Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Ambiguous (at least equally half feminine) Image of God

In this post, I'd like to suggest - and to show - that the image of God in the language of the Bible is ambiguous.  That ambiguity - you should see - is more female than male, more female, that is, in ways that both Aristotle (a male) and Nancy Mairs (a female) might use language.  Or maybe you'll concede that it has to be at least (equally half) feminine.

Along the way to our listening to the Bible language, let's listen to Nancy Mairs describing the logical language acts of many men.  This sort of logic is exactly the kind we see Aristotle inventing and using.  Mairs says:

In order to get what he wants, then, the father must have power to coerce those around him to meet his demands. To have power is to alienate oneself, however, because power is always power over and the preposition demands an object. The fundamental structure of patriarchy is thus binary: me/not me, active/passive, culture/nature, normal/deviant, good/bad, masculine/feminine, public/private, political/personal, form/content, subjective/objective, friend/enemy, true/false. . . . It is a structure, both spatial and temporal, predicated upon separation, not relation. It demands rupture, the split into halves engendered by the abrupt erection of the phallus: those who have and those who have not. It speaks the language of opposites. . . [in] a dimorphic world.

Then she adds:

Which is not women’s language, since women, for a variety of reasons, live in a polymorphic rather than a dimorphic world, a world in which the differentiation of self from other may never completely take place, in which multiple selves may engage multiply with the multiple desires of the creatures in it. Some theorists would claim that all subjects function thus. But as Julia Kristeva points out, female subjectivity, traditionally linked to cyclical and monumental time rather than to linear time, lies outside “language considered as the enunciation of sentences (noun + verb, topic – comment, beginning – ending).” Possessing an “irreducible identity, without equal in the opposite sex and, as such, exploded, plural, fluid,” a woman may be driven “to break the code, to shatter language, to find a specific discourse closer to the body and the emotions, to the unnamable repressed by the social contract.”

The difference that emerges here is not the polarity intrinsic in the dominant discourse, which reduces “woman to man’s opposite, his other, the negative of the positive.” No, this is an absolute and radical alterity that enfolds the other, as in pregnancy a woman’s immune system shuts down in such a way that she shelters and nourishes, rather than rejects and expels, the foreign body within her: “Cells fuse, split, and proliferate; volumes grow, tissues stretch, and body fluids change rhythm, speeding up or slowing down. Within the body, growing as a graft, indomitable, there is an other. And no one is present, within that simultaneously dual and alien space, to signify what is going on.” Feminine discourse is not the language of opposites but a babel of eroticism, attachment, and empathy. 

Whew.  Now we may be ready to hear the language of the Bible.  This language purports to exist (or at least to describe a place where and a time when there existed language, creative ambiguous language, creative ambiguous polymorphic language, creative ambiguous polymorphic and therefore feminine language) before any need “to break the code, to shatter language, to find a specific discourse closer to the body and the emotions, to the unnamable repressed by the social contract.”  If Nancy Mairs or Aristotle had anything to say about it, this language was not very patriarchal from the beginning.

Here's the language to hear:

And God said, "Let us make a human in our image, by our likeness, to hold sway over the fish of the sea and the fowl of the heavens and the cattle and the wild beasts and all the crawling things that crawl upon the earth."
And God created the human in his image,
in the image of God He created him,
male and female He created them.
And God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and conquer it, and hold say over the fish of the sea and the fowl of the heavens and every beast that crawls upon the earth."

These are, of course, not God's words.  Or are they?
Nor are they the words of Moses.  Or are they?
Rather, they are the ambiguous English words of Robert Alter, aren't they?

But as bar-bar-ic, Aristotle would likely say, are these Greek words of the Jews, translating in Alexandria's empire, as if they were Sappho or somebody:

καὶ εἶπεν ὁ θεός
Ποιήσωμεν ἄνθρωπον κατ' εἰκόνα ἡμετέραν καὶ καθ' ὁμοίωσιν,
καὶ ἀρχέτωσαν τῶν ἰχθύων τῆς θαλάσσης
καὶ τῶν πετεινῶν τοῦ οὐρανοῦ
καὶ τῶν κτηνῶν καὶ πάσης τῆς γῆς
καὶ πάντων τῶν ἑρπετῶν τῶν ἑρπόντων ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς.

