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10 Elaine R. Follis: The Holy City as Daughter

10 Elaine R. Follis: The Holy City as Daughter

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Directions in Biblical Hebrew Poetry

second, that the poetry of both Hebrews and Greeks was a channel

within which this idea was certainly expressed, and quite possibly,

transmitted; third, that the feminine quality of the holy city pertains

particularly to an intimate, virtually inseparable relationship between

place and people, between the land and its inhabitants, and to the

whole notion of civilization as over against barbarity; and finally,

that the holy city as daughter in Hebrew literature may represent a

'broken myth'—the Hebrews' radically modified version of the great

goddess, who appears here (as in certain elements of Greek tradition)

not as the consort but as the daughter of the high god.

Tangential to but corroborative of the thesis of this essay is the

parallel, far more widely acknowledged and intensively studied,

between the goddess of wisdom (in this case, Athena) and its

feminine voice heard in chapters 3 and 7 of the book of Proverbs.

Here surely is a trace of the goddess figure in Old Testament

tradition, classical parallels to which seem both ancient and very


Certain statistical observations constitute a reasonable beginning

for this study. As was noted earlier, the phrase bat-^iyyon appears

twenty-six times in the Old Testament,1 without exception in poetic

literature. Each occurrence appears to draw on figurative language

and imagery. From the standpoints of context and meaning, it is

therefore appropriate to describe the expression as characteristically

poetic. The plural, benot-siyyon, occurs four times,2 also in poetic

contexts and always referring to female inhabitants of the city of

Jerusalem, a literal signification which does not seem ever to fit the

singular form of the phrase.

As is well known, the word Zion refers to the fortified hill of the

pre-Davidic city of Jerusalem, but appears frequently, especially in

poetry, as a synonym for the city itself. Barrois explains the latter

usage as significant of Jerusalem, first of all, as a religious capital;

then as an object of divine favor or punishment; then as a collective

term, designating Jerusalem as community.3 Each usage pertains to

the fuller expression bat-siyyon as well. Of approximately 106

references to Zion in the Old Testament, 30 have the word 'daughter'

attached, as we have seen. There are in addition three references to

the sons of Zion, or 'children of Zion'; all of them occur in poetry,

and all designate the collective population of the city of Jerusalem.4

The expression, 'daughter of...' connected with a city or nation

occurs sixteen times in the Old Testament, all in poetry: twice in

FOLLIS The Holy City as Daughter


Psalms, three times each in proto-Isaiah and deutero-Isaiah, five

times in Jeremiah, twice in Lamentations, and once in Zechariah.5

The referents include Tyre and Sidon twice, Babylon seven times,

Tarshish once, Edom twice, Egypt three times, and Gallim once. The

plural, 'daughters of...' connected with a place name, also occurs

from time to time, not always in poetic contexts. Sometimes the

referent, as in the case of benot-^iyyon^ is female inhabitants of a

territory; sometimes the expression, when connected with the name

of a nation or territory, may refer to cities and villages therein (as, for

example, 'daughters of the Philistines' in Ezek 16.27). The expressions,

'daughter ofJudah' and 'daughter of Jerusalem'—in the singular each

time—occur only in conjunction with bat-siyydn, the former three

times and the latter seven times.6 Of these ten instances, half are in

direct parallelism with bat-siyyon.

With specific reference to the twenty-six occurrences o£bat-$iyyon

itself, the preponderance—fourteen passages—appear in pre-exile

literature, from the late eighth to early sixth centuries BC. The

balance are probably exilic or post-exilic; eight appear in the book of

Lamentations. It is clear from these observations that the expression

bat-§iyyon was closely connected with the nationalistic traditions of

Judah, epitomized and symbolized by a capital, the city of Jerusalem.

While statistics do not suggest the expression enjoyed wide popularity,

it was nevertheless significant to Hebrew poets as a word-image with

meanings at several levels.

