: his use of the pensieve to address the situation of the prophecy just matches up so well with Rabbi Avram Heschel’s famous characterization of prophecy, in the conception of it in the religious mind of the Hebrew Bible, as not primarily/I fore-telling, but rather forth-telling, it is downright scary). I think the study of the intervening mechanics of how such things got from the ancient texts into the mind of JKR, and from there into the text, interesting but I think the direct link is usually more demonstrable with the classical, medieval, and Renaissance material (which is the bridge between something like Bible and JKR, but things usually undergo some changes in shape in crossing over that bridge … I already said that but figured I would just re-emphasize it).

    On a final note I would like to say a very sincere thank you for this conversation thread. I will probably put this instance in the standard block of HP material I use in teaching my Intro to OT course … using a text like HP for comparison has been a great way to make my particular area and mode of study more accessible (along with the thematic comparisons, I use it to explain even something as dry as historical and textual critical methodology, by actually doing some text criticism on some places in the HP series that lend rather well to it, like the missing 14 feet Red Hen discovered in GOF and the 4-5 sentence difference in editions in HBP). HP has been such a great text in so many avenues (another one I like to use in class is that, if the theory of the Hebrew/Aramaic “vanish like a word” as the origin of Abracadabra is correct, then the same word for “wandering” in Deut 26:5, “My Father was a wandering Aramean,” and for the forecast of exile as “perishing” in Deut 30:18 is the first word of the AK, “Avad” – my point is getting them to see that Deuteronomy connects the sojourn in Egypt with the forecasted Babylonian Exile, but the AK gives a nice hook in the door for college sophomores who grew up reading HP)

  11. Merilin,

    Your last post mentions both that you use Harry Potter in teaching Old Testament and some of the history behind the tradition of fear of name usage. I was currious about links that you might see between that tradition (especially as used in Harry Potter) and the Bible’s refusal to give Pharoah’s name in Exodus. I find this an interesting contrast because the explanation I have seen for the lack of a name for Pharoah is more related to denying the Pharoah’s importance and asserting his death through the death of his name. The failure to name Pharoah seems almost like an assertion of authority over Pharoah. This almost seems the opposite of not naming Voldemort out of fear of him.

  12. Steve,

    I would need to view the sources where you’re finding the idea in order to know what I think. I have not personally encountered the idea. I have to admit pulling a Hermione and hopping over to the library to look at commentaries (I live 2 minute walk from an entrance to campus … noisy but convenient), but did not find anything, and in checking Breuggemann’s Intro volume (who would be the one most likely to note an authorial rhetorical device like that, rhetorical crit being his big bag) before going over, I did not find him citing the specific passages anywhere (Gen 12:15 being the first use of the title in the Hebrew Bible, in Abram’s sojourn into Egypt, Gen 37 and 39 for the Joseph story, and Exodus 1, particularly v. 8, the introduction of the Pharaoh who “did not know [of] Joseph”). So I would need to know the literature which is claiming the presence of that rhetorical device in order to speak to it.

    In any event, I think you’re correct it is not the same thing. An author’s rhetoric at the level of language (making a claim against the power of Pharaoh by the authorial voice denying name recognition, as opposed to a character within a story refusing to use a name) would be something different than the type of thing going on in name taboo. I don’t know that I would personally call it an opposite of the taboo set, because I don’t think the rhetorical class or type would be the same (although there would be a similarity in the type of goal – fear/respect vs disrespect, but I think this is different than the type of rhetorical device actually employed to achieve the end). Thus I would personally find it difficult to see a source tie between the possible Pharaoh rhetoric and the name fear in HP, even if flipping the goal could be shown to have a positive literary function.

