Friday, September 25, 2009

blood, sweat, tears, and the ewe-lamb of God

You can't put too fine a point on this.  Female word-images for both Jews and Greeks for centuries have included -

kitchen duty,
meal service,
body washing,

When you read about Jesus in Greek and in Aramaic and in Hebrew and even in Latin, the feminine imagery bleeds through.  This was true long before Anne Carson or any other contemporary feminist read Aristotle in Greek.  It was true before yesterday, when the Dalai Lama of Tibet called himself a feminist.

Reading and listening in English, you can miss much of that womanliness, depending on how phallogocentric your general culture.  We, for example, imagine that not many heard anything much but manly resolve from Winston Churchill in 1940 when he addressed the mainly-male Members of Parliament with his "nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat."  In addition, we run through blogger Damian's "lack of feminine language in Jesus' names" this month and without a blink quickly concede that "-Lamb (Rev. 13:8) - Lamb of God (John 1:29) - Lamb Without Blemish (1 Pet. 1:19)" must mean "ram lamb" and not, of course, "ewe."

In the last two posts, I've tried to show how Greek writers about Jesus used feminine images of wetness (tears, toil, sweat, blood and food and touching and eating, passing over a Pesah) when talking about him.

In this post, I want to go back to the Lamb image, and to the Breast image, in allusion to Jesus.  Before I do, the quick aside is this:  no one is claiming that the Jesus of history was a woman, that he as a "virgin" (albeit a male) was some kind of spiritual "eunuch," or that the gospel writers were somehow confused about his sex.  Rather, what I'm hoping to show is that Greek language gives dimensions to gender that aren't as restricted as Aristotle would have them, or as many many many of us today would have them either.  To put a woman in a box is conveniently to demean her; Pandora is the sexist male's nightmare.  And Aristotle the logical realist knew this very well.  We might as well pause another moment to listen to Anne Carson, as she acknowledges:
Aristotle accords to the male in the act of procreation the role of active agent, contributing "motion" and "formation" while the female provides the "raw material," as when a bed (the child) is made by a carpenter (the father) out of wood (the mother).  We might note also that the so-called Pythagorean Table of Oppositions, cited by Aristotle, aligns "boundary" or "limit" on the same side as "masculine": over against "the unbounded" and "feminine" on the other side.
    The assumptions about women that underlie the views of Plato, Aristotle and the Pythagoreans can be traced to the earliest legends of the Greeks.  Myth is a logic too.  In myth, woman's boundaries are pliant, porous, mutable.  Her power to control them is inadequate, her concern for them unreliable.  Deformation attends her.  She swells, she shrinks, she leaks, she is penetrated, she suffers metamorphoses.  (Men in the Off Hours, page 133)
When witnesses and reporters and historians used Greek to portray women and Jesus, the feminine leaks out.


By default in English with Aristotle's logic, Jesus is a ram lamb.  Moreover, and after all, everyone knows that the translator John who writes the Apocalypse and the translator John who writes the Gospel and the Peter who writes the Epistle in Greek each use a grammatically masculine form:  1) τοῦ ἀρνίου τοῦ ἐσφαγμένου - 2) ὁ ἀμνὸς τοῦ θεοῦ and - 3) ἀμνοῦ ἀμώμου.  Now that should box things up, shouldn't it?

Well, unfortunately, things get lost and found in Greek translation.  Post-Passover, the Hebrew is still clear.  We might as well look at what Greek is used in three examples.

1) In Leviticus 14:10, Moses says and allegedly writes:
And on the eighth day he shall take two he-lambs without blemish, and one ewe-lamb of the first year without blemish, and three tenth parts of an ephah of fine flour for a meal-offering, mingled with oil, and one log of oil.
Then along come followers of Moses back in Egypt using Greek, and they make "ewe-lamb" [ כבשה (kibsah)] read this way:  ἄμωμον.  Notice anything about the gender here?

