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?" 


  1. Ha ha - what one must 'be' first. That's a good refinement of a rather culturally narrow question with an even narrower cultural answer from a man who likely knows better.

    One must 'be'. Dat's all, folks. Best of course to hear first and then read. You may have seen my already posted meanderings this morning here.

  2. Thanks for the laughs, Bob. Somethings "are" funny, aren't they? I did see your related post at your blog, your "Good Argument for Wider Reading", and here I do like your emphasis on "hearing."


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