    I should here clarify what I think is the primary difference, and that is where the rhetoric would be located. If there is some significance to the absence of the Pharaoh’s individual name the rhetoric would be located in an authorial choice (internal, in the author’s head), versus rhetoric that is more demonstrable on the page of the text (if one wanted to demonstrate such a rhetoric in the absence of the name, at least along the lines of standard rhetorical criticism for this field, one would need to demonstrate that in this genre/literary set it would have been standard to include a personal name, as is done for Pharaohs in some portions of 2 Kings, and thus the absence could signal an authorial choice that could carry a rhetoric … and the issue of names vs titles is a complex business … even Abimelech in Gen 20 [Abraham] and 26 [Isaac], I think I have heard, COULD be titular rather than personal).

    The question of the rhetoric is further complicated by the question of the identity of the author. If scholarship is correct that the text is done by a post-exilic author/compiler (P), incorporating other sources (J & E), then the possibility exists that no rhetoric is operating because there is no choice being made; they simply may have not known the name of the Pharaoh of the time and did not find it used in their sources. If, on the other hand, Moses is believed to be the author, then one would assume he knew the name of the Pharaoh because he was there (at least for the Exodus material, although not for the Genesis Abraham and Joseph material), and thus a rhetorical move might be more possible in the absence of the specific name (and on that point, it would not be likely that I would find anything in the standard commentaries, as the JEDP documentary hypothesis for the Pentateuch, or at least some mutation of it, all placing the composition of any text source no earlier than 1000 BCE, is universally accepted in academic scholarship … I didn’t look at the Rabbinic material such as Rashi or Ramban, but it’s possible they have some argumentation of this sort).

    The issue of fear in connection with names in taboo thinking involves more-than-human status. Names give power (and thus the angel-man who turns out to be God in Gen 32 will not give up his name, and several versions of the giving and the specifics are used in Exodus 3, yielding a semi-vagueness … when handling such a thing as the divine name one would not want to try to pin down the details, to attempt holding power over them by demanding they be so “accurate” – that could be dangerous, given one is dealing with a God who wiped out the entire Egyptian army in the Red Sea etc … or at least that is my characterization of the religious thinking of the authors working with the text, putting their multiple sources in and not tinkering too much with trying make sure things flow so “neatly”).

    In taboo thinking it is that you might not want this power because it might operate whether you want it to or not, and whether it is harmful to you or not (“speak of the devil” etc). You can command the deity/spirit/demon/etc to appear, but you might wind up really wishing you hadn’t (and it could happen just by saying the name, whether or not you intended the utterance to be a command to appear). I think that when DD says “fear of the name only increases fear of the thing itself” what is between the lines is “do you realize you are ascribing a god-like status to him when you fear his name?” (that is my language, interpreting JKR, or at least where it could go … I don’t think she necessarily has the term “divinization” in mind concretely, but I think it is a good term for what she probably has in mind, and hooks up with the deity issue in taboo sources).

    (I should of course note that, along these lines of deification, a possible motivation exists for a rhetoric of not using a name for Pharaoh, in that in Egyptian religion Pharaoh is thought to be divine/semi-divine, connected with the sun god. However, I think several things work against this being the case. Firstly, while the whole polytheistic religious system of Egypt is definitely under attack in the nature-based 10 plagues, in this setting Pharaoh seems mainly to stand in for the culture as a whole, by dint of being the ruler [his actions/choices embody the mentality of the culture as a whole], and that specific tenet within the system, Pharaoh as divine, does not seem to have a concrete presence of its own on the page. Secondly, the role as primarily standing in for the culture by dint of being its leader seems to me to be present in the fact that “king of Egypt” is used occasionally as a synonym and replacement for the title Pharaoh – which title itself actually comes originally from the word for the palace of the king of Egypt)

    On a side note (particularly as Genesis 38 has gender concern tones to it, or at least I think feminist critics, or at least “second wave feminist” ones, have done a pretty good job of arguing for such), I did find some interesting material on rhetoric against Pharaoh in Exodus 1. The fact that the midwives are able to thwart Pharaoh’s plans and the fact that Pharaoh’s own daughter is able to bring the very Hebrew that Pharaoh should be most worried about (according the the logic behind his decree to kill the Hebrew male children, because he sees them as a threat) into his own house without him being concerned about it, rhetorically shows him to be clueless, inept, and impotent (it’s a bit of stretching of the language or concept, but his impotency on this practical/protection level could be paired off against the potency of the Hebrews, in the fact that they are multiplying at a very rapid rate).

