Thursday, April 21, 2011

Unholy and Hallowed Whore Words: Part II

You may have seen my post entitled, "Unholy and Hallowed Whore Words: Part I" and wondered -- with all the Greek and English horse words and whore words and slave and Master allusions but no religious references -- what Unholiness and Hallowedness may have had to do with it.  

In Part II, here, let's get to that.  But let's go back to the Greek.  Then we'll get to the unHoly and Hallowed.

THE GREEK

I learned something reading a comment by Theophrastus at BBB.  He said:
“hallowed” [the English word for the Greek] (ἁγιάζω) does not mean “honored.” It means “separated.” 
Well, that's not exactly what I learned from Theophrastus.  What I learned is this:
(The Hebrew word, קדשׁת is the same root as קדשׁה — which means prostitute — see Genesis 38:21 — the point being that cult prostitute is “separated”, not that she is “honored”).
(So let me make a couple of parenthetical comments of my own here.  First, I've studied an awful lot of Greek but far too little Hebrew.  So I'm quite familiar with the connections between and associations around “hallowed” (ἁγιάζω), as “separated.”  And, in fact, in my own comments at that thread where Theophrastus made his comment, I was suggesting these are words with Jewish and religious connotations, but Hebraic words for translation, Hellene and English translations of something Jesus said in a poetic prayer.  However, I've only taken one graduate level course in Hebrew and have since mainly been reading Hebrew as Greek and as English mirror the language.  So somehow, I missed what Theophrastus was pointing out:  the root of קדשׁת as קדשׁה.  I missed this even though I've read through the translations of Genesis from Hebrew -- sometimes Greek -- into English.  By the way, two of the best translators of Genesis ever are Everett Fox and Robert AlterSecond, the way most of us learn, I think, is by connections and associations.  Translation, when done well, mirrors this process.  And it works, when done well, as appositives work in our English language.  You know.  If we want to say what something is [metaphorically or even syllogistically] or what something's kind of like [with a simile], then we can't shortcut these more direct processes but just smashing one noun right up to another [without even using an adjective].  It's one thing, for example, for me to say precisely, "Bdelycleon is an elite Aristocrat in Athens."  And it's quite another thing to leave things rather undefined when saying, "Xanthias, a slave."  When jammed together, the phrases "Xanthias" and "a slave" change with respect to one another, because they're now associated and cross-fertilizing meanings, but they also are still what they were before the jamming together.  When we move now to Hebrew, I'm going to suggest this sort of appositive stuff might be important.)

When playwright Aristophanes used the Greek word πόρνη [pórnē] in his plays, the word for him and his audiences always referred to "whore."  And we all know that it's a word with the same root as the word we use to refer to pornography, or porn for short.  But for the play audiences of Aristophanes, we might want to know, the word was rare, was un-common.  Yes, it's true.  The word's only used twice in The Wasps and just once in The Acharnians.  And the related form πόρνα is only used eight times in six different plays.  And, for all of the un-lost plays of his, that's it.  And none of his contemporaries used the word much either.  Lysias, the logographer, the speechwriter, used it but one time in his many many speeches.  The point is, the word πορνη wasn't in anybody's dictionaries.  Today, some Greek etymologist speculate it could be related to the more common Greek word for "selling" (πέρνημι) since these women were sold by men to other men for sex.  But we just don't know for sure.  It was just something uncommon jammed up against other more common words.  For example, in The Wasps, the Aristocrat Bdelycleon promises to take care of his father Philocleon, and he says:  "I will feed him, I will give him everything that is suitable for an old man; oatmeal gruel, a cloak, soft furs, and a wench (πόρνη [pórnē]) to rub his tool and his loins."  Here, Eugene O'Neill is translating the word "wench."  πόρνη [pórnē], wench, whore.  The word just caught on.   It was a rare word, but men didn't have to be educated to learn it.  

THE unHOLY AND HALLOWED

An equally rare word is the one Theophrastus pointed out.  "The Hebrew word, קדשׁת is the same root as קדשׁה — which means prostitute — see Genesis 38:21 — the point being that cult prostitute is 'separated'...."

