Tuesday, March 31, 2009

ESV, Luther Bible, and Jewish Women

43 million people hours will be spent nationwide in Israel's cleaning preparations for Passover this year. How does that break down? Of those cleaning hours, 29 million are done by women and 11 million by men. Persons paid to clean do the remaining 3 million hours
--Judy Lash Balint, Jerusalem Diaries

As usual in our own day the Jewish women were allowed to give generously, work untiringly and beg eloquently to build altars and Tabernacles to the Lord, to embroider slippers and make flowing robes for the priesthood, but they could not enter the holy of holies or take any active part. in the services.
--Elizabeth Cady Stanton, The Woman's Bible

Moreover, a focus on women uncovers women's distinctive perspectives on public life, which often differed from those of men. . . . For example, the Nazis murdered a disproportionate number of elderly women, suggesting age and gender were a fatal combination. . . . Even if ultimately Jewish women, seen as procreators, were also enemies in the Nazi's "race war," at the beginning Jewish women saw their men arrested. . . and tried to rescue them.
--Marion A. Kaplan, Between Dignity and Despair

John's post (comparing the 1984 revision of Martin Luther's translation of the Bible with the 2001 English Standard Version) overlooks the issues of racism and sexism in the translations, which makes their marriage in a bilingual volume now so curious. Suzanne posts an excellent analysis of some of the differences between the Luther revision and the ESV, saying, "In no way is the Luther Bible an equivalent to the ESV in terms of general translation style or gender philosophy." My post here is to offer some illustrations of what Suzanne is saying.

And I am wanting to complicate the race and gender and translation issues a bit more. I'm wanting to show that women matter, that Jewish women matter, in Bible translation.

Luther overlooks the Jews (when translating their bible) - if he did break away some from Aristotle's misogyny. The all-male ESV translation team overlook women - even if they were trying to stay true to the Hebrew (and to the Jews' Greek also in the case of the NT and the LXX).

But women such as Gertrud Käthe Chodziesner (aka Gertrud Kolmar) and Julia Evelina Smith show that both race and gender are inherently important to Bible translation. Jewish women are not unimportant in translation of the bible.

Luther wrote however that "Whoever would speak German must not use Hebrew style. Rather he must see to it—once he understand the Hebrew author—that he concentrates on the sense of the text, asking himself, 'Pray tell, what do the Germans say in such a situation?'" Whether this is one of his infamous antisemitic statements, I don't know. What is apparent to me is that Luther presumes that Hebrew style is nothing that a German man would use. More on that in a moment.

The ESV team wrote that "
In the area of gender language, the goal of the ESV is to render literally what is in the original. For example, 'anyone' replaces 'any man' where there is no word corresponding to 'man' in the original languages, and 'people' rather than 'men' is regularly used where the original languages refer to both men and women. But the words 'man' and 'men' are retained where a male meaning component is part of the original Greek or Hebrew." Now, that sounds pretty good, except when we keep reading their statement it becomes clear that there is a male bias, and a Christian male bias at that. The default English pronoun is "he," and the default referent to mortal humans (vs. God) is "man," and the default original language of the bible (in terms of gendered examples) is Greek of the Christian New Testament (never Hebrew of the original testament), and when there is mention of "an important familial form of address between fellow-Jews and fellow-Christians" then the default is the masculine "fellow" during the default Christian time period, "in the first century." One is left to wonder how "gender language" is worked out when the Hebrew text of the bible explicitly refers to women, and Jewish women at that. How is there consistent "transparency to the original text, allowing the reader to understand the original on its own terms rather than on the terms of our present-day culture"? So there again is the aristotelian presumption Luther makes: there's this binary that one culture's terms and style are necessarily and purely different from the other's.

Before going on to how Kolmar and Smith rise above Luther's and the ESV male-translation binaries, I'd like to give you a bit more of what Marion Kaplan says:
Women's history asks the kinds of questions that are central to an understanding of daily life, revealing crucial private thoughts and emotions. Moreover, a focus on women uncovers women's distinctive perspectives on public life, which often differed from those of men. But such a focus shows more than how gender--the culturally and hierarchically constructed differences between the sexes--made a difference in the way people perceived and reacted to daily events. It also shows how gender made a difference, ultimately, in matters of life and death. . . . To stress women's history, however, is not to exclude men--quite the contrary. To understand how gender operated, men's history is also required; their memoirs and diaries are also essential. In addition, the memoirs and interviews of Jewish women provide an inclusive viewpoint. Men and children, as well as extended family and friendship networks, were central to women's recollections and hence are visible and active at every term. Although the clamity that hit German Jews affected them as Jews first, they also suffered based on gender. (Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany, page 7)
Notice that "German Jews who are women" may just conflate some of the binaries of Luther and of the ESV male-only Christian-only team. And German Jews who are women may just give a perspective important to the histories of those who are not women, who are not Jews, and who are not German Jews. If you are not a German Jew who is a woman, then her history can help with the telling of yours anyway. To parse out gender and race affects the parser outer negatively, no?

So we might want to listen to Kolmar. A (Jew, German, Hebrew-reader, translator) woman. The wikipedia folks call her the "the finest woman writer in the history of the German language." Here's a long quote from one of her letters to a family member perhaps explaining why:
You bought yourself a Bible--and I own four! An old Luther Bible from the year 1854, it was given to Mutti's mother (according to the inscription); then I have the, though incomplete, Bible with pictures and marginal illustrations by Lilien; then the completely new, handy, thin-paper edition (without new testament), which cites Professor Torczyner, a Hebraist at the University of Jerusalem [sic; Hebrew University], as the responsible editor and which presumably also offers the most reliable German text. The translation is by various scholars; for example, the prophet Samuel was translated by Thea's father. Torczyner proofread everything and translated large parts himself and that which has its own rhythm in the original language has been presented by him for the first time as recognizable poetry, as hymn, also from the outside. This is also the reason why laymen and professional critics alike are very divided in their assessment of the new work. Thea's father, for example, was, of course, quite satisfied with his own work but did not approve of Torczyner's rhythmic texts. Mrs. Feld, on the other hand, whose father had originated the idea for a new complete translation, though Torczyner's psalms and prophets beautiful but was not at all enthusiastic about the prose of the other contributors. She much preferred the Luther Bible, and event he later Zunz Bible. I, myself, reach again and again for the Torczyner, especially when I'm reading my Hebrew Bible--for I own this one as well--and need help with translating. I had been reading the Luther Bible all my life, and some people who are in a position to judge such things have claimed that its language has clearly influenced by poetic language. I remember a colleague at Döberitz saying once: "You talk like Martin Luther." Because I said: "This towel is dirty beyond all measure." I'm less well versed in the New Testament, and I have read, if at all, always only the Gospels; Paul and the other epistles rarely, and hardly at all the apostle stories. I would very much like to participate in your course. For even though, as I said, I know and honor the Bible, there is a good deal about its development that I could learn. (My gaze is turned inward: letters 1934-1943, By Gertrud Kolmar, Translated into English by Brigitte Goldstein, pages 87-88)
Notice how facile, how humble, Kolmar is with the Hebrew, with the German translation including her own translating. Notice how she, a Jewess, writes like the German Martin Luther, while understanding poetry and rhythm and style - a German Jewish, Jewish German, Hebrew womanish, like the manliest man of German bible translation, range of styles.