    An example of “power of naming (and not naming)” rhetoric that your question brings to mind is what JKR does through Dumbledore regarding the name, and particularly the refusal to use a name (which to me is an example of an instance that is more accessible and arguable than an authorial voice as the locus of that type of rhetorical choice). It’s always interested me that Dumbledore will always speak the name when talking to others, BUT NOT when talking to Voldy himself … in direct discourse he always calls him Tom. In fact, in the scene in the pensieve in book 6 I think we see DD taboo the name himself, not out of fear, but out of command … he seems to me to dis-allow Voldy to make a point of his own choice of name change by cutting Voldy off and moving on. This is how I read JKR’s/Harry’s commentary, “DD’s refusal to to use Voldemort’s chosen name was a refusal to allow Voldemort to dictate the terms of the meeting, and Harry could tell that Voldemort took it as such” (HBP 442). I think possession of name (and refusal to use the other name) is power without fear. I think part of the ability to do that is that DD is not seeking to control Voldy for his own means, but to use the power of naming simply to provide protection of justice (not trying to manipulate him into anything other than respecting other people’s right to life and self-rule). Holding the name Tom, though, is definitely power; it is like saying “I know who you have been, even though you fear for others to know it” (note that in DH when Voldy is thinking of his horcruxes, as Harry peeks into his mind after getting the cup from Gringott’s, his fear surrounding the ring, making him check it first because he deems it most in danger, is based in the possibility of DD knowing his middle name).

    To cap off my rambling response, I just have to bring up something that fascinates me in DH – I haven’t nailed down anything on the meaning of how it relates to the rest of the name material in DH or the series as a whole, but it really fascinates me, especially as it comes from the hand of DD, the “name master.” The deluminator is a bit of a taboo device, although it works for the positive (and with a human). What Ron hears from it is Hermione saying his name, and very clearly when she herself has first spoken it after his departure (Harry has been noted particularly as avoiding speaking it, referring to Muriel as Ginny’s aunt). Being as Ron follows them and appears/returns (and the deluminator specifically provides the material means that takes him there, the ball of blue light), it is definitely a name taboo operation: she says his name and he appears (eventually … but that is Ron for you, isn’t it lol).

    (If somebody else has already done work on this and I am stepping on territory, please let me know, and I apologize, especially if I have actually heard them do it and then promptly forgotten that it was they who said it first … I would not want to claim credit for first notice if I did not notice it first … I don’t think I have picked it up from anybody, but just in case …)

    Anyway, hope that helped some

  13. I have been thinking more about this question of the hallows and Gen 38 and something came to me and I thought I would offer an alternative model for a possible relation between the two, at least in part not to be taken as being negative on looking at Gen 38 in relation to the hallows … by which I also mean, to do justice to a good observation and question.

    A guy named David Day wrote a book called “Tolkien’s Ring” in which he discussed how Tolkien would not have come up with the idea of a ring story completely sui generis, completely originating with him and of his own invention (the phrase meaning literally something like “of generation to itself”). There is a whole realm of traditions and literature of ring stories (e.g. Solomon’s ring used in building the Temple). Day’s primary project is cataloging the major ones and showing correspondences with Tolkien’s tale, but his underlying theory on what Tolkien was doing was that he was trying to write a “believable source story” for the body of variant stories in the literature … not “believable” in the historical sense, but believable in the sense of having an internal logic to it that worked out for humanity, and sort of got to the heart of why this motif or story type is so prevalent in mythopoeic cultures, why it has gripped or caught on for so much of humanity.

