Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Why Do Men Want to Be Gynecologists? Why Do Translators Transliterate?

One of my daughters asked the other at the dinner table last night, "Why do men want to be gynecologists?" They giggled, a little (being in mixed company and all). Neither has had to have the experience of being examined by a male gynecologist.

And I wondered how it is that men want to transliterate the Greek word as gyne. One of my Greek professors, a man, a miso-gynist and gyno-phobe perhaps, used to make fun of the very few women in class by using the vocative case on them, to call on them: "Hey, Goooy Nay - What do you say?!" The word is ambiguous, if not vague, and means many things such as "wife" and "woman" and "wombman." To transliterate is to make technical, to reduce a word to sounds, to keep the meanings from being so slippery. A gynecologist is clinical, a scientist, a practitioner of medicine, a person bound by an oath to respect the patient, the subject. He will not, ever, do anything inappropriate if he will also not do much sympathetic if he himself is not a gune. And he is not.

Joel Hoffman, this morning coincidentally, posts on transliteration of transliteration in translation. Makes me think of how Japanese when writing will use kanji (i.e., Chinese-derived characters) for most things (like novels and newspapers) while using hiragana (i.e., one syllabary) to spell out Japanese words, but they use katakana (i.e., a separate syllabary) to transliterate foreign words to keep them separate from pure Japanese words, to mark the sounds of other languages as other. "For example [in an example from wikipedia], America is written アメリカ Amerika (America also has its own kanji (ateji) Amerika (亜米利加) or for short, Beikoku (米国), which literally means 'Rice Country')." Some day, when I have some time, perhaps, I'll post on the implications of the transliterated titles of the books of the Bible. I might do that here at this blog. Maybe, if it gets into LXX stuff and bible sexism more, then I'll just post that over at my other blog. The long and short of the issue of transliteration, I think, is that it's generally a translator's short cut that gives him (or her) a way to sound "original" (or as if he, or she, were speaking the original language). It comes off rather snobbish, and reduces meanings substantially. But we'll have to take time, later, maybe, to talk more about that.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Rape Culture in Ancient Greek and Roman Literature

Pandion was a king of Athens who had two daughters, Prokne and Philomela, one of whom was the wife of Tereus, while the other was raped by Tereus, who cut out her tongue so she could not tell.  Silenced, she wove a cloth to reveal her sad story, which her sister read and, to punish Tereus, killed their only child (Itys).  Both girls were turned into birds, one into a swallow and one into a nightingale, according to Ovid whose version does not make clear which is which (Metamorphoses 6.412-674).  There are other ancient versions of this myth, including one where the killing of Itys is inadvertent:  cf. Homer Odyssey 19.518-29 and Sappho fr. 136....

Aristotle describes the nightingale as having no tip on its tongue (Historia animalim 616b8)....

-- Anne Carson, If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, page 376

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sexual Violence: Big Problem, You-and-Me Solution

"It is a men's issue because 95 percent of sexual violence is conducted by men," explained Rebecca Alexander, OASIS program coordinator of the ETSU Counseling Center.
--Here's more at John Shuck's blog, Shuck and Jive.

"We live in a rape culture in which men (especially straight, cis men) are socialized and encouraged to be sexually aggressive, and so it is no surprise that they are....
These 76 men, just 4% of the sample, were responsible for 28% of the reported violence. The whole sample of almost 1900 men reported just under 4000 violent acts, but this 4% of recidivist rapists results in over 1000 of those violent acts.

If we could eliminate the men who rape again and again and again, a quarter of the violence against women and children would disappear. That's the public policy implication....

Cultural and institutional reform to reduce sexual assault begins with knowing who we're really dealing with. And it isn't otherwise good boys who just made a mistake. But they're sure grateful we think they are."

--Here's more from Melissa McEwan at the blog, Shakesville.

Who Penned This?

Who penned this:
Dear Father, help me with the love
that casteth out my fear;
Teach me to lean on thee, and feel
That thou art very near,
That no temptation is unseen
No childish grief too small,
Since thou, with patience infinite,
Doth soothe and comfort all.
And who penned that:
I tell you I cannot bear it, I shall do something desperate if this life is not changed soon. It gets worse and worse, and I often feel as if I’d gladly sell my soul to Satan for a year of freedom.
Which is poetry, and which is prose? Which is by Louisa May Alcott, and which is by nobody, a nobody presuming to be A. M. Barnard? Is one having a character speak, and is the other narrating a character? Is one a male's voice, and might the other be a female's? And what's the difference?  And what's the difference - if you and I read this and that in English - or if we can read it in translation in another language?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Translating the Pen, Penning Translations

“Bob Cargill has penned. . . .” In that broader context, is “pen” a crucial element of the phrase that needs to be translated?

The above question is Joel Hoffman's, as he's "Thinking About Translation In Just One Language." Hoffman is asking, "[S]hould the translation be the equivalent of 'wrote with a pen' or just 'wrote'?"

The answer is that "pen" must be translated if it's important in English. And the word pen is important in English if it is important to these people:

the writer or speaker or the reader or listener in English,
or the translator or the reader or the listener in the language of translation.

That's a lot of people. But that is the answer. To make the answer dependent on some inherent nature of Language or of translation is to discount the people who use language. In this post, we'll review four language games that people play -- and we'll look at how we people play with "penned."


The fact is that the person who Hoffman quotes above is a person, namely Dr. Jim West, who uses "penned" plenty. In Hoffman's example, West is stopping to reflect on somebody else's language, namely Bob Cargill's language, about which West claims "I know, it’s an anachronism since he typed and didn’t pen at all." But, in fact, West usually never pauses to reflect on his own language. For instance, without knowing it was an anachronism, West typed this sentence: "I’ve penned a little response here." And in numerous other posts, West has used the verb penned to pen various clauses, such as "Others are a bit unhappy about it as well, and have penned"; and "a recent essay he’s penned"; and "books he penned"; and "he penned a letter"; and "Bishop Wrong has penned"; and Fouler blasphemy and vile nonsense has never been penned"; and "Jonathan Cook has penned"; and "he happily penned"; and "whether or not the same chap as penned Revelation"; and "I think it the finest, most precise definition of what it means to be a Christian ever penned." The game that West is playing, especially when he focuses on someone else's "anachronistic" use of "penned" is the game of "Get it right." This is the game of language as "proposition." Literary critic George Steiner would call it the "epiphenomenal" or "contingency" game. To get "penned" right, West will point out that the word is "old" or "anachronistic" just the way the dictionary entry might point that out. To get it right is contingent on what the dictionary says it means. And to get it right is to see that "penned" is an epiphenomena, or an old accident of language (i.e., in which a "pen" just happened, once upon a time, to be what people would use to write or to pen language).


