Disability has often been conflated with adjacent and overlapping topoi in the reception and scholarship of the Hebrew Bible in ways that have compounded ableist tendencies in some texts and manufactured them outright in others. The point is demonstrated here through various meanings of the couplet “they have eyes but do not see; they have ears but do not hear,” which in context can convey several reasons why seeing and hearing do not happen: unwillingness to accept a message (Jer 5:21, Ezek 12:2) and inanimacy (Pss 115:5b–6a, 135:16b–17a) in addition to the disabilities of blindness and deafness (Isa 43:8). Disability plays no conceptual or rhetorical role in the first four passages, as Hebrew biblical texts generally avoid the pitfall of equating disability with rebelliousness or lifelessness. Isaiah 43:8 uses blindness and deafness as metaphors for the condition of the exiled Judeans, but a careful reading in the context of Second Isaiah reveals that they serve as metaphors for captivity, not obduracy or immorality. Appreciating these distinctions produces more historically plausible readings of the five passages and opens the way to less ableist interpretations of other disability texts in the Hebrew Bible.

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