    The model here that I am proposing is that we may have a wide variety of stories of a 3 object set obtained by a subordinate person from the superior person and then used in some way to best that superior, and among this pool of traditional stories would be the Gen 38 incident.

    Among this pool there would be a great variation of how the trope worked mechanically (types of objects, roles of individual objects, the way in which the superior was bested, on what terms the relationship between subordinate and superior ended etc) … and if an author like JKR is doing something like this, her story would necessarily take a particular shape that corresponded better to some than to others, depending on what she wanted to emphasize or how she wanted themes to play out.

    But such an author, Tolkien or JKR, would be aware of the whole body of that literature, or at least enough of a portion of it to know it as a common trope, and the fact that it was such a widespread phenomenon would appeal to them as a reason to use it – like Tolkien (on Day’s theory) in part trying to provide some narrative insight into what is so gripping about this trope that gives rise to so much of humanity using it. I would even argue, from JKR’s general disposition as we see it in interviews and such (and also, not least of all, that she directly lifts 2 Bible verses for very key characterization of Dumbledore, being as he would have had them put on the tombstones), that if JKR is aware of the Gen 38 story (and I see no reason to assume, out of the gate, that she is not … she is very well read, and the pericope does have gender connotations – it would be noticed in feminist circles – and her work also does in places), the fact that there is a Biblical incident of the trope would provide a unique and special motivation for her in using it … even though her version of the trope relies more directly (I.e. as its source) on the instance in her own field of specialization in her university studies – Chaucer.

    So, while I would say that deficiency in tit-for-tat puts Gen 38 drastically lower on the chain of sources, I think it could provide a special affection and motivation for the trope being used.

    This is, of course, all theoretical as of the writing of this post, meaning that I don’t have info on a body/pool of 3-objects stories … but it definitely seems to me like the kind of trope to be widely used.

    Just as an example to get what Day is talking about regarding Tolkien (and this is the example he uses for explanation … and I just simply like talking about this stuff), there is a common trope/plot device of a “charmed captain of evil.” The captain has some charm on him such that he cannot be killed, but there is some sort of loophole that is used to undo him. Tolkien’s use is at least in part a rebuttal to Shakespeare’s use of the trope with Macbeth and Macduff, which JRRT considered hackish (or at least so argues Day, and it seems very likely to me given Tolkien’s reputed dislike of at least some aspects of the bard’s work … but I haven’t haven’t taken the time to look through the index of Carpenter’s definitive edition of his letters for the direct quotes etc). What would be hackish the Macbeth use is that it relies on a really cheap word technicality, and one that really should not even count. For JRRT “born” would not be limited to strictly the birth canal (Macbeth cannot be killed by one of woman born, but Macduff was born c-section), it would be about the whole etymological meaning of the word as having been carried (past passive of “to bear”) by a woman for 9 months. Therefore Shakespeare’s instance of this common trope is hackish, to JRRT.

    The latter’s own use, as a rebuttal, gets to the heart of the trope and why it is gripping for us: sorcery is arrogant. A charm cheats the normal system of mortals and places the one who seeks and appeals to it unnaturally above others, arrogantly above them. Thus the Witch-King of Angmar, leader of the 9 Nazgul, cannot be hindered by a living man … and the pride and arrogance of this charm is exposed when he is cut down by a woman aided by a halfling, both symbols of humility (as it were, the answer to the riddle of the charm trope).

    Anyway, that is my attempt at working out a possible relation between Gen 38 and the hallows, because I definitely think that if JKR knows the Gen 38 story at all, it would be on her conscious radar in writing the hallows, and probably with some particular affection for it, even though I distinctly don’t believe it works as the direct source, or in a distinctly unique source mode.

  14. Merlin,

    Thanks for your extensive resonse. It was eight years ago that I came across the theme of not name Pharoah so I’ll have to go back through my old notes.

    For your speculation on the three objects stories, The Three Little Pigs might be one example. The house built of straw and the house built of twigs failed to protect the pigs but the house built of bricks did the job. It seems to me to somewhat fit the theme of JRK’s tale since two of the three hallows failed (and in one case failed to protect) in their aim. However, the third was successful.

