American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literature 39 (1922-23) 89-108.

                                                       Public Domain.



                     THE HEBREW MASAL


                               BY ALLEN HOWARD GODBEY

                                         Carrsville, Kentucky


            My studies in Hebrew ritual problems have led me to the con-

clusion that one of the most universal ceremonial words has thus far

been overlooked. There are two reasons for this. First, the influ-

ence of the King James version.  Finding the "Book of Proverbs"

entitled ylwm, the tacit assumption was that masal expressed only

verbal likenesses. The existence of a "pantomime" masal was not

recognized; that the performance of a symbolical action was tech-

nically called a masal has been passed over. The second reason is that

in fragments of priestly procedure as we have them the masal has

been taken for granted; the performer of a kipper, an ‘asarah, a

sabbath, might use any one of various appropriate mesalim known to

him. In the Babylonian Surpu collection, we know of a few such

appended to one series—the officiator could take his choice. But as

the performance of a masal was not restricted to the temple ritual,

it is not strictly a priestly term (as scholars have been using

the word priestly). The following collection of principal data tells

its own story. That we are dealing with much that scholars call

sympathetic magic need not surprise or disturb. Considering

Hebrew antecedents and environment, how could it be otherwise?

There is no difficulty in explaining its presence. Were it not present,

we would have no rational explanation of that fact.

            Perhaps we should employ the word "talifice" ("so shall it be

done") for an acted masal. For the verbal masal, "proverb" is not

an adequate translation, as all agree. "Likening," or "comparison"

is technically more accurate.

            In Gen. 37:5 if. Joseph tells a dream of the grain-sheaves of his

brethren doing obeisance to his. The brethren at once reply, "Shalt

thou indeed be king over us? or shalt thou be anything like that to

us?" (masol timsol). Next, sun, moon, and eleven stars bow to him.

It is at once construed the same way The narrative establishes the

fact that for the compiler such sheaf-action or star-action was a masal.






It shows his belief in portents. It shows that his principle of inter-

pretation of a portent was that its masal or "likeness" was sure to

occur in real life. We are told that Jacob paid careful attention to

this dabar (oracle?), vs. 11. We may recognize that the compiler

would also call the dream of either butler, baker, or Pharaoh a masal,

were he asked for a technical term; its "like" was sure to follow.

This ancient principle we have so far lost faith in that we say "dreams

go by contraries."

            Take next an acted masal:  Joash's interview with the dying

Elisha, II Kings 13:14 ff.  Too feeble to act himself, the prophet

acts as master of ceremonies—the king's hands acting for him as the

prophet held them. An arrow is shot toward the eastern foe or

place of battle, and the king commanded to complete the rite by

striking the ground. Then he is angrily told that his victories are

limited by the number of his ceremonial strokes. Any Central

African "fetishman," making "war-medicine" today, would reason

likewise. So would the King of Babylon, Ezek. 21:21. For the

present inquiry it is immaterial whether such thought is Elisha's,

or an invention of the narrators. In fact, in the latter case, it would

be established that the efficacy of such "war-medicine" was believed

in centuries after Elisha's death. Then if we turn to I Kings 22:11,

we understand that Zedekiah was making "war-medicine" against

the same Syrian foe, with his horns of iron. In neither case is the

word masal used:  in each case the "like-this" idea dominates.

            Take then Ezek. 24:3:  mesol a masal; then explain it to the gazing

public, vss. 6-14. Here the masal is the pot-boiling ceremony; the

terminology is definite. Turning then to Ezek. 21:1–5 (A.V., 20:

45-49), we find the prophet "sprinkles" (fire) toward Teman and the

forest of Negeb, and announces a fire that shall utterly destroy it.

The prophet demurs on comprehending his instructions: "People

already say of me, He is a memassel mesalim!" a mighty masal


            I think we must recognize that for the superstitious masses such

men as Ezekiel were powerful magicians, who were not simply

warning of ruin but performing terrible incantations to bring it about.

It is thus I understand Ezekiel's demurrer. Yet if the prophets

abandon such ancient mummeries, who will heed? On the other


                            THE HEBREW “MASAL”                              91


hand continuing them only arouses counter-magic; so what was

gained? Some great Hebrew preachers perished, not for what they

said, but for what they did—working magic for the overthrow of the

state, as medieval scientists were deemed "in league with the devil."

Their symbol-lessons against the frauds of the time were only "fight-

ing the devil with fire"—a game in which the devil always has the

best of it. One day the Hebrew preacher will see it.

            Further evidence of a masal as "war-medicine" is afforded by the

Balaam story. His specific task is to cast such a spell over Israel

that Balak shall easily defeat them, as all recognize. Undertaking

this, he four times chants a masal, Num. 23:7, 18; 24:3, 15. Let

us observe at once that in so doing he would be a mosel. The accom-

panying action is not certainly specified, but we may have a hint in

vs. 23: "There is no serpent against Jacob, nor any cutting up

(kasam) for Israel"; and in 24:1, "went not as at other times to call

serpents." I suspect that he did "call serpents," and fail; such pre-

tenders, called ha wy, are still in the same region. Probably such art

is in Amos' mind when he makes the Lord exclaim, "Though they

be hid from my sight in the bottom of the sea, thence will I command

the Serpent, and he shall bite them," Amos 9:3. We may recall

fiery serpents sent into Israel in another wilderness story. As to

"cutting up," observe the covenant ritual of Abraham and Jeremiah

(Gen. 15:9 ff.; Jer. 34:19), and the cutting up of an ox as an impreca-

tion or masal by Saul, I Sam. 11:7. We may ask if the preliminary

"sacrifice" of Balak was the masal that Balaam hoped to make effec-

tive by incantation or "vision": "cutting up" animals as Saul and

Ezekiel did.

            Continuing with Moab, we find another "war chant" which is

credited with being effective, and is called a masal, Num. 21:27.

