eunuch

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EUNUCH

The Hebrew word sārīs (Heb. סָרִיס), a loanword from Akkadian, has two meanings in the Bible: the first and most common is "eunuch" (e.g. ii Kings 8:6; 9:32; 20:18 (= Isa. 39:7); Isa. 56:3–5; and Jer. 39:7) (ʾ īš sārīs and all the instances in the Book of Esther (2:3 passim)); and second, a government official or officer, not necessarily a eunuch (i Sam. 8:14–15; i Kings 22:9). Inasmuch as eunuchs in some cultures were married, it is not impossible that Potiphar (Gen. 37:36; 39:1) was a eunuch, which could account for the notorious actions of his wife (Tadmor, apud Zevit in Bibliography). Daniel and his companions, though not specifically called "eunuchs," are supervised by the chief of the eunuchs (Dan. 1:3, 7, 10, 18), in apparent fulfillment of the prophecy (ii Kgs. 20:18 = Isa. 39:7) that some of Hezekiah's offspring would be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylonia. As was the case in Assyria (see Grayson in Bibliography, 98), eunuchs could rise to high positions, as shown by the place they occupy in the list in Jeremiah 29:2, where the hierarchical order of the captives is given as the king, his mother, the sarisim, the sarim ("leaders"), and the craftsmen (but cf. ii Kings 24:12, 15). The Akkadian ša rēši, elliptical for ša rēš šarri izuzzū, "the one who stands by the head of the king," was pronounced sa rēsi in Middle and Late Assyrian, resulting in the Hebrew and Aramaic forms with samekh. There are clear attestations of Akkadian ša rēši in the meaning "eunuch." In court circles the ša rēši is sometimes opposed to ša ziqni, "the one of the beard." Middle Assyrian royal ordinances regulating women's quarters prescribed examination of the ša rēši to assure his status of eunuch, and subsequent castration if he failed the examination. Being turned into a ša rēši (ana ša rēšēn turrû) was a punishment for adultery in the Middle Assyrian laws (a15) and for sodomy (a20). There are attestations of ša rēši that do not demand the sense "eunuch" (See cad r, 289–97) and that is true for the Hebrew loan as well. The law excluding eunuchs from the Israelite community (Deut. 23:2) describes the eunuch as the one with crushed testicles (the normal form of childhood castration) rather than by the ambivalent term sārīs. ii Kings 18:17 mentions Rab-saris (mistakenly treated by the Hebrew writer as a proper name) together with other high-ranking officials in the Assyrian kingdom. The reference to Rab-saris in Jeremiah 39:3, 13 testifies to the existence of this class in the Neo-Babylonian kingdom as well. The date of a bilingual Akkadian-Aramaic inscription from Nineveh is indicated by the limmu (i.e., eponym) of a rab ša rēši. Since the office of limmu was held only by high officials, it is evident that the office of Rab-saris was of high rank. Isaiah 56:3–5, comforts the eunuchs who keep the Sabbath and observe the covenant; they are promised "a yad, either a memorial stele (Talmon) or a share (Japhet) in the temple precincts, and a name, better than sons and daughters."

bibliography:

M. Springling, in: ajsll, 49 (1932), 53–54; E. Weidner, in: afo, 17 (1955–56), 264–5; H.G. Gueterbock, in: Oriens, 10 (1957), 361; A. Goetze, in: Journal of Cuneiform Studies, 13 (1959), 66; M. and H. Tadmor, in: bies, 31 (1967), 77–78. add. bibliography: S. Talmon, in: H. Beinart and S. Loewenstamm (eds.), Studies …Cassuto, 1987, 137–41; S. Japhet, in: maarav, 8 (fs Gevirtz; 1992), 65–80; M. Cogan and H. Tadmor, ii Kings (1988), 112; A.K. Grayson, in: M. Dietrich and O. Loretz (eds.), Von Alten Orient zum Alten Testament fs von Soden (1995), 85–97; H. Tadmor, in: Z. Zevit et al. (eds.), Solving Riddles …Studies J.C. Greenfield (1995), 317–25; idem, in: S. Parpola and R. Whiting (eds.), Papers xlvii Recontre Assyriologique Internationale (2002), 1–9; R. Mattila, The King's Magnates (2000), 61–76, 163–64; N. Fox, In the Service of the King (2000), 196–203; P. Mankowski, Akkadian Loanwords in Biblical Hebrew (2000), 123–25; cos 2, 355.

[S. David Sperling (2nd ed.)]

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eunuch (yōō´nĬk) [Gr.,=keeper of the couch], castrated human male, particularly a chamberlain of a harem in Asia. The custom of employing eunuchs as servants in wealthy or royal households is very ancient; it reached its epitome at the court of Constantinople under the Byzantine emperors, from whom the Ottoman sultans adopted it. Eunuchs often rose to high position, the Byzantine general Narses being the most celebrated example. In the Muslim world the use of eunuchs was far less common than is generally believed; however, the sale of young males to be eunuchs was formerly an important element in African trade. The castrating operation, which retards the development of normal male characteristics, including the deepening of the voice, was performed with varying thoroughness and with varying success. From Constantinople spread the custom of using eunuchs in choirs. In the opera seria (see opera) of the 18th cent. the male heroes' roles were sung by castrati, and the papal choir used castrati until the beginning of the 19th cent. A famous castrato was Carlo Broschi Farinelli.

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eu·nuch / ˈyoōnək/ • n. a man who has been castrated, esp. (in the past) one employed to guard the women's living areas at an oriental court. ∎  an ineffectual person: a nation of political eunuchs. ORIGIN: Old English, via Latin from Greek eunoukhos, literally ‘bedroom guard,’ from eunē ‘bed’ + a second element related to ekhein ‘to hold.’

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eunuch Castrated man, originally used as keeper of a harem. Employed as servants in royal and wealthy households, especially in the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, eunuchs were often obtained through the African slave trade. See also castrato

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eunuch a man who has been castrated, especially (in the past) one employed to guard the women's living areas at an oriental court. The word is recorded from Old English, and comes via Latin from Greek enoukhos, literally ‘bedroom work’.

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eunuch XV. — L. eunũchus — Gr. eunoũkhos, f. eunḗ bed; lit. ‘bedchamber guard’.

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eunuch (yoo-nŭk) n. a male who has undergone castration.