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Singer, S. (1963). A Linguistic Note on the Sexual Meaning of “Knowing” and “Seeing.”. Am. Imago, 20(4):345-347.

(1963). American Imago, 20(4):345-347

A Linguistic Note on the Sexual Meaning of “Knowing” and “Seeing.”

Shlomo Singer

In his classic paper on “The Transformation of Scopto-philia (1),” Karl Abraham drew attention to the identification in Biblical law between the act of seeing the genitals of forbidden sexual objects and actual sexual contact. The Biblical prohibitions against incest are not stated in terms of actual genital contact but in terms of “uncovering,” hence viewing, the “nakedness” of the incestuous sexual object (Leviticus, Chap. 18, vrs. 6-17). Dream interpretation has revealed that, in the unconscious of persons suffering from photophobias, the etiology of which involves guilt for seeing or wishing to see the parental genitals, this same identification between seeing and the sexual act is prominent.

In classical Hebrew and Greek this identification can be observed directly. In Greek, the word eido means both “to see” and “to know.” It is etymologically related to the Hebrew root yada as well as to the Latin video. In Biblical Hebrew, the verb-root yada explicitly means both “to know” and “to have sexual intercourse,” as in the verse “Now the man (Adam) knew his wife Eve and she conceived …” (Gen. 4, 1). What is often not stressed is that the verb yada can also mean “to see”, or at least implies visual perception.

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