14 August 2009

'As Deffe as Stok or Ston'—The OED on Stocks & Stones

Thanks to Jason Fisher’s comment, and Kevin Edgecomb’s kindness in sending me the OED article on the word ‘stock’, I’ve been inspired and enabled to do a bit more research on this ‘stock and stone’ thing. Under the first definition of ‘stock’ in the OED, ‘A tree-trunk deprived of its branches; the lower part of a tree-trunk left standing, a stump’, the earliest use listed of ‘stock’ with ‘stone’ is that of the 15th Blickling Homily (971), where, speaking of Simon Magus, the homilist tells us, He ᵹefeol on þone stocc be þære stænenan stræte þe is háten Sacra uia, ‘And he fell on the stock by the stone street called Sacra via’ (for reasons I can’t figure out, R. Morris in his translation renders stocc as ‘scaffolding’, The Blickling Homilies, trans. R. Morris [Cambridge, ON: In parentheses, 2000], p. 95). Of course, in this passage there is no logical connection between the two, that is, they are not being listed together as two things of a type.

Another use, specifically as in the Heimskringla in connection with idolatry, is also quite early however. As Jason Fisher pointed out, in the translation of Deuteronomy 28:36 by Ælfric of Eynsham, we read, ᵹe þeouiað fremdum godum, stoccum and stanum, ‘thou shalt serve other gods, stock and stone’. In this verse, the KJV has ‘wood and stone’, but uses ‘stock and stone’ in similar contexts in Jeremiah 3:9 (‘And it came to passe thorow the lightnes of her whoredome, that shee defiled the land, and committed adultery with stones and with stockes’) and Wisdom of Solomon 14:21 (‘And this was an occasion to deceiue the world: for men seruing either calamitie or tyrannie, did ascribe vnto stones, and stockes, the incommunicable Name’). Mr Fisher points out the Hebrew phrase in Deuteronomy is otz u•abn, which Kevin transliterates in his comment below as etz wa-aben (a comment I highly recommend for some historical information on the worship of ‘stocks and stones’ in the Old Testament). However, the latter adds that the wording in Jeremiah uses a definite article, indicating abstraction, so it becomes, et-ha-aben wa-et-ha-etz. Wisdom of Solomon, of course, is only in Greek, so the wording is λίθοις καὶ ξύλοις. So basically, it seems to me, any of these could just as well be translated ‘stock and stone’.

On the subject of translations, I discovered that Tolkien, who—as we saw—echoed the same poet’s Pearl with cognate terms in The Lord of the Rings, actually avoided a cognate in his translation of Sir Orfeo in order to use the ‘stock and stone’ pair. Where line 346 in the original has ‘He no spard noither stub no ston’, Tolkien has, ‘for stock nor stone he stayed his tread’ (Sir Gawain & the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo, trans. J.R.R. Tolkien [NY: Ballantine, 1980], p. 142). Clearly, the phrase is a favourite of Tolkien’s!

It is not merely in biblical contexts, however, that the phrase is used in reference to idolatry. In the mid-14th-c. Troilus and Criseyde III.589-90, Chaucer writes, ‘He swor hire yis, by stokkes and by stones, / And by the goddes that in hevene dwelle’ (The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, 2nd ed., ed. F.N. Robinson [Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1961], p. 427). In the 13th-c. Laȝamon’s Brut, l. 626, on the other hand, the pair—while connected in meaning—has nothing to do with idolatry. In the description of King Pandrasus’s assault on Brutus’s ‘castle’, we read, Mid stocken & mid stanen stal fiht heo makeden [this is the text in MS. Cott. Calig. A. IX), ‘[W] ith stocks and with stones they made fierce conflict’ (Laȝamons Brut, or Chronicle of Britain; A Poetical Semi-Saxon Paraphrase of the Brut of Wace, Vol. 1, ed. and trans. Sir Frederic Madden, K.H. [London: Society of Antiquaries of London, 1847], p. 27).