Sihon had captured Heshbon, "for thus ('because') oracled the

moselim," and the chant suggests that fire-flinging and arrow-shooting

were a chief feature of the accompanying ceremony. The writer

credits the masal with being effective: the performer is a mosel;

and this is the official title of Sihon in Josh. 12:2, 5. This reminds

us that one who would aspire to Semitic leadership is surest of success

if credited with unusual magical powers; and that secular and sacred

functions often combine in an oriental leader. The words masal




and mosel are unusually prominent in the Moab stories: the latter

word seems to be a Moabite official title a long time. In the Mesha

story, II Kings 3:27, Mesha cuts up his own son upon the wall as a

mighty "war-medicine" (compare the Roman story of the self-

immolation of Decius). In consequence there came a terrible keseph,

"cutting to pieces," upon Israel. Observe that keseph in Josh. 9:20

is the technical term for the penalty of violating the "covenant cut"

in vss. 11, 15, 16 (cf. Gen. 15:8–18; Jer. 34:18–19), as also in Josh.

22:18, 20. So every such treaty involves a masal—"so shall the

violator of this oath be cut to pieces." This penalty for broken faith

is in Isa. 34:2; 54:8; 57:16; 60:10; 64:9; Zech. 1:2; Gen. 40:2;

41:10. Consider again the suggestion above as to an actual masal

of Balak, invoking the seven fates and cutting up an animal before

each. And in Isa. 16 1 we read, "Send a lamb to the mosel of the land

from Sela' toward the wilderness, unto the mount of the daughter of

Zion" (= extent of Moab). I suspect a satirical reference to the

foregoing sort of ceremony: "It is time for the Grand Magician to

get busy!"

            With Balaam's acknowledged failure to find any iniquity in Israel

to conjure with, Num. 23:21, contrast Hab. 2:6, where the gathering

foemen are pictured as "chanting their (war-)masal," using all the

cruelty and treachery of Babylon as elements of their taunt-curse:

"The like shall come upon thee." Such requirement is made by

magicians everywhere. In the Babylonian Surpu texts it is a sine

qua non.

            In Sargon, Cylinder 29, we read Kullat nakiri isluhu imat muti,

"all his enemies he sprinkled with the poison of death." I understand

this to describe the success of similar war-medicine. Nergal-sharezer,

in Cambridge Cylinder (KB, III, 2, 72), says that in the opening of

his reign Girra, the Plague-God, gave him his mighty weapons for the

protection of his land and people. Thus the king had "a covenant

with Death, and an agreement with Sheol," such as was fashionable

in Jerusalem in the time of Isaiah, the makers or ceremonial directors

of it being called moselim, Isa. 28:14–15. Nergal-sharezer explains

that he set up a pair of sirussu (mus russu?) at each of the four gates

of the kigallu (= Aralu) as protectors of Esagila and Ezida; as no

king before did. Limnim u aibim izannu imat muti, "upon the


                                 THE HEBREW "MASAL"                            93


wicked and hostile they rain the poison of death." These symbolisms

of the Underworld, Powers of Death and Darkness, an innovation

at Esagila and Ezida, point to oscillations between the cult of such

powers and the cult of their enemy, the Rising Sun. It must have

been such a dragon that Hezekiah destroyed at Jerusalem. His-

torically, Nergal-sharezer's statement probably means that at his

accession a terrible plague was ravaging his hostile neighbors.

            With this "hailing or raining the poison of death" upon a foe,

group the birik limutti, "lightning of evil," oft invoked in Assyrian

imprecations, and the phrase imtu burrudani in some broken passages

of the Harper letters.  In [660] Bu. 91–5–9–15, Adad-sum-usur

says (break) BUR.RU.DA.  mes damkuti(?) ma-a-du-ti ni-ip-pa-as,

we performed many favorable BUR.RU.DA.-mes,” whether

offensive or defensive rituals cannot be determined. But in [18]

K 490 the order of the king (broken) has been relative to the per-

formance of imtu bur-ru-da-a-ni on the 24th of the month. Marduk-

sakin-sum replies that it was not done. Many tablets are in readi-

ness: . . . . as soon as king orders, in five or six days. . . .  If

the king orders performances ana imtu bur-ru-da-a-ni in the month

Tebet . . . . and as to the instructions sa imtu bur-ru-da-a-ni which

the king commanded, saying, Send to Nineveh and fetch Nadin-ahe

I did not send . . . . and those tablets of instructions (program)

not complete(?) let (--) bring with him. On the 2d day of Tebet

let the king perform . . . . on the 4th day let the crown prince

perform . . . . on the 6th day let the people perform . . . . (four

broken lines). It will be observed that the time of imtu burrudani

here is the time of midwinter storms—near Christmas: the proper

time either to invoke their aid, or to cantillate against them. Again

the invocation first by king, then by crown prince, then by all people,

may be compared with the like order of public petition by shah

and by people in modern Persia, in times of storms or droughts

(Hajji Baba 305–6); I Kings 8:35f.  The Burrudani of the forego-

ing tablet imply matters of national interest at midwinter solstice.

Again the imtu burruddni is in the broken [11] K 643 and probably in

K [25] K 639. It appears that the Sumerian BUR.RU.DA, familiar

as an incantation term, has been adopted and a Semitic plural form

used in the Sargonid letters. In a SAG-Ba SAG-ba incantation



published by Zimmern (ZA, XXVIII, 75 f.) the colophon line reads


But the banishing of evil is by "smiting it = strike in the face, shatter,

break, blow away, annihilate." The ritual is not the establishing of a

passive barrier, but evoking a powerful repellent. The imtu burrudani

then suggests "hailing poison or death" (Heb. bered = "hail") as in

previous cases. Such ceremony could be either offensive or defensive.

