Monday, February 4, 2008

The Resounding Bible (Women)


(What you may hear is not just academic. This time, it’s not rhetoric retold. It’s not voice lessons. It’s not traces of a stream. It’s not re-readings read aloud. It’s not dancing. It’s not meditations. It’s not even creative suffering.

No, those really are very very very important conversations around scholarship using feminist methods. Each hyperlink above here is to revolutionary works of Ph.D.s who refuse to be silenced. It’s their work that gives each one of us all, if we have ears to hear, more complete histories of classical rhetoric; and more complete ways of composing and writing; and more representative accounts of literacy; and wiser philosophy; and more profound lessons from literature; and more loving practices in politics; and even deeper relationships with God in Jewish and Christian theology.

But now you may be hearing something else very very very important from someone else).

Still listening? What you may be hearing is what a strong man heard as he listened to and really learned from a woman, a poor foreign refugee, a vulnerable grieving widow no less. I’m talking about the man of the Bible named Boaz, and the woman Ruth, one of the great great great grandmothers of one of the parents of the Joshua also known as Jesus.

Still listening? What you may hear is Carolyn Custis James talking about the Book of Ruth and translations of words.

Custis James is speaking up and speaking out. And so is Suzanne McCarthy.

It’s not only the interpretation of the words translated that’s important. It’s not just that some Bible words have been incompletely translated so that the translation keeps males over females and keeps men from learning from women and keeps half of humanity silencing the other half.

No, it’s also how we all go about translation. The question is whether humility and ambiguity in our human languages and our translation of them allows us all to communicate completely.

Custis James and McCarthy are asking about traditional overly-simplistic translations of these Bible words:
The Hebrew word transliterated “hesed
The Hebrew word transliterated “ezer” and the phrase “ezer kenegdo
The Greek word for “submission” transliterated “hupotasso
The Greek word transliterated “anthropos
The Greek word transliterated “adelphos
The Greek word transliterated “kephale
The Greek word transliterated “authentew
The Greek work transliterated “boethos

McCarthy is also asking about “humility and ambiguity” in the translating method.

Custis James likewise is questioning whether the proud traditional way of translating the Bible hasn’t worked against both men and women. She speaks of more complete ways of hearing the history of Ruth, and writes on the need to go around the “false dichotomy between Marys and Marthas” in the histories of Jesus.

(Custis James and McCarthy have gotten me asking these questions. I invite you to ask this with me:

Why are the stories of men and women of the Bible already in translation to begin with? Isn’t it likely that Boaz had to translate what Ruth said, if not because they spoke different languages, rather also because their male and female discourse generally is different? And why does Mary’s son come to us in stories, narratives written not in the languages spoken by Mary or this man, but in the Greek written down by his students? And why does this Jesus tell parables and speak in hyperbole and change nature by miracles when there is belief—acts that require you and me now to translate? But what if we don’t have ears to hear? What if we are arrogant? What if we presume only these two options: that either [A] there are incorrect interpretations or [B] there’s only the single interpretation? What if we’re not suspicious that the single interpretation that I see is the only one I really want because it keeps me above some other people? What if we’re not open to the possibility that [C] God enjoys diversity in his image, in his word? What if we refuse to see that Greek men who silenced women as inferiors also invented the very “either / or” logic that would destroy ambiguity and would enable great hubris? Why should any Bible translator ignore how translators of other Hebrew and Greek texts get at multiple meanings? Why should any translator of the Bible consistently insist always and only on reducing the meaning of a set of terms in Greek or in Hebrew to the single meaning that makes women shut up?

Custis James and McCarthy are also living testimonies to this:

In contrast to Boaz, Jewish and Christian men through the ages--and too often their submissive women who they would silence--have far too often and far too arrogantly refused to listen and learn.

Are you shocked to know this is still going on today? In contrast to the resounding Bible and to the resounding women of the Bible then and now, there are male pastors like this one. He blogs in hopes to keep James quiet, and he actually silences McCarthy from the comments on his blog: as if to protect himself, he identifies her as a “rebel,” calls for her “repentance,” and adds things like this: “I believe I better silence you so the blood of the sheep is not on my watch and hands.” Then to you and me he speaks from his bully pulpit: “To those watching: Please do not be scandalized that I have silenced Ms. McCarthy. Scripture is loaded with similar cases of men exercising authority by binding what should be bound, using the keys of the Kingdom Jesus delegated to the officers of His Church.” And so at risk for this man is this one translation and this one method of translation of the Bible: the “plain meaning of Scripture that Adam was created first, and then Eve; that it was not Adam, but Eve who was deceived; and that this means--according to God, the Father Almighty--that woman is not to teach or exercise authority over man.”)

If you have ears to hear, as Boaz does to hear Ruth, Listen.


Psalmist said...

Wonderful entry, Kurk. I'm thankful that despite the continual efforts of the small-minded and self-serving to silence them, people like Suzanne and Carolyn Custis James continue to speak the truth about the precious Scriptures. I honor them for their courage as well as for their scholarship.

And thank you as well, for reading what they write and giving them credit that is much overdue.

I appreciate your own contributions to the discussions. God is honored when we spreak the truth, especially with as much grace as you do.

J. K. Gayle said...

Thank you, Psalmist, for the encouragement to Suzanne McCarthy and to Carolyn Custis James. There is much misunderstanding of and there are even attacks against the kind of important work they are doing. Your understanding and validation is not unimportant! And thanks also for your kind words to me.