Listen to her poem, "The Woman Poet" (as you're trying to forget, trying not to think about, the horrors in her holocaust poetry):
. . . You do not think
A person lives within the page you thumb.
To you this book is paper, cloth, and ink,
Some binding thread and glue, and thus is dumb,
And cannot touch you. . . .
[But] you hold me now completely in your hands. . . .
So then, to tell my story, here I stand. . . .
You hear me speak. But do you hear me feel?
Do you hear? Hear how dependent this Jewish woman poet is on you, the reader? To catch the "here I stand" resemblances to the Martin Luther you think you've heard before? Who has had to do more work? Who was sentenced to die, who died, because of her race, her gender, her voice?

Now, when turning to Julia Smith, I really want to turn to her own translation of the Hebrew and Greek bible. She does write a philosophy of translation and a bit of commentary on her translation (as do some of the contributors to The Woman's Bible). But given how long this post is already, it's worth just comparing Smith's translating to the Hebrew and to Luther's (1984 updated) and to the ESV men's. Given the time, I'll try to do that in another post another time.

Hide and rape

What’s the Difference?

Hide and rape
Give and take
Fact and fiction
West and east
Men and 12-year-old girls
What’s the difference?


“Why it’s too pretty a day to be so unhappy.”

The inviting voice belonged to a man in his early forties, the unhappiness to a girl the age of twelve. The location is Japan of the 1930s. His words mark the point of intersection in the lives of two total strangers and the collision of two vastly different worlds. As a mother, I feel a kind of chill in my bones when I read the account, for this is exactly the kind of scenario we try to prepare our children to flee. Little Sayuri would have been wise to flee too. Only she had no place to go. Trapped in a culture that rendered her helpless, she is drawn to the kindness of the man who has taken notice of her.

Arthur Golden’s best-selling novel, Memoirs of a Geisha, chronicles the life of a young Japanese girl sold into slavery by her desperately poor parents—an appalling transaction in human flesh repeated in real life thousands upon thousands of times throughout the world’s sordid history and still happening today in shocking numbers. Sayuri is trafficked into the world of the geisha—the upper-class counterpart of the common prostitute. She is destined to become a “butterfly in the night.” Her youthful beauty, artistic accomplishments, and virginity will go to the highest bidder from among a coterie of Japanese businessmen. The Chairman—the elegant man approaching her now—is one of them.

Their first meeting seems innocuous enough. He wipes her tears with his handkerchief and sends her skipping on her way with a coin to buy a shaved ice treat, never to forget his kindness. Like a radiant full moon against the blackened sky, it is a snapshot of contrasts—two human beings dwelling in the same universe, simultaneously inhabiting separate worlds. She is female. Powerless, dependent, vulnerable, voiceless, and (except for the coin he just pressed into her small hand) penniless too. He lives in the privileged world of men and is possessed of power, self-determination, education, and wealth. The disparity between them will never go away and stirs up subliminal questions. What will he do with his advantages? Will he exploit her too? Or is he her ticket to freedom?

--Carolyn Custis James, “When Women Initiate and Men Respond,” The Gospel of Ruth (pages 173-174)


(03-24) 15:57 PDT OAKLAND -- Lovelle Mixon was linked by DNA to the February rape of a 12-year-old girl who was dragged off the street at gunpoint in the East Oakland neighborhood where Mixon's sister lived, police said Tuesday.

Mixon, 26, a fugitive parolee who shot four Oakland police officers to death Saturday before he was killed as he hid inside his sister's apartment, might have committed as many as five other rapes in the same neighborhood in recent months, investigators said.

All the victims of those rapes were attacked in the early-morning hours, as was the girl who was raped Feb. 5, and the assailant's behavior was similar in all the assaults, police said.

--Jaxon Van Derbeken, “Cop-killer suspected of raping 12-year-old,” the San Francisco Chronicle (page A – 1)

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Certain Fable of Buchephalas

Her name is lost in history. She is found only in a fable:

Her master called her Boukephalē, which was "a Christian compliment." He meant it, he said, as an allusion to the great wild horse tamed by young Alexander the Great. (Of course, Alexander was calling the animal "Ox Head.")

She was not originally from Macedonia, because her mother was Libyan. And her father (clearly Greek from her skin and eyes and nose though not her hair) no one but her mother knew. Her master, Korigedora, had a kind affection for her. He used her not only in the fields but also in his famous church library. She cataloged for him the various books from Alexandria and from Jerusalem, Korinth, Philippi, Antioch, Syria, Silisia, Thessaloniki, Ptolemaida, and Ephesus. She did all required to keep him the faithful Bishop of Vergina: serving him - this husband of Mariam (ΜΑΡΙΑΣ) the Jewess - to make him the requisite "one-wife man" (ΜΙΑΣ ΓΥΝΑΙΚΟΣ ΑΝΗΡ). His sons, then, were Jews. They were circumcised on the eighth day - though more out of custom, he announced, than out of law. He himself was proudly an ethnic of the believers (ΤΩΝ ΠΕΠΙΣΤΕΥΚΟΤΩΝ ΕΘΝΩΝ); specifically, he was Greek - a good label from the collected writings of that Sent-Apostle Paul, the Tarsusian (who, was also "Jewish, Hebrew, a son of Isra-El" and a "Roman" who invariably wrote in Hellene, even to Hellene men). And he prided himself on handling slaves lovingly. On the wall of his study, he had posted a bit of one of the scriptures, a letter of Paul:
He taught her many things in the privacy of that library.

So, when he was away on a long trip with his sons, and when Miriam was asleep for the night, this slave girl would bring her mother, the Lybian, to the library. She'd unroll the scrolls of the Penta-Teuch. She'd stop at the fifth chapter of ἈΡΙΘΜΟΊ. She'd read aloud to her illiterate mama as if Helen in the plays of Euripides. Except this Helen spoke with bar-bar-ian lips, the mother tongue, that Berber of home. And her reading was playful, what Karen Jobes calls a "bilingual quotation," which she overhears Lynn Visson calling "Condensation, deliberate omission and addition, synecdoche and metonymy, antonymic constructions, grammatical inversion, and the use of semantic equivalents are a few of the tools that help do the job." In her play acting, she did not pretend to be objective. This slave girl was free from that. "I am not certain that the translator is even obliged to make the modern reader understand what is overheard," she said to her mother, as if quoting Phyllis A. Bird.

Or was she quoting Paul, writing to the men in Korinth who taught their women at home after church?

She had the most fun with her mama, unfolding the pages of the copy of that letter Handy the slave (ὈΝΗΣΙΜΟΣ) handed to his master from Paul. (But since her name is lost, or is simply Corrigedora or Buchephalas as if within a parenthetical afterthought, this remains only one of those terribly inventive, easy fables.)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Why Patriarchs Don't Really Read the Bible

There is no instance recorded of one of these trials by ordeal ever actually taking place, as divorce was so easy that a man could put away his wife at pleasure, so he need not go to the expense of even "a tenth part of an ephah of barley," on a wife of doubtful faithfulness.