So we move on to a second game played with the word penned. It's the game of "get it to work." This is the game I call "imposition" and that Steiner calls the "tactical" game. The NIV Bible translation team, for example, plays this game when they come to Matthew's Greek word κεραία /keraia/ or something like a "horn" or a "hook" mark in writing. Matthew, of course, is using the Greek word to translate what Jesus has said in Hebrew Aramaic, probably his spoken reference to an anachronistic, written Hebrew letter. Who knows what Jesus said, but Matthew forces it to look visually like a hook when Greek readers say his translation aloud, and the NIV Bible team force their English to go like this: "the least stroke of a pen." Hoffman himself quotes the English word pen in this context when posting about the Bible verse in the NIV--the verse is Matthew 5:18. Hoffman is answering the question of one of his readers about another Greek word in the verse. Thus, the NIV team and Matthew himself both "get it to work." Matthew gets κεραία to work, and the NIV team forces "the least stroke of a pen" to work. And neither Hoffman nor any of the rest of us notice right away.


But there's a third game, and this is the one that Hoffman plays. It's the "get to the essence" game. I've called this the "transposition" game, and Steiner uses the phrase "modal" for how this game is played. The word penned is strangely a verb in the English language, and Hoffman notes that some languages "can’t make nouns into verbs the way English does." The noun form "pen" is the default part of speech, or to use Chomskyan language, it's the deep structure or the abstract form that gets generated or transformed -- through performance from competence. What if the "target" language for translation does not have this essence, is the essence of what Hoffman's asking. Then should a translator insist on "pen" as part of the resulting translation? Hoffman asks these sorts of questions lots, because he can see differences in languages deeply. For instance, at his other blog (the one with his name on it), he mentions the proverb “The pen is mightier than the sword,” as close to some things in "Jewish thought" and in "Torah readings on Yom Kippur," essentially, deeply on the "power of words" in various modes. Hoffman might be very interested in this Japanese representation (by brush stroke) of a "pen" as being more powerful than a sword.  It's a visual rhetoric or a visual modality for words.  But pen equals brush.


The last game is the one that Louisa May Alcott plays. If you know her works, then you probably know Little Women. Alcott plays with language. She writes pseudonymously (by a "pen" name), and she writes using her own name. Maybe that will get us more interested in her and her word play. In one work, Hospital Sketches, she plays with words.  As the protagonist, she "sat listening to the busy scratch of his pen." As a nurse, as the protagonist, she watches men "Suffer agonies till a compassionate neighbour pokes them out of a crack with his pen-knife." In the very next sentence, she talks of how she "Put them in the inmost corner of my purse, that in the deepest recesses of my pocket, pile a collection of miscellaneous articles atop, and pin up the whole." She notes how "Every man's legs sprawl drowsily, every woman's head (but mine,) nods, till it finally settles on somebody's shoulder, a new proof of the truth of the everlasting oak and vine simile; children fret; lovers whisper; old folks snore, and somebody privately imbibes brandy, when the lamps go out. The penetrating perfume rouses the multitude, causing some to start up, like war horses at the smell of powder." She explains that "Once he asked me to write a letter, and as I settled pen and paper, I said, with an irrepressible glimmer of feminine curiosity, 'Shall it be addressed to wife, or mother, John?'" She talks of women (not men) "all affected much looseness of costume, dishevelment of hair, swords, arrows, lances, scales, and other ornaments quite passé with damsels of our day, whose effigies should go down to posterity armed with fans, crochet needles, riding whips, and parasols, with here and there one holding pen or pencil, rolling-pin or broom. The statue of Liberty I recognized at once." She goes on with such. And then in reflection, finally, on what she's written, she says:

"Since the appearance of these hasty Sketches, I have heard from several of my comrades at the Hospital; and their approval assures me that I have not let sympathy and fancy run away with me, as that lively team is apt to do when harnessed to a pen. As no two persons see the same thing with the same eyes, my view of hospital life must be taken through my glass, and held for what it is worth."

Now our eye and ear note what's going on. This is the "self-transformation," the positionless / side-by-side, a(p)position game. It's what Steiner calls "ontological." It's about the very being of a person using language. Alcott has what traditionally belongs in the world of men, the pen, the phallic pen, now a part of the world of women, when men are wounded now and women are there beside them, penning and punning. These things are not so obvious. And yet they really are penned. Subtly mightier than the rigid sword. How would one translate all the language play, the be-ing play, the feminism of Alcott?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

100 Best Blogs for the Literati is a resource for individuals pursuing higher education degrees online.  The reasonable claim?  "We are the ultimate source for facts on college courses online to get you one step ahead."  For example, there are several top 100 lists (such as 100 Useful Links for eBook Lovers).

And recently, the site owners have compiled the 100 Best Blogs for the Literati.  If "literati" doesn't sound like you, then take a look anyway.  And if you are a thinker wanting to engage with others in various ways about different topics, then you'll find some very interesting blogs organized around the following categories:

Art, Politics and Law, History (where some of my favorite blogs are listed), Society and Culture, Languages, Literature, Philosophy, Writing, Film, and Music and Performance.

You'll see that the organizer of the site goes on to say:
If you feel that you’re destined to be an intellectual long after you graduate from college, you’re going to have to work a little harder to keep up with high brow culture and scholarly debates on your own. These 100 blogs will help you jump in on the discussions influencing the art, literature, political and culture worlds, even without the support of your professors and fellow classmates.
And as you look through the "philosophy blogs" for "comment on literature, political theory, culture and more," you might find something else.  You might find yourself coming back over here.  Blog number 76 is

"Aristotle’s Feminist Subject: Read this blog if you’d like to discover how Aristotle was actually a chauvinist."

So we don't disappoint, let's just say Aristotle, the logical objective father of science and philosophy, more than "discovered" that females, because of Nature, have fewer teeth than males.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Exactly What Paul Meant by "Sarx"

Blogger, linguist, and translator Wayne Leman gets it exactly right when he says (and I can't find now where he said this):

"I don't know exactly what Paul meant by 'sarx.'"