  15. Melanie N. Lee says

    Although the Biblical allusion may not be exact, perhaps Rowling was influenced by the Tamar story, knowingly or unknowingly. After all, the story has three important objects, and three brothers!

  16. Kenny Rub says

    I know it has been a while since this question has been touched but I just wanted to make a couple points.

    The best argument I’ve seen in any of your arguments so far is that J.K. never mentioned the Bible as a source for the Tale of the Three Brothers and only the Canterbury Tales. But maybe she just didn’t tell us everything.

    First of all, if we’re going to use the Bible as a source then shouldn’t we be using to the translations of the people whose book it is? The two Jewish translations that I have seen are “Your signet-ring, your cloak, and the staff that’s in your hands” and the second one is ” Your signet, your wrap, and your staff that is in your hand.” In addition to those, Rashi, who is a widely accepted Jewish commentary on the Jewish Bible ( says in his commentary on this verse “This is rendered by Targum Onkelos as “Izkatach Veshoshipach” which means the ring with which you seal documents, and your garment with which you cover yourself.” (Targum Onkelos is a translation of the Jewish Bible into Aramaic (

    I think that it’s best to trust going back to the original source more than any other other source which may have been skewed by Greek and Latin translations.

    So all of these point to it being some kind of cloak. So here we have the signet-ring, the cloak/wrap, and the staff.

    Also I saw in one of your answers that the staff is just a piece of wood so it shouldn’t really be correlated with a wand, and that “the Signet Ring is a hard connection for the Stone” even though the stone was put in a ring. If in looking for any kind of allusion you only accept something that is flat out the same exact thing then that defies what an allusion is. According to that logic then Fluffy would had to have been called Cerberus for it to be an allusion to Greek mythology. Also Snape would have had to be called Dante to be correlated at all with that story and the Green-Eyed-Girl (Yes, I read that from your book). The whole point of an allusion is to allude to it and not copy it directly. These seem to be close enough to be allusions. A staff is very close to a wand. A wrap is very close to a cloak. And a signet-ring is very close to a stone-which-was-put-into-a-ring (which was somewhat of a signet ring because it signified the wearer’s connection to Salazar Slytherin.)

  17. Kenny Rub says

    Sorry the link for the Targum Onkelos got messed. Here it is:

  18. I think there are a couple issues:

    All we really have to go on as far as the question of whether an author made an allusion is the author’s own statements. Perhaps “she may not have been telling us everything” – but then again she may HAVE been telling us everything from her side. As far as authorial intent about an allusion goes, we only have her statements. UNLESS we can draw a very strong set of correlations (along this line I would cite something like Travis Prinzi’s work on the Fabian society: so many name connections and such a strong correspondence of political philosophy as Travis demonstrated make a very strong case for the Fabian society as a direct source for the Order of the Phoenix, even without an authorial statement).

    Whether or not it works as an allusion is another matter. There are definite correlations. It may be that the Genesis text is, as I tossed out as a hypothetical possibility, among a tradition pool in which the system of 3 elements and 3 brothers is a common plot device or trope, shared across a variety of literature from a variety of historical eras. But that still would place the Biblical account as one in the pool of literature (at least as far as this particular story goes … as I Christian I think of the Bible as much more than simply one among numerous ancient literature canons). Some instantiations would bear more material resemblance and some less … but there is more in my next point on the level of correspondence between Gen 38

    To me the question comes down to what impact it has on our reading of the meaning of the text. This, I think, is based in how tightly the correlations can be drawn. I’m not familiar with the Chaucer story, but my guess is that if she has stated it herself, that story has more correlations that feed into the meaning JKR has constructed in her story.