--Elizabeth Cady Stanton,
in her commentary on Numbers 5

Friday, March 27, 2009

Who's Your Daddy? The Christian Patriarchy

Seems that many lately are reading Kathryn Joyce's, Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement. If you haven't read it, then you've likely seen an online review at least. Last month, Christianity Today posted the review by Elrena Evans. And since December, the bloggers at feministing.com have referenced the book or its subject at least half a dozen times, with their longest review, by Courtney Martin, published yesterday. Surprisingly, none of the bloggers at "Complegalitarian: Building bridges between [Christian] complementarians and egalitarians" has formulated any response yet. Meanwhile, self-identifying patriarchs like Mike Southerland are defining "Christian Patriarchy" for others and themselves. And, more bravely, two women who have come out of the movement researched by Joyce have started their own incredible blog: Vyckie Garrison and her friend Laura are, with much courage, telling their stories and dialoging with others at No Longer Quivering.

I don't really have anything to add, except for this:

Isn't it interesting that this latest version of Patriarchy claims Christianity?

And yet its members don't know WHO THEIR DADDY IS:
  1. They use the sexist absolutist elitist reasoning methods (i.e., the phallogocentrism) of the ancient Greek patriarchs without ever once anywhere or anytime giving Father Plato or Father Aristotle their due.
  2. They appropriate Jewish scriptures from far away and long ago (such as from the polygamist, womanizing king David's Psalm 127: "Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They shall not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate"; and this line - "Be fruitful and multiply" - from Daddy Moses's Genesis creation account and from his post-flood passages on Pappa Noah).
  3. They don't entirely dismiss the Pope.
  4. They are narrowly limited to North Americans (maybe only in the USA) - perhaps imagining that they owe something to the Founding Fathers and their colonizing efforts.
So Joyce rightly and succinctly notes, "It's a cross-denominational movement among evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants who have adopted some Catholic arguments against contraception and who have spread their ideas through the booming conservative homeschooling community."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sexism Before Aristotle, and after

(quick update: on Aristotle's roles in sexism - given after the quotation by Euripides, below).

Last night, one of my daughters and I went to hear one of the women's history month lectures at the American Airlines C.R. Smith Museum. Researcher Ric Gillespie gave a presentation on his book, Finding Amelia: The True Story of the Earhart Disappearance, in which he provides evidence that challenges some of the conventional wisdom about what happened to the famous woman pilot. At the book signing, he was excited as my daughter told him her name, Amelia. So on the spot, he tells of being on the research ship near where he thinks Earhart breathed her last breath: "The crew and I were there on Amelia's birthday, and somebody had baked her a cake, and everybody wanted me to blow out the candles. 'I can't do that,' I said. So we all agreed that I should slide open the window and we all watched as the breeze came in gently then briskly and blew out those candles. 'Happy birthday, Amelia,' we all sang."

Sometimes history has to be told and retold. Sometimes it has to be relived, and the silent voices from the past have to be allowed to speak.

Here's the retelling of Helen by Euripides. He has to explain things very differently from how Greek and sexist men had been telling them for years. He has to let the actors perform the telling. And he allows, then, Helen to speak. You can go to wikipedia for the synopsis of this re-visioning. Or you can listen for yourself - performing it as you read it, in Greek or in English translation [mostly] by E. P. Coleridge. (I was interested in how open Helen's word τεῦχος "teuchos" is. Here the translator doesn't commit what Robert Altar calls the "heresy of explanation" which is so often the problems in the translations of the penta-teuch after the septuagint translation in Egypt. Coleridge has it "vessel" - not a closed canonical book of certain and singular interpretation but a cup or a vase or a pitcher which may be emptied and refilled and may also fill.)

φίλαι γυναῖκες, τίνι πότμῳ συνεζύγην;
ἆρ’ ἡ τεκοῦσά μ’ ἔτεκεν ἀνθρώποις τέρας;
γυνὴ γὰρ οὔθ’ Ἑλληνὶς οὔτε βάρβαρος
τεῦχος νεοσσῶν λευκὸν ἐκλοχεύεται,
ἐν ᾧ με Λήδαν φασὶν ἐκ Διὸς τεκεῖν.
τέρας γὰρ ὁ βίος καὶ τὰ πράγματ’ ἐστί μου,
τὰ μὲν δι’ Ἥραν, τὰ δὲ τὸ κάλλος αἴτιον.
εἴθ’ ἐξαλειφθεῖσ’ ὡς ἄγαλμ’ αὖθις πάλιν
αἴσχιον εἶδος ἔλαβον ἀντὶ τοῦ καλοῦ,
καὶ τὰς τύχας μὲν τὰς κακὰς ἃς νῦν ἔχω
Ἕλληνες ἐπελάθοντο, τὰς δὲ μὴ κακὰς
ἔσῳζον ὥσπερ τὰς κακὰς σῴζουσί μου.

Dear friends [fellow women], to what a fate am I yoked? Did my mother bear me as a wonder to mankind? [For no other woman, Hellene or barbarian, gives birth to a white vessel of chicks, in which they say Leda bore me to Zeus.] My life and all I do is a wonder, partly because of Hera, and partly my beauty is to blame. If only I could be rubbed out like a painting, and have again in turn a plainer form instead of beauty, and the Hellenes would have forgotten the evil fate that I now have, and would remember what part of my life is not evil, as they now remember what is.

(quick update: The title of this post plays on the title of a work by Richard Leo Enos, Greek Rhetoric Before Aristotle, which does a fantastic job of providing much evidence that Aristotle follows a rich tradition.

But Aristotle, in his own writings on the history of rhetoric, distorts history. This is well documented by Edward Schiappa in his work on logos and the anti-aristotelian Protagoras. [Schiappa goes on to show how Aristotle disparages the idealism of his own teacher Plato and the dialectic method of his teacher Socrates - as they all disparage the rhetoric of sophists.]

And Aristotle, in his own writings on males and females, distorts the facts about females. This is well documented by F. A. Wright, in his Feminism in Greek Literature from Homer to Aristotle. Wright begins to see that "Euripides and Plato are almost the only [male] authors who show any true appreciation of a woman's real qualities, and to Euripides and Plato, Aristotle, by the whole trend of his [sexist, bigoted] prejudices, was opposed."

So, I wanted to show that Euripides allows the male-disparaged Helen of the Hellenes to speak for herself. He was reworking some of the pre-Aristotle distortions of the history of this famous female.

And, I should add how much work the re-working of Aristotle's distortions that have to come after him must be. Cheryl Glenn, for instance, in her amazing Rhetoric Retold: Regendering the Tradition from Antiquity Through the Renaissance, talks about the various methodologies required saying [tongue in cheek vis a vis the crooked Aristotle] the following:
We must risk, then, getting the story crooked. We must look crookedly, a bit out of focus, into the various strands of meaning in a text in such a way as to make the categories, trends, and reliable identities of history a little less inevitable, less familiar. In short, we need to see beyond the familiar to the unfamiliar, to the unseen.
end of update)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Why I Don't Like the Word

This post is about why I don't like a word. The word is embolism.