And  the gospel writer and Jesus translator named John doesn't understand exactly what is meant (in John 6.53) when he has Jesus saying:

"Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐὰν μὴ φάγητε τὴν σάρκα τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου καὶ πίητε αὐτοῦ τὸ αἷμα, οὐκ ἔχετε ζωὴν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς."

My point is that good translators like Leman and John want language that "natural" readers (whether English or Greek readers) can read.  But they don't insist on overexplanation or on exact understanding.

I think Leman and John understand Paul and Jesus better than most.  They're not different from George Steiner and C.S. Lewis in that way.  They're not unlike Peter, who hung out with Jesus and who engaged with Paul.

So let me repeat some things I've said some before .  Do we have a clue why polyglot George Steiner defines polysemy in his book After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation?  How can he define that word, that babel concept, this way? (page 35):
Polysemy, the capacity of the same word to mean different things, such difference ranging from nuance to antithesis, characterizes the language of ideology.
I imagine it's something personal, something to do with the fact that Steiner's mother tongues are not only English but also German and French and that he learned to read Homer's Illiad in Homer's Greek at six years of age.  Steiner knows, from experience, what overhearing is all about.  This starts to get even more personal when Steiner says, "even direct quotation is set alight by context (eg, when St.Paul cites Euripides)" (Grammars of Creation, page 96).

Steiner hears this too, subjectively eavesdropping as an etic outsider so personally albeit himself a Jew, like Jesus, like Paul:
Jesus' discourse in parables, his statements of withdrawal from statement--of which the episode in which he writes in the dust and effaces his writing is the emblematic instance--give to linguistic verticality, to the containment of silence in language, a particular impetus. As do the constantly polysemic, stratified techniques of semantic motions in the Pauline Epistles. It is these parables and indirect communications, at once more internalized and open-ended than are the codes of classical rhetoric, which beget the seeming contradiction of enigmatic clarity, the "comprehendit imcomprehensible esse" celebrated in Anselm's Proslogion. In turn, from these dramatizations of manifold sense, evolve the instruments of allegory, of analogy, of simile, of tropes and concealments in Western literature (though here also there are obvious and indispensible classical sources). (page 75)
Did Steiner overhear what he writes from the polysemic "second meanings" of Englishman, C. S. Lewis?  Lewis, as an outsider reflecting on the Jewish Psalms, makes this comment about the Jewish Jesus and then about the Jewish Paul:
He uses paradox, proverb, exaggeration, parable, irony; even (I mean no irreverence) the "wisecrack". He utters maxims which, like popular proverbs, if rigorously taken, may seem to contradict one another. His teaching therefore cannot be grasped by the intellect alone, cannot be ‘got up’ as if it were a ‘subject’. If we try to do that with it, we shall find Him the most elusive of teachers. He hardly ever gave a straight answer to a straight question. He will not be, in the way we want, ‘pinned down’. The attempt is (again I mean no irreverence) like trying to bottle a sunbeam.

Descending lower, we find a somewhat similar difficulty with St. Paul. I cannot be the only reader who has wondered why God, having given him so many gifts, withheld from him (what would to us seem so necessary for the first Christian theologian [albeit a formidable Jew]) that of lucidity and orderly exposition. (Reflections on the Psalms, page 113)
Maybe Lewis had been reading another Jew, a Peter, who writes of reading his dear and loved brother's writings:
ὁ ἀγαπητὸς ἡμῶν ἀδελφὸς Παῦλος κατὰ τὴν δοθεῖσαν αὐτῷ σοφίαν ἔγραψεν ὑμῖν ὡς καὶ ἐν πάσαις ἐπιστολαῖς [Παῦλου] λαλῶν ἐν αὐταῖς περὶ τούτων ἐν αἷς ἐστιν δυσνόητά τινα ἃ οἱ ἀμαθεῖς καὶ ἀστήρικτοι στρεβλοῦσιν ὡς καὶ τὰς λοιπὰς γραφὰς πρὸς τὴν ἰδίαν αὐτῶν ἀπώλειαν

Our dearly loved brother Paul, in the wisdom that has been granted to him, has also written to you all even as he speaks of these matters in all his letters; but places in them are hard to understand, which the unlearned and unstable distort, as they do the other writings, to their own personal destruction.-- 2 Peter 3:15-16
So when men continue to argue over what Paul must singularly mean by writing πίστεως (Ἰησοῦ) (Χριστοῦ) in each singular context, then there's avarice in their logic. They're afraid to misunderstand, afraid to confess that Paul here and there might be too "hard to understand" for them. They don't want to appear unlearned or to seem unstable. They equate distortion with subjectivity, with ambiguity, with polysemic phrasing that might knock them off their high places.

And Steiner adds:
[V]erbal discourse. . . is handcuffed to the avarice of logic, with its ordinance of causality, with its (probably crass) segmentation of time and perception into past, present, and future. Identity principles, the end-stopping of sentences (mathematical proofs can be of infinite length), axioms of continuity, render speech and writing, however polysemic our words, however subtle and animate with fantastication our phrasing of the imaginary, despotic. We speak in (rich) monotones. Our poetry is haunted by the music it has left behind. Orpheus shrinks to a poet when he looks back, with the impatience of reason, on a music stronger than death. (Errata, page 73)

Greek Changing Paul

The title of my post is ambiguous. You can read it as "Paul was changing the Greek language" and as "The Greek language of Paul was changing." I'm talking about the Paul (or someone using his name) who used Greek to write much of the New Testament.

His language changes through the various letters he wrote. And Paul's Greek changes the way other writers after him use the language. Tracking the influences on Paul and Paul's on others could be a dissertation, or a lifetime of study. I think Paul was as much influenced by Aristotle and his Greek as anybody. Paul clearly was engaged in (if he didn't explicitly recognize) the sort of gripes that Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle had with the language and language flux of the old poets and playwrights and sophists (such as Homer, Hesiod, Sappho, Heraclitus, Sophocles, Euripides, Protagoras, Epicurus, Zeno, Gorgias, Dissoi Logoi). When Paul was in Athens listening in on and then chiming in on the conversations of his contemporaries in that City and culture, he used the Greek language rhetorically in a very Aristotelian way, starting syllogistically with the givens of certain men of old. He treats theo-logy in his speech in many ways as Aristotle does, an acknowledging of truths but of errors to get at the Nature of God objectively.