Interestingly, the OED also cites John Lydgate’s 1407 work, Reson and Sensuallyte 6411, where we find the line ‘As deffe as stok or ston’. Although Lydgate is not referring specifically to idolatry, one is easily reminded of Psalm 135:15-18 (KJV):

The idoles of the heathen are silver and gold: the worke of mens hands.
They have mouths, but they speake not: eyes have they, but they see not:
They have eares, but they heare not: neither is there any breath in their mouthes.
They that make them are like unto them: so is every one that trusteth in them.

In conclusion, here are some lovely photos of a group of people in modern-day Russia to whom these words would apply.


Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Yes, Deut 28.36 is "etz wa-aben", "tree/wood and stone," while Jer 3.9 is "et-ha-aben wa-et-ha-etz", "with stone and with tree/wood" (the definite article "ha" in those indicates a generality or abstraction, as in "ha-hayim", "life"). Hebrew uses the same word (etz) for tree and wood, so it's unclear here whether the whole tree or its wood is in focus in these. There is no Hebrew preserved for Wis 14.21, which has λιθοις και ξυλοις.

There is the interesting connection too, to the Hebrew referent of "wood" in such a context and "stock". The oft-mentioned "asherah" in the Old Testament appears to have been a tree that grew and then had all its branches and bark removed so that it was a dead stump, a bare wooden pillar, which was taken to represent "Asherah", the wife of "El", the chief god of the Canaanites, the parents of all the other gods. These wooden pillars were apparently cared for a dressed in fancy cloths, just as various small standing stones (sing. "matzebah", plural "matsebot") were anointed and treated as idols of a sort. The matsebot are depicted (as in the account of Jacob's ladder, which we New Calendar people heard again tonight!) as originally commemorative stones, but later (buttressed by archaeology's findings) it seems the stones themselves came to be seen as idols or something very close. There is here the connection with Jebel Harun: the Islamic sanctuary atop the mountain is built atop a Nabatean sanctuary for the "betyl" (the "bet-il" or "house of god") that was formerly there, perhaps even of the famous Nabatean god Dushara. These betyls and the matzebot were all aniconic, just rocks, not carved into any anthropomorphic shape, in distinction from what we might consider "real" idols. Still forbidden, though.

Anyhow, all this is to say that these practices of the Hebrews and neighbors find reflections in other cultures as well. Raised stones and aniconic shorn trees/stumps have been revered elsewhere, too.


aaronandbrighid said...

Thanks Kevin. Interesting stuff!

Of course, I knew there was no Hebrew original for Wisdom of Solomon, and wrote that in there without thinking, like an idiot! Time to edit....

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

There may at one time have been something antecedent to Wisdom in Hebrew. Though the general thought is that Wisdom of Solomon was composed in Greek, and the argument is an accurate one as far as it goes (fluent prose), a very good translator can't be ruled out as an outside possibility. If we didn't have the Hebrew Isaiah and Job we might think that the LXX Esaias and Iob were originally written in Greek, as they're quite fluently translated as well.

So, don't count yourself an idiot, but rather as realistic. It's certainly a possibility. There were plenty of people who argued that Sirach was composed in Greek, and they were proven wrong when bits of Hebrew Sirach were found in the Cairo Genizah, Qumran, and Masada.

My alternative answer is much shorter:
What else would Solomon have written it in, but Hebrew?!

Jason Fisher said...

Glad I could be of help. I enjoyed your follow-up here as well. And since you’ve quoted from Pearl and Sir Orfeo, why not also Sir Gawain and the Green Knight? In that poem, there is a line very similar to the one you quoted (above) from Sir Orfeo: Bot stode stylle as þe ston, oþer a stubbe auþer (l. 2293). In the glossary to Tolkien and Gordon’s edition of the poem (1925), Tolkien has stubbe “stock, stump”. But this time, in his translation, Tolkien renders it, “but stood as still as a stone or the stump of a tree” (emphasis added). In his Middle English Vocabulary of 1922, Tolkien has both stok(ke) “stem, tree-trunk” and stub(be) “tree-trunk, stump” — interesting that he doesn’t use “stock” for either gloss in that work!