The first time I remember hearing it, I was overhearing it, as doctors in a recovery room in a hospital in a city in a state far from home were explaining to my wife how they were going to follow protocol and embolize the internal organ in our little daughter riddled by cancer before they cut it out and replaced it with a donor organ. I was to be the donor. I was also under the influence of morphine after having had my body opened up so the physicians could look at the viability of my being a donor. I should say I was coming out from under the influence, which was - as those of you who've experienced it know - a rather helpless and painful experience of frustration. My frustration - despite my being substantially aristotelian at the time - was also (as I remember it) heightened by the fact that the same doctors were ignoring how hundreds of people had been praying thousands of prayers to a God who just might be willing to hear and also capable of rearranging the unhealthy deadly state of that little girl's organ before they blasted it with chemo, killing not only the disease but also the healthy body part. As my wife remembers it, I blurted something out to the team of experts that sounded like Balaam's donkey. The next day, the chief surgeon decided to abort the operation as planned and to investigate more. (The cancerous organ was never irreversibly embolized. The story is long; the word embolism was never part of the dénouement. And our daughter is healthy today.)

The most recent time I heard this word, it was the explanation for Sharon's death just a few days ago. Lily was there, her midwife and nurse, with her wonderful ob-gyn. One moment the room was full of excitement and joy. Twenty seconds later, Sharon was gone and the team of medical practitioners were struggling to save her baby. (The baby is alive, but his mother - they say - had an amniotic fluid embolism).

I've heard this word in ph.d. rhetoric studies - where we've come to call it in speech something interpolating like a parenthesis in writing - although the English meanings evolved from the Greek are not exactly as Aristotle's meaning in his Rhetoric. There, he quotes someone else, a sophist whom he despises no less, which goes like this: τοῦτο δ’ ἐστίν, ὥσπερ ἔφη Πρόδικος, ὅτε νυστάζοιεν οἱ ἀκροαταί, παρεμβάλλειν [paremballein] <τι> τῆς πεντηκονταδράχμου αὐτοῖς. ὅτι δὲ πρὸς τὸν ἀκροατὴν οὐχ ᾗπερ ὁ ἀκροατής, δῆλον· [This is what Prodicus used to do; whenever his hearers began to nod, he would throw in (παρεμβάλλειν) a dash of his fifty-drachma lecture. But it is clear that one does not speak thus to the hearer qua hearer - J. H. Freese translating.]

Now I read the word in the Numbers 5 translation of the Hebrew into Greek by the Jews living in Alexandria Egypt in the third century B.C.E. They cleverly use the Greek word to join the two divided sections of the whole, the first treating diseased males and fe-males rather equally and the second section treating women suspected of cheating on their husbands (with no treatment of men cheating on their wives or committing the adultery with the wives of other men).

One might argue that these are two different words: παρεμβολῆς [paremboles] in vv 2,3,4 and ἐμβαλεῖ [embalei] in v 17. The first is the "translation" of the Hebrew מחנה [machaneh], which can mean group, or host, or camp, and such. These seems very different from the second Greek word, which is a translation of the Hebrew נתן [nathan], that has more the meaning of "put in" that the Greek seems to have. Well, turns out that nobody had used παρεμβολῆς [paremboles] for "camp" before these Jewish translators came along. They saw that there was a military city, Parembole, near Alexandria that was thrown out there on a peninsula in Egypt as a protection; so they thought it was good enough for that story in Genesis 32:2, "And when Jacob saw them, he said, This [is] God's host [מחנה (machaneh)]: and he called the name of that place Mahanaim [מחנים (Machanayim)]." They wanted to keep the Hebrew wordplay, so in Greek it's εἶπεν δὲ Ιακωβ, ἡνίκα εἶδεν αὐτούς Παρεμβολὴ θεοῦ αὕτη· καὶ ἐκάλεσεν τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ τόπου ἐκείνου Παρεμβολαί [which, translated by Brenton in English is, "And Jacob said, when he saw them, This is the Camp of God; and he called the name of that place, Encampments."

But I think the translators wanted more wordplay. So they throw in this other word when the priest is throwing temple floor dirt (stuff the adam was made of) into bitter besetting water of this curse on the woman, the alleged adulteress. She's supposed to drink it. (It's much different from what a different priest-like rabbi does some years later, throwing his finger in the dirt and making the accusers of the adulteress drink their own tonic in the silence of their own hidden consciences. But that's another story without that Greek word I don't much like.)

Monday, March 23, 2009

I'll Have What She's Having!

"O... O god... Ooo Oh god... Oh... O... O... Oh god... Oh yeah right there Oh! Oh... Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes... O... Oh... Yes Yes Yes.... Oh... Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes... O... Oh... Oh... Oh god Oh... O... Uh...

I'll have what she's having!"
and her eavesdropping onlooker,
in Rob Reiner's "When Harry Met Sally"

"If ever man were moved with woman moans,
Be moved with my tears, my sighs, my groans..."
in William Shakespeare's
"The Rape of Lucrece"

When the men first translating the bible came to Numbers 5 verse 22, they stole a sexy, sexist line from a play or two. They did not (as John Hobbins and Mike Sangrey and Wayne Leman are doing) argue whether either (1) the source language is "Biblish that is worth retaining" or (2) "the meaning of the form of any language should be translated to the same meaning using some form of the receptor language [... and] that meaning should trump concordance if we have to use forms which are not a part of a language."

Another way to say that is this:

The first men translating the bible did not get into that argument between Aristotle and Plato: whether either (1) a logos, or a pure statement, may be inherently beautiful (as in their natural, native statements taught at the Academy) or (2) there must something deeper behind it (i.e., in the writer's or speaker's ideal intention) that trumps concordance with any statement.

Rather, the first men translating the Hebrew scriptures understood what translator Anne Carson observes in the translational intentions...

of the "soldier of God" Joan of Arc (i.e., "to convey the jar on the nerves without translating it into theological cliché");

and of the Irish painter Francis Bacon (i.e., "to create a sensible form that will translate directly to your nervous system the same sensation as the subject");

and of the German lyric poet Friedrich Hölderlin (In other words: "The result was versions of Sophokles that made Goethe and Schiller laugh aloud when they heard them.")

So we don't for a minute think that Carson, Joan of Arc, (painter) Bacon, and Hölderlin would have any disagreement with how philosopher Merold Westphal gets through the debates (like those of Hobbins with Sangrey and Leman or of Aristotle with Plato). Westphal says,
Of course, this does not mean that anything goes [in translation], and it would be seriously misleading to suggest that on the performance model [of translation] matters of correctness and incorrectness are simply replaced by other values, perhaps aesthetic. There are many ways in performance to get it wrong. One can play the wrong notes or say the wrong words, to mention only a couple. But it remains the case that when I've gotten everything right that the text dictates, there remains considerable leeway, indeterminacy, or, if you like, undecidability that I am compelled to decide before I will be able to offer anything that will count as my interpretation. The most recent film version of Romeo and Juliet and the Al Pacino take on Richard III give some idea of how considerable this leeway can be. Or one can compare Pope's translation of the Iliad with Fagles's. There is a gap between text and interpretation that neither the author nor any hermeneutical method can fill in, but only the performer. ("In God We Trust," The Hermeneutics of Charity, page 100)
Next time you watch Leonardo Dicaprio as Romeo or Claire Danes as Juliet, as I did with my daughter recently, you'll get that huge gap in the text of Shakespeare.

A quotation from Shakespeare is how I started this post. Or at least, I heard his Lucrece saying something that reminded me of Sally's shameless performance in that restaurant so public, which is the quotation that started this post. Women's sexuality is on display.

So when the first bible translators come to Numbers 5 verse 22, they see (or hear) a performance of woman's sexuality on display. It jars the nerves without theological cliché, a "sensible" form, that makes men laugh out loud.