A study of the grammatical characteristics of the twenty-six

instances of the phrase bat-$iyyon indicates the following. In fifteen

verses, it stands at the end of a full line of poetry, or directly before a

major caesura. In twelve verses, it stands in the vocative case. In nine

verses, it is in a construct chain with another noun. In four verses, it

is part of a prepositional phrase. And in three verses, it immediately

follows the verb. The first two observations here are probably the

most significant. The placement of a term immediately before a

major break in word flow generally suggests a sense of emphasis and

climax. The ancient poets accorded to bat-§iyyon an important place

as an expression with considerable emotional and conceptual impact.

It is also not surprising that a phrase used metaphorically to

represent a group of people as a community should be the recipient

of direct address.

The correct translation ofbat-^iyyon has received recent attention,

probably most significantly in the article, 'No Daughter of Zion' by


Directions in Biblical Hebrew Poetry

W.F. Stinespring.7 His contention is that the expression, a personification, represents an occurrence of the appositional genitive, and

should properly be translated, 'the daughter, Zion'.8 Stinespring goes

on to advocate greater flexibility in the translation of the word bat

(which, like the Arabic bint, as he points out, can mean 'daughter',

but also 'girl', or 'maiden'). In his survey of modern English

translations, he laments that in the King James Version, the Revised

Standard Version, and others, 'By and large "the daughter of Zion"

seems to be a favorite character',9 whereas in the work of James

MofFatt, Stinespring discovers consistently correct translations, with

'maiden Sion' appearing fifteen times and 'Sion the maiden'


Explanations of the signification ofbat-siyyon vary somewhat, but

the consensus seems to be that the expression is a collective noun,

suggesting the inhabitants of Jerusalem, both male and female,11 or,

one might say, 'the people of Zion as a unit', following the comments

in the Koehler-Baumgartner lexicon.12 As Stinespring observes, one

of the definitions in the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon plays up the

element of figurative language in its approach to the noun bat,

noting: 'with name of city, land, or people, poetical personification of

that city or (its) inhabitants'.13

The expression, while clearly connotative of people, is so in a very

specific way, with direct reference to a place where that people

dwells. The phrase bat-siyyon cannot possibly be understood simply

in terms of a collection of human beings somewhere in space; these

people have a home, a place from which they derive identity. And

that place is Zion, the city of the Lord. The holy city thereby

becomes both a meeting point for God and people, and a center—a

point of stability—around which the human community revolves.

And that holy city is a daughter. Why?

One may seek the explanation of this phenomenon, at the deeper

levels of thought, in the language of symbol and myth. It is common

to speak of the sky and earth as male and female elements,

respectively. It is thus that they appear in the mythology of the

ancient Near East, within which cultural milieu Israel grew to

nationhood; and they appear thus in Greek mythology as well. With

specific reference to children, males are commonly regarded by

cultures both ancient and modern as people who go abroad seeking

their fortunes and conquest. Indeed, sons commonly are thought to

represent the adventuresome spirit of a society, constantly pressing

FOLLIS The Holy City as Daughter


beyond established boundaries, at the outmost part, the circumference,

of the community. Daughters, on the other hand, have been

associated with stability, with the building up of society, with

nurturing the community at its very heart and center. The

stereotypical male spirit lies in conquest, while the stereotypical

female spirit lies in culture.

Thus the expression bat-siyyon does not refer to the Hebrew

people in their wilderness wanderings, nor even in their territorial

conquests during the period of the tribal confederacy. Rather, the

expression refers to the Hebrews as a settled people, a centered and

stable people whose life and culture revolved around the divinehuman encounter focused on the holy city, Jerusalem. The usage of

the term in pre-exilic literature from the monarchic perioid, and in

later literature whose theme was the recollection of the glory of that

era, appears to be entirely appropriate.

