Monday, July 25, 2011

Sexing Mortals as Women: a reply

Joel Hoffman has kindly taken time to comment here, to summarize and to set the record straight on his argument about the sex of the referents of the old Greek word, "anthropos."  This post is my reply.
Maybe it's just the sweltering heat that's gripping the country, but this strikes me as a disagreement in search of an opponent.
It really may be, Joel, that there are various causes for our conversation and, as you imply, for my own perspectives (such as the "the sweltering heat that's gripping the country").  However, please know that my first disagreement is with how you frame the discussion.  As Suzanne commented to you, "There is a lot of misunderstanding about these [Greek and English] words."  And, as Kristen pointed out very early, it's "through the lenses of their interpretation" that many will restrict how they view women vs. men in texts, whether the Bible in translation or the Declaration of Independence in the original.

Is anybody here really in search of an adversary? 

See how your comment frames our discussion now.  I don't want to misunderstand or mis-characterize what has been said.  I'm quoting you directly again and linking back to the threaded dialogue where you made your long comment.  Please know I'm not trying to diminish your view!  So it's worth repeating that I don't want to misunderstand or mis-characterize what has been said.  Yes, the point of issue for you is your position.  Perhaps I can reply with some fairness and with much due respect.   Your point of issue (i.e. what your position is) may be, ironically, precisely the point of my previous post:  we men are often so intent on our position that what we overlook is our privilege in it to the excluded point of view or, more to Kristen's point, to the excluded domains (i.e., "functional equality") of women.  Right, you're not wanting to take the conversation to that level.  You're interested in how right, and how rightly understood objectively, your own position must be. 

My position --- and I'm pretty sure I'm right --- has always been that anthropos in Greek is not the exact equivalent of "person" or of "man" in English. In my post from which you selectively quote, I write, "...anthropos in its various forms and contexts means different things, [and] I think we can usually know when it is gender specific and when it is not."
Is there an opponent to this position of yours?   Of course, everybody knows that, at the structuralist level of the word, there are no exact equivalents between languages.  And variant forms and different contexts in an untranslated text yield different meanings, even different and determinable and specific gendered meanings.  We will get to the examples you provide in your comment soon.

I'd like to say that, before we start talking about intra-translation or inter-translation equivalents ("exact" or otherwise), let's talk some about English alone.  Or about a word in any one language untranslated.  The question I was trying to raise is how Thomas Jefferson's "all men" in English could ever rightly be read as "all men and women."  We could flip the question around to talk about how Aristotle's use of a word can split women from men, can exclude the former from the privilege of the latter.  Anne Carson has noticed:
The celebrated Greek virtue of self-control (sophrosyne [σωφροσύνη]) has to be defined differently for men and for women, Aristotle maintains. Masculine sophrosyne is rational self-control and resistance to excess, but for the woman sophrosyne means obedience and consists in submitting herself to the control of others.  [See Aristotle's clear description of this defined division of his, in his Politics, Book I, 1260a]
Notice, then, that whether in English only or in Greek only, with words, different readers can use them to exclude or to include.  And we men tend to use the words we exclude by with privilege.

I may be getting a little ahead of myself.  And certainly I don't want to run ahead of what you've said too much.  Let me just say that I noticed how you didn't answer Mike Aubrey (on September 16, 2009) when he asked you:
Joel, what’s the difference between “human” and “person,” semantically speaking?
Several of us, I'm guessing, were wondering about that.  I'm glad you've brought up your distinctions between "human" and "man" neither of which can, for you, "mean ... person."  Further below, I'll reply to your reassertion of this difference you subscribe to again here.  However, I wanted to touch on it briefly now because I'm trying to make a point about untranslated words.  In your mind, by your own general uses of English, you generalize that some words "cannot mean" what others do.  And without getting into the differences (i.e., Mike's question) just yet, I do want to observe how Thomas Jefferson, in the short context of the Declaration of Independence, seems to equate "human" and "people" and "mankind" with "all men."  Granted, these are not exact equivalents.  But the point I was trying to make in my blogpost is this:  that the male privilege Jefferson enjoys as he pens these words excludes women.  His "all men" refers to men, not to women.  Furthermore, hence, and consequently, his readers (i.e., the King of England and the signers of the document in the colonies, all males we might remember) all read "human" and "people" and "mankind" as functionally male.  This is some Kristen's excellent observation too, as she brings forward the male readers' reading into our 21st century.  Just to be clear:  if we pressed Jefferson, he would insist that "human" and "people" and "mankind" are his words inclusive of women, ontologically speaking.  And yet, he made clear that good women, American women, are to stay home cooking and using their knitting needles.  In other words, they are a different kind of human and people and mankind than are all men.

