[INDOLOGY] Techniques of Blinding

Dan Lusthaus yogacara at gmail.com
Sun May 3 20:33:14 EDT 2020

Dear Walter, et al.

Yes, the most famous Biblical case (as noted in the German Wikipedia article) is the case of Samson.

Judges 16:21 (the story of Samson)

(כא.  וַיֹּאחֲזוּהוּ פְלִשְׁתִּים, וַיְנַקְּרוּ אֶת-עֵינָיו; וַיּוֹרִידוּ אוֹתוֹ עַזָּתָה, וַיַּאַסְרוּהוּ בַּנְחֻשְׁתַּיִם, וַיְהִי טוֹחֵן, בְּבֵית האסירים (הָאֲסוּרִים. 

Sample English translations:

21 And the Philistines laid hold on him, and put out his eyes; and they brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison-house.
Judges 16:21 (NKJV) Then the Philistines took him and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza. They bound him with bronze fetters, and he became a grinder in the prison.
Judges 16:21 (NRS) So the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes. They brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles; and he ground at the mill in the prison.
„Da ergriffen ihn die Philister <https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philister> und stachen ihm die Augen aus, führten ihn hinab nach Gaza <https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaza_(Stadt)> und legten ihn in Ketten; und er musste die Mühle drehen im Gefängnis.“

(Note: the German “stachen ihm die Augen aus,” while using a verb, stachen, that could also mean to pierce, adds “aus,” which has no Hebrew parallel.)

In fact the key phrase וַיְנַקְּרוּ אֶת-עֵינָיו va-yenaqru et-einaiyav is using a verb נקר naqar that allows both the meaning “gouge out” and “poke/pierce.” (va-yenaqru: va = prefix meaning “and”, yenaqru = 3rd person plural past tense, “they naqar-ed”; et = signals a direct object follows; einav = “his eyes”).

neqer (masculine noun)  “puncture; pick, mortise chisel.”

niqair (causative verb) “to peck, to poke; to pierce, to puncture, to gouge out”

nuqar (passive verb) “to be pecked, to be poked; to be gouged out”

So while it is commonly interpreted to mean that Samson’s eyes were gouged out, it could also mean that they were pierced. Another masculine noun formed from the same verbal root is נַקָּר naqar, which means “woodpecker.”

If one looks at other uses of the verb naqar in the Bible, in Job 30:17 it means to “to pierce” (the bones). At Proverbs 30:17 it seems to mean “pluck out” (those who look askance at their parents, the ravens will naqar their eyes to be eaten by young vultures). For other examples, see the Strong Index https://biblehub.com/hebrew/5365.htm <https://biblehub.com/hebrew/5365.htm> 