The hellenosemitic frame of reference within which this study has

proceeded contributes greatly to understanding the propriety of the

femininity of Jerusalem, not merely in terms of the city as being the

mother of its inhabitants (a concept traditionally held and widely

stated), but also and perhaps rather, in terms of the city as divine

daughter. As such, the city becomes the quintessence of civilization

and culture, of a stable lifestyle, of permanent relationships. It also

becomes in particular the recipient of divine favor, and also,

conversely, of wrath and punishment. That these statements also

hold true for Athena, patroness of the city of Athens, will be


The mood which prevails in the twenty-six settings in which batsiyyon occurs is worthy of consideration in this regard. In thirteen, or

precisely half of them, the phrase occurs so as to represent dignity,

joy, favor, and exaltation. Nine verses pertain to the restoration of

Zion after an experience of sadness and humiliation. The other

thirteen references cite the city as the object of wrath, mortification,

and destruction—a pitiful image indeed, made poignant by the fact

that the expression itself probably originated to depict the city and

her people in victorious, secure prosperity. Here, then, is found

ironic reversal, the downfall of what has been cherished, refined, and

cultured. In one instance, such refinement and culture are associated

with hybris, as Jeremiah declares, 'The settled and spoiled Daughter

of Zion I shall destroy' (6.2). Elsewhere, in Mic 4.10 and Lam 1.6,

culture is set in contrast with images suggesting the relative

barbarity of the countryside, the open field with its wildlife.


Directions in Biblical Hebrew Poetry

hulf wdgdhi bat-$iyyon kayyoledd

ki-'attd te§'i miqqiryd wesdkant bassddeh

Writhe and burst forth, Daughter Zion, like her bringing forth


for you will go forth from the city and inhabit the open field.

wayye?e' min-bat-?iyyon kol-hdddrd

hdyu sdreyhd ke'ayydlim ld'-md$'u mir'eh

From Daughter Zion has gone forth all her honor;

Her princes are as rams who have not found pasture.

In summary, then, the expression bat-siyydn, the maiden Zion

(following the lead of Stinespring), is more than simply the

personification of a group of people. Rather, it is an image of the

unity between place and people within which divine favor and

civilization create a setting of stability, of home, of fixedness. To see

the beauty of that setting defaced is, to the ancient poet, comparable

to seeing a beloved and cherished maiden ravished; thus appears

deep pathos, inherent in the juxtaposition of 'Maiden Zion' and

descriptions of destruction.

With these notions in focus, attention may appropriately be turned

to the thought of the Greeks, concentrating specifically on Athena,

virgin daughter of Zeus. Athena was an ancient, pre-Hellenic deity,14

originally perhaps a tutelary goddess of Minoan and Mycenean

princes. As such, she may have had significant Asiatic connections,

since both sites have been demonstrated by T.B.L. Webster as

trading with Mari, Ugarit and Alalakh in the sixteenth century


Athena is notable as a goddess of civilization, warfare, and most

significantly, as the patroness of the city of Athens. The Greek poet

Pindar preserves what is probably the most ancient version of her

birth (which appears in substantially the same form in Hesiod's

Homeric Hymn 28):

ctvix A(|>aioToi> rexvaiaiv

ya\K&kax($ neAsKei narepo? AGavaia Kopuav KOC' dxpav

avopouoaid dAoAa^ev wrep|jdKei 3oa/

Oupavo? 6' epi£e viv icai Faia udrpp.

By the cunning skill of Hephaestos

with copper axe, broke forth Athena from her father's crown,

and shouted with a great cry;

both heaven and mother earth trembled before her

(Olympian Ode 7.35-38).

FOLLIS The Holy City as Daughter


In the Theogony (886-900), Hesiod explains that Zeus, sky god and

chief of the Olympian pantheon, had married Metis—whose name

means intelligence—only to learn that Metis was fated to bear a son

who would reign as lord of heaven. Zeus, in an act of cannibalism,

devoured Metis; but in due time, Athena was born, springing fullgrown and fully armed from the head of her father.