But let's continue with your examples from the Greek of the Bible:

In Matthew 19:10, for example, I think we all agree that it would be a mistake to translate aitia tou anthropou meta tis gunaikos as "the case of a person with his wife." Far better is "the case of a man with his wife" or maybe "...husband with his wife." Similarly, in I Corinthians 7:1 the point of kalos anthropo guniakos mi aptesthai (for better or worse --- I suppose it's not my place to say) is what a man shouldn't do with a woman, not what a person shouldn't do.

And I think we also all agree that in John 4:28, for example, i guni ... kai legei tois anthropois means "the woman ... told the people," not just the men.
My much more limited point in the same post was that in the LXX and NT when anthropos is singular and specific, it refers to a man:

In other words, anything of the sort "an anthropos was..." refers to a man. If the person is a women, we instead find the word gune. (My search is limited to the OT LXX and the NT, so there may be examples I don't know about. What we're looking for is something like "I saw an anthropos and she said...")

I still believe that's true.
Joel, I hope you won't think I'm trying to talk you out of your beliefs.  Instead, given that you've well established what you believe is true, I'd like to discuss some alternative possibilities.

Let's start with Matthew 19.   First, starting where you want us to end, I'd agree that "...husband with his wife" is the rough meaning of what Matthew is translating what the disciples of Jesus are saying.  We don't have precisely or exactly what these disciples said.  We only have Matthew's Greek translation of what they said.  Matthew's translation is this:

"τοῦ ἀνθρώπου μετὰ τῆς γυναικός [tou anthropou meta tes gunaikos]"

The disciples mean "husband" or "man."  Matthew uses "ἀνθρώπου [anthropou]" to render that.

The big question is why doesn't Matthew use the less ambiguous term "ἀνήρ [aner]" or its variant "ἀνδρός [andros]" for "husband" or "man"?   This is much more likely what the disciples meant, given the context of what they said.

Well, a likely answer is that Matthew is also quoting Jesus.  He's translating what Jesus had said.  And, while doing that, he's quoting the LXX.  That is, Matthew is literally quoting the Greek translation of Hebrew.  We have no precise statement in the text exactly what Jesus's words were as he actually spoke them.

Before we read again what Jesus said, according to Matthew's Greek, let's remember something.  Matthew has not used unambiguous Greek to quote the disciples of Jesus.  In fact, he's paired anthropos with gunaikos but not andros with gunaikos.   Nothing should have prevented Matthew from making very, very clear that he's tightly quoting the disciples as saying, ""husband with his wife," as you translate it loosely.  So why not help the readers understand exactly, without much ambiguity, what the disciples meant precisely.  Why anthropos?  And why does Matthew quote the LXX, although Jesus himself might have been speaking Hebrew, quoting the original text of the Bible?

The bit that Matthew quotes from the LXX is telling.  This bit has anthropos!  This bit has this word with rich ambiguity.  This bit is from Genesis, of course.  This bit is from both creation accounts of Genesis:  first from Gen. 1:27 reiterated also in Gen. 5:2, then from Gen. 2:24.   Although the Septuagint translators are using Greek and are translating Hebrew words on the design of marriage, in the beginning, the translators use "ἀνθρώπου [anthropou]";  they do NOT use the clearer words for "husband"; they do not use "ἀνήρ [aner]" or its variant "ἀνδρός [andros]."

Why anthropos?   Again, we will do well to remember that the LXX translators are translating.  This is exactly what Matthew is doing for the disciples of Jesus.  But they are not using a very precise word.  As you've already confessed, in various contexts, anthropos is not male only.  So, why anthropos?  Why not be clearer?

Could the answer be that the LXX translators know how Aristotle wrote Greek?  Perhaps they knew that he taught his disciples to avoid ambiguities?  As likely, or more likely, the LXX translators knew Aristotle's Politics, in which he refers disparagingly to human ambiguities and subjectivities on their "kind," their "class," their "social categories."  At line 36 of Bekker page 1255a, one can find Aristotle quoting the woman Helen:  "But who would dare to call me menial, The scion of a twofold stock divine?"  (This is H. Rackham's translation.)

Now, females, for Aristotle, are botched males.  And even if Helen is part divine, ambiguously so, then she's still botched; she's of a mixed breed.  Aristotle's reaction to this ambiguity in this woman is clear.  His reaction is to her suggestion that no one should call her menial is to complain that Nature will produce what it will.  He complains that people who boast about the best part of their lineage are not looking at the facts, and are not objectively observing nature, and are merely saying, "ἐξ ἀνθρώπου ἄνθρωπον [ex anthropou anthropon]."  The context, I think you 'd agree, allows for the fact that Aristotle is reading and is writing anthropos here as ambiguously inclusive of males and females, especially Helen.