Paul, unlike Aristotle, did acknowledge much of his personal change, his "growth" perhaps, and certainly his dramatic adult human conversion. In his short life, the rippling effects of that conversion can be seen in his letter writing. Bill Heroman does some wonderful reflecting on and some reconstructing of the possibilities of some of this change in Paul. T.C. Robinson challenges whether there's a theological construct in the traditional ordering of Paul's New Testament letters. Bill Mounce has looked at Paul's rare Greek such as δί·λογος / dí-logos /. And Joel Hoffman, with a number of others, has wondered whether Paul has new meanings for σάρξ / sarks /.

Language, Greek language, and translation scholar Willis Barnstone reflects on Paul. Barnstone sees the stability of the Greek language, its fluidity, and where Paul fits into that. On pages 114 and 115 of his new Restored New Testament, Barnstone gets us thinking:
The letters to the Romans (probably his last letter) and the Corinthians show Paul at the peak of thought and rhetorical magic. He achieves language magic in demotic Greek (Koine), with a flare of the classical period while keeping to the simplified syntax and virtues of the vernacular. He has the high flow of Plato, who wrote in Attic Greek, in his own less inflected tongue. To repeat my argument [i.e., Barnstone's argument] about the glory of Mark's Greek, Paul's work is not less effective for being composed in vernacular development of Attic Greek any more than Michel de Montaigne is less for writing in French, the regional vernacular of Cicero's Latin. Indeed, in terms of change, Paul's Greek is closer to Plato than E. M. Forster's English is to Shakespeare. Greek, in spelling, grammar, and usage, was very early established, while in English the dictionary thoroughness of Samuel Johnson, who established norms for English spelling and usage did not enter the scene until midway between Forster and Shakespeare.
If this volume [i.e., Barnstone's Restored New Testament] were predominantly a study Bible, then it would begin with Paul’s I Thessalonians, which, if not supreme, carries the authority and beauty of all his authentic letters. And despite the above encomia [i.e. Barnstone's own praise] for the apostle’s key letters, there are advantages at least for study purposes to keep in mind the probable order of Paul’s work. He grows as his movement grows, and his work moves to the climactic pivotal letters. A chronological order, even the thought of one, would provide an unbiased historical frame for secular and sectarian events and reveal the material culture scene of the Jews, Christian Jews, Greeks, and Romans who participate in the drama of each book.
While I separate the authentic Pauline letters from the pseudonymous, from a stylistic point of view, the would-be Paul letters do not jar. Being pseudepigraphic they imitate Paul's style, in not his depth and breadth.
While Barnstone may be making a few sweeping statements, he's absolutely correct to try to see Paul's writings and his Greek in light of developments in and of the language.  Barnstone goes on to instruct his own readers in what Aristotle taught as if to help us read Paul better.  That point shouldn't get lost on any of us.  Why would it hurt any of us to get at not only exactly what Paul meant by certain Greek words but also at exactly how and why (sometimes without self reflection at all) we read Paul?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mara: like Aristotle

Jay Seidler, who has lived in Laos for a decade and lives in Thailand and blogs at Roots and Leaves, reminds us of the profound misogyny in the lore of Mara of Buddhism.  Jay writes:
As I read your entry about Aristotle's use of sarx, I can't help but think of the temptations of Buddha by the Mara, who tempted Buddha in the form of four women (perhaps the daughters of Mara depending on the version of the story)but in the end Buddha was victorious over the temptations of lust. This terrible lust which causes the continuation of suffering (rebirth) of course through the lust inducing womb-man. In Laos and Eastern Thailand a pregnant woman is often referred to has having mar(a). So even though Aristotle would have hated the illogical Asian barbarians, he would have felt at home with their attitude towards women.
For years, Jay has worked with women and men on equality issues, ongoing issues.  He works within cultures of peoples who have a different sort of logic from Aristotle's logic.  Nonetheless, often there is the same effect.

Buddhist nuns have not enjoyed equality with monks.  The struggle with Mara, for women, is more difficult than it is for men, as one might imagine.  Mara tells her:

That state so hard to achieve
Which is to be attained by the seers,
Can't be attained by a woman
With her two-fingered wisdom.

This is from "Can Women attain Enlightenment," posted at from "Soma Sutta" from Discourses of the Ancient Nuns (BL 143), translated from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1997). Copyright © 1997 Buddhist Publication Society.

And even in secular, or non-religious, life, there's the daily demeaning of and danger to women in Asia.  For example, Thúy-Lan Võ Lite of Equal Writes, has written recently of one of India's solution to its "climate of increasing numbers of rape, kidnapping and abduction, torture and molestation cases over the past few years."  The solution?  It's "a new set of eight female-only commuter trains to combat the prevalent harassment female passengers often face."  And Chally in Australia (a blogger for Feministe) follows up yesterday to say that "harassment on public transport is far from being a problem just in India. Transportation catering only to women is popping up around the world more and more, from Bangkok to Moscow. For instance, in the Mexican city of Puebla, there’s a new service comprised of thirty-five taxis which not only service just women but are driven exclusively by women."

These are reminders that Aristotle and his logic have no monopoly on influencing men around the globe to devalue and abuse women around them.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

More Cultural Sources of Paul's "Sarx"

This post is a continuation of the last.  In the earlier post, I began asking a couple of questions:
How did other writers other than Paul use the Greek word σάρξ [sarx]?
(How) might this have colored and shaped and otherwise influenced exactly what Paul meant by the word?
I considered (1) the LXX translation of the Genesis creation story, the earliest use of the Greek word σάρξ [sarx] for translation of Torah by the Jews.  And I considered (2) the play Hecuba by Euripides, because it uses the same Greek word for a blinding episode, which may have reminded Paul of his own.  We saw that in both instances the word σάρξ [sarx] is gendered, that the contexts have allusions to "flesh" as female, whether in their creation and procreation or in their disparagement and denigration.

So in this post, we'll consider (3) Aristotle and (4) a first-century novelist.