Hesiod describes her specifically as 'the maiden (kouren\... having

strength equal to her father, and wise counsel (epiphrona bouleri)'

(Theogony 895-96). Homer in the Iliad frequently joins her name

with those of Zeus and her brother Apollo in an invocation to a sort

of supreme trinity of gods (see e.g. 4.288; 7.132; 16.97). According to

H.J. Rose, Athena was Zeus' favorite daughter, his 'dear GreyEyes',16 and an incident from Book 5 of the Iliad tends to corroborate

this perspective. Aphrodite and Athena have both approached Zeus

on behalf of their favorites in the great war—in the former case, the

Trojans, and of course in Athena's case, the Greeks. Athena heaps

scorn upon Aphrodite,17 and this is how Homer describes Zeus'


Thus she spake, and the father of both men and gods smiled,

and then, having summoned golden Aphrodite, said:

'Not to you, my child, is given martial deeds,

but you see to the enchanting matters of wedlock,

and all these affairs shall pertain to swift Ares and Athena'

(11. 426-30).

With these words, Zeus effectively dismisses the appeal of Aphrodite,

though gently, and reinforces the character of Athena as a wager of

war, privy to his own counsels. Indeed, Professor Van L. Johnson has

suggested that Athena's common epithet 'Pallas' means 'Shaker', or

'Brandisher', particularly of the aegis, symbol of Zeus' authority.18

This aegis was represented either as a short, tasseled goatskin cloak

or a shield worn on the left arm, decorated with snakes, representations

of the qualities of fear, fight, force, and pursuit, and having in the

center a gorgon's head.19 Wielding the aegis caused stormclouds to

gather, and its use served either to terrorize or to protect soldiers in



Directions in Biblical Hebrew Poetry

A favorite epithet of Homer, applied to Athena, was glaukopis,

variously translated as grey-eyed, owl-eyed, or bright-eyed. It is

Glaukopis Athena who constantly operates as an unseen force on the

field of battle, deflecting arrows (4.541; 11.438), guiding Greek spears

to their mark (5.290), sending confusion on Trojan troops (18.311),

and beguiling the Trojan prince Hector to his doom (22.299).

How does all of this display of might on the part of one whom

Hesiod describes as 'the terrible (deinen\ strife-stirring (egrekudoimon\

host-marshaling (agestraton\ unflagging lady (atrutonen potnian\

who joys in din of battle and war and combat' (Theogony 924-26),

square with the Hebrew vision of the daughter Zion in Lamentations?

?d'aq libbdm 'el-'ddondy homat bat-$iyydn

horidi kannahal dim'd yomdm wdlayeld

'al-titni pugat Idk 'al-tidom bat-'enek

Cry to the Lord, Daughter Zion,

cause your tears to flow down like a wadi, day and night;

do not give solace to yourself nor rest to your eyes (2.18).

It clearly does not. The warrior maiden Athena was never disposed

to lament with tears nor to bewail her fate. She was, however, like

Daughter Zion, under the condemnation of her father on at least one

occasion for disobeying his orders.

The Hebrew poet sings, 'How the Lord in his wrath has placed

Daughter Zion under a cloud' (Lam 2.1). Homer, in Book 8 of the

Iliad, describes Zeus' threat to his rebellious daughter, delivered by

the divine messenger, Iris.

For thus the son of Kronos threatens, who will accomplish it:

to cripple the swift horses beneath your chariot,

and hurl you from the chariot-board, and shatter the chariot.

Nor ever in ten circling years

will you recover thoroughly from the wounds which the thunderbolt will inflict;

that you, O Grey-Eyes, may learn better than to defy your father!


FOLLIS The Holy City as Daughter


Here is threatened destruction much in keeping with the mood of

Daughter Zion imagery in the Old Testament, made all the more

striking by contrast with Zeus' especially tender expression of

affection for Athena, a sentiment repeated only shortly before the

incident involving threat.20 Like Daughter Zion, Athena was her

father's favorite, beloved child. But like Daughter Zion, and

Yahweh's chosen people, Israel, the goddess was not exempt from

punishment, should she defy her father! And, of course, her

punishment by Zeus would affect directly the fate of her 'chosen

people', the Greeks centered in her city, Athens. While strictly

speaking Athena does not personify her city, she is intimately bound

up with its identity and fortunes.