    Some account has to be taken of the fact that, while all artists build there material from past works, and are in a certain sense simply standing on the shoulders of giants, there is an originality to each new piece of genius. For myself at least, I look for the inner logic of her story, and after that the allusions are nice but are only essential if demonstrating some piece of how she has constructed the logic and meaning of her story.

    My main question with the whole Genesis 38 story is what it would contribute. While the materials may correspond to varying degrees (depending on what side one takes in all of the things that have been discussed here), and while there is a commonality in one point in the protection from death, the antagonists are fairly different. Most importantly they are different in the aspect of the, let’s call it, onset of antagonism. Death is antagonistic to humanity from birth, and, more importantly, unavoidable. While Tamar stands in danger of death by stoning, that is the result of her own plan and actions, which have a very different aim altogether than immortality: she is trying to force Judah’s hand on his failure to keep his end of the bargain of her marriage. That the objects save her from death is not the end concern of the story, it is the fact that they damn Judah as a hypocrite and force him to make good on his promises about her marrying the 3rd son. And I still think that, while there are 3 objects and 3 brothers, it is significant for this discussion that there is no idea of any correlation between the 2 sets.

    I do think it is nice finding Biblical allusions, and other allusions (and Biblical allusion and character types in Chaucer, and Shakespeare and on down the line), and I do think it enriches things, but I simply don’t think things tie out so well between Gen 38 and the 3 brothers as to give a unique status as an allusion, above the other/s, especially as an allusion that contributes to the meaning of the present story.

    I think a productive question for the discussion is what is to be gained by establishing it, the motive behind making such strong arguments for it. I’m not against seeing a connection at some level, I just don’t think that the connection is that strong in some exclusive fashion … but I do wonder what the drive is to establish it. I don’t ask this to be combative, but my approach to making connections between the Bible and contemporary literature is probably different than what’s going on in this discussion. For me the tapestry of traditions from Biblical literature and other ancient literature sets being woven by contemporary authors into their stories and how they construct their meanings is fascinating … but for me it mainly that buttresses the claim of Rowling’s prowess as an author working from a strong literary and cultural background, rather than simply writing pulp fiction or “just kid’s lit.” I’m not particularly interested in demonstrating a larger number of Biblical allusions (although I do often have a vested interest in not having them discounted a-priori … I knew a musician who had some great songs, he wasn’t doing “Christian Music” but he did use a fair number of Biblical allusions and when he got some money to record from two investors they made him take out the Biblical/Christian tradition allusions, which I thought was paranoid in the extreme and simply stupid at best, bigoted at worst … that sort of thing does bother me … if the allusions work to tell the story and provide some grip for your culture, which is steeped in 2000 years of Christian artistic tradition, why be so neurotically obsessed with proving one has “gotten beyond religion”? It never works anyway – humanity is as unalterably religious as it is unalterably political in nature, and some things just work … I would never call the Pixies a reverent band, let alone a band who was trying to bring people to the Gospel, but they still found that it worked to do a song about David and Bathsheba and another about Samson … not very reverent songs, but they were undeniable allusions … and the album Doolittle sold just fine with them in there).

    Some points should be cleared up about the use of Targums versus the LXX (Septuagint). Regarding language, both are translations. A Targum is less of a translation, but not in a way that supports any priority for the Targum over the LXX on an issue like this. Targums are less of a translation because they are ALSO expansions. The targums began in the Babylonian captivity. Aramaic had already begun to be an established common language, and would, with the rise of the Persian empire, become an empire language. Synagogue worship developed in the Babylonian exile, in the absence of the Temple for sacrifice (at the time of Christ, Temple and synagogue existed alongside each other as forms of worship in Palestine, following the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, synagogue worship became the sole material mode … this was possibly the most radical shift in Judaism there has been as far as the living of the religion). In synagogue reading, explanation would be offered as a sort of alongside commentary – explanations that sometimes took the form of narrative expansion.

