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.

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