Yes, the Hebrew is something like this:
(either quite literal in the biblish English of Robert Alter:)

And this besetting water shall enter your innards to swell the belly and to sag the thigh. And the woman shall say, Amen, amen.

(or ostensibly the Hebrew's deep meaning in the "dynamically equivalent" English of the TNIV:)

May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries.
Then the woman is to say, "Amen. So be it."
Now, compare this with what the first bible translators do (translating into Greek):
καὶ εἰσελεύσεται τὸ ὕδωρ τὸ ἐπικαταρώμενον τοῦτο εἰς τὴν κοιλίαν σου πρῆσαι γαστέρα καὶ διαπεσεῖν μηρόν σου
καὶ ἐρεῖ ἡ γυνή γένοιτο, γένοιτο.
I'm drawn first to the fact that the translators refuse to translate their Hebrew אָמֵן אָמֵן as a transliteration. This is what both Alter and the TNIV team do with "amen" (even if the TNIV team goes on with their "dynamically equivalent" phrase "So be it").

The original translators have transliterated plenty of other places in the text up to this point. In an earlier post, I tried to suggest that Egyptian and Hebrew sounds (such as in the name "Moses") were important to the translators, who did transliterate. So there's no point in our figuring they just don't transliterate.

What the translators are doing is playing with both the sounds and the sight of the Greek letters. They may be resisting Aristotle's hope for natural precision in language; they may be resisting Plato's hope for a meaning to be mined ideally from the language.

They are in Alexander the Great's Alexandria. They are Jews back in Egypt, under a king of Egypt again, and under a kind of Egypt that has them laboring over translation.

In their translation, there's the wordplay of ἡ γυνή /he gune/ and the repeated γένοιτο, γένοιτο /genoito genoito/. The first phrase, of course, means ambiguously both "woman" and "wife" - and the second is a literal translation of the Hebrew repeated phrase, meaning something like, "so it is"; in the Hellene version, there is this Greek overtone of "so it is born, so it is generated."

But there's much more here produced, and reproduced. There's a performance, a play on the plays of the day. The translators by choosing not to transliterate אָמֵן אָמֵן (which they do elsewhere, such as in Nehemiah 8:6, and which the New Testament writers and Greek translators do everywhere else) draw readers to other Greek texts that have similar wordplay. They revel in the sexy, sexist funny play of the epics and the dramas of Greece, of the imposing Greek empire.

Here's one Greek text (in which the man Peleus chastises the man Menelaus -- in the play "AndroMache" of Euripides, with an English translation by David Kovacs and a few changes by me):
What? Can you belong with the men, you utter coward? [How do you merit inclusion among the men?] You lost your wife to a Phrygian by leaving your house unguarded, believing you had a chaste wife in your house, when in fact she was an utter whore. Not even if she wanted to could a Spartan girl be born chaste [οὐδ’ ἂν εἰ βούλοιτό τις σώφρων γένοιτο Σπαρτιατίδων κόρη]. They leave their houses in the company of young men, thighs [μηροῖς] showing bare through their revealing garments, and in a manner I cannot endure they share the same running-tracks and wrestling-places. After that should we be surprised if you do not train up women for wives who are chaste [κᾆτα θαυμάζειν χρεὼν εἰ μὴ γυναῖκας σώφρονας παιδεύετε]? You should speak to Helen seeing that she left behind Zeus of the Kindred in your house and went off on a revel with a young man to another country. Was it for her sake, then, that you led such a great throng to Troy? You ought to have spat her away and not moved a single spear once you had discovered her treachery, should have let her stay in Troy and never taken her back into your house, should have payed her a wage to stay away.
Here's another Greek play (in which the king Agamemnon addresses his wife / queen Clytemnestra about their daughter, Iphigenia, whom the priest sacrificed -- the play "Iphi-Genia in Aulis", with an English translation by E. P. Coleridge and a few changes by me):
Queen / Wife [γύναι], we may be counted happy, as far as concerns our daughter; for in truth she has fellowship with gods. But you must take this tender child and start for home, for the army is looking now to sail. Fare you well! it is long before I shall greet you on my return from Troy; and what's birthed to you be well [καὶ γένοιτό σοι καλῶς]!
And another part of the same play (when the king Agamemnon, earlier in "Ihpigenia in Aulis", talks about the same spirit of jealousy in husbands, with bound curses, that God and Moses and the priests deal with in Numbers 5):
Leda, the daughter of Thestius, gave birth to [Ἐγένοντο] three children, maidens / virgins [παρθένοι]: Phoebe, Clytemnestra my wife, and Helen. The foremost of the favored sons of Hellas came to woo Helen; but terrible threats of spilling his rival's blood were uttered by each of them, if he should fail to win the girl. Now the matter filled Tyndareus, her father, with perplexity, whether to give her or not, how he might best succeed. This thought occurred to him: the suitors should swear to each other and join right hands and pour libations with burnt-sacrifice, binding themselves by this curse: whoever wins the child birthed to Tyndareus for a woman/ wife [ὅτου γυνγένοιτο Τυνδαρὶς κόρη], they will assist that man, in case a rival takes her from his house and goes his way, robbing her husband of his rights;
And there's Homer's epic Odyssey (here translated by James Huddleston, with emphases added):
Instead, we dread the talk of men and women,
[husbands and wives, ἀνδρῶν ἠδὲ γυναικῶν,]
Yes, men inferior by far woo a noble man's wife,
lest someday someone, another Achaean, a meaner one, might say:
"And can't in any way string his finely-crafted bow,
but another, some beggar man, came wandering,
and easily strung the bow and shot through iron,"
so they'll say, and what's born would be to our disgrace
[ὣς ἐρέουσ', ἡμῖν δ' ἂν] ἐλέγχεα ταῦτα γένοιτο].
So, we might want to listen again, to look again. Here's the Greek translation of Numbers 5:22b:
καὶ ἐρεῖ ἡ γυνή γένοιτο, γένοιτο.
Why are the women
(Jewish women overheard and read in Egypt),
in the desert outside of Egypt -
why, o why, are they crying out with such repeated consent?
Is it what women like Sally, like Lucrece,
like Spartan wives with their sexy thighs,
like Andromache, like Clytemnestra,
and like Helen
when men
are jealous of one another
over women and their thighs?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Wordplay in Numbers 5:1 - "God and Moses" busting male binaries

David Ker has made quite a stir with his post the LORD makes me crazy. Two dozen responses at last count, mostly only men (if no women at all) commenting.

But far fewer noticed when Rachel Barenblat read with us "one paragraph from the Sefat Emet" during "the lead-up to Purim" to begin accepting "the highest Torah." Let's ask: who paid attention to "the facility with quotations, the wordplay and punnery; . . . the richness of these texts, how words become hyperlinks connecting one idea with another. . . to spiritually connect ourselves with the spice of revelation in order to rise to a level of spiritual discernment where binaries cease to exist because everything is Go(o)d."?

Do we get that?! Where binaries cease to exist?! Where the Velveteen Rabbi herself is playing with the word(s), "Go(o)d"?!

And does anyone else care about that "instruction" of hers this week, in which she points us to "a tiny bit of wordplay which may not be immediately obvious: in Hebrew, the name most commonly used for the presence of God (Shekhinah) shares a root with the word for neighborhood (shekhunah / שְׁכוּנָה)"?!