Generally, the Greek lore for the beginnings of women, as anthropoi, goes way back.  And Helen is often quite frequently in the mix.  This is not lost on the LXX translators.  They are aware of the ambiguities, and they flaunt them.  What are they aware of?

Probably, the LXX translators know Sappho.  Aristotle does.  Plato does.  Socrates does.  Alexandria, where the legend has the translators, does.   Likely, the translators know her Hymn to Aphrodite III, 1 and 2.  Some of it goes like this:

πά]γχυ δ᾽ εὔμαρες σύνετον πόησαι
πά]ντι τ[οῦ]τ᾽. ἀ γὰρ πόλυ περσκόπεισα
κά]λλος ἀνθρώπων Ἐλένα [τὸ]ν ἄνδρα
[κρίννεν ἄρ]ιστον,

Here one hears of, and now only reads of, Helen as an anthropos with an andra.  That is, she's a person, a human, a mortal (not the immortal goddess Aphrodite).  And Helen is a mortal human with a man, with a husband.  To illustrate, here's how Jane McIntosh Snyder translates these lyrics:

It is completely easy to make this
intelligible to everyone; for the woman
who far surpassed all mortals in beauty,
Helen, left her most brave husband

(I've shown how various English translators have rendered these Greek lines of Sappho, here and here.)   What should be completely easy and intelligible to everyone is how Sappho includes Helen, a woman, without the word gune, among all mortal humans, by the word anthropos.

Perhaps the LXX translators didn't really know this Hymn of Sappho.  But very very likely, the LXX translators did know the Theogony of Hesiod:

The LXX translators seem to be working their Genesis translation, with both creation accounts (i.e., in Gen. 1 and in Gen. 2), against Hesiod's Theo-Gony.  Hesiod's account of the beginning, includes the lore of Helen as an anthropos.   But more than that, the Theogony has the creation of "woman" (and of the "female") as an aberration of and a harm to mortals.  Zeus, the chief of the gods, is responsible:
But when he had made the beautiful evil to be the price for the blessing, he brought her out, delighting in the finery which the bright-eyed daughter of a mighty father had given her, to the place where the other gods [θεοὶ theoi] and men [ἄνθρωποι anthropoi] were. And wonder took hold of the deathless gods [ἀθανάτους τε θεοὺς a-thanatous te theou] and mortal men [θνητούς τ' ἀνθρώπους thnetous t' anthropous] when they saw that which was sheer guile, not to be withstood by men.  For from her is the race of women and female kind [ἐκ τῆς γὰρ γένος ἐστὶ γυναικῶν θηλυτεράων, ek tes gar genos esti gunaikon thelyteraon]: of her is the deadly race and tribe of women who live amongst mortal men to their great trouble, no helpmeets in hateful poverty, but only in wealth. And as in thatched hives bees feed the drones whose nature is to do mischief -- by day and throughout the day until the sun goes down the bees are busy and lay the white combs, while the drones stay at home in the covered skeps and reap the toil of others into their own bellies -- even so Zeus who thunders on high made women [γυναῖκας gunaikas] to be an evil to mortal men [ἄνδρεσσι ... θνητοῖσι andressi ... thnetoisi], with a nature to do evil.  [lines 585 - 600, translated by H. G. Evelyn-White]
In stark contrast, there's the Hebrew account of the creation of woman!

And the LXX translators get the contrast between Hesiod's Greek and the Hebrew Bible.  They want to flaunt the ambiguities by their own Greek.  And so they do:
And God made humankind;
   according to divine image he made it;
   male and female he made them.
[translated from the Greek into English
by Robert J. V. Hiebert]
καὶ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν ἄνθρωπον [anthropon],
κατ' εἰκόνα θεοῦ [theou] ἐποίησεν αὐτόν,
ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ [thelu] ἐποίησεν αὐτούς.

Here, there is great wordplay.  There is the acknowledgment and the flaunting of semantic ambiguities by lexical ambiguities and by grammatical ambiguities and by phonological ambiguities.  In other words, the LXX translators are not making the female some aberrant of the class of humans.  The LXX translators are using Greek to include women, females, in the class of all men, all humans.  And following the Hebrew, they attribute this creativity in the beginning to God and according to the ambiguous image of God.

This is one of the bits that Matthew quotes.  Matthew is ostensibly translating Jesus.  Jesus is quoting Genesis.  The point of issue for Matthew, as translator, is that the Greek for translation is ambiguous and gender neutralizing and gender including.  The "beginning," the creation account(s), may be the most important part of all of this:  here's a statement of Nature, of Creation, of the one Divine Creator, imparting the image of the divine as a creative act, as male and female, as humanity plurally sexed.  Any discussion of marriage, Jesus seems to be saying, shouldn't ignore the value of the female.  Any discussion of the beginning, Matthew seems to be emphasizing, shouldn't discount the way the LXX translators consider anthropos as positively inclusive of the female.