    Originally there were prescriptions against writing the Aramaic translations of the scripture and these explanatory commentaries and narrative expansions, but eventually they did become recorded in written form, which eventually took the form of canonical targums. But this was a very long process. So it is not a case of a translator sitting down with a Hebrew text in front of them and translating straight, but rather a long oral pre-history in which expansions were occurring, as well as adaptions according to developing trends of interpretation. As far as I have been able to see on Targum Onkelos in particular, scholars think it was done (meaning the actual composition of original written text, coalescing a distinct oral tradition up to the time of written composition) by Aquila of Sinope in 2nd century AD (I am not a specialist in this area, the only targum I have studied directly at any length is Pseudo-Jonathan, which is from a much later date, possibly 9th century AD, and many scholars think it is actually a private scholar imitating earlier targums, rather than a representative of a tradition developed in actual liturgical life over time)

    Even the issue of a straighter translation like the LXX is complicated. It is not as simple as a lay understanding of “We have the Hebrew original (which we have in the Masoretic text [MT]) and then it was translated into the LXX … ergo the Greek texts origins post-date the Hebrew texts origins.” The LXX was not translated from our present Masoretic text. It was translated from older editions/traditions in the 3rd century. Our present MT, the form we have of it, dates from much later. In short, the MT and LXX represent separate traditions evolving from a version older than both (actually I use the example of the 5 or 6 sentence difference in lengths between the first American hardback and the American paperback of HBP as a lead in to discussing the fact that the LXX version of Jeremiah is 1/8 shorter than the MT version – and the scholarly consensus that there is no direct literary dependency between the 2 via reduction or expansion, but rather that they developed independently from an ur-text to which we no longer have access)

    As far as Rashi, while he is clearly the most highly respected of the classical Rabbis, he is Middle Ages of the Christian era (1040-1105) … the aims of Rabbinic exegesis of words, and the Rabbinic tradition behind somebody like Rashi, are very different from our way of thinking about the Bible in general. Most often they had a vested interest in a particular translational value for the aim of hooking it up to another text from somewhere completely different in the Bible, dealing with a very disparate subject matter, to tie the two together for a particular issue in their present Halakhah (Jewish Law) debates that might seem unrelated to either passage – not cheaply though: The Holy One, Blessed be He, is responsible for it all and therefore even unrelated technicalities could be what He wanted later generations to find … but their idea even of that is not exactly the same thing as what Christians mean by divine inspiration. Rabbinic thought is incredibly fascinating to read and study

    All of point 5 is really to say that as far as determining which we should rely on, LXX or Targum Onkelos, the LXX is the older witness (3rd century BC, versus probably 2nd century AD) … and the more strict “translation” (meaning a project whose main aim seemed to be a literal translation, whereas the oral pre-history life of the targums served a much wider role in communal religious identity and practice).
    (Even our Masoretic Text, in our present form, probably goes back no further than 6th century AD when the vowel points, accent marks, and punctuation were being added by the scribes known as the Masoretes. This is in now way saying that the Hebrew Bible was fabricated at this point or something like that … before that point the Hebrew Text would have been unpointed, simply consonantal text … like what we have found in Qumran, in the dead sea scrolls. But the pointings do carry a weight of interpretation with them – how a word is pronounced impacts what grammatical or syntactical function the word might be performing, it might even change what we think the word is – what the Masoretes were doing was incorporating into the text centuries of interpretation history from the life of the text as actually read in liturgical worship)
    BUT … points 5 and 6 are really simply “for what its worth.” In short, and honestly meaning no offense, I think the matter of the translations is a red herring in the affair of asking about Gen 38 as a source or an allusion for the tale of the 3 brothers. I don’t think the correlations of the story as a whole are strong enough to give Gn 38 a pride of place. If it is an intentional allusion, it adds some texture (which is nice, and as a Biblical scholar I always like that sort of thing), but not any real substance in my taking meaning from the story.