So we're looking at and listening to allusions to God. And I'd like us to extend that to Numbers 5, especially verses 1, 5, and 11 (aka א
and ה and יא). Each of these verses is the following thrice repeated sentence:

וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר.

Actually, the exact sentence shows up in the Torah first in Exodus 6:10. (But then not again until Exodus 13:1, then 14:1, then 16:11. Then not again until Leviticus 4:1, then 5:14, then 6:1 and 6:8 and 6:19 and 6:24, then 7:22 and 7:28, then 8:1 and 10:8 and 12:1 and 14:1 and 17:1 and 18:1 and 19:1 and 20:1 and 21:16 and 22:1 and 22:17 and 22:26 and 23:1 and 23:9 and 23:23 and 23:26 and 23:33 and 24:1 and 24:13 and 25:1 and 27:1, then Numbers 3:1 and 3:5 and 3:44 and 4:21 - until we come back to Numbers 5:1, 5:5, and 5:11. In general, these are discourse or narrative section markers or markers of the intensification of the climax of a story. Pedantic stuff, but maybe interesting to translators sensitive to stuff above the sentence level. Certainly it should validate the decisions of the traditional chapter and verse number-ers; and it should unnerve the documentary hypothesizers with their J.E.P.D.).


There are several binaries that get busted by this single sentence. Let's begin trying to work through some of the binaries here. And we'll look at the wordplay. We should look at these binaries at least:

the orality / literacy binary
the God talking / Moses writing binary
the God's un-speakable name / God's actually-written name binary
the emic insider's viewpoint / etic outsider's viewpoint binary
the original text / translated text binary
the male origin / fe-male origin binary

We are suspicious of binaries. And we are suspicious not because binaries cannot or do not exist in nature. But we are suspicious of binaries because the binary is the fundamental structure of patriarchy. The would-be pure and precise division of the binary helps and has helped and will continue to help males to be dominant over fe-males. In contrast, there's feminine discourse, which tends not to be reduced to the "either / or" but, rather, tends to be "both and" and "more." In linguistic terms, Kenneth Pike called this "the N-dimensionality of language" in which the person speaking, the person writing, the person listening, and the person reading all have agency over "logic" and "formalism." The most brilliant astrophysicist can choose many ways (and is not constrained by any one way) of looking at and talking about "light": light is a particle; light is a wave; light is in relation to time or space or its observer.

So we come back to the story of Moses in Exodus (in chapter 6 particularly). Orality seems primary and sharply different from literacy. Ostensibly, this story was told before it was written. And God speaks with Moses. He tells his name to Moses, saying it in a way that Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob never heard. He says:


וָאֵרָא, אֶל-אַבְרָהָם אֶל-יִצְחָק וְאֶל-יַעֲקֹב--בְּאֵל שַׁדָּי; וּשְׁמִי יְהוָה, לֹא נוֹדַעְתִּי לָהֶם.

The Jewish Publication Society has translated that into English as this:

I am the LORD;

and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name YHWH I made Me not known to them.

The JPS translation finds some of the meaning but loses much too by not showing the wordplay. The funny thing here is what God says to Moses is that he tells his name (at the end of verse 2) before actually telling his name (again, in the middle of verse 3). We get that as an artifact of writing primarily, but not so much as a product of God's speaking orally first. This is especially true today when, for centuries now, the name of God, to the Jews, is not to be spoken orally, and is intended not to be pronounced aloud. But these are the scriptures meant to be read (aloud too) after all. Which has primacy, the oral tradition of the Torah or the literate tradition? And don't both orality and literacy have overlapping dimensions for listeners and readers? Does the wordplay of the Hebrew support or play down the orality / literacy binary?

So we move on to more wordplay in the first sentence of Numbers 5. More disruption of another binary: the supposed God talking / Moses writing binary. Who's really talking here? Is it God to Moses? But isn't Moses allegedly writing all of this down, as if God were talking? So it's Moses' God talking with Moses' Moses (the way Plato's Socrates speaks with the other characters in his dialogues)? Or has God, in the end and at the beginning too, inspired the whole story: God's Moses being talked to by the story-inspiring story-telling God himself? These questions remind me a little of how Alan Lightman has to get around his being a science writer / but a novelist too. Lightman claims scientists write to name (and "use their heads" to understand), which artists write ("using their stomachs and hearts") to ring true in their story telling. Lightman also confessed (when I asked him as he visited the campus where I work): he wants the translators of his novels - translated already into 30 some languages - to be both scientists (understanding the science of language) and artists too (understanding the art of telling a believable story). It's not either God speaking or Moses writing, is it? And a good translator will show how the Hebrew plays that way. And haven't we already discussed enough the binary of either God's un-speakable name / or God's actually-written name?

So we come to another binary and more wordplay. We get to "the emic insider's viewpoint / etic outsider's viewpoint binary." I think we might as well begin talking also more about the "the original text / translated text binary" as well as "the male origin / fe-male origin binary." Or we could be here all day.

I want us to go back to Egypt again. Who's an outsider and who's the insider. The story of Moses is Egypt confuses these two things. In fact, there's an animated DreamWorks film called "The Prince of Egypt" that helps suggest (even by its title) that Moses is more of an insider to Egypt. The book of Exodus, in the Hebrew language, suggests that the name of Moses is perhaps Egyptian. There is the suggestion that the daughter of the Egyptian king used an Egyptian play on words that the Hebrews (namely Moses) borrowed right into the Hebrew language:

וַתִּקְרָא שְׁמֹו מֹשֶׁה וַתֹּאמֶר כִּי מִן־הַמַּיִם מְשִׁיתִֽהוּ

"And she called his name Moses, and said: 'Because I delivered him out of the water [of the Nile].'"

She also claims him as her own son. The Hebrew baby becomes an Egyptian; delivered out of a Hebrew basket in the Egyptian river, his playful Egyptian name gets drawn back into Hebrew. In fact, he's the very one to deliver the Hebrews out of Egypt. Funny stuff, ironic, not very "either / or" binary.

Some centuries later, there are Jews back in Egypt, living under an Egyptian King, who is set in place by a Hellene conqueror, Alexander the Great, once a pupil of Aristotle. According to legend, that Egyptian King wanted an insider copy the Hebrew scriptures. Here's from a blurb from the New Encyclopedia of Judaism:
According to the "Letter of Aristeas," it was composed in Alexandria. Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-246 BCE), who was a bibliophile, heard from his librarian, Demetrius, that the Jewish Bible was worth translating for the king's archives. The king wrote to the High Priest in Jerusalem, asking him to send scholars who would be able to translate the Pentateuch into Greek. The High Priest sent 72 wise men, whom the king lodged in a building on the island of Pharos, near Alexandria. Each translated only a part of the Pentateuch and after 72 days, at the conclusion of the work, the Greek translations were read before the Jewish community and before the king. All lauded the Jewish Bible and its wisdom and praised the work of the translators.
A humorous thing here is that the translators seem to write their Greek as outsiders to the "Exodus paradigm" and as outsiders to the aristotelian "Alexandrian paradigm" but as insiders to the "Homeric paradigm" (and this, according to University of Tel Aviv Historian Sylvie Honigman in her history of the "Letter of Aristeas"). This is funny because it seems the Jews, back in Egypt under an Egyptian king, are playing with language, as if trying to keep themselves out of Egypt.

