Ten years ago I read a commentary on Jonah, that stated that the phrase "persons who do not know their right hand from their left" (ESV) in Jonah 4:11 was a joke from the Hebrew author exploiting the fact that in the Assyrian language there was no word for left hand or right hand.

I have long since forgotten that name of the commentary, and cannot for the life of me find any commentary today that states that particular interpretation. Most commentators I have read interpret the phrase as either referring to the Ninevites ignorance of good and evil, or the number of children in the city.

Is anyone aware of this interpretation, or any other interpretations that emphasise that this is a joke or pun?

  • 1
    I don't speak Assyrian, but just from a dictionary it was easy to find words for right hand and left hand, so the first interpretation strikes me as strange – b a Aug 9 at 7:39
  • 1
    The Akkadian words for right and left are similar to the Hebrew words. A dictionary is at this link: assyrianlanguages.org/akkadian/index_en.php – Perry Webb Aug 9 at 8:14
  • If this were the spirit of the thing, I guess the Assyrians might have replied that the Israelites don't know their palms from their soles (כף kaf)... But no, I don't think this is it. Neither Hebrew nor English has dedicated words for "right hand" and "left hand", after all, and moreover, when you say that someone "doesn't know their ass from their elbow", you don't do so because they lack the vocabulary to distinguish them... – Luke Sawczak Aug 9 at 13:26
  • @LukeSawczak When it comes to Greek, οι περισσότεροι άνθρωποι δεν ξέρουν τον κώλο από τον αγκώνα τους – Ruminator Aug 9 at 15:07
  • 3
    I don't think deleting the question is appropriate, as that will delete the useful comments above. I'll see if I can find the reference in the bookshelf of the friend who I likely borrowed the commentary from. – Peter Aug 9 at 22:34

Your Answer

 
discard

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.