2) In Isaiah 53:7, the Prophet says this:
He was oppressed, though he humbled himself and opened not his mouth; as a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before her shearers is dumb; yea, he opened not his mouth.
Then along comes a follower of Jesus called Phillip helping an Ethiopian who's a eunuch, and Luke translates that into Greek (or just quotes the Greek of the Jews of Egypt) as a direct allusion to Jesus this way:
ὡς πρόβατον ἐπὶ σφαγὴν ἤχθη καὶ ὡς ἀμνὸς ἐναντίον τοῦ κείροντος αὐτὸν ἄφωνος οὕτως οὐκ ἀνοίγει τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ
Notice anything about the gender here?  Sure you do.  In the English translation of the Hebrew, you see "her shearers," a direct allusion to "a sheep," certainly a "she" sheep!  In Hebrew, she's רחל (rachel).  In Greek, she's ἀμνὸς.  Notice anything about the gender here? 

3)  In 2 Samuel 12:2-3, the writer has Nathan beginning the famous parable to the adulterer-murderer-liar David this way:
There were two men in one city: the one rich, and the other poor.  The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and reared; and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own morsel, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter.
Then along come readers of this parable who are Jews using Greek, and they also make "ewe-lamb" [ כבשה (kibsah)] read this way:  ἢ ἀμνὰς.  Notice anything about the gender here?  That's right, the pure sacrificial lamb is a ewe.


Damian has already quoted Halden quoting Melissa quoting Augustine.  It's Latin translated into English, and Jesus is breast milk (in Confessions 7.18.24).  And there's more of that from the Homily 3 on the First Epistle of John:
Whoso knows that he is born, let him hear that he is an infant; let him eagerly cling to the breasts of his mother, and he grows apace. Now his mother is the Church; and her breasts are the two Testaments of the Divine Scriptures. Hence let him suck the milk of all the things that as signs of spiritual truths were done in time for our eternal salvation, that being nourished and strengthened, he may attain to the eating of solid meat, which is, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1 Our milk is Christ in His humility; our meat, the selfsame Christ equal with the Father. With milk He nourishes you, that He may feed you with bread: for with the heart spiritually to touch Christ is to know that He is equal with the Father.
And then there's this equality with the Mother also, from Sermon 369:
Our savior, born of the Father apart from any day.... Go on being filled with wonder; the one who bore him is both mother and virgin; the one she bore is both speechless infant and Word.  Rightly did the heavens speak....  Give suck, mother, to our food; five suck to the bread that came down from heaven (Jn 6:58), and was placed in a manger....  Give your breast to the one who made you such that he might be made in you, who both gave you the gift of fertility when he was conceived, and did not deprive you of the honor of virginity when he was born; who before he was born chose for himself both the womb from which he would be born and the day on which he would be born.
And St. Anselm in his "Prayer to St. Paul" (as mother) says:
But you, too, good Jesus, are not you also a mother?  Is not he a mother who like a hen gathers his chicks beneath his wings?  Truly, Lord, you are a mother too....
And Julian of Norwich in English, our English, in Showings (page 298 of one recent edition) sees Jesus conceiving his offspring, and in labor giving birth, and nursing at his breast, feeding:
But our true Mother Jesus, he alone bears us for joy and for endless life, blessed may he be.  So he carries us within him in love and travail, until the full time when he wanted to suffer the sharpest thorns and cruel pains that were or will be, and at the last he died.  And when he had finished, and had borne us so for bliss, still all this could not satisfy his wonderful love....
     The mother can give her child to suck of her milk, but our precious Mother Jesus can feed us with himself, and does, most courteously and most tenderly, with the blessed sacrament, which is the precious food of true life....
     The mother can lay her child tenderly to her breast, but our tender Mother Jesus can lead us easily into his blessed breast through his sweet open side, and show us there a part of the godhead and of the joys of heaven, with inner certainty of endless bliss.

Feminine language and womanly imagery (in Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, Latin, and even English) can be found and are shown for Jesus.  Much of it comes even from within the pages of the canon called the Bible.  This is the language of real human beings, Jews and Greeks, males and females.

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