So it's worth now comparing Numbers 5:1, 5, & 11 in Hebrew and in translated Greek:

וַתִּקְרָא שְׁמֹו מֹשֶׁה וַתֹּאמֶר כִּי מִן־הַמַּיִם מְשִׁיתִֽהוּ

καὶ ἐλάλησεν κύριος πρὸς Μωυσῆν λέγων

The translation is nearly equivalent Hebrew-to-Hellene -- and even the name "Moses" sounds the same. In other words, the translators were very careful to make משה /Mo-sheh/ transliterated so that it is pronounced alike in Greek Μωυσῆς as /Mou-ses/. Perhaps this is still an Egyptian word meaning "Delivered," and serves as a reminder to Greek readers in Egypt who also speak Egyptian that this is the hero of the Hebrews who delivered them out of Egypt, a sort of Trojan Horse job from the insider of Egypt himself, the one delivered out of the Nile by the daughter of the king of Egypt herself. Funny stuff.

But the translation appears to break down with the use of κύριος for that unspeakable name of God written as יהוה. The Greek word κύριος /kurios/ is the same word the translators use for Potiphar, the official of the Egyptian king, who was the "master" of Joseph, when he was a "slave" in Egypt. Greek readers of the Hebrew scriptures in Egypt will know that the God of the Jews is to be called "master." He, and not any Egyptian king or king's official or king's conqueror called Great Alexander, is the "master" of Moses and the "Master" of all masters.

So which text is primary? The "original" Hebrew or this quite original Greek version (including the Ex-Odys, the Odys-sey of the Jews) -- a text also targeting the Hellene conquerors and the Egyptian monarchy?

And are the males really first in the story? Moses is named by a woman, by a daughter, by an Egyptianness. She delivers him and conspires with other daughters and mothers to save him, to save them, male and fe-male.

(And the God who names himself seems to be interested in the motherly birth of himself. But we've gone on far too long for one post to talk about the Greek translation of the Hebrew of Numbers 5:3, where the translators hint at an incarnation, a translation of the deity into a mortal human birth: "ἀπὸ ἀρσενικοῦ ἕως θηλυκοῦ... ἐν οἷς ἐγὼ καταγίνομαι ἐν αὐτοῖς." But it's either god / or human, and the human either male / or fe-male, right?)

What I've wanted us to do in this post is to begin to look at and to listen in on the ways the Hebrews in Egypt (whether the original Moses in the masoretic text or the translators by their Hellene "original" text) engaged in productive, generative word play. And the binaries we all know so well, the unmarked male borders and boundaries, get blurred.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

trial translation, or translating the trial: Numbers 5

Now I may be able to comment a little more transparently and more thoroughly on Numbers 5 and its Hellene translation. I've followed Jared Callaway's spirit today - "in Montaigne’ sense of a try, an experiment, an attempt that is never conclusive but always questioning" - and I've attempted a translation of "Numbers 5." Of course, I'll have to correct and update and revise and re-vision and all that. But it's a start. It's over at another blog of mine, and maybe it'll help with some ongoing dialogue about sexism in the scriptures - - and what wordplay translation does with that.

Antiquitopia's Hebrews Odyssey

Jared Callaway, at his wonderful blog Antiquitopia, has posted "Polutropos: Much-Turned Speech in the Odyssey and Hebrews."

After quoting side-by-side in Greek the first few lines of the Odyssey and the new testament letter called Hebrews, Jared starts in:
I thought I would write an essay—in Montaigne’ sense of a try, an experiment, an attempt that is never conclusive but always questioning—by bringing together two texts and just seeing what happens. It is really a midrashic moment, in fact, because I started thinking about these two texts due to a single word that appears in the first line of each with slight variation: πολύτροπον and πολυτρόπως. This bringing together two texts based upon the occurrence of a single word is, as noted, a midrashic technique, one known as gezera shawa, a technique employed by one of the texts under consideration—Hebrews—but, as we will see, my interpretive maneuvers of reading one text against another through the occurrence of a single word is . . .
Now jump over to his post for much more and many turns.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Our Odysseys, Ourselves

"Ongoing discussion about the wide range of issues
that come under the heading of reproductive rights is needed
if females of all ages and our male allies in struggle
are to understand why these rights are important.
--bell hooks,
"Our Bodies, Ourselves"
Feminism is For Everyone

"And if the woman has not been defiled and she is pure,
she will be cleared and sown with seed
--the Lord to Moses to the sons of Isra-El,
Robert Alter translating for us,
Numbers 5:28

"[a] Rhetorical situation may be defined as
a complex of persons, events, objects, and relations
presenting an actual or potential exigence
which can be completely or partially removed
if discourse, introduced into the situation,
can so constrain human decision or action as

to bring about the significant modification of the exigence."
--Lloyd Bitzer,
"The Rhetorical Situation"
Philosophy and Rhetoric 1.1 (1968): 14.

Here I go again. Starting a post with heady epigraphs. Which may give some of you the impression that I know what I'm talking about. So let me start over.

I didn't read Numbers 5 until the mid 1990s. Not until our exigencies - those of my best friend and me. I'm talking about the dual exigences of our egalitarian marriage on the rocks and of our little daughter deathly ill with a disease so rare and the complications so unusual that the finest team of physicians in Norfolk, Virginia conferring with superior teams in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Dallas, Texas and San Francisco, California confessed that they didn't know how to save her. Then there was the pastor's wife telling us not to pray for healing "because you'll only be disappointed." Then there were the name-it and claim-it pray-ers who came to our house anyway. Then there was father, the missionary, or was it my wife's father, the preacher, saying in a heavy Texas drawl to me, "Boy, you need to read your Bible." One parenthetical detail: our marriage had been built on the solid rock of the earliest writings of Sheldon Vanauken, who fought the sexism we saw in our fathers. Vanauken even coined the term "sexism" (in 1968 or 1969), and he and his spouse Davy gave us the model for our relationship; no hierarchy or patriarchy, no father's abuse under God. (Later, of course, Vanauken turned to God, and we took note: it turned out badly for him and his beloved, who died. All he got was - what his grief-observing friend C.S. Lewis called - his "Severe Mercy," which forms the title of his first autobiography the last half of which leads him to the unfortunate reversal of convictions, to the assumption of an imagined position of headship in a relationship that was no more. My wife and I preferred the first half of the book that didn't quote either the bible or C.S. Lewis so much, if it did remind us of the author trying to be both F. Scott Fitzgerald and his Jay Gatsby at the same time). I read the Bible all the way through, we're still married, and our daughter is alive and well today. So let me back up a bit more.