καὶ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν ἄνθρωπον,
κατ' εἰκόνα θεοῦ ἐποίησεν αὐτόν,
ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ ἐποίησεν αὐτούς.

καὶ ηὐλόγησεν αὐτοὺς ὁ θεὸς λέγων
Αὐξάνεσθε καὶ πληθύνεσθε,
καὶ πληρώσατε τὴν γῆν καὶ κατακυριεύσατε αὐτῆς,
καὶ ἄρχετε τῶν ἰχθύων τῆς θαλάσσης
καὶ τῶν πετεινῶν τοῦ οὐρανοῦ
καὶ  πάντων τῶν κτηνῶν καὶ πάσης τῆς γῆς
καὶ πάντων τῶν ἑρπετῶν τῶν ἑρπόντων  ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς.

And as least equally ambiguous is this language:

כו  וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ; וְיִרְדּוּ בִדְגַת הַיָּם וּבְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם, וּבַבְּהֵמָה וּבְכָל-הָאָרֶץ, וּבְכָל-הָרֶמֶשׂ, הָרֹמֵשׂ עַל-הָאָרֶץ.
כז  וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ, בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ:  זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה, בָּרָא אֹתָם.

כח  וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם, אֱלֹהִים, וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם אֱלֹהִים פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ וּמִלְאוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, וְכִבְשֻׁהָ; וּרְדוּ בִּדְגַת הַיָּם, וּבְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם, וּבְכָל-חַיָּה, הָרֹמֶשֶׂת עַל-הָאָרֶץ.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Why Censor a Mother, Twice?

Tim Bulkeley at Sansblogue has posted on "The censored Bible: translating Psalm 90."  He sees in the Hebrew of Tehillim 90, in these lyrics of Moses, what is "explicitly (I think) maternal imagery for the creation of our world."  Nonetheless, as Bulkeley explicitly puts it, most English translators "censor" out the maternal from the language of Moses.  "Why?"

At this blog of mine here, I'm mostly interested in why the Jews using their own Greek in Alexandria, Egypt would read their ancient Hebrew (in their scriptures) any given way.  I want to first look at Tehillim 90 (renumbered πθ, or 89).  Then I want to look at another hymn or psalm or song or tehillim of Moses, an earlier one in what the Septuagint renames as Deuteronomy 32.

Psalm 89 (Tehillim 90)

As we all know, for Psalm 89 (Tehillim 90), the Septuagint translators put Moses's "explicitly" maternal Hebrew into their Hellene this way:

κύριε καταφυγὴ ἐγενήθης ἡμῖν
ἐν γενεᾷ
καὶ γενεᾷ
πρὸ τοῦ ὄρη γενηθῆναι
καὶ πλασθῆναι τὴν γῆν
καὶ τὴν οἰκουμένην
καὶ ἀπὸ τοῦ αἰῶνος ἕως τοῦ αἰῶνος σὺ εἶ

Why?  Is it not so explicitly maternal now?  Perhaps it's very playful, rhyming words with rhythms and alliterations that we English readers don't so easily hear, if we can see some of them.  Notice the punning (whether intentional or not) in the ἐγενήθης /e-genēthēnēs/ and in the repeated γενεᾷ /genea/ followed by γενηθῆναι /genēthēnai/ followed by γῆν /gēn/.  But where is the γυνή /gynē/, the woman with a womb?  Why is the motherly imagery censored out?  Or, at the very least, why is it so implicit, so hidden in the text, so subtle?

My guess is that the translators in Egypt were being very careful.  My hunch is that they knew what they were doing.  My observation has been that they were resisting the Greek of Aristotle, who boxed up (his elite male-only Greek-citizen-only) language in order for him and his own to avoid ambiguities of blathering barbarisms and slippery sophistries and womanly whimsies.  Our best guess is that, in most cases, the Jews in Alexander's empire, back in Egypt, were looking further back to Homer's and Hesiod's and Sappho's poetry and Euripides's plays, and to much more poetic and playful, and sometimes hilarious Hellene.