(3) Aristotle

This is by far the longer of the two sections of this post.  I'm wanting us to look at how Aristotle used σάρξ [sarx] because he had such a profound effect on how Greeks after him used language in general and the Hellene language in particular.  Aristotle disparaged and denigrated playwrights such as Euripides.  And he absolutely despised females.  It wasn't just that his objective, logical, scientific epistemology told him that in Nature females and poets were lesser than males and philosophers.  It was also the fact that women and poets just were not objective or logical or scientific -- and if they could know anything, then it was the stuff that weakened Greek politics and the rule of the Greek household (i.e., economics), elite male politics and exclusively male-run households.

Aristotle also hated barbarians, such as Jews.  The hatred seems to have backfired on him to a certain extent, however.  When Jews translated their scriptures into Greek, they did not use an Aristotelian paradigm nor an Alexandrian paradigm; they didn't even use an "Exodus paradigm" although commissioned by the lackey King Ptolemy II Philadelphus of Egypt, in Alexandria, Alexander the Great's namesake city.  Rather, according to Sylvie Honigman, they followed the Homeric paradigm, the paradigm of the epic poet, no logician or philosopher by any stretch.

It's fascinating to see what Aristotle does with σάρξ [sarx] and to consider whether Paul follows him or someone else perhaps.  To be sure, Aristotle is the king of the use of σάρξ [sarx].  In the extant writings we can read today, he or someone claiming to be Aristotle used the word more times than the LXX translators and the New Testament writers did combined.  Aristotle used the word some 445 times, whereas the Greek bible book collection has just under 370 uses.  The Septuagint (LXX) has around 215 uses, and the New Testament nearly 155 uses with Paul (or someone claiming his name) writing the word around 100 of those times. (And if anyone cares, Euripides only used the word 27 times in his extant plays).  Aristotle used the word mostly for his biologies and some for his Metaphysics.  If anyone by his corpus and by his careful science and logic defines the word, it's Aristotle.  Aristotle sees σάρξ as a subject, a substance, along with bones, blood, sperm, and other parts of bodies that are material.

We have time to carefully consider the most interesting use of σάρξ [sarx] by Aristotle.  It is in his book that we call Generation of Animals.  It's a book mostly about the sexual intercourse and offspring conception and generative births of animals and of human beings.  It's one of the books in which Aristotle objectively observes females as lesser than males, as defective or mutant beings caused by mothers who did not get the sex act right (or else, of course, they would have generated a male offspring).

The passage below is my translation of Aristotle's Greek.  I want us to eavesdrop, to listen in, to overhear.  I want us to image what it might have been like to be Aristotle's daughter and his slave, reading the text although it's not meant for us.  (Rather it was written for the natural-born free elite boys of Aristotle's academy).  I want us to hear the wordplay, certainly not intended by Aristotle, the author.

I'd like us to see how certain words disparage females, and how these are associated with a lump of flesh that is neither human nor alive outside the womb.  (If you want other translations, they are readily available.  And I'll link to two right after my translation.  And then we'll get to that first-century novel and say something in summary before we go).  Here, from Generation of Animals pages 775b-776a, is the most interesting use of σάρξ [sarx] by Aristotle:
On the subject of what is called the “maid’s millstone” [μύλης mýlēs], let us speak.  It is generated [γίγνεται gígnetai] in just a few women [γυναιξί gynaiksí] in the birthing process.  This thing is generated [γίγνεται gígnetai] in the passion, the suffering, of pregnancy.  This offspring, in fact, is the so-called “maid’s millstone” [μύλην mýlēn].  It has, in fact, already happened as the birth woman [γυναικὶ gunaikì] has intercourse with the man, even gaining the opinion that she has conceived as certainly, first, there is the large expansion of the belly just as with a typical generation, according to stated facts.   Afterwards, however, at the time for the offspring, she neither gives birth to the offspring nor does her largeness diminish.  Instead, she continues on three or four years without finishing what she started until she gives birth [γενομένης genoménēs] to dysentery, and so endangers herself, until birthing this offspring: 
flesh [σάρκα sárka], which is what is called a “maid’s millstone” [μύλην mýlēn].
Some women, however, will grow old with this passion, this suffering, and may even die with it.   Coming out of the door of birth generation [γίγνεται gígnetai], it is hard – hard so much so that even iron is insufficient [μόλις mólis] to cut through it. – insufficient like a “maid.”  On the subject of this passionate suffering, we have already said things in [my other book], The Problems.  There is, in fact, passionate suffering with respect to this “fetus” in the mother, just as there is with the “maid’s measly meat-boil” [μωλυνόμενα mōlynómena] in the under-warmed pot.  And the problem is not because of heat, as some would claim, but it is more because of its own sickliness and weakness of heat.  It is, in fact, like its own nature, sickly and weak and neither able to finish what it starts nor able to conclude what the generative birth [γενέσει genései] should put forth.  Therefore, she grows old with it or stays with it a long time.  She does this, in fact, since it neither finishes what is started nor does it altogether have the nature of something different from her.  The cause of its hardness, in fact, is her lack of expelling it.  This cause, in fact, is somewhat also that of the  “maid’s measly meat-boil” [μώλυνσίς mōlynsís].
Now, I hope we've all been able to hear the gender of sound, the sounds of certain words that Aristotle (probably here unconsciously) connects with "woman" or "wife."  They are the Greek words for "generation" or "birth."  And then there are the words for "millstone" and for "under-cooked meat" -- these are words also associated in Greek culture with "maid," a female who grinds grain or cooks meat for men in the epics of Homer and in the plays of the others.  The word for "insufficient" has a similar sound.  And in the middle of all that is Aristotle's use of σάρξ [sarx].  By this, he clearly means "flesh," but it's useless flesh, a lump, the mother's fault and something this womb-woman carries with her into her dysentery, into her old age, and to her death.  It's not a male child, not even a mutant called a female child.  It's hard because of the woman and as undesirable as a scalded lump of meat, undercooked by the maid.

So let's say this again:  Aristotle didn't intend for us to read this, and he didn't mean for the words to sound similar in this context or association.  We're not trying to read into the text.  And we're not doing Freudian psychology, where we'd read into Aristotle's sub-conscious motives.  Rather, we're just listening with our bar-bar-ian ears and re-membering contexts in other earlier Greek texts in which the sounds of females were placed, like appositives and adjectives, alongside women.