In HABL [977] K 350: "with regard to the procedures which the

king directed, . . . . sighing of Death in the palace (cf. mehumath

maveth of I Sam. 5:11) . . . . in the month Kisilimu we did so

. . . , plague, sickness not approach the house of men, u kispu

BUR.RU.DA-mes ma'aduti nitapas." In Sabatu were nis kati and

NAM BUR-BI, to ward off evil, then special ceremonies on the first of

Adar, employing images of Anu, Namtar, Death, Latarak (plague?),

clay substitutes for the man of different clays; thirteen different

substances (AJSL, XXVIII, 113), seven of each one. Note the Fate

and Death covenant, as in Isa. 28:14–15. (Compare the nocturnal

fife-kaditu ceremony to call up a tremendous storm against the

Assyrian, Isa. 30:29–33; elaboration requires a separate paper).

This Adar or mid-February ritual concludes distress-ceremonies

begun with B UR.RU.DA-mes in November. It suggests comparison

with a storm-omen text published by Weidner (Babyloniaca, VI, 96) :


If a reed tornado sweep the land, the command of a powerful enemy will

            encompass it,

If a cattle tornado sweep the land, the usurper will be overthrown,

If a sheep and goats tornado sweep the land, it will be weakened—the wis-

            dom of the land will pass away,

If a jar tornado sweep the land,—overthrow of the kingdom.


Weidner thinks such expressions refer to fancied resemblances in the

clouds or to objects moved by the wind. It is fair to ask if they do

not refer to various rituals for raising a storm. With this omen text

compare another, cited by Waterman, AJSL, XXIX, 20:


                        ana musi sa-ri sutu iskun iskun-ma,

                        im-sur im-sur-ma. izziz- izziz-ma

                        ip-ru-ud ip-ru-ud-ma, u-sa-pi-ih,

                        rubu ina harrani illaku mimma sumsu

                                 busu kat-su ikassad.


                                    THE HEBREW "MASAL"                                     95


"When the south wind blows all night, and having blown all night continues,

and as it continues becomes a gale, and from a gale increases to a tempest,

and as a tempest does sweeping damage: the prince on whatever expedition

he goes will obtain wealth."


Compare the storm-omen to David, II Sam. 5:23–25, and continually

recurrent thunderstorm theophanies of Yahweh, in O.T. There has

been overemphasis upon the Storm-God theory because of inattention

to storm-producing ceremonies. Yahweh, ba’al or Adad, etc., would

be alike invocable. With the use of paradu in foregoing Assyrian

oracle, note that a southern dialect might use baradu; and that

B UR.RU.DA also might be PUR.RU.DA in another dialect. Thus

while it is established as an old Sumerian ritual term of repulsion

(Langdon, Babyloniaca, II, 107), Semitic borrowers would be pretty

surely attracted to it by its formal identity with their own baradu,

paradu. Compare Heb. bered, Arab. bardun, Syr. bardo, Eth. barade, =

"hail"; Arab. baruda, "to hail, be cold"; and Isaiah's ritual usage

of the word, 32:19: "and it shall hail mightily (barad beredeth), upon

the fortress [reading ryf for rfy, as the parallelism suggests] and

utterly overwhelm the city." The form of statement, and the

result, is identical with Waterman's text above. Are we to translate

ib-ru-ud ibrud ma "hail mightily"? Compare with these storm-

omens, Job 38:22–23: "Hail and snow are stored for the time of

affliction, for the day of battle and war"; and the Flood Legend,

189–90; Bel promises Pir-napistim life at the mouth of the rivers:

"then sleep: six days and seven nights, ina birid buridisu, rittu kima

imbari inappus elisu, "while it stormed unceasingly and rittu like a

hurricane blew upon him. " Is the subsequent ritual a BUR.RU.DA?

            Thus Isaiah's connecting the moselim of Jerusalem with the

expected Assyrian hail and overwhelming flood opens an interesting

group of incantations.

            Apart from fifing or whistling, the two pre-eminent folk-rituals

for rain-making or storm producing are fire-kindling or throwing, and

water-throwing. They are often combined as in the contest of Elijah

and the prophets of Baal; the identical procedure found in some

Negro and Moorish tribes today. The fire-throw originates in the

observation that as a storm gathers a sudden downpour of rain

follows nearby flashes of lightning. Hence Ecclesiasticus 43:13–14:




"Thou sendest forth the lightnings of thy judgment: they open the

treasuries: and clouds fly forth as fowls." So pagan Arabs kindled

fires on mountains, or tied firebrands to cattle's tails and drove them

bellowing up the mountains to unlock the stores of rain (Leeder,

Desert Gateway, p. 258). In the Zend-Avesta fires bring rain; a

Persian girl of today will circle the family oven seven times that

the fire may grant rain; fire-kindling and fire-throwing ceremonies

to bring a storm or rain are familiar throughout South and East

Africa (Virgil, Aeneid vi. 585–94; Casalis, The Basutos, pp. 273–82;

Kay, Travels and Researches in Caffraria, pp. 181–83; Bentley,

Pioneering on the Congo, I, 213; Lumholtz, New Trails in Old

Mexico, 253; Moffatt, Southern Africa, pp. 210, 213, 216; Callaway,

Religious System of the Amazulus, pp. 376, 405; Livingstone, Zambesi

Expedition, pp. 22, 26, 231; Cameron, Across Africa, p. 255; Kidd,

The Essential Kaffir, pp. 108, 115, 122, 123; Isaacs, Travels and Adven-

tures in East Africa, I, 119; Stigand, To Abyssinia through an

Unknown Land, p. 254). Alfonso the Wise, of Castile, in stamping

out witchcraft, and the use of magic images for hurtful ends, per-

mitted their use for banishing fog, hail, storms, etc.1  Observe that

Ezekiel is particularly disturbed at his reputation as a memassel

mesalim when called upon to sprinkle fire toward the forests of the

Negeb, 20:46 (cf. Jer. 21:14), though his career began with the

vision of one called upon to take coals of fire from the cherubim altar

and sprinkle them over the doomed city, 10:2, 6, 7 (cf. 13:11 f.).

