“What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?” (Num 22:28). About the She-Ass that Spoke to the Pagan Soothsayer

Anna Kuśmirek

Uniwersytet Kardynała Stefana Wyszyńskiego w Warszawie. Wydział Teologiczny , Poland


Among all the donkeys mentioned in various biblical texts, the she-ass of Balaam occupies a unique position. This essay attempts to show the role which that particular donkey plays in the Balaam story as a whole. The beast not only speaks with a human voice, but also can discern more than this renowned pagan diviner. The function of the she-donkey within the Balaam narrative is found within the context of such an animal's typical role in Scripture, as well as against the background of donkey as a literary motif in both biblical and extrabiblical literature. The comparative study and analysis of Num 22:21-35 attest that the situational irony related to the donkey's behavior represents a special way of projecting the biblical message, ultimately serving to strengthen the underlying idea. The famous heathen seer is mocked as one who, though positioned to perceive supernatural realities, yet remains blind to God revealing himself. While walking the path, it is the she-ass that is able to see the angel of God, and not the supposed soothsayer. It is the donkey that tries to obey to the will of God and to change the course of events. Yet for Balaam, the attitude of his beast is simply a token of the animal’s stupidity and recalcitrance. Balaam himself is able to see the angel only when YHWH finally opens his eyes. The author's deliberate irony achieves the intended goal, which is testified to by the Targumic renderings, among others. This ironic interpretation is echoed in 2 Pet where the author deftly recalls the role of Balaam’s she-ass, who “restrained the prophet’s madness” (2:16).


beasts, she-ass, Balaam, Num 22, 21-35, irony

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Kuśmirek, A. (2017). “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?” (Num 22:28). About the She-Ass that Spoke to the Pagan Soothsayer. Verbum Vitae, 32, 95–125. https://doi.org/10.31743/vv.1832

Anna Kuśmirek  akusmirek22@gmail.com
Uniwersytet Kardynała Stefana Wyszyńskiego w Warszawie. Wydział Teologiczny


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