I do want to take a long, full paragraph to talk about some of the traditional translations.  We should feel free to investigate as many translations as possible.  The unfortunate thing with typical translations is this:  the translator usually wants to be faithful to the author's intention, and many times this means making words technical by transliteration, so as to keep the original author's original sounds.  The translator may ignore the cultural context, or the translator may be following an earlier translator who transliterates and ignores the playfulness of language and the cultural contexts.  Arthur Platt, for example, in 1910 just transliterates Aristotle's μύλης  as "mola" and to the Greek word elsewhere he adds a bit of Latin to make it sound more technical, as with "mola uterus," which in his footnote he calls "uterine mole."  Much more well done (please pardon my pun), for μωλυνόμενα Platt uses "half-cooked meat," and for σάρκα he has "lump of flesh."  Here's Platt's English - if you scroll down to his Chapter 7 of Book IV, and if you go to your library, you'll find the published version with footnotes. My guess is that Platt, in translating Aristotle into English, followed Jules Barthélemy-Saint-Hilaire, who translated many of Aristotle's works into French in the mid and late 1800s. Saint-Hilaire also transliterates.  He has "une môle" for μύλης ; and he gives two footnotes to explain, the latter getting at what he considers uncertain etymologies: "Cette formule, répétée deux fois dans ce paragraphe, semble indiquer que l'observation était alors peu connue. L'étymologie du mot dans les trois langues se rapproche beaucoup, et est presque identique; il serait assez difficile de la justifier, puisqu'elle fait allusion à la forme d'une meule de moulin." Please understand what Saint-Hilaire is confessing by saying "'elle fait allusion à la forme d'une meule de moulin"; he is confessing that he's not translated even though the word "refers to the shape of a millstone" (i.e., the sort of millstone that maids used to grind grain for men in Homer's epic stories).  Saint-Hilaire transliterates the Greek sounds of Aristotle's letters as if to preserve the original.  He does not make the connection that Aristotle's daughter can if she reads the text; Aristotle's daughter would read it understanding that the "millstone" is the domain of the woman servant for men, and that this is the metaphor that Aristotle uses for the mutant thing inside the ostensibly pregnant women.  To his credit, Saint-Hilaire does have "nos aliments quand ils sont à moitié crus" and "la coction incomplète" for μωλυνόμενα, even if the Greek alliterative connection to μύλης gets lost. And for σάρκα, Saint-Hilaire has "Un morceau de chair." Saint-Hilaire's French translation with Aristotle's Greek can be found here.

What I'm more than hinting at here is that Paul perhaps follows Aristotle when using the Greek word σάρξ [sarx].  In Aristotle's context, there is the use of the word to indicate something awful, something related to women.

So let's move on, then, to a first-century novelist who uses the Greek word σάρξ [sarx].  Perhaps by Paul's century, the word is used differently from how Aristotle used it some three or four centuries earlier.

(4) Chariton, a First-Century Novelist

We could argue whether Paul would have ever read a novel.  It is highly plausible, however, that people to whom Paul wrote in the assemblies of Greekish Jews and Jewish Greeks would have read a novel if such had been available.  It is quite likely that the place where a Greek novel would have the most appeal is at the center of the empire, Rome.  The Romans were pushing official Latin but the push wasn't working very well during Paul's day.  It's no accident that the entire New Testament is not originally composed in Latin but in Greek.  And as these scriptures were being written, so was Chariton's novel.  English translator and Greek scholar G. P. Goold makes the strong case that "Chariton's Callirhoe, subtitled 'Love Story in Syracuse,' is the oldest extant novel," composed and read in the first century.

Just a bit of background for those who've yet to read the novel.  The protagonist is the beautiful woman Callirhoe, whose name means "fine" or "beautiful" or "good form."  She is wanted by various men through the course of the plot, and she from time to time has to go into hiding.

How did Chariton use the Greek word σάρξ [sarx]? 

Here's a snippet from Goold's English translation with my insertion of Chariton's Greek word:
Though Callirhoe was reluctant and unwilling, Plangon managed to get her to the bath.  After she had gone in they had rubbed her with oil and wiped it off carefully, and marveled at her all the more when undressed, for, whereas when she was dressed they admired her face as divine, they had no thoughts for her face when they saw her hidden beauty. Her skin gleamed white, shining just like a shimmering surface, but her flesh [σάρξ sarx] was so delicate as to make one afraid that even the touch of one's fingers might cause a serious wound. They whispered to one another, "Our mistress was famed for her beauty, but she would have seemed this girl's maidservant." Their praise troubled Callirhoe and she had a foreboding of what was to come. When she had had her bath and they were fastening up her hair, they brought her clean clothes. But she said that this was not proper for one who had just been bought: "Give me a slave's tunic, for even you are my superiors." So she put on an ordinary dress, but this too suited her and in reflecting her beauty seemed an expensive one.
Aren't we picking up a theme here?  The Greek word, again, in another context is associated with a female.  More than that, the "flesh" or "sarx" of this female is strange, is dangerous to those who would look at it or touch it. 

(How) might this have colored and shaped and otherwise influenced exactly what Paul meant by the word?

And what exactly did Paul mean by the Greek word σάρξ [sarx]?  (The precise answer, of course, must wait until we have more time).

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Two Cultural Sources of Paul's "Sarx"

Before claiming to understand exactly what Paul meant by the Greek word σάρξ [sarx], an English language translator does well to consider Paul's sources and how they used the word. Paul (or someone using his name) wrote the word nearly 100 times in the extant texts we call the New Testament. This same Paul quoted from the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures (the Septuagint or LXX), which uses sarx well over 200 times. And Paul - in Luke's history (Acts 17) - quoted out of his verbal working memory the sayings of various Greek poets and playwrights. And Paul writing in Greek - to Jews and Greeks in Rome (Romans 12) - is the only New Testament writer to use Aristotle's logical-method word, λογικη [logikē, or "logic"). And Paul - if it's not too much of a speculation - may have read popular Greek works of his day.

In this post, I want to look at some examples of writings that Paul may have read.  Let's consider (1) the LXX and (2) a poet / playwright in this post.  If we have time, in another post, then, we'll consider (3) Aristotle and (4) a first-century novelist .

How did other writers use the Greek word σάρξ [sarx]? (How) might this have colored and shaped and otherwise influenced exactly what Paul meant by the word?