> On May 3, 2020, at 1:49 PM, Walter Slaje via INDOLOGY <indology at list.indology.info> wrote:
> Dear Aleksandar,
> thank you, most certainly an almost global phenomenon, see the respective entries in the English:
> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blinding_(punishment) <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blinding_(punishment)>
> and in the German Wikipedia (which provides additional evidence in particular from the Ancient Near East and the Sassanian Empire):
> https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blendung_(Strafe) <https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blendung_(Strafe)>
> Not only has the evidence from Tamil (Palaniappan), but also from Buddhist texts shown that ut-paṭ (caus.) was obviously the word used to express the cutting out of an eyeball or the destruction of one’s eyesight. The Śibijātaka (in Āryaśūra’s and in the Pali version) uses ut-pāṭay- as well in order to express these meanings (reference kindly provided by Roland Steiner). In this Jātaka, however, the careful removal of the eyeball of an organ donor with a knife is dealt with: his eye must not be injured in order to be able to be used by the organ recipient (could this become another gateway for organ transplant fantasies?). Similarly, on the Śaiva side, where “Tiṇṇaṉ takes out his own eyes with his arrow to replace the bleeding eyes of Śivaliṅga”. By “arrow” we must assume an arrow-head, which is a small blade. Also on the Jaina side there is evidence for “cutting out” the eyes with a knife (netre śastrīkayotpāṭya, Pārśvanāthacaritra of Bhāvadevasūri, reference kindly provided by Suhas Mahesh).
> On the other hand, as we have seen, utpāṭay- stands at the same time for the destruction of eyeballs and of vision. Judging from the basic meaning of the root ut-paṭ (caus.: “to tear up or out, pluck, pull out, eradicate”), the “cutting out” of the eyeballs would seem to be historically closer to the original practice of blinding in India. “Extraction” is a technical meaning of utpāṭana in medical literature (Meulenbeld,   HIML, 1A: 15, n. 158, another ref. by R. Steiner), which, it is to assumed, is also carried out with the help of a blade. However, according to the dictionaries, utpāṭay can also mean “to part asunder, split“ (apparently in medical texts).
> A decision on the appropriate meaning rests accordingly on the instruments respectively used: cutting is done with a blade, piercing with a needle. They leave different marks on the victim and give him a different look.
> If, which is anything but certain and therefore requires further research, piercing of the retina by a needle was indeed an innovative, minimally invasive, but highly effective blinding method introduced to India only under Muslim rule, the translation of the verb utpāṭay- needs to be adapted to the corresponding technique (“cutting out” or “piercing through”).
> Regards,
> Walter
> Am So., 3. Mai 2020 um 16:56 Uhr schrieb Uskokov, Aleksandar <aleksandar.uskokov at yale.edu <mailto:aleksandar.uskokov at yale.edu>>:
> Dear Walter, 
> This is somewhat circumstantial as it does not pertain to South Asia (and is based largely on my High School memory, so -- take it with a grain of salt), but there is the tradition of the Battle of Kleidon / Belasitsa between the Byzantine Emperor Basil II and the Bulgarian (or Macedonian, as my countrymen would claim) Emperor Samuel, in 1014, when some 15,000 soldiers of Samuel were allegedly blinded by the Byzantine army by gouging out their eyes with knives (or some form of iron object). That would put the practice (or a similar practice) close to Turkey, as Matthew's reference from Orhan Pamuk suggests, but not quite in "Ottoman Turkey" yet. This suggests that the practice might be Byzantine in origin. 
> Best wishes,
> Aleksandar 
> Aleksandar Uskokov
> Lector in Sanskrit 
> South Asian Studies Council, Yale University 
> 203-432-1972 | aleksandar.uskokov at yale.edu <mailto:aleksandar.uskokov at yale.edu> 
> From: INDOLOGY <indology-bounces at list.indology.info <mailto:indology-bounces at list.indology.info>> on behalf of Walter Slaje via INDOLOGY <indology at list.indology.info <mailto:indology at list.indology.info>>
> Sent: Sunday, May 3, 2020 10:22 AM
> To: Madhav Deshpande <mmdesh at umich.edu <mailto:mmdesh at umich.edu>>
> Cc: Indology <indology at list.indology.info <mailto:indology at list.indology.info>>
> Subject: Re: [INDOLOGY] Techniques of Blinding
> Dear Madhav and Matthew,
> first, thank you for alerting me to my "touching" connotation blunder, and second, yes, blinding - especially of pretenders to the throne - was certainly not uncommon. To the references already given by you to Ottoman and Mughal practices we can furthermore add Humayun’s blinding of his brother Mirza Kamran and Jahangir’s blinding of his first son Khusrau by using the needle (in 1607). In this context it is perhaps interesting to note that what Śrīvara has reported dates only from Sultanate Kashmir of the 15th century. To my knowledge no earlier occurrences are documented in the Rājataṅgiṇīs. Should we regard the practice of blinding with the needle an Islamic import? How does this technique conform to the Sanskrit notion of utpāṭana ("tearing out"). This is why I was asking for evidence of techniques from other and ideally pre-Islamic sources.
> Thanks again,
> Walter
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