Now, this word is so un-common, so rare, that in the whole of Genesis, it's only mentioned in 38:21 and 38:22.  In the whole of the Torah, it's only mentioned again once, in Deuteronomy 23:17.  And elsewhere, it's only used again in Hosea 4:14.  So, if there were no dictionaries, how did the original readers of ancient days, read and understand?  And how do the current etymologists and scholars and lexicographers and rabbis and preachers know?  Is it kind of like Matthew's readers knowing what ἁγιασθήτω meant when no one ever before had used such a special and specialized form of this Greek word before (and without even pronouncing the name of G-d)?  Is it sort of like readers of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows getting what Hallows means?  Well, yes.  And, yes.

So how did I miss this?

Well, maybe it's the fault of translators who feel like they need me to have my own Bible in my own language and not in such a foreign and strange tongue as, well, as rare Hebrew.  The Greek Septuagint uses Aristophanes's once-rare Greek word, πόρνη [pórnē].  The "Bible in Basic English" gives the word to me as "the loose woman."  Young's "literal" Bible gives it to me as "the separated one."  Other translations make it "the harlot."  Most have "the prostitute," and many of those have some adjective like, "temple" or "shrine" or "cult" prostitute.

Fortunately, in contrast to all of the above, two of the best translators, ever, see fit to hyphenate the word.  They bring it across in English as one-word, as punctuated-apposition.  (Maybe I should have read their footnotes and their translations more carefully.)  Everett Fox has the Hebrew word as "that holy-prostitute." Robert Alter has it as "the cult-harlot."  The ambiguity is so very important.  The word can go one way, or the other, and in this case both ways at once.

So let's hear a bit more from the good translators, in some of their footnotes on this word.  Fox has:
prostitute:  Heb.  kedesha, which in cognate languages may indicate a "holy" official, here seems to describe a woman who is similarly outside the usual constraints of family.
 Alter, at Deuteronomy 23:18 has:
cult-harlot . . . cult-catamite.  The precise meaning of these two terms, qedeshah and qadesh, is diputed.  There is no clear-cut evidence that ritual prostitution was practiced in the ancient Near East, though it remains an undeniable possibility....  Exceptionally, the female qedeshah is presented here before the male qadesh suggesting she was the more familiar type.  The story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38 makes it clear that qedeshah was some sort of more refined or dignified designation for a prostitute:  Judah takes Tamar for a "whore" (zonah); Hirah his emissary then refers to her more decorously as a qedeshah.  Since the root means "sacred," it is a reasonable inference that the qedeshah was either a woman who prostituted herself as part of the cult (in this case, a fertility cult) or a prostitute working near the site of a santuary who devoted part of her professional income to the sanctuary.  Since the pilgrim obligation to participate in the temple service was laid upon the males, the qadesh would in all likelihood have been a homosexual prostitute, as the translation "cult-catamite" is meant to indicate.
So, knowing what we don't know and the little bit we do know, then how would we like to read a Bible that tells us we're reading about Tamar, as "the loose woman" or as "the separated one" or as "the shrine prostitute"?

A better question is how would we like a translator like Everett Fox and Robert Alter to translate Hosea 4:14?  They haven't yet.  So why don't we in the mean time?  Here's the MT and then a Fox-and-Alter-like modifying of the Jewish Publication Society's translation:
א־אפקוד על־בנותיכם כי תזנינה ועל־כלותיכם כי תנאפנה כי־הם עם־הזנות יפרדו ועם־הקדשות יזבחו ועם לא־יבין ילבט׃ 
I will not punish your daughters when they commit harlotry, nor your daughters-in-law when they commit adultery; for they themselves consort in un-holiness with lewd women, and they sacrifice with the hallowed-harlots; and the people that is without understanding is distraught.
As we look at the various ways men have used women, and have used language to use women, it's somewhat curious how the language, as if it were un-holy, is sometimes so hallowed.

2 comments:

Jay said...

Act 15:20 but to write to them to abstain from the pollutions of the idols, and the whoredom, and the strangled thing; and the blood;


Leviticus 17:7 and they sacrifice not any more their sacrifices to goats after which they are going a-whoring; a statute age-during is this to them, to their generations.

Do you have any thoughts about what the porneia issue in Acts 15 is pointing at. a. temple prostitution b. whoring after idols/foreign gods c. incestuous/unlawful marriages

Wondering what word here in the meeting in Jerusalem (Acts 15)the Hebrew/Aramaic speakers are using that is translated porneia. qadesh.. zanut ??

J. K. Gayle said...

Yes, Jay. Great questions about the possible relationships of the words porneia and whore in various biblical context. Soon, I'll add a couple of pennies of thought.