The populace might take such ritualist-preacher for a mesugga or

lunatic: such ranting dervish as was in mind in Prov. 26–18, "Like a

self-frenzied flinger of firebrands, arrows and Death—so is he that

deceiveth his neighbor and saith, Am I not in sport?" It is fair to

ask if late editors have not confused ritual traditions in Exod.,

chap. 9, where they get a plague of lice from the furnace ashes or

coals thrown at the sky, when the subsequent hail and thunderstorm

is the normal expectation in such ritual. With the notion of store-

houses of rain and hail, and the fire masal to open them, compare

Job 38:22–23, cited above, "Hail and snow are stored for the time of

affliction; for the day of battle and war."

            The "covenant with Death and agreement with Sheol" in Isa.,

chap. 28, is specifically connected with raising or averting a hailstorm.


       1 Lea, History of the Inquisition, III, 430.


                              THE HEBREW "MASAL"                                97


Everyone thinks himself properly "kippered"; but "your covenant

with Death shall be ‘kippered’ away, and your agreement with Sheol

shall not stand"; "and the hail shall sweep away your refuge of lies";

"when the overflowing flood passeth through, ye shall be trodden

down by it," etc. (28:17–18). Yahweh is Lord of Death and Sheol.

Isaiah calls these magicians, moselim, "men of almond-magic":

luz, almond, largely used in "hastening" ceremonies; and a familiar

foundation ceremony is probably cited in "Stone! Chosen Stone!

Precious Corner! Founded! Founded! The established (stone)

shall not haste away!" Jar-floods, such as cited above, and reed

or almond magic cannot move it. We may ask if like storm magic

is in mind in Isa. 32:19; compare the death-hail of Isa. 30:27–33;

the hail threats of Ezek. 13:11, 13; 38:22; Isa. 29:6; the historic

Egyptian hail, Exod. 9:18, produced by the almond rod, Josh. 10:11,

and the jar-pouring of Israel: I Sam. 7:5–10, with its consequent

thunderstorm. Would that we had Samuel's invocation on this

occasion! For water-pouring or water-throwing ceremonies to pro-

duce rain or call up a thunderstorm, compare Rae, The Country of

the Moors, p. 72; Kidd, The Essential Kaffir, pp. 114–15; North

India Notes and Queries, V, 373; Sacred Books of the East (India),

XLI, 335–36; XXV, 89; Krapf, Travels and Researches in East Africa,

pp. 122, 139, 235–36; W. H. Anderson, Barotseland; Arbousset,

Exploratory Tour in South Africa, p. 386; Moffatt, Southern Africa,

pp. 208–10; Sibree, Madagascar, pp. 333–34, 389. Of the terror and

helplessness of the superstitious Arab during a thunderstorm,

Peters observes that the Anazeh camel-drivers and guards were "more

afraid of the fury of the elements than of the dangers of war      

Poor Arabs, without tents, were lying like dead men on the ground.

An enemy could have murdered the whole camp without a man

stirring," Nippur, II, 44, 75.

            This unmistakable prominence of hailing or sprinkling rituals

suggests notice of another Hebrew word to be classed here. In the

fire-masal of Ezek. 20:45–49 (A.V.) nataf is the verb used of fire on

the forest of Negeb. Cf. Mic. 2:4 f., "In that day they shall chant a

masal against you, and sigh a sighing." The masal closes, vs. 6,


                        Sprinkle not, 0 they that sprinkle,

                        Not for these things shall they sprinkle.

                        They shall not take away shame.



The nataf ritual will be utterly unavailing. A few verses farther on

(vs. 11) Micah scornfully says, "Any liar that announces I will

sprinkle to you (rain upon you) wine and strong drink; verily, he is

the sprinkler for this people!" which compare with Amos 9:13; Joel

3: 18, "the mountains shall drop (nataf) wine"; and with the kudurru

fragment in King, BBS, No. 37: "The tops of the mountains in my

land Ea filled with vines; 30 ka of wine for one shekel of silver was the

price current in my land." Micah's liars were promising like abun-

dance, using a magic and copious masal to insure fulfilment of the pre-

diction. The change of tense above suggests their chant, "As I

drop, they shall drop." They and their audience were on the level

of Shakespeare's Jack Cade, decreeing "that the city sewer run

nothing but claret wine this first year of our reign" (King Henry VI,

Part II, Act IV, scene vi). Ezekiel uses the same word nataf in a

dripping and sighing masal, 21:1-7, which he explains as portending

that all knees shall run water, and all souls faint, and sigh. Amaziah

was familiar with such dripping and outpouring ceremonies, and

scornfully sent word to Amos, "None of that here!" Amos 7:16.

Amos was instantly angered that he was supposed to employ such


            The great prominence of sprinklings and pourings in all manner

of ancient ritual is familiar enough. The Bit Rimki series in cunei-

form ritual is available for almost any occasion. The preparatory

ceremony could be the same for opposite purposes; the object cursed

or blessed would be the only difference. Recall the "sprinkling

enemies with the poison of death" cited above from Sargon; and com-

pare the familiar red heifer-ashes-cedar-hyssop water for times of

death, in Num., chap. 19. It would suit an Assyrian masmasu or

Babylonian asipu perfectly for Sargon's ends. He would have

chanted, "As this heifer is cut to pieces, this cedar hath been burned,

this hyssop hath poisoned, this water poured forth, so may the enemy

be cut to pieces, poisoned, burned, swept away by floods." In the

Palestinian ritual case of Num., chap. 19, he would have chanted,

"So may this edimmu (family ghost) be removed, washed away,"

etc. Did Hebrew priests so chant? Black ark or hurtful magic is

proscribed, for the masses, yet the priests have solemn cursing as one


                           THE HEBREW "MASAL"                                 99


of their official duties,l e.g., Num. 5:23; Deut. 27:13. In masal we

see a technical term and the general formula. The red heifer ritual

probably originated in such solemn cursing and burning as Mesha

used when he cut his son to pieces and burned him, that the life

cutting to pieces might come upon Israel.