  19. Viktor Richardson says

    Six years ago J. K. Rowling explained the etymology of the Killing Curse:

    “Does anyone know where avada kedavra came from? It is an ancient spell in Aramaic, and it is the original of abracadabra, which means ‘let the thing be destroyed.’ Originally, it was used to cure illness and the ‘thing’ was the illness, but I decided to make it the ‘thing’ as in the person standing in front of me. I take a lot of liberties with things like that. I twist them round and make them mine.”

    As a thoroughly liberated post modern Christian feminist, Tamar’s story surely held a more prominent spot in her compost heap than Aramaic Lexicons. We should not try to squeeze out a tit-for-tat correspondence with her source(s) because Mrs. Rowling twists liberally. She has said in several ways that she had to keep her cards very close to the vest to avoid tickling sleeping dragons.

    Has anyone found a “Canterbury Tail” that fits as a starting point for “The Tail of the Three Brothers”? Or, was Mrs. Rowling referring to the entire “Tails of Beatle the Bard” as being based on Chaucer’s complete anthology?

    It surprises me that this thread is still active. And it delights me that you continue to add such intelligent posts.


  20. Elizabeth says

    It’s the Pardoner’s Tale, Viktor, which has the cheating death motif. Phyllis Miller had a great talk on that one at Infinitus. (Though the magic ring has a connection to the Knight’s Tale through Spenser’s borrowing for The Faerie Queene)

  21. Viktor Richardson says

    Thank you good Elizabeth for the citation. I just read the Pardoner’s tale for the first time since freshman English so many years ago. The offensive priest spins a good yarn.

    However, on a quick reading I find many more and stronger points of correspondence between the Tale of the Three Brothers and Tamar’s story than with Chaucer’s. Did I miss the cheating of death in the Pardoner’s Tale; it looked to me as if old man death easily cheated the three “brothers” out of their lives.

    The Peveral brothers as well as the sons of Judah encountered death by providence not plan; There were no hallowed objects under the oak tree; No strong symbolic connections like with the Sign of the D.H and the names of the three sons of Judah; None of the “villainous brothers” acted out of love and, No “boy that lived”. In short, I fail to see how Mrs. Rowling could have started on the road to Canterbury and arrived at Death’s roaring river without a very long detour through Enaim.


  22. Benignuman says

    The Septuagint is certainly not more dependable than the Hebrew Masoretic Text. It is translation and things are always lost in translation. In another translation from the 2nd Century CE, the Targum Onkelos, פְתִילֶ֔ךָ, is translated as שׁוֹשִׁפָּךְ in Aramaic, which means a wearable garment of some kind. So there is definitely a valid source for JK Rowling to have drawn from if she was trying to use Genesis 38 for inspiration.

    The confusion of what is older, or more reliable, the Masoretic Text or the Septuagint, arises from people using “Masoretic Text” to mean two different things. The 7th-10th century Masoretes created Codices of the Bible, they include vocalizations, cantilation marks and other details that had always been oral traditions for reading the text and not written down. They also collected as many manuscripts as they could to try and create the most accurate text possible, down to the special spacing between various sections. These Codices are relatively recent as noted above.

    However, the underlying Hebrew text (devoid of the additions of the Masoretes), also known as the Masoretic Text (or prot-Masoretic text) is much, much older. The majority of the biblical books in the Dead Sea Scrolls conform to the Masoretic text, not the Septuagint. The majority of the texts found at Masada conform to the Masoretic text, not the Septuagint. These texts are older than any remotely complete copies of the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls are older than even the oldest Septuagint fragments.

    It is possible that the Septuagint was translated from an older, different Hebrew text. But there is little ability to know what was changed in translation or whether that Hebrew text is older than the proto-Masoretic texts because we have no copies or even fragments of this hypothetical Hebrew precursor to the Septuagint.

    In short, for our purposes, the Masoretic text is just as old or older than the Septuagint and has the advantage of not being a translation.

  23. See Merlin’s points 5, 6, and 7 above which address this issue in sufficient detail and rebut Benignuman’s assertions of the Masoretic text we have “not being a translation.”