So now let's look at the song of Moses in what they call Deuternomy 32.

Deuternomy (Devarim) 32

Buckeley's comment at my other blog got me looking at and listening to Moses here.  Consider these two lyrical lines of maternal imagery in Hebrew (i.e., verse 18):

צוּר יְלָדְךָ תֶּשִׁי
וַתִּשְׁכַּח אֵל מְחֹלְלֶךָ׃

Now here's that in Hebraic Hellene:

θεὸν τὸν γεννήσαντά σε ἐγκατέλιπες
καὶ ἐπελάθου θεοῦ τοῦ τρέφοντός σε.

Now here's that in patriarchal English bible translations:

You deserted the Rock, who fathered you;
you forgot the God who gave you birth. (NIV)

You neglected the Rock who had fathered you;
you forgot the God who had given you birth. (NLT)

(You ignored the rock who fathered you
and forgot the God who gave you life.) (God's Word®)

You have no thought for the Rock, your father,
you have no memory of the God who gave you birth. (Bible in Basic English)

Of the Rock who became your father, you are unmindful,
and have forgotten God who gave you birth. (World English Bible)

Note the difference in the Jewish English of Robert Alter:

The Rock your bearer you neglected 
you forgot the God who gave you birth.

With the Christian English translations above, we quickly need to ask "Why Father?"  And "why not mother?" or just (as Moses and Alter have) at least a hint of her?

With the Jewish Greek, we now need to ask "Why θεος /theos/ [or God]?"  And "why not πετρας /petras/ [or Rock]?"

I really wonder whether Jesus or even if Matthew was asking the same questions of the Septuagint translators here.  The name and this re-naming of Peter (i.e., the disciple of Jesus) is a clear play on the Greek.  But the Jewish translators of Moses song (i.e., Deuteronomy) tend to "censor" out the word for Rock and replace it with the word for God.  Why?

Now, to be clear, the Jewish translators do use the Greek word for rock in verse 13:  μέλι ἐκ πέτρας καὶ ἔλαιον ἐκ στερεᾶς πέτρας.  (And Alter uses similar English words for Moses' Hebrew:  "honey from the crag and oil from the flinty stone.")

There are two different Hebrew "rock" words in v 13, respectively:  (סֶלַע) and (צוּר).  The word that Moses uses repeatedly is the latter one here.  And he writes this rock word or he sings it some eight repeated times for the Divine One and for other divinities in the short context of Deuteronomy chapter 32.  (See verses 4, 13, 15, 18, 30, and 31).  However, in contrast, the Jewish translators of Hebrew into Hellene choose never, not even once, to use the Greek word for Rock to mark God or even gods.

Why "censor" out the maternal rock imagery?

Well, we can only guess, can't we?  I think there may be some sensitivity to Moses for the translators now back, as Jews, in Egypt.  I also speculate that they, being familiar with lots of Greek writings, hear some comparisons between unkosher ethnic polytheistic stories and those of Moses.  They don't want either the polytheistic Egyptians or the polytheistic Greeks appropriating their Moses.  They probably have watched and heard (or at least heard of) the plays of Euripides being revived and played right there in Alexandria.  They've been considering how to translate Ex-Odys 17, where God commands Moses to smite the Rock; and they've been considering how to translate Numbers 20, where Moses smites the Rock in impatient disobedience to God.  They're not wanting to call God "Rock" in Deuteronomy 32 (which we just looked at).  Why not?

Are they being sensitive to how these stories in Greek will sound, well, so Greeky, so polytheistic Greeky?

Here's how a bit sounds from the women in Euripides's play Ion (at around 1120, as translated by Robert Potter, with Euripides's Greek interpolated back in by me):

When Creusa's husband left the god's oracular shrine, he took his new son to the feast and the sacrifice he was preparing for the god. Xuthus then went where the flame of Bacchus leaps, so that he might drench both rocks [πέτρας] of Dionysos with the slaughter, as a thank-offering for the sight of his son, and he said: "You, my child, stay here and raise a tent, fitted on both sides, by the toil of carpenters.  If I should remain a long time in my sacrifice to the gods [Θεοῖσιν] of birth, set up the banquet for the friends who are there."
Notice the close associations of maternal deities and the rocks for bloody sacrifices to divinities.  Do the Jewish translators really want God, their maternal Rock, sounding like Διονύσου πέτρας and Γενέταις Θεοῖσιν?