            With the sprinkling or pouring wine or death, indicated by the

passages above cited, compare Josephus' description of the expulsion

of an evil spirit (Ant., VIII, ii, 5) by a Pharisee exorcist, illustrating

Solomon's mesalim. A magic root and a bowl of water are the

equipment. When the water is upset or poured out, the expulsion.

is complete, and the ghost cannot return—recalling the warning to

David by the "wise woman," II Sam. 14:14, "For we must die, and

like water spilt upon the ground, which cannot be gathered up again."

(Did David perceive a threatened curse in her words?) Such

rimki underlie "I will pour out my Spirit"; in Abyssinia still it is

seen. Jars of water are brought to a shrine, an invocation induces

the saint to enter into the water, which is then poured over any

ailing or demoniac brought for healing. Observe the contrasting

"He hath poured out himself unto death," Isa. 53:12, instead of

pouring out the life of his foemen.

            Isaiah also applies the term masal to the famous apostrophe of

overthrown Babylon, 14:4 f.: "Chant a masal against the ling

of Babylon," etc. The opening words suggest that the symbolical

action accompanying was the smashing or "annihilating" (sabbath)

of a gilded wand or scepter, perhaps a copy of Babylonian insignia

(like "trampling upon the flag." The later Isaiah of Babylon scorns

such mummery: "a bruised reed he shall not break," Isa. 42:3).

Calling this wand "scepter of the mosel," vs. 5, may point to certain

ritual activities of the Babylonian king, as head of the sacred asylum

city. What else was in the masal we cannot tell; but the result is

that the great functional mosel is "made like" (nimsalta) unto the

shades that address him in Sheol, vs. 10, another of Isaiah's famous


      1 Cutting up an animal and burning it to ashes, and using the ashes in decoctions,

unguents, and lotions for marvelous effects is still part of dervish medicine. The

liver-ashes is in special repute, as in Book of Tobit. A human being not being available,

a monkey is next best, as in Hajji Baba, pp. 68-69, or as in Thuggee lore in India.

                      "Cool it with a baboon's blood,

                        Then the charm is firm and good!"—Macbeth




plays on words. Jeremiah's "one mosel against another" in Babylon,

51:46; suggests the familiar wrangling of her numerous religious

functionaries in time of evil tidings: "There, must be a takpirtu!"

"A BUR.RU.DA!" "A nis Kati!" "A NAM.BUR.BI," "No! the

day is one of ill-omen!" Isa. 40:10 has such in mind: "Yahweh is

not" hired "by anyone, his work is open (not secret), his own arm

mosel" (sets the pattern. Compare oft mentioned ceremonial, "Out-

stretched Arm").

            Ezekiel uses the word masal again in another of his numerous

object lessons, 17:2: “Sharpen a sharpening” (Gesenius) and mesol

a masal, against the house of Israel. Then follows the cantillation of

the Great Eagle, and his faithless transplanted vine, which shall be

"cut off," "plucked up." The "sharpening" and these penal expres-

sions may suggest the ceremony.

            All these rituals against a foeman bring before us Jeremiah's

great curse-ritual against Babylon, chap. 51. He himself dictates

the curses; they are solemnly written down. Then Seraiah is to

take the writing, bind a stone to it, cast it into the Euphrates, with

the solemn curse: "Thus shall Babylon sink, and not rise from the

evil that I will bring upon her; and they shall be utterly exhausted

(never recover)." This is perfectly accurate "black art." It must

be emphasized that Jeremiah is not the "functioning personality"

here. His wishes or desires are as those of any other man; Seraiah

is the solemnly functioning party. And the narrator is careful to

explain that such ritual is his special business; he is sar menuhah,

"Chief Producer of Quiet," vs. 59. We have a suggestion of the

immense amount of masal ritual implicit every here in the familiar

"the Lord had given them rest (nuh) from their enemies round


            Purely protective magic to such end is probably in mind in

Isa. 27:4. Yahweh exclaims, " (There is) no poison! (hemah) for

me! Who would set briers and thorns against me in battle? I

would go through them; I would burn them utterly!" The basis

of such mummery is the practice of fencing a temporary camp or

zareeba with a hedge of cut thorns, a precaution familiar to every

African explorer. Manasseh, fleeing, was perhaps overtaken at such

a thorn-camp: II Chron. 33:11; cf. Hos. 2:6; Prov. 15:19; 22:5.


                             THE HEBREW "MASAL"                       101


            In Nah. 1:10, "For though surrounded by thorns, and soaked

like a sudd, they shall be consumed like stubble fully dry."1  Isa. 10:

17, "The Light of Israel shall be for a fire, and His Holy One for a

flame; and it shall burn and devour his thorns and briers in one day "

Ps. 58 is a liturgy dealing with such hemah magic (vss. 4–5) "before

your pots can feel your thorns, like hai (hawwy, a gale? Arab.) like

haron (lightning ?) he will storm them away, vs. 9." II Sam. 24:6

"And Belial,—all of them like thorns repelling, For not by hand can

they be grasped; Yet a man shall approach them! He will be

equipped with iron and the staff of a spear, and with fire shall they

be burned where they lie!" Cf. Deut. 32:22–24. Observe that the

pagan Arab divinity al ‘ozzah, "Uzzy," was represented by a thorn-

bush or thorn hedge (Sale, Koran, p. 14). Lat = Allatu. Hence the

invocation "by Lat and Uzzy" is an appeal to Death and Thor

magic ("a covenant with Death and agreement with Sheol"?  The

seven Evil Spirits—"Among the thorns on the Mountain was their

growth"—Smith, Chaldean Account of Genesis, p. 105). Ezek. 28:14,

16, 18, seems to refer to Tyre surrounding herself with a magic fire

barrier, which only burns herself. These suggestions as to thorn-

zareeba protective mesalim must suffice. The hemah and "cup of

poison for all nations," Jer. 25:15; Isa. 51:17, with the "poison of

death for all foes" of Assyrian ritual is reserved for separate and

extensive elaboration.

