What Are the “Long Nostrils” of YHWH?
2. The Current Approaches of the “Long Nostrils” of YHWH
2.1. Nostrils as Divine Organs
- Theriomorphic representations: The mention of YHWH’s “long nostrils” may reflect a representation of the god as an animal that has long nostrils (e.g., an alligator, a dragon, or a bull). The identity of such an animal, however, is never related.
- Nostrils as source of life: Given the essential relation between nostrils and life (Gen 2:7), the “long nostrils” of YHWH may refer to his status of the master of life. YHWY’s life-giving power, however, is never associated with long nostrils in the Bible.1 Even his self-definition as a living/life-giving god, expressed in many prophecies, is not accompanied by any reference to his nostrils.2
- Long-nostrils as lengthiness of breath: The nostrils being essentially involved in breathing, the “long nostrils” of YHWH may evoke deep and slow breathing that characterizes quietness and calm, in contrast to the short and rapid breathing that accompanies stress, agitation, and anger (Dhorme  1963, p. 81; Schroer and Staubli 1998, pp. 105–6). If so, we would expect to see, in the Bible, some of the very many occurrences of YHWH’s anger explicitly associated with short nostrils (ʾapayīm) and rapid breathing. No such linkage, however, exists. In texts reporting the stimulation of YHWH’s intervention through the activation of his “nose” (e.g., Ps 18:8; Isa 30:30), for example, nothing alludes to or indicates an increase in the rhythm of breath.
- Long nostrils and smell: The fragrance/sacrifices smoked during the worship of YHWH are evoked as being smelt by YHWH (e.g., Gen 8:21; Ex 29:18, 25, 41; Lev 1:9, 13, 17; Num 15:3, 7, 10). In Ps 141:1–2, this aroma is expected to stimulate YHWH’s beneficent predisposition toward his worshippers (Houtman 1992, p. 464; Ritchie 2000, p. 60). In Deut 33:10b, it is even explicitly associated with the divine nose (“They shall put incense in Your nose (bĕʾapekā), and whole burnt offerings on your altar”). Consequently, a mention of YHWH’s long nostrils may potentially reflect YHWH’s great sensitivity/receptivity to those who supply these fragrances as a preliminary to his merciful reaction.3 The problem remains that YHWH’s “long nostrils” are never mentioned in the Bible in the context of ritual smoke, incense, and pleasing scent.
2.2. Nostrils as a Metonymy of the “Divine Face”
2.3. Nostrils as Source of Metaphor
3. The Non-Organic Context of the Meaning of ʾapayīm
3.1. ʾapayīm in Ex 15:8
3.2. The Nostrils of the Fabulous Creature in Job 41
19Out of his mouth go flaming torches; sparks of fire leap forth.
20Out of his nostrils comes forth smoke; as from a boiling pot and burning rushes.
21His breath kindles coals; and a flame comes forth from his mouth (Job 41:19–21).
3.3. ʾapayīm in Dan 11:20
4. Re-Analysis of the Meaning of ʾerek ʾapayīm
4.1. The ʾapayīm Metaphor in Proverbs
4.2. Treatment of the Israelites in Isaiah 48
8You have never heard, you have never known, from of old your ear has not been opened; For I knew that you would surely deal treacherously, and that from before birth you were called a wrongdoer (pōšēa).
9For my name’s sake I will extend the length of my ap (ʾaʾărîk ʾapî), and my majestic power (tēhīllātî) I will restrain (ʾeḥĕṭom) for you, that I may not cut you off.
10Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
11For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.
4.3. The ʾap-Lengthening in Jer 15:15
5. YHWH’s ʾapayīm: Metaphor or Reality?
2A qannȏʾ and avenging god is YHWH; Avenging is YHWH and wrathful;YHWH takes vengeance on his adversaries, and keeps wrath for his enemies.
3YHWH is ʾerek ʾapayīm and great in power, and will by no means clear the guilty.YHWH, in whirlwind and tempest is his way, and [in] cloud of dust are his feet15.
4He rebukes the sea and makes it dry; and all the rivers he dries up;Wither Bashan and Carmel! The bloom of Lebanon withers!
5The mountains quake before him; the hills melt;The earth heaves before him, the world and all that dwell therein.
6Before his indignation who can stand? Who can endure the heat (ḥărȏn) of his ʾap?His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are pulled down by him.
6.1. About The Anger Metaphor of Divine ʾapayīm
6.2. ʾapayīm as Divine Tuyères
6.3. The Dual Representation of the Body of YHWH
Conflicts of Interest
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See, for example, the expression ḥay YHWH: 1 Sam 14:45; 19:6; 20:3; 20:21; 25:26, 34; 26:10, 16; 28:10; 29:6; 2 Sam 2:27; 4:9; 12:5; 14:10; 22:47; 1 Kgs 1:29; 17:1,12; 18:10, 15; 22:14; 2 Kgs 2:2, 4, 6; 3:14; 4:30; 5:16, 20; Jer 5:2; 12:6; 16:14–15; 23:7. The same absence characterizes the appellation ʾĕlōhîm ḥayîm (Deut 5:26; 1 Sam 17:26, 36; 2 Kgs 19:4,16; Isa 37:4,17; Jer 10:10; 23:36) and ʾel ḥay (Ps 42:3, 9; 84:3).
See the expression ḥay ānî in prophecies in Isa 49:18; Jer 22:24; 46:18; Ezek 5:11; 14:16, 18, 20; 16:48; 17:19; 18:3; 20:3, 31, 33; 33:11, 27; 34:8; Zeph 2:9.