When we come to your other two examples, "I Corinthians 7:1" and "John 4:28," we can continue to look at the gender neutral and gender inclusive possibilities.  Paul writes to people in Greece who have Greek-religious and Greek-literary contexts.  And in I Cor. 6:16, as he's coming to the verse you reference, Paul quotes Genesis 2:24, exactly the same bit that Matthew quotes.  The backdrop is that in the beginning, in contrast to Hesiod's creation myth, God's image in creation of humanity includes the female in anthropos.  When Paul then uses the word for husbands in Corinth, there's a richness, an ambiguity, an inclusiveness that the English word husband does not have but that human being does have.  John, as you already explain, is likely not including women in his use of anthropos in 4:28.  In fact, he quotes and translates the woman in 4:29 as appealing to these people she's talking to to come and see a human, a person, who just may be Messiah, or in Greek "Christ."  John the translator is calling the Messiah a mortal human being in a rather gender inclusive if only perhaps a rather gender neutral way, an anthropos.

The LXX and the NT meanings for anthropos seems to be to play on the old Greek contrasts between gods/goddesses and humans, between humans and (their) women/wives.  How the Hebrew God/Creator made female and male in anthropos is the emphasis.

This brings us to your final paragraph in your comment:
And this, from a comment, is still the really interesting theoretical question for me:

I don't know for sure about [NT] Greek, but my best guess is that "Chris
anthropos estin" can mean two things. "Chris is a human" or "Chris is a man." It cannot mean "Chris is a person."

But it seems to me that it will be hard to discuss these interesting nuances unless we can move past the obvious cases. (I also recognize that some translators --- seemingly out of ignorance or dogma --- cling to gendered translations where there is no support for them, but I don't think that I'm one of those people.)

My only reply here is just to confess I don't understand what you mean that anthropos can mean either "'... a human' or '... a man'" but that it "cannot mean '... a person'."  (Please let me agree with you that you're not one of those people working seemingly out of ignorance or dogma!)  So let me ask you, Have we in this post of mine, with Sappho and Hesiod and Aristotle and Genesis LXX begun to "move past the obvious cases"?  Don't the Septuagint translators, together with the writers and Greek translators of the New Testament, open up the also-female meanings of anthropos in all of their contexts?  Don't they sex mortals as women too just as the look to the image of the Creator as being male and female?


Kristen said...

Question: since there is apparently no koine Greek word "spouse" (gender-neutral married partner), couldn't the use of "anthropos" with "gune" be taken gender-inclusively, to mean that not only should a man not divorce his wife except for "impurity," a wife also should not divorce her husband except for good reason?

I have read that contrary to popular belief, women did get divorces in 1st-century Judea. It wasn't just for men. So Jesus may have been saying that both men and women should only divorce for just cause. (David Instone-Brewer's short book Divorce and Remarriage in the Church is my resource here.)

J. K. Gayle said...

You've asked an interesting question, Kristen. I haven't read Instone-Brewer's book and am not familiar with the history of divorce in 1st-century Judea.

What I can see is how Matthew's Greek is not necessarily what Jesus said or even how Jesus said it. The Greek translation does go with a more gender-neutral word (anthropos) to refer to the male spouse when it could, instead, have gone with something more like our English "man" or "husband" (aner/ andros).

Do you (or does anybody) know what Hebrew Aramaic word Jesus could have used? We don't need to discuss Dan Brown's novel character Professor Teabing, who says to Sophie on page 246 of The Davinci Code: 'As any Aramaic scholar will tell you, the word companion, in those days, literally meant spouse.' But is there an Aramaic word for spouse? Clearly Matthew's Greek word (for husband here, but potentially for wife, for spouse) refers to a human being, a mortal, as created in the creation accounts of Genesis.

Random Arrow said...

Excellent job on Jefferson! And good exchanges here. I’m out of my depth. I tore down my Plato posts because they were distractions. I apo-logize.

“ .. anybody know what Hebrew Aramaic word Jesus could have used?”

Beats me. Was there an Aramaic word for doulē? Is there anyone who knows this and who could mid-wife in the meaning for you? If you’re looking for familial-legal indexed words which are also compliant with the nature of things, compliant with the incessant nature of birthing (birth rates), then why not look for legally-indexed words relecting natural practices really close to home? – from slaves-to-midwives? – and see? Did midwives serve under contract? – barter? – gratis mutual aid?

Could an Aramaic conctract-law term serve up a non-gendered reference for you? I’m clueless. ~ Jim

J. K. Gayle said...

my Plato posts because they were distractions. I apo-logize.

I love your distractions, Jim. And your humor here too. Thanks always for the comments.