            The readiness of a mosel to take advantage of an incident for

his purposes is illustrable. In I Kings 11:29 if. Ahijah takes Jero-

boam's new cloak, tears it into twelve pieces, and tells him to to take

ten. "Thus you take ten tribes of Israel." But in I Sam. 15: 27–23,

when Saul seizes and rends Samuel's cloak, the superstitious populace,

aware of the conflict as to authority, are certain to count it an omen

that Samuel's official authority has been rent away. Ere anyone

else can speak, the old seer with quick wit exclaims, "The Lord hath

rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day!" It parallels the story

of William the Conqueror falling as he leaped ashore in England.


      1 Not a man "well-soaked" but a channel or protective moat of water-vegetation is

required by the context. Immense masses of such floating water-weed, a deadly snare to

the foot, block the upper Nile, and locally are called a sudd. Nahum's assurance that

such will be burned away may be compared with Amos' fire, so mighty as to devour the

Tehom rabbah, VII, 4.




As a murmur of terror at the ill omen rose from some near, the quick-

witted duke cried, "Thus have I seized the land with my hands!"

            In like manner notable cases of disaster may be used as the objec-

tive starting-point, leaving only an invocation to be supplied, for

good or for ill. In Isaiah of Babylon we find reference to such usage,

giving us a vivid picture of the wretchedness of those Hebrews who

have not accepted assimilation or amalgamation with their captors.

In 49:7, Israel is "Abject of soul, abhorred of a goi, servant of masal-

framers" (their vilest object of comparison). In Isa. 52:5, "My

people are taken (utilized) as a Nothing: the moselim make them a

howling." That is, "May N.N. be made to wail like a Jew!" In

Joel 2:17 ff. is another illustration: "Spare thy people, 0 Lord,

and give not thy heritage to reproach that the heathen make a

masal of them (or with them)": which reading is supported by the

assurance in vs. 19, "I will no longer make you a reproach among the

heathen," and in vss. 26, 27, "My people shall nevermore be

ashamed!" A terse specimen of such a curse-masal in Babylon in

the exilic period is given by Jer. 29:22, "The Lord make thee like

Zedekiah and like Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the

fire! "Compare the official general formula with ceremonial masal

(word not used) in the jealousy ritual, Num. 5:21, and masal-threats,

Deut. 28:37; I Kings 9:7. Like the Zedekiah Ahab case is the

Deborah-curse by the fate of Sisera: "So perish all thine enemies,

O Lord," Judg. 5:31; and Cushi's by Absalom: 'May the enemies

of my lord the king and all that rise up against t ee to do thee hurt,

be as that young man is!" II Sam. 18:32. In the Psalms we find

orthodox liturgy uses the same word, and the lie objects to curse

or bless by. In 28:1; 143:7, "Lest I be made like (nimsalti) them

that go down into the pit!  "Probably knowledge of an imprecation

to such end prompted composition of the original liturgy. Ps. 49

merits consideration here. Entitled "Unto death," and asserting

that man is nimsal, "made like" unto a beast; was hewing some beast

to pieces and chanting the liturgy against a named enemy the original

intention?  In Ps. 83:9, "Do unto them as to Midian; as to Sisera,

as to Jabin at the brook Kishon"; vs. 11, "Mae their nobles like

Oreb and Zeeb: yea, all their princes like Zeb and Zalmunna";

vss. 13-15, "like a wheel—like stubble—as fire buineth (this ?) wood,


                               THE HEBREW "MASAL"                            103


as flame fireth mountains so persecute them with thy tempest, nd

make them afraid of thy storm!" The "war-medicine" origin of

the liturgy is apparent at a glance. The figures may be compared

with Isa. 17:13. Compare the imprecatory section of Ps. 109:7ff.

Contrasting with persons used to curse by, note the blessing masal

in Ruth 4:11, 12: "The Lord make the woman that is come into by

house like Rachel, and like Leah, which two did build the house of

Israel. Let thy house be like the house of Pharez!" And Gen. 48: 20:

"By thee shall Israel bless, saying, God make thee as Ephraim and

Manasseh!" So Deut. 15:6, "thou be a masal for many nations,

but they not for thee."

            Numerous other symbolisms occur to the reader; any of these we

may understand is a masal, though not specifically stated. There is

Neh. 5:13, a lapshaking curse; Jer. 5:19, "Like as ye have forsaken

me, so shall ye serve others"; his bottle breaking, 19:10 ff.; his girdle

ceremony and bottle ceremony, chap. 13; Isaiah's walking naked and

barefoot three years, Isa. 20:2 ff.—all these actions and solemn curses

and asseverations we may recognize as classifiable as mesalim. So

also Ezekiel's siege ceremony, 4:1-8, and the following famine

warning, vss. 9-17, are to be given the name Ezekiel himself has given

to like ceremonies. Hananiah tries to nullify Jeremiah's yoke masal,

Jer. 28:10-11, and is told that the Lord will kill him for trying to do

so, vs. 16; which reminds us that in a battle of magicians one is

always facing the possibility of more powerful "war-medicine," as

the Philistines believed they were doing, I Sam. 4:7ff., and might

fear to attempt counter-magic against a more powerful divinity.

            In Job we find the same use of the word masal. In 27:1 he "con-

tinued, chanting a masal." I believe the reference is to the supremely

solemn asseveration with which he reaffirms that he will not acknowl-

edge wrong. "Like as God lives! like as He hath taken my vindica-

tion away! sure as I am tormented in soul, I will hold fast my right-

eousness, so long as I shall live!" vss. 2-6. In 41:33 is an interesting

reference to a hunter's familiar and futile spells against the crocodile:

"(There is) no masal of him (by) those who render harmless!"

Bildad in 25:2 says, "Mosel and pahad (something to swear by,

binding power for an oath, Gen. 31:53) are with Him"; which means

no spell or ceremony can bind unless God will. This may be a late




and rational acknowledgment that no such ritual has any value.

