Amir Or: Miracle (From Hebrew)

The image of Jesus in modern Hebrew literature is surely one of the strangest literary phenomena in Jewish history. The poem below was written by a poet with degrees in philosophy and theology from Hebrew University, where he later taught comparative religion. In this poem, the usual Hebrew poets' tactic of Biblical allusion is taken a step farther, by incorporating the New Testament into that allusive framework, fusing Judaic and Christian scriptural elements in a process that is at once profane and transcendent, resulting in a celebration not of Christ as God, but of Jesus as Man. The two Gospel episodes most relevant to this poem (the feeding of the multitudes with fish and bread, and the walking on the water) are from Matthew 14:15-33, which I quote in full at the tail end of this post after the original text

By Amir Or
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Hebrew

A moon is ripening in boughs of the poplar tree.
Dawn breaks the fishermen's eyes open. In their arms
Swallows of blood
Struggle to fly out.
Dawn breaks their mouths open.
A radio.
Were they to catch even one fish, perhaps
There could come to pass
A miracle.

Jesus strides forth on the waters.
The Holy Spirit is wind1 over his nipples,
The Holy Spirit is wind
Over his limpid, grieving, manifest manhood2.

The waters have a life of their own.
Nuns, round stones,
Descend to bathe among the doves.
Birds tend their pubic nakedness.
The morning is pure.

A stain of wine spreads on the lake.
Morsels of bread float.
The morning is pure.3


1- A compound allusion to the Hebrew Bible's "breath of god" and also the "Holy Spirit as wind" image found in the Gospel:

Genesis (1:3) And the Spirit/Wind of God moved upon the face of the waters.

John (3:5-8) Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God....The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

2- The holy spirit blowing over Jesus' nipples and penis (the Hebrew word "זכרות", like its English translation "manhood", functions as a genital euphemism) focuses on the the vulnerable, normally covered, points of his incarnation as Man. The penis, though, personified as having its own life, is no earthly phallus- it is a sign that God made himself a Man. The whole image to me seems playful, almost touching in its irreverent respect

3- This stanza is another interweaving of several disparate Biblical elements too numerous to quote fully: Exodus (7:20) where Moses turns the Nile into blood, the wedding in Canaa (John 2:1-11) where Jesus performs his first miracle by turning water into wine, the Kiddush at the Last Supper where Jesus transmutes the bread ("eat; this is my body") and wine ("drink of it, for this is my blood.") Also, the twelve loaves of bread which, along with the fish, are to be part of the miracle in question in the poem.

The Original:

אמיר אור

יָרֵחַ מַבְשִׁיל בְּעַנְפֵי הַצַּפְצָפָה.
שַׁחַר פּוֹצֵעַ בְּעֵינֵי דַּיָּגִים, בִּזְרוֹעוֹתֵיהֶם
מִתְחַבְּטוֹת לָצֵאת
סְנוּנִיוֹת שֶׁל דָּם.
שַׁחַר פּוֹצֵעַ פִּיהֶם.
לוּ הָיוּ תּוֹפְסִים וְלוּ דָּג אֶחָד
אֶפְשָׁר הָיָה מִתְרַחֵשׁ

יֵשׁוּעַ פּוֹסֵעַ עַל הַמַּיִם,
רוּחַ קֹדֶשׁ עַל פִּטְמוֹתָיו,
רוּחַ קֹדֶשׁ
נוֹשֶׁפֶת עַל זַכְרוּתוֹ הַשְּׁקוּפָה הַמְיַבֶּבֶת.

לַמַּיִם חַיִּים מִשֶּׁלָּהֶם.
נְזִירוֹת, אֲבָנִים עֲגֻלּוֹת,
יוֹרְדוֹת לְהִטָּבֵל בֵּין הַיּוֹנִים.
צִפֳּרִים מְעַשְּׂבוֹת אֶת עֶרְוָתָן.
הַבֹּקֶר טָהוֹר.

כֶּתֶם שֶׁל יַּיִן מִתְפַּשֵּׁט בָּאֲגַם,
פִּסּוֹת שֶׁל לֶחֶם צָפוֹת.
הַבֹּקֶר טָהוֹר.


Amir Or

Yaréaḥ mavšil beˁanfey hatsaftsafa.
Šáḥar potséaˁ beˁeyney dayagim. Bizroˁoteyhem
Mitḥabtot latset
Snuniyot šel dam.
Šáḥar potséaˁ pihem.
Lu hayu tofsim velu dag eḥad
Efšar haya mitraḥeš

Yešúaˁ poséaˁ ˁal hamáyim,
Rúaḥ kódeš ˁal pitmotav,
Rúaḥ kódeš
Nošéfet ˁal zaxruto haškufa hamyabévet.

Lamáyim, ḥáyim mišelahem.
Nezirot, avanim ˁagulot,
Yordot lehitavel beyn hayonim.
Tsiporim meˁasvot et ˁertvatan.
Habóker tahor.

Kétem šel  yáyin mitpašet ba'agam,
Pisot šel léḥem tsafot.
Habóker tahor.

Matthew (14:15-33):

And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying, "This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals." But Jesus said unto them, "They need not depart; give ye them to eat." And they say unto him, "We have here but five loaves, and two fishes." He said, "Bring them hither to me." And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude. And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full. And they that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children.

And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, "It is a spirit;" and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, "Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid." And Peter answered him and said, "Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water." And he said, "Come." And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, "Lord, save me." And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, "O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, "Of a truth thou art the Son of God."

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