I didn't read the Septuagint when I started reading Greek the summer of 1982. Not that Dr. Richard Cutter would have been opposed to his students reading the LXX, but he assigned instead Plato and the New Testament for translation exercises, which we did in the dialogues or in John or the epistles of. Then, by then I mean, I'd already re-read for myself some forty times the Odyssey of Homer in English translation by Alexander Pope, by Richmond Lattimore, and by Walter Shewring, whose edition had just been published with a painting of Odysseus blinding Polyphemus (the cyclops) on the front cover and the epilogue on translation (in the back, where Shewring coyly confessed cowardice: "More slippery still is the vocative gunai, for which the first dictionary rendering is simply 'woman'. . . . In the Greek of the Gospels, Christ uses the same word to his mother and to Mary Magdalen. In Book XIX Odysseus disguised calls Penelope gunai. To her it would have the force of 'Queen', but to him it would have the force of 'Wife' as well, and Homer's audience would doubtless have relished the ambiguity. Here I have chosen the rendering 'Queen'. In Book XXIII Odysseus uses the word again when Penelope even now denies recognition. She is still a queen, she is still his wife, but at the moment she is also an object of indignation, and the word might be a resentful 'Woman!'. Here I have been cowardly enough to omit the vocative altogether.") Then I'd begun to think, as many braver than I am do, that men who control language, who define it monocularly, may be looking for the force of the cyclops. I'd never read any of Aristotle, or so I thought. So let me rewind some more.

I didn't read any more of the bible than I had to or was paid to the summer of 1975. Not getting any less than $10, I read Exodus with mother every day - she reading aloud a chapter one day and I another the next - until we finished it in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Then, at that time, she knew, I was already an atheist having been compelled by the state of Texas to go to school, where I read with utter fascination the highly believable facts of Mr. Mikulecky's natural science textbook in Bryan, Texas the spring before. The force of Exodus, I recall now, was that force of the Odyssey, Moses being strong, reminiscent of Odysseus (in the Lattimore, which she'd read to us through and through), and startlingly stronger, even in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible she and father had given me for Christmas (instead of the football I'd asked for). Neither mother nor I had any idea of the wordplay in the Greek between the Ex-Odyss and the Odd-ussy. And I was not, in the United States, a bookworm because it was the 1970's and because the 18 year old girl next door wore a halter top and once found the keys to her absent father's Firebird convertable and wanted to show me how fast it could go. But I feel I need to put this story in reverse once again.

I didn't read much until 1968. Not even in English or in Vietnamese. There was Dr. Seuss and Bảo Vân. But then there was that Tết -- yes, "the Tet Offensive," waking us up in the middle of the night, men shouting from fear not joy and M-16s rattling and a rocket blasting right outside the window, yes that window of the room where I learned to read when we were living in a little village just north of Sài Gòn. Then it was quick, off to Bangkok during the dry season, nights under a single bulb light listening to mother reading us to sleep with father gone, staying with the mission. Then we were back but now in Saigon during the long days of rain, which seemed to make mother more insistent that we come inside more often, where I lost myself or found myself in stories, some make-believe but all truly believable more or less. So let me confess something else: I've always tended to have other interests besides Numbers 5.

We come back to the exigencies. The rhetorical situation. Men (and women) looking at a text without necessarily teasing out the ambiguities and without necessarily any ongoing discussion that might help us grow up and to bring about a significant modification of our sexism.

(Yes, I realize I'm writing some English sentences here without verbs. But one of my blogger friends - John Hobbins, and a new acquaintance too - "Mrs. Webfoot", were insisting that I be self-critical and somehow show some of the problems of an egalitarian marriage. Don't mind us. This is mere discourse introduced into the situation of my getting around to talking some more about Numbers 5 and its translation which may help some.)

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.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Like Waterboarding for Chocolate

Many more of you may have read (or watched the film version of) Laura Esquivel's novel Como agua para chocolate than have read the chapter of the bible I'm going to blog on a bit. Likewise, many more of you evangelical Christians (of the "complementarian" camp) have camped out in Ephesians 5 than have even considered the bible chapter we'll discuss here. It's Numbers 5. (Or a segment of the fourth book [ בַּמִּדְבָּר, Bamidbar] of the Torah.)

At the end of this post, I'll tell you what got me looking at it again. But there's a more important reason why we all might want to look at this old canonized text:
It suggests that a husband, who suspects the chocolate his wife is eating might have come from another man, may send his allegedly disrespecting wife off to the priest for waterboarding.
Okay, that's a stretch. We don't know if the Jews still had any chocolate left in the desert after breaking free from the Egyptians. And the kind of torture jealous husbands sent their wives off to in the wild-er-ness wasn't exactly waterboarding (if it did involve water and torture). What isn't a stretch is that this is the bible, the word of God giving the words of God to men about what to do with their women who terrorized them and their camp with their dalliances. Writers of the new covenant (or the New Testament) write similar things; and religious bible-believing people like Emerson Eggerichs write books today to get at how married men even today need and deserve and by implication should expect respect from their wives. (Suzanne McCarthy is blogging an entire series on that "love and respect" interpretation after John Hobbins mentioned Eggerichs a couple of times).

So, I invite you to go back to read Numbers 5, or to read it for the first time. I'm drawn back into it because of the Jews' own Greek translation of the text when back in Egypt. The Hebrew language of the masoret text already has enough wordplay, but the Greek of the Septuagint text has even more rhetoric. Look, see for yourself. You tell me whether "male and fe-male" are created equal in Numbers 5, whether in Hebrew or in Hellene. And next post, I'll look at some of the wild liberal translator choices such as the words παρεμβολῆς (par-em-bolEs) and ἐμβαλεῖ (em-balei), like a deadly priest-imposed amniotic fluid embolism for a disrepecting wife, like water torture for a suspicious box of chocolates.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

wake up calls

Phone rings a couple of days ago. It's my parents tag teaming. Happy birthday, says my dad. You were a fat baby, my mom tells me again. I'm so proud of you, so glad you made it strong after the accident in VietNam, so glad you're who you are today. In Fort Worth that day, she repeats again saying nothing about her pain at my birth, it was snowing.

Phone rings a couple of days ago. Who is it? Oh No, gasps my wife, and my daughter and I wonder if Amanda finally took her young life this time. No, her shaking head tells us. We wait. Sharon just died. Having her baby. Lily told her she'd be there in the room with her, that'd it be okay, but it wasn't. Threw an embolism. The baby's alive, a boy, on his way to Dallas to an n.i.c.u. The phone drops then the ipod, as two people I love very much slide to the floor.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Isn't the Hope in the How?

"How was the creativity of the Black woman kept alive, year after year and century after century, when for most of the years Black people have been in America, it was a punishable crime for a Black person to read or write?"

asks Alice Walker in her essay "In Search of Our Mother's Gardens"

"Today I cut up your classic essay 'In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens.' I downloaded it from the Internet, copied it to my computer, and deleted about half of it. Then I printed it out and gave it to my students. I'm sorry. I should have given my students every word you wrote, the way you wrote it. The version my students read had no mention of Africa, slavery, sex, or racism, which eliminates most of the force of the work. . . . I teach in a small, three-year-old university in a small town in Oman, on the Arabian Peninsula, and there are topics I cannot discuss. I am making a compromise because I can't teach your essay as you wrote it."

explains Marielle Risse in a letter to Alice Walker from the university in Oman, where it is punishable for "a Western, female professor. . . to introduce controversial matters."

until we’ve recovered

"Look, despite the mutterings of disgruntled troglodytes or airbrushed, hymenoplastied Palin supporters, women have not achieved anything even close to equity. We still make, on average, seventy-six cents on a man’s dollar, and yet there are people who fight over whether that figure should be two or three cents higher, as if that would make it all dandy, as if close is as good as the cigar."

--Regina Barreca, In Defense of the F Word, 2009