Tuesday, February 2, 2010

focus on the family: Africana history, Gender, Bible Translation


Adam is . . . [t]he first man that was what.
Not the first man.  They say nobody so crazy they think
they can say who was the first man.  But every body notice
the first white man cause he was white.
 ([Alice] Walker [The Color Purple] 1982: [page] 139)

The narrative of the creation of the world find its climactic moment in the creation of human beings.  The term occasionally translated "human beings" in the NRSV and generally as "man" in most other English version is 'adam or ha'adam.  Now this clearly is not a personal name (that is, Adam) as the KJV ill-advisedly begins to indicate at about Gen. 2:10.  A better translation of this term, however, would be 'the earthling" since the term is derived from the term 'adama, meaning "land" or "earth."  Such a translation clarifies better than "man" or even "human being" that the original intent of the author is to emphasize that God made "earthlings" as a whole, not just males, in God's image.  As such, a better translation of verses 27-28 would be:
     And God created the earthling in God's image, in the image of God God created it, male and female God created them.
     And God blessed them and God said to them, "(y'all) be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and exercise dominion over the fish of the sea and the foul of the heavens and over all the living beings that teem upon the earth."
Such a translation takes into consecration that the term 'adam is meant to function as a collective term referring to both the male and the female.  Thus, we should note that 'adam is here not a name or an ascription of gender but a collective term for "earthlings" in general; this is emphasized by the author's choice of the plural pronoun 'otham, and the use of the plural verbs geyirddu and urdu, meaning in 1:26 and 1:28 "let them have dominion," further reiterates the inclusive nature of the term 'adam.  In the Creation account in Genesis 1:1--2:4a, both genders are vested with authority as stewards over the earth and all that is in it.  It is in this way that the family begins, with this functional procreative unit:  two beings reflecting God's glory in human form and united in common cause.
     This is an important theme because Africana families continue to struggle with the dysfunction of androcentrism and misogyny.  If we are to overcome this tendency, we have to acknowledge that Creation offers no biblical precedent to the notion that we are created qualitatively differently as males and females; in Genesis 1 and 2, both genders were created with equal authority over the earth, and equal value as human beings.  Herein is the basis of a functional union from which the human family arises in all of its forms.

above, the section in the chapter "Genesis," by Rodney S. Sadler, Jr., in The Africana Bible: Reading Israel's Scriptures from Africa and the African Diaspora

HT David Ker, (again, See:  more translating Phillis Wheatley)


David Ker said...

I'm tracking with earthling and co-regency. In fact I think the second Adam opens the way for us to return to the Garden pre-Fall where work becomes a holy vocation, companionship marks marriage, and giving birth is painless!

goddidntsaythat said...

A better translation of this term, however, would be "the earthling" since the term is derived from the term adama, meaning "land" or "earth."

I have two problems with translating adam as "earthling."

The first concerns the methodology here. Even if adam is derived from adama, etymology doesn't indicate what a word means. Secondly --- at least for me --- "earthling" in English is not just an inhabitant of the Earth but specifically not an extra-terrestrial, and I don't think that that was the point of the Hebrew at all.


J. K. Gayle said...

If Paul had written in Hebrew (or had spoken it or even Hebrew Aramaic), then what would second "adam" be, David? I understand you're making another point about the man, Jesus Christ. But in saying Jesus is "second," what/ who (specifically) is Paul acknowledging as first? Adam, the male human or the earth-grown beings that God made in his image?

Joel, What exactly does indicate what adam can mean? Do you think Sadler is excessively playing with the words or is reading too much into Hebrew wordplay? (I think Sadler's "earthling" does have the problem you note; but are English words with "earth" in them - for translation - somehow a fair acknowledgment of the pairing of Hebrew terms? How do you like Robert Alter's pairing of "human, humas"? Or do you think Everett Fox's "humankind" is even better? Or do you like the proper noun, "Adam" at a particular point in Genesis?)

Thanks to you both for your comments.

Chiron Cane said...

The misogyny inherent in patriarchal monotheism is not about the nuances of words so much as the total exclusion of women from the Sacred.

Why focus on the gender issues which relate to humankind when the language used to refer to the G-d of the monotheistic scriptures is almost exclusively male and women are banned from the priesthood?

There are, of course, may issues involved in the way in which the scriptures have been translated but if we are dealing with institutionalised misogyny then IMHO the linguistic elements seem to pale into comparative insignificance.

As is evident from the writings of Aristotle, patriarchal prejudice does not need to be grounded in an intolerant monotheism but when it is then the combination can be spiritually lethal.

J. K. Gayle said...

You bring up some excellent points and questions. You are on to something, I think, by saying "the combination [of patriarchal prejudice and intolerant monotheism] can be spiritually lethal."

I'm also glad you bring up the writings of Aristotle. If his logic (i.e., syllogistic epistemology) is mainly propositional, then "linguistic elements" are not insignificant in the least. A name is propositional, according to Aristotle. The ostensible "naming" by "Adam" and the very name of "adam" beg the question of whether the there's something linguistic -- the purported nature if not nuance of word -- that play into (i.e., contribute to the cause of) "the total exclusion of women from the Sacred." The Hebrew Creator God uses speech acts (like naming) in the Creation (i.e., to cause). Likewise, 'adam made in God's image is given the task to name. The patriarchy (and its monotheisms -- in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity) name propositionally. The name of God contains Him. In fact, it can be so Sacred, that to pronounce it is to pollute Him. And to translate is to pronounce, if you will.

So, linguistically speaking (if you'll pardon the redundancy), there are other ways of naming. Is Moses's writing of the unnamed daughter of Pharaoh who named him propositional? The name "Moses" is, at first, Egyptian and womanly and perhaps as pluralistic as the polytheism around the Nile from which the baby is pulled. Moses may be propositional as he writes his account. But the speech act of his surrogate mother is a(p)positional. She has no position (i.e., is a-positional) with respect to the Hebrew nation. And yet, she puts an Egyptian word beside a Hebrew boy, who will pull his people out of her father's kingdom; and he writes what she says, translating it into his other mother tongue (i.e., out of Egyptian into Hebrew). Even if he's merely transliterating her sounds (in his name Mosheh aka "Moses" [משה]), he also plays off the Hebrew verb that he writes her as speaking (משה).

Likewise, Hagar the Egyptian maid of Sarah and Abraham names God appositively (according to the first book of Moses, Genesis 16.13): (יְהוָה הַדֹּבֵר). The one (the One) cannot or should not be pronounced; the other of course is a God who interacts linguistically with a lowly foreign woman, who names this god in her own speech act describing his.

So, I've gone on too much. Have said more on this at another blog. But I do think that, beyond propositional language, there is language that is translational. And this language defies the patriarchy of any atheism, pantheism, polytheism, or monotheism.