Numbers 5:27

Numbers 5:27

And when he hath made her to drink the water
For, as before observed, and here by Jarchi again, if she says I will not drink it, after the roll is blotted out, they oblige her, and make her drink it whether she will or not, unless she says I am defiled:

then it shall come to pass, [that] if she be defiled, and have done
trespass against her husband;
or has committed adultery:

that the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, [and
become] bitter;
the water drank by her, and having the curses scraped into it, shall enter into her, and operate and produce bitter and dreadful effects:

and her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall rot;
not through any natural virtue in the water, or what is put into it, either the dust of the floor of the tabernacle, or the scrapings of the parchment roll, these could have no physical influence to produce such effects; but they must be ascribed to a supernatural cause, the power and curse of God attending this draught. A certain Jewish writer F2 says, though very falsely, that the priest put poison into the water, which produced such effects; but then, how could an innocent woman escape the effects of it? that must be allowed to be miraculous and supernatural, was it so; but there is no manner of reason to believe that anything of this kind was put into it, The Jews say F3, as soon, or before she had made an end of drinking: the water, the effects appeared; her face turned pale immediately, her eyes bolted out, and she was filled with veins, her body swelled, and they called out, Cast her out, cast her out, that she may not defile the court. And the text seems to intimate, as if the operation was immediate; yea, moreover, they say F4, that as the waters searched her, so they searched him (the adulterer), because it is said twice, "shall enter, shall enter"; and that the same effects appeared in him as in her, but in neither, unless the husband was innocent; for if he was not pure from the same sin himself, the waters would not search his wife F5 hence they say F6, when adulterers increased (under the second temple) the bitter waters ceased, according to ( Hosea 4:14 ) ; see ( Matthew 12:39 ) . This practice has been imitated by the Heathens; the river Rhine, according to Julian the emperor F7, tried the legitimacy of children; and so lakes have been used for the trial of perjury and unchastity, as the Stygian lake for perjury, and another of the same name near Ephesus for unchastity; into which, if persons suspected of adultery descended, having the form of an oath hanging about their necks, if they were pure, the waters stood unmoved, but if corrupt, they swelled up to their necks, and covered the tablet on which the oath was written F8. The priestesses of a certain deity being obliged to live a single life, were tried by drinking bullocks' blood, upon which, if false to their oath and corrupt, they immediately died, as Pausanias F9 relates; and Macrobius F11 speaks of some lakes in Sicily, the inhabitants called the Cups, to which recourse was had when persons were suspected of any ill, and where an oath was taken of them; if the person swore truly, he departed unhurt, but if falsely, he immediately lost his life in the lake. Philostratus F12 relates of a water near Tyana, a city in Cappadocia, sacred to Jupiter, which the inhabitants call Asbamaea, which to those that kept their oaths was placid and sweet, but to perjured persons the reverse; it affected their eyes, hands, and feet, and seized them with dropsies and consumptions; nor could they depart from the water, but remained by it, mourning their sad case, and confessing their perjury: but what comes nearest to this usage of the Jews is a custom at marriages among the savages at Cape Breton F13: at a marriage feast, two dishes of meat are brought to the bridegroom and bride in two "ouragans" (basins made of the bark of a tree), and the president of the feast addresses himself to the bride thus,

``and thou that art upon the point of entering into a respectable state, know, that the nourishment thou art going to take forebodes the greatest calamities to thee, if thy heart is capable of harbouring any ill design against thy husband, or against thy nation: shouldest thou ever be led astray by the caresses of a stranger; or shouldest thou betray thy husband, and thy country, the victuals contained in this "ouragan" will have the effects of a slow poison, with which thou wilt be tainted from this very instant; but if, on the other hand, thou remainest faithful to thy husband, and to thy country, if thou wilt never insult the one for his defect, nor give a description of the other to the enemy, thou wilt find this nourishment both agreeable and wholesome.''

Now if these relations can be credited, then much more this of the bitter waters, for though there was something wonderful and supernatural in them, yet nothing incredible:

and the woman shall be a curse among her people:
the time she lives; but then all this while she was looked upon as an accursed person, and despised and shunned by all.


F2 R. Samuel Tzartzah, Mekor Chayim, fol. 91. 3.
F3 Misn. Sotah, c. 3. sect. 4.
F4 Ibid. c. 5. sect. 1.
F5 T. Bab. Sotah, fol. 28. 1. Gersom in loc.
F6 Misn. Sotah, c. 2. sect. 9.
F7 Orat. 2. p. 151. Ep. 16. p. 131.
F8 Vid. Salden. Otia, l. 1. Exercitat. 6. sect. 24.
F9 Achaica, sive, l. 7. p. 450.
F11 Saturnal. l. 5. c. 19.
F12 Vita Apollonii, l. 1. c. 4.
F13 Genuine Letters and Memoirs relating to the Isle of Cape Breton