(1) LXX

The very first use of sarx in the Septuagint (by the Jews in Egypt, in Alexander the Great's namesake city, translating their scriptures into the language of the new Greek empire) is in Genesis 2:21 -
καὶ ἔλαβεν μίαν τῶν πλευρῶν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀνεπλήρωσεν σάρκα ἀντ’ αὐτῆς
Roughly, it's conveying this,
that God took a rib from the first human being and closed up the "sarx" in its place.
The story goes on quickly to make clear that this human being has out of him, formed by God, a new human being. And the first says of her (in Greek-translated Jewish language):
τοῦτο νῦν ὀστοῦν ἐκ τῶν ὀστέων μου καὶ σὰρξ ἐκ τῆς σαρκός μου
In essence, he's saying the following:
"This now is bone out of my bone and 'sarx' out of my 'sarx'."
And he goes on reasonably to call her γυνη "gunē" (or "woman" or "wife") - which is funny in Greek, because the word rhymes with the Greek words for "Genesis" and for "birth" and for "generations" and for "ground." There is an ambiguous, playful set of meanings here. And I want to emphasize that from the get-go the LXX uses sarx in gendered ways, that semantically (to get at all the meanings) there has to be some understanding of "woman" and there has to be a bit of an appreciation for "womanly" ways of meaning making and of language.

It is funny in another way too:  the first human being looks at the second human being and declares, in Greek, ἐκ (ek "out of").  This preposition in this context is something that connotes a conception and a birth. The preposition is used when talking about a newborn coming "out of" the mother.  So the first human being (a male) is like the mother (a female) of the second human being, is like that in Greek in the beginning.  The second human being is actually the female in the story. And she becomes the first mother, of course.  And in Matthew's genealogy where he includes some females in the patrilineage of Jesus, Matthew writes "out of Tamar" and "out of Ruth" and so forth using this same Greek preposition.  But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

So then the writer of Genesis (and the translators too) will do something even funnier. In a sentence a little later, the father and mother (and the idea of mother and father in conception and in birth) get left behind:
ἕνεκεν τούτου καταλείψει ἄνθρωπος τὸν πατέρα αὐτοῦ καὶ τὴν μητέρα αὐτοῦ καὶ προσκολληθήσεται πρὸς τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ καὶ ἔσονται οἱ δύο εἰς σάρκα μίαν
More or less, this means:
"Therefore, this human will leave his father and his mother, and he will stick together with his woman (womb-man, birthing wife, baby generator), and the two will become merged into a single 'sarx'."
The LXX uses sarx in other startling ways we don't have time for.  The consistent thing is that the referents are things that are, as we say in English, fleshly:  skin, muscle and sinew, as mixed with blood and bone in a carcass or body.  But the gendered beginnings of the word (in the beginning, in Genesis) is how this all starts.

(2) A Greek Poet / Playwright

We could laugh all day reading funny Greek poetry and plays in which the Greek word σάρξ [sarx] is used.  I just want to look at one example.  I've chosen it because I think Paul at a particular point in his life might have been drawn to it.  It's the play Hecuba by the writer Euripides.  The antagonist Polymestor gets blinded.  This is not too different from Paul's getting blinded on his way to Damascus, where he's going to arrest and kill or otherwise "persecute" some of the earliest Messianic Jews (as noted in Luke's history, Acts 22).

Let's read the E. P. Coleridge English translation around line 1056 (and I'll drop in sarx and some other Greek words, bolding the pertinent English references to females)."  Again, here's Polymestor talking immediately after getting blinded by the woman protagonist Hecuba:
Woe is me! where can I go, where halt, or turn? shall I crawl like a wild four-footed beast on their track, as my reward? Which path shall I take first, this or that, eager as I am to clutch those Trojan murderesses that have destroyed me? You wretched, cursed daughters of Phrygia! to what corner have you fled cowering before me? O sun-god, would you could heal, could heal my bleeding eyes, ridding me of my blindness! Ha! hush! I catch the stealthy footsteps of the women [γυναικῶν gun-] here. Where can I dart on them and gorge on their flesh [σαρκῶν sark-] and bones, making for myself a wild beasts' meal, inflicting mutilation in requital of their outrage on me? Ah, woe is me! where am I rushing, leaving my children unguarded for maenads of hell to mangle, to be murdered and ruthlessly cast forth upon the hills, a feast of blood for dogs?
Of course we can only imagine that Paul might have read this.  We only conjecture that if Paul had read or seen or heard Euripides's play Hecuba that he would have identified Hecuba's blinding Polymestor with Jesus Christ's blinding Paul.  But, if he did, then perhaps we could also speculate that sarx as Euripides used it made some impact on Paul.

I want to consider again how gendered this Greek word is.  As with the first uses of sarx in the LXX, Euripides's use of sarx (in the mouth of the sexist antagonist Polymestor) is gendered.  Specifically, it refers to women, to females, and their bodies.


When we look at Aristotle's uses of sarx, we'll look at how gendered the word is by the objective scientist.  Likewise, when we look at how one of Paul's  contemporaries -- a  Greek novelist -- used the word, then we'll also see sarx making statements about a woman and her beauty and the desires of men for her because of that.  But the look at these two other cultural sources for Paul's sarx will have to wait for another post if there's time.

To reiterate some of the things shown in this post, there's gendered reference to sarx in some of the texts Paul was familiar with.  Certainly Paul knew and quoted the LXX, and perhaps he heard, watched, read, or was otherwise familiar with the play Hecuba.  The ways females and women are associated with the Greek word σάρξ [sarx] is not, I would say, lost on Paul.  When Paul starts writing to Greeks and to fellow Jews in Rome in particular, exactly what he means by the word can be seen in this light.  (So again, if there's time for another post, we may get to that).

Friday, November 6, 2009

Paul's "Sarx" and Malik Nidal Hasan's "Pound of Flesh"

Soon I'd like to post on "Exactly What Paul Meant by Sarx." But Malik Nidal Hasan has caused a profound tragedy, and we need to assign blame or otherwise to make sense, so I'm coming back to Paul's precise intention more precisely another day.

Today's post has 2 Parts.

