Valley of the Shadow

Many years ago I was told that the Valley of the Shadow of Death was an actual place; a narrow valley in Israel where you could only walk in single file, and enemies could easily drop stuff on you. These days I'm a bit more sceptical of claims made in sermons, and I've been trying to check this out. So far I can't find anything to support the claim, so do any Shipmates know if there is a geographical location? If so, why did it get its name?

Comments

  • CathscatsCathscats Shipmate
    I share your scepticism. I hadn’t heard that one but it sounds like the old one about the eye of the needle being a narrow gate.
  • It is perhaps worth noting that the ancient Greek and Latin translations make no mention of a "valley", merely saying "in the midst of the shadow of death".
  • MargaretMargaret Shipmate
    I'd never noticed that before! But it's there in the Hebrew, at least in the Masoretic text we have now. (One of the things I'm trying to do at the moment is revive my Hebrew, so thanks for giving me an opportunity!)
  • GalilitGalilit Shipmate
    Indeed.
    גיא צלמות
    but that doesn't mean it's a real geographical place
  • HedgehogHedgehog Shipmate
    I rather like the NET Bible take on the subject. The imagery evokes the idea of a shepherd going into a dark ravine...where there might well be predators. As such, it is not a single "real" place, but describes a situation that the listener would understand from real life: going into a dark ravine was actually dangerous!

    I like this because it does not fall into the binary "was a real place/was not a real place" category. It was not a single identifiable place but did describe a very real situation common to the people of the time: the perfect sort of thing to weave an allegory around!
  • It's called a metaphor. Unfortunately, some people's imagination is so impoverished (or they're so stretched foe sermon material) that they simply must take everything bloody literally, as if David had never been a poet.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    And, of course, it’s quite possible to use a Real Thing or Place as a metaphor. Not that I’m saying that’s the case here, but even if there were such a place as the Valley of the Shadow of Death, that doesn’t mean the reference couldn’t also be metaphorical.

  • HedgehogHedgehog Shipmate
    It's called a metaphor.
    Yes! Sorry! Not allegory. :blush:
  • Nick Tamen wrote: »
    And, of course, it’s quite possible to use a Real Thing or Place as a metaphor. Not that I’m saying that’s the case here, but even if there were such a place as the Valley of the Shadow of Death, that doesn’t mean the reference couldn’t also be metaphorical.

    Surely. But I can't see this one (nor have I seen it, anywhere in all my rather extensive reading, ha). Just imagine some guy calling back into the house: "Hey honey, don't wait dinner for me tonight. I've gotta take a few sheep up the Valley of the Shadow of Death!"

    Why, we barely get away with "Death Valley" in California. IMO that's the end and beyond of drama, and the proposed valley name is stretching it.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    edited March 29
    Heh! No, I agree. The most I can imagine is that if it were a real place, the Valley of the Shadow of Death was a nickname or slang term, like “the Gateway to the West” or “the Armpit of California.”

    Again, I’m not suggesting it was a real place. I’m just saying what does it matter if it was?

  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    Cathscats wrote: »
    the old one about the eye of the needle being a narrow gate.

    I was told that as fact by a religion teacher in high-school. One reason I have a bias against teachers adding their own personal input into the lessons.

  • Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Heh! No, I agree. The most I can imagine is that if it were a real place, the Valley of the Shadow of Death was a nickname or slang term, like “the Gateway to the West” or “the Armpit of California.”

    Again, I’m not suggesting it was a real place. I’m just saying what does it matter if it was?

    Because it would be too cringey for words. IMNSHO, of course.
  • HarryCHHarryCH Shipmate
    There are, of course, many mountain trails where people can walk only in single file.
  • stetson wrote: »
    Cathscats wrote: »
    the old one about the eye of the needle being a narrow gate.

    I was told that as fact by a religion teacher in high-school. One reason I have a bias against teachers adding their own personal input into the lessons.

    Personally, as a teacher, I would take that as a reason for teachers not to be ill-informed and credulous idiots. Besides, I've seen "professional" teaching materials that contain a whole lot of bollocks (triune brain, learning styles...) so making teachers rely on those is hardly a solution.

    Slightly more related to the topic, I've always taken it as metaphorical, but there does seem to be a pattern in scripture of valleys being places of death and danger, and mountains being places of encounter with God. I preached on this very topic a few weeks ago.
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    It's called a metaphor. Unfortunately, some people's imagination is so impoverished (or they're so stretched for sermon material) that they simply must take everything bloody literally, as if David had never been a poet.
    For the second time in as many days, @Lamb Chopped I think you're bang on.

    And personally I think 'the valley of the shadow of death' is a far more expressive phrase than the various cloth eared alternatives one encounters in many modern translations.
  • edited March 30
    Metaphor - yes. Having been in it twice, and glimpsed into it a third time. It describes the darkness that is visible to your soul. While the psalmist does describe it, the way Job says it is how it comes, like nightfall:
    For the thing which
    I greatly feared is come upon me
    and that which I was afraid of
    is come upon me.
    I was not in safety
    neither had I rest
    neither was I quiet
    Yet trouble came
    (3:25...)

    It is suffering that tinges music, like Beethoven, Mahler, some of Bach. A positive and active anguish, like a shutter banging in the wind on the windows of your spirit. The psalm is nice because it offers a way out of the dark wood of tangled evil branches dripping with cold and absence. Such as we don't get actively unless we do the action.
  • Gramps49Gramps49 Shipmate
    edited June 17
    Since Ps 23 has a lot of metaphorical images, the valley of the shadow of death is also metaphorical

    In Jewish thought, at the time, if one is not enjoying life to the fullest, then they must be somewhere in the shadow of death,

    The Eye of the Needle is a very old rabbinical amorphism that goes all the way back to the Babylonian Talmud. The earliest mention is:
    They do not show a man a palm tree of gold, nor an elephant going through the eye of a needle. (Babylonian Talmud, Baba Mezi'a, 38b)

    A similar quote is found in a midrash the Song of Songs:
    The Holy One said, open for me a door as big as a needle's eye and I will open for you a door through which may enter tents and [camels?] (Midrash Rabbah, The Song of Songs, 5.3; cf. Pesiqta R., 15, ed. Friedmann, p.70a; Soncino Zohar, Vayikra 3, p95a)
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