And here's another bit from Euripides.  It's from Bacchae (from around line 690, as translated by T. A. Buckley, again with the Greek of Euripides we're looking at together put back in):

Your mother raised a cry,  standing up in the midst of the Bacchae, to wake their bodies from sleep, when she heard the lowing of the horned cattle. And they, casting off refreshing sleep from their eyes, sprang upright, a marvel of orderliness to behold, old, young, and still unmarried virgins.  First they let their hair loose over their shoulders, and secured their fawn-skins, as many of them as had released the fastenings of their knots, girding the dappled hides with serpents licking their jaws. And some, holding in their arms a gazelle or wild  wolf-pup, gave them white milk, as many as had abandoned their new-born infants and had their breasts still swollen. They put on garlands of ivy, and oak, and flowering yew. One took her thyrsos and struck it against a rock [πέτραν], from which a dewy stream of water sprang forth. Another let her thyrsos strike the ground, and there the god [θεός] sent forth a fountain of wine. All who desired the white drink scratched the earth with the tips of their fingers and obtained streams of milk; and a sweet flow of honey dripped from their ivy thyrsoi; so that, had you been present and seen this, you would have approached with prayers the god whom you now blame.
There may be at least two problems with this Greek play for the Greek translators.  First, there's this association to milk and honey, imagery of the promised land far away now from where they are back in Egypt.  Second, there are Greek women, Greek mothers, doing what Moses and what God did.  That is, these ethnic goyim mothers are generating, are bearing forth, are giving birth and motherly sustenance to their people in ways that might be compared with the One God and that one special servant Moses.

So when Moses is singing of God the Rock, like a mother of the people of Israel, in Hebrew, then why not -- given the Greek imagery elsewhere and especially in the multiply polytheistic Egypt of Alexander -- just censor out Rock and specify God when it's sung in Hellene?  Why not use θεος /theos/ [or God] and not πετρας /petras/ for the Jewish maternal imagery of Moses in Deuteronomy?  [UPDATE:  Bob MacDonald inspires me to include some illustrations here, including one of David, with rock in sling and rod in hand, as he's getting inspired to sing, some time later, Psalm 18.  I couldn't find an artist's rendering of Job's inscription, so we'll all just imagine that one.  But the good point Bob's making is that the imagery is, in the mind of the translators, fairly rich.]

In summary, we hear Hellene sounding rather Hebraic and playful in Psalm 90 of Moses and definitely Hebraic though not as Greek-ish in the Deuteronomy 32 song of Moses.  We suspect the translators are motivated by the sounds of their languages.  But we still wonder what motivates the patriarchal censorship of some English Bible translators.

Friday, April 23, 2010

How to translate the word torah?

It's happened again.

Men are taking words, categorizing their meanings, and keeping them from mixing. The fear for Aristotle, as we all know by now, was that females would pollute males. Therefore, his scientific logic separated females - as botched or deformed males - from males. Likewise, the slippery words of women, if not boxed up and kept in check, would infect the world of men.

In the world of bible translation (which is far and away mostly male in 2010AD), a recent problem is the Greek word, νόμος. We can transliterate it with English letters as nómos.  Wayne Leman at Better Bibles Blog separates it, as a word "in the New Testament," from "the word torah [תּוֹרָה] in the Old Testament," although he calls the one "the equivalent" of the other.  The important point in the conversation there so far is the separation of the "Old Testament" from the "New Testament" and the Hebrew word from its Greek counterpart.

