Monday, March 16, 2009

Listening to Moses in the Desert? Why? How? Who?

Beneath the sheets of paper lies my truth
. . . and the bible didn't mention us, not even once.
--Regina Spektor's "Samson [and Delilah]"

I knew all the stories
and I learned to talk about
You were mighty to save

Those were only empty words on a page
--Jenny Simmons' "What Do I Know of Holy"

So we want to understand what Moses said to men to say to their wives? We want to get a handle on the words of God, to him, to them? Now why would you or I want that?

Some today believe the words are meant for them; yes, the Hebrew words. Yes, the words rendered, translated in a book, as an inspired bible, the God-breathed Bible. Others read the words as male dominance of women then and there (if not also a perpetual force here and now).

There are lots of readings in between:
>"If God said it, then how can I question it if it were sexist!";
>"Since I'm a cultural and linguistic relativist, and since
Tvi Abusch has researched 'a number of cultures' using prescribed ordeals in which women inflict abuse on the poor men, then who am I to judge Moses?";
>"The whole thing's a fable, so who cares?";
>"Might be history, but it's not mine, so who cares?";
>"Water torture of those not yet proven guilty? Sounds like the Bush administration so it stinks";
>"It's the old covenant - read Jesus or Paul or
Emerson Eggerichs instead";
>"It's the error of the infidel - read the Quran's Surah 24 of the holy Prophet of Allah instead";
>"Did somebody say 'chocolate'? - if housewives are fooled by such 'sweet' womanizers, then shame on them!"

If you've come around this blog of mine before, you know I'm interested in Aristotle's persistent influences on us. It's a curious thing, of course, to bring Aristotle into a discussion about Numbers 5 (
or a segment of the fourth book [ בַּמִּדְבָּר, Bamidbar] of the Torah). Or is it?

What I'm doing in this post is pausing a bit. Responding to some of the comments of the previous post. Giving everyone time to look over the Hellene translation of the Hebrew linked to there.

Finding myself excited that Robert Alter would ask, "From what do you translate the Bible? . . . . from what language? . . . . from what text? . . . . The oldest of . . . translations, the Greek, or Septuagint, done in Alexandria in the third century B.C.E., is the one that scholars have drawn on most heavily for solutions to puzzles in the Masoretic Text. . . . And the fact remains that the Greeks were translators, obliged as translators to clarify obscure points, resolve contradictions, and otherwise make the Hebrew text with which they labored intelligible to their Greek readers."

Reminding myself that these are Alter's notes "To The Reader" [of English] on "The Text" [in Hebrew and in Greek] of "I and 2 Samuel," which he translates beautifully and comments on intelligently.

Thinking about what Aristotle taught Greek men only, that flowed into the alert mind of and the mighty army of Alexander the Great. Considering how Sylvie Honigman at Tel Aviv University says it's not the "Alexandrian paradigm" or the "Exodus paradigm" but the "Homeric paradigm" that most informs the history of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Torah.

Wondering if the Homeric paradigm isn't what Krista Ratcliffe has recovered in theorizing "rhetorical listening" by listening rhetorically to an afrafeminist or two. Noticing the reductive difference Aristotle makes in certain words that Homer and the Hebrew-to-Greek translators of Numbers 5 use.

Therefore: what if we, any of us, were to listen to Moses speaking in the desert? Could we hear (as Alter does in his translation of The Five Books of Moses) how "The woman is rhetorically buttonholed" in this text? Might we have eyes to see and ears to hear (as Julia E. Smith does in her translation of Numbers V, a literal translating, as if a writing of the woman's body)?
18 And the priest made the woman stand before Jehovah, and uncovered the head of the woman, and gave upon her hands the gift of remembrance, this is the gift of jealousy: and in the hand of the priest shall be to him the waters of contradiction, causing the curse.

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