Compare David's belief that the Lord might reverse Shimei's curse,

II Sam. 16:10–12; and the imprecation in Ps. 109:28 that the

curser's imprecations might return upon him. Assyrian cross-

questioning of an oracle to know if it is kinis--can be relied on—will

be remembered. As between the alternatives (in case of failure),

that the god lied, or that any ritual was absolutely worthless, morality

goes hand in hand with rational views.

            Contrasting with foregoing hunter-magic for mastering the croco-

dile, take Jacob's ceremonies for hastening increase of herds with

storax and almond (luz), previously cited, and using spotted plane

tree sticks, that the cattle might be "likewise" spotted. The word

masal is not used in the narrative; but we ma notice that the like

general manager of Abraham's affairs is called a mosel, Gen. 24:2.

We observe his dependence upon portents or little presages when he

waits at the well for the coming of a gracious maiden, and that

Rebekah's family are equally influenced, on hearing his story: "the

thing proceedeth from God."  We have come back to Joseph, and

find that the remarkably favorable mesalim of his youth, and his later

aptness in such things in prison, have resulted at last in his becoming

mosel for all Egypt, Gen. 45:8, 26; Ps. 105:20, 21. His marriage

into the priest-clan of On we can see would mean that no small part

of his official duties would be participation in ceremonies for promoting

the prosperity of the land.  Mosel would be a proper title for this

phase of his work. Secularly he is merely "lord of Pharaoh's house"

(mayor of the "palace") as Eleazar was of Abraham's house. His

"divining cup" we recall. As sare miqneh, "chief herdsmen," we

hope his brethren had the magic skill of their father Jacob.

            The passage already cited from Josephus, of exorcism of an evil

spirit, occurs in his narrative of Solomon's pre-eminent wisdom. As a

powerful magician Solomon is still the marvel of oriental lore—Jew,

Moslem, or oriental Christian. The cavalier treatment of this

tradition by modern scholars has been due to the limited conception

of the word masal, and to the popular western notion that he was an

author rather than a collector. With the data before us, and the

thousands of such mummeries accumulating for ages before his day,

I see no reason to question the statement, I Kings 4: 30–34, that he


                             THE HEBREW "MASAL"                                105


collected 3,000 mesalim, and that this folklore included all manner of

plants in magic use, from the hyssop to the cedar. Of magic incanta-

tions he gathered 1,005 (sirim). It is such activity as Assurbanipal

displayed; and the material, if available, we might think indicative

of less intelligence. We may be sure it contained many duplicates or

variations of the same fundamental masal. Josephus says specifi-

cally that Solomon had a "parable" (=masal) upon every sort of

tree from the hyssop to the cedar; which is decisive as to the mean-

ing of the word masal in his time (Ant. VIII, ii, 5). (His water-spilling

masal in this connection has been previously cited.) It must be

understood that Solomon himself is a master mosel, and as such

(I Kings 5:1; II Chron. 7:18; 9:26) enters upon his career with the

best of auspices and rituals. Observe also that Gideon having

achieved distinction by the aid of several notable portents, is promptly

begged, "mesol for us" (Judg. 8:22), and his ephod is a cultus object

when he declines.

            The translation "rule" of our A.V., coupled with the fact that

the Arabic mathala has not such meaning, turns our attention to the

probable origin of the use of masal in the sense of "rule." Three new

translations are suggested here: Gen. 3:16, "Thy longing shall be

toward thy husband; and he shall be likewise (A.V. ‘rule’) toward

thee" (and not toward another) seems to me the common-sense trans-

lation. Gen. 4:7 is the same. The two brothers have appealed to

the judgment of God. The defeated one is angry. "Were there no

wrong on your part, would you not be accepted? and would not

your brother's longing be toward you ? and you would feel like wise

toward him."

            Gen. 1:18; Ps. 136:8: The pious astrologer-compilers did not

need sun, moon, and stars to give light; they viewed them as Jacob

did in the case of Joseph's dream, already cited, giving portents of

coming events: "to show likenesses" and be "othoth in the heavens,"

v. 14. In the Seven Tablets of Creation from Asur, we gather the

same view (VI, 58-95), despite breaks, AJSL, October, 1921: "The

great gods dwelt on their road (ecliptic)     The gods of fate,

(planets) seven are they, for . . . . were stationed. . . . After

fates of heaven and earth had been decreed, a tamsil (likeness thereof)

in heaven he made . . . . let them not ignore their god," etc. The




use of tamsil in the sense of "pattern, likeness to be followed," is too

familiar to need extensive citation. One headdress is furnished

a workman ana tam-si-li, "as a pattern"; he is to make another

(AJSL, XXXI, 85). "The works of the god lu ma-la" (Creation

Tabs., VI, 100). Ekal tamsil ekal Babili (Neb. KB, III, 2, 30).

            Bezold1 reads of Mercury in astrological text, u M 86378, mumas-

sil same, "the mimic of the heavens." Astrologer, held the influence

of Jupiter and Venus to be good; Mars and Saturn were bad; while

Mercury was like his company. This use of mumassil, "mimic,"

compare with Ezekiel's memassel mesalim, already cited. It does

not matter, for the present inquiry, whether the populace regarded

Ezekiel as a "mimic" or as an originator of mesalim.

            The evidence of the Koran is important: for Mohammed regularly

follows Gen. chap. 1, and adheres to the word mathala; but neither he

nor the Jews of his acquaintance understood it as "rule" in our

A.V. sense. Sura XXIV, 35-36, God created heavens: the stars are

a lamp in glass in a niche whereby God "strikes out parables."2 In

X, 101; XII, 105, is the same assertion, "and men ignore them";

in X, 5, God "details signs to a people who do not know." In

XXX, 23-25, the stars obey God and furnish mithl to men. In

XXVII, 25, "God brings forth the secrets of the heavens, and knows

both what they hide and what they manifest." In V, 16, the signs of

the zodiac oracle futurity, and devils who eavesdrop are pelted

away by shooting stars. In XXV, 41: "’Ad and Thamud and people

of ar-Rass—for each one we struck out parables, and each one we

have ruined with utter ruin." Observe amtathalaamrun="be

like the order"="obey" (Lane, s.v.). So that "rule" is a derivative

idea ="setting a pattern."