Wayne has pointed us to the separation Paul Franklyn has been struggling with.  Franklyn is the Associate Editor for the Common English Bible translation.  Franklyn gives a bit of translation history:

"The first efforts to translate torah occurred in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, which is known as the Septuagint. The Septuagint was the Bible used by the Greek New Testament authors. So the Hebrew word torah was translated as the Greek word nomos, which we render as law in English. Nearly all English translations tried to be consistent and rendered "law" as the meaning of torah across the Old Testament and New Testament."

There is a tremendous point here to notice that gets overlooked by another separation of words.  The point is this:  that the Jews translating their own scriptures used their own Greek to render their own Hebrew.  It's not so clear that they were intent on locking down the meanings of either torah [תּוֹרָה] or nómos [νόμος].  Both words have slippery meanings and wet uses.  Yes, I said "wet," and we might as well say "womanly" too.  But let's come back to that.

What gets overlooked is how multivalent and how polymorphic the words are in their uses and in their meanings.  If we just take the Greek word nómos [νόμος], then we can begin to see the separations and the boxing up and the locking down.  In English, of course, Franklyn has boxed up the word as meaning "law," at least when it comes to the Bible.  Franklyn says the biblical nómos [νόμος] = "law." 

Now, I'm using math symbols because men in the past have used math to claim that nómos [νόμος] = "law."  No one is denying the two facts both (a) that there is such an equivalence and (b) that men have established the equivalence.  Aristotle wrote of nómos [νόμος] in the context of the laws of mathematics.  And his teacher Plato wrote an entire dialogue on Nómoi [Νόμοι], which has come to be called "Laws."  Like his student Aristotle, Plato's project in his writing is to circumscribe the sophistry of the sophists (as he does in his dialogue "Gorgias") and to curtail the poetry of the poets (as he does in his dialogue which we know as "Republic").  Aristotle takes the separation to the Nth degree; he's not content with dialogue or, "dialectic," being able to do the job of boxing up slippery meanings.  (In fact, Aristotle claims that a "rhetorician" such as Plato's Gorgias uses "rhetoric" as a counterpart to "dialectic," which Plato uses.  Sophistry and poetry are nearly as slippery as women's language.  This is all very technical.  But that's Aristotle's point.)  Women's logoi as slippery wet words needs to be separated from the logic of men.

We should be clear to say that neither Leman nor Franklyn have tried to separate women from their blogging.  Neither man is bringing up gender at all.  Nor is either excluding females in any way.  Nonetheless, they have used the Platonic and the Aristotelian methods of separation.  The Aristotelian method is one that classes but then it ranks.  And the rankings, it claims, are just natural.  This sort of method is the very one that classes females as inherently and naturally inferior to males.  We just want to be a little careful in drawing the conclusion of such logic, if we can follow it.

So I just want to suggest that nómos [νόμος] has not always been so boxed, so technical, so legal, so related to the law of nature, to firm "law."  And I also want to suggest that the Hellene of the Jews translating their Hebrew may have been a resistance to the Laws of the Greek empire.  Sylvie Honigman says in her history of the legend of the Septuagint that these particular Jews translated in the Homeric (not in the Alexandrian) paradigm.  Alexander, as we all know, was in the Aristotelian tradition.  Alexander the Great learned from Aristotle before he set up his great Polis called Alexandria Egypt, where the translations into Greek were commissioned.  I'm suggesting that the Jews there used slippery Greek, the kind that is found in the poets, such as Homer, not the legal technical Greek of Aristotle. 

So we might as well hear Homer.  Here's from the Iliad, book 20, lines 248 - 255.  First hear Homer as Richmond Lattimore translates, then as Ian Johnston renders the words. Notice how slippery and how even wet and womanly the conversation between two men here in the Iliad threatens to be. And then listen to, and watch for the Greek (with the Greek word nómos [νόμος] bolded).

The tongue of man is a twisty thing, there are plenty of words there
of every kind, the range of words is wide, and their variance.
The sort of thing you say is the thing that will be said to you.
But what have you and I to do with the need for squabbling
and hurling insults at each other, as if we were two wives
who when they have fallen upon a heart-perishing quarrel
go out in the street and say abusive things to each other,
much true, and much that is not, and it is their rage that drives them.