In the Septuagint, ʾap is here translated as anger/wrath (ὀργῇ), an interpretation suggesting that incense is offered to YHWH in order to quell his threatening potential wrath. In fact, this treatment of ʾap as being almost systematically associated with anger/wrath, when encountered in the divine context, eludes the problems inherent to any anthropomorphic representation of YHWH.
See (Brown et al. 1907, p. 60); (Koehler and Baumgartner 1994–2000, vol. 1, p. 77). On the basis of a comparison with Akkadian and Ugaritic, (Gruber 1980, pp. 486–87) assumes that face is the most frequent meaning of ʾapayīm in the Bible. David Clines (Clines 1993–2011, vol. 1, p. 355) concurs.
For (Jäkel 2002, p. 23), “[…] the domain of the religious should be largely if not completely dependent on metaphorical conceptualization.”
The interpretation of ʾapayīm as wrath (θυμός) is encountered in the Septuagint translation and followed by some Medieval exegetes (such as Rashi), modern translations (e.g., KJV), and scholars (e.g., Koehler and Baumgartner 1994–2000, vol. 1, p. 77).
This interpretation was already defended by Medieval exegetes such as Saadia Gaon, Ibn Ezra, and Rashbam.
The physical law of Darcy-Weisbach, the decrease in pressure of air circulating in a tube is proportional to its length and inversely proportional to its diameter. Being conditioned by the square value of air speed, this loss of air pressure is especially relevant for air blast in tuyères.
This parallel is confirmed by the expression ʾerek rûaḥ replacing ʾerek ʾapayīm in Sir 5:11.
Jacob’s attempts to be the first-born of Isaac and then to inherit the Yahwistic traditions are explicitly mentioned in Isa 43:27 as a fundamental sin of the Israelites’ founding father. In Genesis, this sin emerges in Jacob’s attempt to substitute for Esau as first born (see Gen 25:25–26). The conflict recurs in the story of the birth of Peretz (=Jacob) and Zerah (=Edom), in Gen 38:29. cf. (Zakovitch 1981, pp. 127–35).
Nevertheless, this interpretation is promoted by the Septuagint, which translates ʾap as θυμός (indignation/ferocity) after emending ʾaʾărîk (=I will elongate) into ʾarʾekā (=I will show you [my indignation]). cf. (Koole 1997, p. 571). This interpretation is, however, hard to reconcile with the literary context of the oracle.
For recent translations, cf. (Koole 1997, p. 552); (Brueggemann 1998, p. 103). This interpretation, already suggested by medieval exegetes, is performed on the basis of a mingling of ʾap as anger and ḥṭm (=to muzzle). cf. (Kotzé 2004, p. 84).
A similar mention is found in Prov 27:21: “The cupel (maṣrēp) is for silver, and the furnace (kûr) is for gold, and a man is tested by his praise.”
As Gruber (1980, p. 507), observes, “[…] Jeremiah’s plea in vv. 10, 15–18 is based not on his perception of the Lord’s patience toward his persecutors but on his being the object of divine anger.”
The expression wĕʿānān ʾăbaq raglāyw is generally translated as “clouds are the dust of his feet,” but this translation is challenged by rhetorical considerations stressing the parallel between bĕsûpâ ûbīśĕʿārâ and ʿānān ʾăbaq. Furthermore, in absence of any description of rain, it is unlikely that the reference is of a genuine cloud. Finally, the feet are expected to stay on the earth, exactly as a cloud of dust, and not as water clouds which stay high in the sky.
To conciliate these points, v. 3 has been translated as: “YHWH is slow in anger but great in power, and he certainly does not leave unpunished.” By this means, the expression “great in power” is introduced to counterbalance the first premise (“slow in anger”) and prepares the way for the following proposition concerning the forthcoming divine intervention; cf. (Spronk 1997, pp. 36–37); (Christensen 2009, p. 221). This interpretation, however, implies the conjunction “but” between these two counterbalanced locutions, which is not found in the MT version. This is why an interpretation that avoids such an emendation of the text should be preferred.
This reality has even been related to the physiological sensations of heat that accompany the expression of anger (Kövecses 2008, p. 178).
“In this connection,” stresses (Jäkel 2002, p. 22), “the relation between the elements X and Y is irreversible, the metaphorical transfer having an unequivocal direction.”
Dieterle (1987, p. 5) elaborates on this homology as follows: “[…] Among the apparati of the forge, there is no doubt that it is the furnace that corresponds to the volcano, since the molten slag flowing from it is profoundly like the flow of the molten lava from a volcano…”
Hephaestus, the Greek smith-god, is called the Prince of Etna (Euripides, Cyclops, v. 600). His “servants,” too—the Cyclops—dwelled in the vicinity of the Etna and Lipari volcanoes. Their metallurgical activity was supposed to occur at the heart of the volcano (Scarth 1989). The Etruscan and Roman counterparts of Hephaestus (Sethlans and Vulcan, respectively) are also fully identified with active volcanoes. Furthermore, a homology between metallurgy and volcanism is clearly evidenced in the mythologies of Central and Northern Europe (Dieterle 1987, pp. 3–6).
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Amzallag, N. What Are the “Long Nostrils” of YHWH? Religions 2017, 8, 190. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8090190
Amzallag N. What Are the “Long Nostrils” of YHWH? Religions. 2017; 8(9):190. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8090190Chicago/Turabian Style
Amzallag, Nissim. 2017. "What Are the “Long Nostrils” of YHWH?" Religions 8, no. 9: 190. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8090190