            Since portents in the heavens control the lives of men, Nabu-

naid prays Samas, "Daily in thy rising and thy setting make favor-

able my portents (ittatua) in heaven and earth" (Col. III, 18-19).

Cf. II Sam. 23:3-4, "Said the God of Israel to me; oracled the Rock

of Israel, (who) mosel among men justice,3 (who) mosel the fear of

God, and like light of morn, the sun ariseth a cloudless morn;

with clearness from rain, and herbage from the earth"—which is


    1  Sitz.-Berichte d. Heidelb. Akad. d. Wiss.—Phil. Hist., XIII, Abh. 11.

    2  Palmer, SBE, IX, regularly translates mithl so.

    3  Parallelism suggests noun Sedek, instead of MT saddik.


                                  THE HEBREW "MASAL"                           107


as definitely astrologic as Nabuna'id. Just as definite is Jer. 33:25–26

as the ordinances of heaven and earth, so the moselim of the seed of

David,. Bildad's speech, Job 25:2–5, has an astrologic base. So

has I Chron. 29:11–12 (masalta); II Chron. 20:6; Ps. 89:9–11;

103:10; Isa. 60:1–3.

            For mesalim of darkness, note the gloom heralding the day of

Yahweh, Amos 5:8, 18–20; Joel 2:2, 10, 25, 30, 31; Mic. 3:6;

Nah. 1:8; Zeph. 1:14–15: every earthly disaster has its presaging

heavenly darkness. So is the fall of Babylon heralded, Isa. 13:10;

24:21-25; of Edom, 34:4–5; of Judah, 5:30; of North Israel,

8:22–92; of Egypt, Ezek. 32:7–8.

            Bright portents are in Isa. 30:26; 60:1–3; 58:6–11; 59:9–11,

presaging favor to Israel. To the othoth of Gen. 1:14 add the othoth

and mofetim of the Hexateuch and of Isa. 8:18; 20:3; Jer. 33:20;

Dan. 4:2, 3; 6:27. Observe Josephus' emphasis upon comets, heav-

enly hosts, and earthly prodigies (Bell. J, VI, v), and his statement that

it was the business of the Jewish "sacred scribes" to interpret such;

and the firm belief of the devout author of Daniel in the value of

such portents and his insistence that a pious Hebrew was a better

interpreter than any Babylonian. The fervid effort to propitiate

these heavenly powers is historic, II Kings 17:16; 21:3; 33:4, 5, 12;

II Chron. 33:35; Jer. 8:2; 19:13; 7:18; 44:13–25; and there is

the effort to control or provide signs, othoth, Isa. 7:11; 38:7–8;

II Kings 20:8–11. The prominence of astrology in the Talmud is

familiar to the scholar. Geikie (Life and Words of Christ, chap. xi)

devote's two pages to citations that need not be repeated here. With

Jeremiah scorning such lore (10:1–2), and others announcing portents

of delivery and marvelous signs, perplexity is inevitable, and there

is consequent inquiry if the niflaoth can be relied on (21:2). But

the compilers of the Pentateuch evidently approve such learning;

we have varying shades of opinions from different O.T. periods.

            Thus the astrologic masal or heavenly portent in the O.T. is

more frequent than any other type, and its "pattern-setting" best

explains the use of masal in the sense of "rule." The "ruler" "gives

instructions" or "fixes the pattern" which his people follow. The

idea of "foreshowing," or "pattern" passes into the N.T., the word

dei<knumi expressing it, as Christ forewarns of the crucifixion, Matt.




16:21. So "Father sheweth Son all that He doeth," that the Son

may also do. So Peter is "shown" (Acts 10:2:) the sheet tamsil.

Jas. 2:18; 3:13 has like usage of the word in view; cf. Jude 7.  In

Col. 2:15, Christ "set a pattern of boldness, triumphing over them in


            There are very few masal passages in which the idea suggested is

not clearly discernible. Zech. 6:13 suggests an earlier mosel activity

on the part of a priest. It could hardly have been maintained in

exile. Jewish magic could hardly be flaunted in the face of Baby-

lonian magicians. But Zechariah hopes for a genuine patesi, a priest

king, and in announcing Joshua, The Branch, declares "he shall be

mosel on a throne," "he shall be priest on a throne"; which seems a

parallelism. In Isa. 3:4, 12 the lady mosel seems to "pronounce

blessed" her dupes, then swallow them. Ezek. 19:14; Isa. 63:19;

Ps. 59:14; 66:7; Ezek. 16:44; Judg. 14:4; 15:11; Exod. 21:8

do not suggest any ritual. Abimelech as mosel, Judg. 9:2, 6, is

logical after Gideon's success in that role. The moselim in II Chron.

23:20 are third in a religious procession: "captains of hundreds,

adirim, moselim." In Jer. 30:10 the mosel is parallel to the nasi, a

religious functionary.

            Popular magic clearly had an enormous place in pre-exilic Hebrew

life, though not officially detailed in our present O.T. Morality

demands rationality; magic had to go. Hebrew preachers who

followed ancient forms of annunciation would be classed by the super-

stitious with charlatans of past and present. The exile helped end

the folly. For a fervid ritualist is commonly infuriated by another

fellow's ritual. But such attitude has large possibilities of reaction

for the more intelligent. I have known a fervid partisan to be weaned

from his ceremonial contention by observation of and reflection upon

the ritual of another. And the final failure of all Jewish "war-

medicine" was an outstanding fact. So it is really logical that while

Isaiah of Babylon scoffs at all the incantation he sees, he should

also declare for a "Servant of Yahweh" who will use no street can-

tillations nor mummeries with bruised reeds or smoking flax (extin-

guished in water, Isa. 42:3. Such masal, imprecating a like extinction

of one's self, is still current in Abyssinia).1


     1 See Harris, Highlands of Ethiopia, I, 349.




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