Men's tongues are glib, with various languages
words can go here and there in all directions,
and the sorts of words one speaks will be

the sorts of words one has to listen to.
But what's the point?  Why should the two of us
be squabbling here and fight by trading insults
back and forth, like two irritated women,
who, in some heart-wrenching raging spat,
go out into the street to scream at each other
with facts and lies, each one gripped by anger.

στρεπτὴ δὲ γλῶσσ' ἐστὶ βροτῶν, πολέες δ' ἔνι μῦθοι
παντοῖοι, ἐπέων δὲ πολὺς νομὸς ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα.
ὁπποῖόν κ' εἴπῃσθα ἔπος, τοῖόν κ' ἐπακούσαις.
ἀλλὰ τίη ἔριδας καὶ νείκεα νῶϊν ἀνάγκη
νεικεῖν ἀλλήλοισιν ἐναντίον ὥς τε γυναῖκας,
αἵ τε χολωσάμεναι ἔριδος πέρι θυμοβόροιο
νεικεῦσ' ἀλλήλῃσι μέσην ἐς ἄγυιαν ἰοῦσαι
πόλλ' ἐτεά τε καὶ οὐκί: χόλος δέ τε καὶ τὰ κελεύει

Now, go back and read Numbers 5 in the Greekish Jewish Old Testament called the Septuagint.  Notice how the word torah [תּוֹרָה] has been rendered nómos [νόμος].  Notice it's associated with women differently than it's associated with men.  Consider all the other uses of the same Greek word in place of the same Hebrew word throughout what is known as the Penta-Teuch, those five boxed up books of Moses.  Consider how the meanings are rather opened up and not so technically shut down.

We wonder then if our English translations need to make all the distinctions, as Aristotle distinguishes males from females and logic from rhetoric and his "original" meaning from Homer's various ones.  Do we need to see "New" distinguished from the "Old" testament, or nómos [νόμος] from torah [תּוֹרָה], if we don't box the words as "teaching" and, separately, as "law"?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Who do you think one must be first: a womanist's question

"Who do you think one must read first in order to understand the Bible?" - this is John F. Hobbin's question at the end of his blogpost in which he gives his answer.  He's said earlier and elsewhere, "My kids at their public high school get a taste of Shakespeare by a teacher who has no love for Shakespeare, who thinks Maya Angelou is better, which is still better than nothing, but NO Milton."  He's quoted one of his teachers, saying, "I don’t think you can understand the Bible unless you’ve read Ovid, Milton, and Blake first."  These men, white men of privilege, are his necessary "triad."

And all of this got me thinking, this morning, as I read the Greek (septuagint) translation of what we call Psalm 8.  It got me thinking of how so much of the reception of the Bible is in terms of men, and of men of majority race, and of men of majority race and class.

When I was writing it, the person on my dissertation committee who is an expert on Greek language and who is also a scholar on Mediterranean household codes written in Greek is also a person who has often pointed out something strange about the bible.  (She's a feminist but would acknowledge is not a womanist.  Her name is Carolyn Osiek).  The strange thing she's pointed out is this:  the New Testament, written in Greek around the Mediterranean, has household codes that regulate women and slaves, as if women are not slaves and slaves are not women, and as if the two disparaged groups need separate instructions.  So there's biblical silence on the rights and responsibilities or (shall we call them what they are?) the expectations of a person who is (1) a female and is of (2) a lower class of (3) a darker skin color and is, therefore also, a slave.

Now, that's a triad.

How would she read Κύριε ὁ κύριος ἡμῶν  / Kurie ho kurios hemon/?  "Master, that master of ours"

How could she read ἐκ στόματος νηπίων καὶ θηλαζόντων κατηρτίσω αἶνον /ek sotmatos nepion kai thelazonton katertiso ainon/?  "out of the mouth of babes and those nursing their mothers is praise" for You

How should she read

τί ἐστιν ἄνθρωπος, ὅτι μιμνῄσκῃ αὐτοῦ,
ἢ υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου, ὅτι ἐπισκέπτῃ αὐτόν;

/ti estin anthropos, hoti mimneske autou,
h hios anthropou, hoti episkepte auton/

"what is a mortal, that it's remembered by You,
or a Son of a human, that You visit Him?" ?