Of Athena's militarism, an important observation must be made,

in light of previous remarks about the qualities of the daughter in

connection with civilization and not conquest. Nowhere does Pallas

or Glaukopis Athena appear as an instrument of imperialism. While

she certainly does not quail before carnage, to her, war serves but one

purpose: the protection of her land, her people, her city.

A third significant epithet of Athena is PoUs, 'She of the city'. Her

contest with Poseidon for divine sovereignty over the city of Athens

is recorded by Herodotus (8.55), Apollodorus (3.177-179) and Ovid

(Metamorphoses 6.75). Poseidon either produced a salt spring from

the rock of the Acropolis with a blow of his trident, or created the

first horse. Athena created an olive tree, a feat judged the more

impressive, and thereby became the patroness of all Attica. In

Hesiod's Homeric Hymns 11 and 28 she is hailed as Erusiptolin,

Guardian and Savior of the City. Pausanias's description of Greece

(26.6) includes mention of an image of Athena which supposedly fell

from heaven and was subsequently enshrined in a temple which

antedated the Parthenon on the Acropolis and was probably

completed about 520 BC.

Athena's tie to the land itself, mentioned earlier as a characteristic

of daughter imagery among Hebrews as well as Greeks, comes with

the myth of Erechthonios, a child born from the seed of Hephaestos

which spilled on the ground and fertilized it as he struggled

unsuccessfully to subdue Athena. He is sometimes associated with

Erechtheus, legendary king of Athens. HJ. Rose writes,'... it is not

surprising that Athens, like other places, had tales of kings who had

actually and literally sprung not from the womb of any mortal

mother, but from the land which they ruled'.21


Directions in Biblical Hebrew Poetry

As the patroness of the great city of Athens, Athena represented

the epitome of civilization. Accordingly, she was associated with

spinning, weaving, and embroidery, with horse-taming, and with

music—in particular, music of the salpinx or trumpet—as well as

with sailing, pottery, and medicine.22 C.J. Herington argues that two

views of the goddess existed side by side in the Athenian cult, the first

earth-rooted and warlike, the second evanescent and intellectual.23 It

is in the latter respect that Athena exemplifies the idea of'Daughter

Civilization' as parallel with the 'settled, spoiled' character of the

Hebrew Daughter Zion. Clearly, Athens and Jerusalem were both

cities regarded as divinely favored, the centers of their respective

civilizations, close to the heart of the God of Heaven. And both were

regarded in figurative language as the daughter of that high god.

A final point of comparison may be made as regards the original

aspects of Greek and Hebrew divine daughters. Only four of the

twenty-six references to bat-§iyyon include the word betuld, and in

Mic 4.10 and Jer 4.31, bat-siyyon is spoken of as a woman in travail,

certainly not virginal. Athena, on the other hand, is always

Parthenos, the eternal virgin. She is not, however, without maternal

attributes, being described as Mater at her cultic center at Elis.24

Kalinka has suggested Athena's maternal rather than virginal

character.25 Interesting in this regard is Homer's image in Book 4 of

the Iliad, where Athena deflects an arrow from Menalaus 'even as a

mother brushed aside a fly from her child as he lies in sweet sleep'


The wider implications of this study now remain for discussion.

The holy city as daughter is a theme that occurs in Greek as well as

Hebrew tradition, and is tied in with the idea of a divinely chosen

people centered and settled in their own land. It appears in the

writings of the Greek poets Homer and Hesiod, both from the eighth

century EC, and in Hebrew literature from the period of the divided

monarchy into post-exilic times. We know that, although Athens was

fortified in the thirteenth century and functioned as a center of

Mycenean trade as early as 1050, it did not come into a position of

prominence until the reformist tyrants of the sixth century and the

Persian wars of 490 and 489-479 BC. The 'golden age' of Pericles

coincided, in the middle of the fifth century, with the restoration

efforts of Nehemiah in the city of Jerusalem. It seems inconceivable,

given the mediating influence of the Persian empire, that information

about the great holy city Jerusalem should not have come to the

attention of the builders of Athens, including tyrants like Peisistratus,

FOLLIS The Holy City as Daughter


and possibly Pericles himself. Conversely, as the studies of the

classicists Burton-Brown and Webster have shown, Greek civilization

richly and consistently inflenced Eastern thought from the second

millennium BC.26 Cyrus Gordon's theories about the truly Mediterranean cultural substratum for the Hebrew people are well known.27

It is therefore certainly not surprising to find both Hebrew and

Greek poets describing their holy cities as divine daughters. It is

impossible, and largely pointless, to guess which culture first used

the image. It is also unreasonable to suggest that the descriptions had

to be generated in a vacuum or in isolation from one another.