These are questions, her questions.  They sound from outside, sound like Gayl Jones.  She's not even a feminist, perhaps.  She writes re-membering.  She is visited, but it's like a haunting.  She writes, remembering Corregidora.  If you're Milton and not Maya Angelou, then there's nothing to explainThe apostle Paul read Psalm 8 in the Greek once, and he didn't have to give any explanation for it.  Womanists (not sons, not white, not of a high class or race or gender) must answer, or must they?

My question is "Who do you think one must be first in order to understand the Bible?" 

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Who Says Homosexuality is a Sin?

This is a question Joel Hoffman has asked.  And the answer is:  "The NLT does, right there in its 'translation' to Leviticus 18:22."

"Do not practice homosexuality; it is a detestable sin."

Hoffman goes on to say "that’s not what the Hebrew says" and explains how "what the NLT has here is an interpretation, not a translation."

I think how translator Robert Alter translates and how he explains is also useful:

With a male you shall not lie as one lies with a woman. It is an abhorrence.
The explicitness of this law–the Hebrew for ‘as one lies’ is the plural construct noun mishkevei, ‘bedding,’ used exclusively for sexual intercourse–suggests that it is a ban on intercourse and intercrural intercourse (the latter often practiced by the Greeks). Other forms of homosexual activity do not seem of urgent concern. The evident rationale for the prohibition is the wasting of seed in what the law appears to envisage as a kind of grotesque parody of heterosexual intercourse [i.e., for procreation primarily?]. (Lesbianism, which surely must have been known in the ancient Near East, is nowhere mentioned, perhaps because of no wasting of seed is involved, though the reason for the omission remains unclear). There is scant textual evidence to support the apologetic claim of some recent interpreters that the ban on homosexual congress is limited to the preceding list of incestuous unions. One may apply here the proposal of Mary Douglas that this is a culture that likes to keep lines of categorical distinction clear: no human-beast couplings are allowed (in contrast to the imaginative freedom on this topic of Greek myth), and any simulation of procreative heterosexual intercourse by the insertion of the male member in an orifice or fleshy crevice of another male is abhorrent.
Now, here's the Hebrew (at least it's the MT).  And then with all that Greek talk, we might compare the Greek (remembering how Aristotle, or at least a pseudo-sound-alike Aristotle used the word βδελυροὶ to express his disgust when discussing the shapes of women's body parts when they are unshapely and when they compare by his objective standard, sometimes, to κίναιδοι, or "catamites"):

וְאֶת־זָכָר לֹא תִשְׁכַּב מִשְׁכְּבֵי אִשָּׁה תֹּועֵבָה הִוא׃

καὶ μετὰ ἄρσενος οὐ κοιμηθήσῃ κοίτην γυναικός βδέλυγμα γάρ ἐστιν

Is Alter's translation a myopic one?  Is the Greek translation, if it's a translation, a myopic one?  Isn't the NLT something else altogether (committing what Alter calls the "heresy of explanation" as if the explanation is a good one)? 

I'm out of time for now, but as always am interested in what you see and how you feel about these sorts of things.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Of women and -μένη

J. R. Daniel Kirk at Storied Theology posts on what "ἐνεργουμένη means" and how theology of the translators motivates their renderings.  This has led to a number of other posts many of which Peter Kirk links to over at BBB here, where several still "are looking in particular at the Greek verb, actually a participle, energoumene, a present participle, feminine singular nominative, of the middle or passive voice of the verb energeo."  The word seems odd, a neologism perhaps, because in our extant Greek texts it only appears twice used once a piece by two different authors.  Where would they get this form from, and why?

Well, quite unrelated (probably) is the "present participle, feminine singular nominative, of the middle or passive voice of" two other Greek verbs I found.  Each has the suffix -μένη.

I don't really have time to say much of what I think about this, but I'd certainly welcome any comments.  The main thing to note, of course, is the wordplay here.

The Greek is a playful translating of Hebrew.  And the Hebrew seems full of wordplay (if the Masoretic text is what was being translated).  So here it is.  Please tell me what you see, and I promise as time allows to come back to talk with you and to make of it anything else we might see together.

Leviticus 21:7 and 21:14 (ΛΕΥΕΙΤΟΚΟΝ / ויקרא)

γυναῖκα πόρνην καὶ βεβηλωμένην οὐ λήμψονται καὶ γυναῖκα ἐκβεβλημένην ἀπὸ ἀνδρὸς αὐτῆς ἅγιός ἐστιν τῷ κυρίῳ θεῷ αὐτοῦ

χήραν δὲ καὶ ἐκβεβλημένην καὶ βεβηλωμένην καὶ πόρνην ταύτας οὐ λήμψεται ἀλλ᾽ ἢ παρθένον ἐκ τοῦ γένους αὐτοῦ λήμψεται γυναῖκα

אִשָּׁה זֹנָה וַחֲלָלָה לֹא יִקָּחוּ וְאִשָּׁה גְּרוּשָׁה מֵאִישָׁהּ לֹא יִקָּחוּ כִּֽי־קָדֹשׁ הוּא לֵאלֹהָֽיו׃

אַלְמָנָה וּגְרוּשָׁה וַחֲלָלָה זֹנָה אֶת־אֵלֶּה לֹא יִקָּח כִּי אִם־בְּתוּלָה מֵעַמָּיו יִקַּח אִשָּֽׁה׃

Here's Lancelot Brenton's solo translation of the Greek into English followed by Julia E. Smith's solo translation of the Hebrew into English (both completed in the nineteenth century):

They shall not take a woman who is a harlot and profaned, or a woman put away from her husband; for he is holy to the Lord his God.

But a widow, or one that is put away, or profaned, or a harlot, these he shall not take; but he shall take for a wife a virgin of his own people.

They shall not take a woman, harlot, or profane; and they shall not take a wife driven away from her husband, for he is holy to his God.

A widow, and the driven away, and profane, and an harlot, these he shall not take: but a virgin of his people shall he take a wife.

Why these translations?  What motivates the Hebrew, the Hellene translation?  How do they mirror one another, and in what way do they play with interpretation and with performance and with playfulness in different ways?


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Pentateuch as translation

What's the Pentateuch? Transliteration (i.e., the foreign language spelling of the sounds of the original word) robs us of some of the wordplay, the gendered qualities of the word. It's the Hellene (or Greek) translation of the Hebrew חומש - which somebody's entry in the Encyclopedia of Judaism explains as "the ḥumash (from the root ḥ-m-sh, meaning 'five')." The reference is to the first five "books" of the Bible, aka "the five books of Moses." When the Jews in Alexandria Egypt translated these books, then they also translated the Hebrew word as Πεντάτευχος [Pentáteuchos], which is the phrase "πεντά τευχος." Πεντά is Hellene for "five." So what is the Hellene τευχος? Is it "books"?

In much of Greek literature, τευχος refers to "vessels" or "pitchers" or "containers." And most of the time, these vessels are related to women. An interesting word choice for translation, don't you think? Why not "Πεντάβιβλία [Pentabiblía]" (or literally "five books") for the Hebrew חומש referring to the "five books"?

Here's a couple of the Greek phrases (and English translations by a couple of translators):
I have heard that the maidens opened the vessel of the goddess.
ἤκουσα λῦσαι παρθένους τεῦχος θεᾶς

For no other woman, Hellene or barbarian,
gives birth to a white vessel of chicks,
in which they say Leda bore me to Zeus.
γυνὴ γὰρ οὔθ’ Ἑλληνὶς οὔτε βάρβαρος
τεῦχος νεοσσῶν λευκὸν ἐκλοχεύεται,
ἐν ᾧ με Λήδαν φασὶν ἐκ Διὸς τεκεῖν
Both the passages are from Euripides' plays. The first has Ion speaking in "Ion," and the second has Helen speaking in the play "Helen."

Of course, the Hellene word means other things not always related to women.  And yet, the discussion around and after Suzanne's post Temple Vessels has me thinking about "women" and "vessels" and Jewish men's Greek word choices for them.