As Gordon has maintained, poetry is a flexible medium of

intercultural communication, particularly at a period characterized

by emphasis on oral tradition. Both Greek and Hebrew literatures

had beginnings in oral tradition, and as such, were heirs to a

cosmopolitan set of images, styles, and symbols. The holy city as

daughter appears to be one such symbol. It is likely that there are

others, which may reveal themselves to those who study each canon,

in particular its poetic sections, with an open mind.


1. 2 Kgs 19.21 par. Isa 37.22; Isa 1.8; 10.32; 16.1; 52.2; 62.11; Mic 1.13;

4.8, 10, 13; Zeph 3.14; Jer 4.31; 6.2, 23; Lam 1.6; 2.1, 4, 8, 10, 13,18; 4.22;

Zech 2.10 (MT 14); 9.9; Ps 9.14 (MT 15).

2. Isa 3.16, 17; 4.4; Cant 3.11.

3. In The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, IV (Nashville: Abingdon

Press, 1962), p. 959.

4. Ps 149.2; Lam 4.2; Joel 2.23.

5. Ps 45.12; 137.8; Isa 10.30; 23.10, 12; 47.1, 5; Jer 46.11, 19, 24; 50.42;

51.33; Zech 2.7; Lam 4.21,22. Also worthy of note is Jeremiah's repeated use

of the expression, 'daughter of my people', in 8.11, 19, 21, 22, 23; 9.7;


6. Daughter of Judah, Lam 1.15; 2.2, 5. Daughter of Jerusalem, 2 Kgs

19.21, par. Isa 37.22; Lam 2:13, Mic 4.8; Zeph 3.14; Zech 9.9.

7. W.F. Stinespring, 'No Daughter of Zion', Encounter 26 (1965),

pp. 133-41.

8. Stinespring, 'No Daughter', p. 135.

9. Stinespring, 'No Daughter', p. 137.

10. Stinespring, 'No Daughter', p. 138.

11. After Cruden (first edition, 1737).

12. Ludwig H. Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, Lexicon in Veteris

Testamenti Libras (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1953).


Directions in Biblical Hebrew Poetry

13. Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and

English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford, 1952).

14. H.J. Rose, A Handbook of Greek Mythology (New York: Dutton, 1959),

p. 107.

15. T.B.L. Webster, From Mycenae to Homer (2nd edn; New York:

Norton, 1964), p. 11.

16. Rose, p. 109. See also Iliad 22.183, where the term philon tekos


17. In Iliad 21.423-33, Athena knocks down and terrorizes Aphrodite.

18. Professor Van L. Johnson, Department of Classics, Tufts University,

developed this explanation in 1964.

19. See entry in N.G.L. Hammond and H.H. Scullard (eds.), Oxford

Classical Dictionary, (2nd edn; Oxford, 1970).

20. Lines 38-40.

21. Rose, p. 110.

22. Rose, p. Ill, and entry in Oxford Classical Dictionary.

23. CJ. Herington, Athena Partheos and Athena Polios (Manchester,


24. Rose, p. 110.

25. E. Kalinka, In Epitumbion Heinrich Swoboda dargebracht (Reichenberg,

1927), p. 116.

26. T. Burton-Brown, The Coming of Iron to Greece (Wincle, Cheshire:

Top House, 1954); T. Burton-Brown, Early Mediterranean Migrations

(Manchester, 1959); and T.B.L. Webster, Mycenae.

27. See, e.g., Before the Bible (London: Collins, 1962).

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