Part 1: Paul's "Flesh"

When I was a kid, my parents and my other evangelical Christian teachers used to warn me about The World, The Flesh, and The Devil. The World included tv where one could watch Flip Wilson's character Geraldine confirm "The Devil made me do it." And The Flesh was one of a three-parter in The World, as in the Bible (the leather-bound thin-paper red-letter NRSV I was made to read and memorize):

Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live for ever. I John 2:15-16

But God was ironic if I wasn't to love The World or to have the desire of The Flesh. He was as ironic as Geraldine in The World talking like a Christian blaming The Devil. (Here's how I got that as the kid of missionaries in a war zone, Việt Nam, where I was made to go to Vietnamese church every Sunday where I'd hear this: "Đức Chúa Trời yêu thương thế gian" and "Ngôi Lời ở thế gian" and "Ngôi Lời đã trở nên xác thịt.") In other words, God got to love The World, and Jesus was in The World, and Jesus became Flesh. That's what John (aka Giaêng) also said about God and Jesus in my NRSV (John 3:16, John 1:10, and John 1:14).

God loves The World; but we must not. Jesus was in The World in The Flesh; but we must avoid the desires of The Flesh.  But of course, we are not God or Jesus. So John comes along to make that crystal clear. He comes along, after Paul, to keep us from doing what God and Jesus did. Don't love The World and especially don't have the desire of The Flesh. John (in I John) was listening more precisely and more carefully to Paul; and Paul (as the NRSV and the Vietnamese Bible arranged it) had already written a few books and chapters and pages earlier to confirm with precision and with sense, this very sense:

"For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it." (Romans 7:18)

Nobody yet had the (New) Living Bible or (Today's) New International Version (2011) to flesh out the understanding that "thịt" and "flesh" mean "sinful nature." And that's what Paul may mean, and may mean exactly by "sarx." So Douglas Moo is making decisions -- now with bibliobloggers and translationbloggers making decisions about his decisions.

What are the consequences of Paul's "Sarx"?  What's the sense you make of it?

Part 2: Making sense of a "Pound of Flesh"

The terrorism of Malik Nidal Hasan is arresting to so many of us, directly injurious to thirty of us and murderous to thirteen of us. How do we make sense of it?

Top biblioblogger Dr. Jim West jumps in early asking for "the faithful to pray for all involved" and wondering about "a war without an end in sight and being waged for no clear objective" and saying that Hasan "snapped" and that that does "show just how much pressure our military personnel are under."

And Polycarp, at his blog "The Church of Jesus Christ," responds to the early reports that Hasan was killed (although now we know he was shot by a female officer but now is alive, stable, and refusing to answer questions). Polycarp says "let us remember the example of the Amish and while we pray for those afflicted by this tragedy, the families left behind, let us too remember his family"; and the example of the Amish that Watts links to is this:  to forgive the dead terrorist with concern for "the welfare of the killer's family."

Feminist blogger Phyllis Chesler says "Call me 'Islamophobic,' call me 'psychic,' call me what you will." And she says that most may call Hasan the victim.  She says that in her post entitled "The Jihadist Is Always the Victim."

And a blogger who calls himself "Improvable" asks a rhetorical question with respect to Hasan. The blogger says: "So he decides to take out as many infidels as he could to get his pound of flesh for the jehad?"

Now we in the West hear Shakespeare, and we hear Shylock saying of Antonio: "The pound of flesh which I demand of him Is deerely bought, 'tis mine, and I will haue it."

The Bible, the Koran, the words of William Shakespeare. These are texts that demand interpretation, texts and interpretations that we may use for hope and healing and for terror and death. What does it matter exactly what "sarx" and what "pound of flesh" mean if they're mostly tools of terror?

What are the consequences of Malik Nidal Hasan's "Pound of Flesh"?  What's the sense you make of it?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

female trafficking in the bible?

[Our] Western, American, middle-class point of view can actually interfere with our understanding of God's Word. The story of Naomi and Ruth takes place against the backdrop of an ancient patriarchal culture. If we want to grasp the message, we must enter Naomi's world. We can do this better with the help of our sisters in the Third World whose cultures more closely resemble the ancient biblical culture.
--Carolyn Custis James, The Gospel of Ruth (p 30)

What if one of our sisters is from Malawi and is helping us? What if she's "a child of the third wife in a polygamous marriage"? What of "her experience as a widow and mother of three" might inform ours, if we're willing for ours to be so informed? What if she's encouraging us "to think of the trafficked women in Geneva and not to forget that contextual Bible study is about transformation"? What if we start to have some "thought about how few choices trafficked women and men have?" And then what if we began reading the Bible, the Book of Ruth, and chapter 3?

Well then, we may just do what the wonderful Jane Stranz is doing and now encourages us to do: to "read it with the idea that Ruth could be seen as a trafficked woman - that Naomi could be seen as a formerly trafficked woman who encourages another woman to follow the same path, because of course there is no other path." Jane has been listening to Fulata Mbano Moyo, her "brilliant colleague," sharing with us her insights again.

Would we really be doing injustice to the Bible? As importantly, if we don't consider the possibility, then are we doing injustice to Ruth and to Naomi?  Or don't we remember those lines of John Keats's "Ode to A Nightingale" which go like this:

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
    No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
    In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
    Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
        She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
                The same that oft-times hath
    Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
        Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

If Keats is not thinking of the tears of the trafficked human, he nonetheless conveys how "forlorn."  If we're reluctant to listen to Mbano Moyo, then how about Keats?  If not a feminist like Jane (who has reminded us of the problem of trafficking in our world), then how about a Bible translator like David Ker (who also continues to remind us)?  Ancient Israel of the bible, or Geneva, Glasgow, Tokyo, Congo, Africa, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, the East, and the West.  We do well to listen to the silences to the cries to the voices, our own and others', when we read.

Now, to be sure, Carolyn Custis James (whose book I quote from to start this post) doesn't necessarily advocate reading the bible to see Ruth or Naomi as trafficked humans.  But in her chapter, “When Women Initiate and Men Respond” (on pages 173-174 The Gospel of Ruth), Custis James does get us thinking about how to read "Arthur Golden’s best-selling novel, Memoirs of a Geisha"; she's getting us to consider how we, women and men in the Western world, initiate and respond.  How do we respond to the experiences and the stories of trafficked girls and boys?

Custis James reads how 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?
So as we think about these questions, we might bravely apply them to ourselves.  We might consider the story of Boaz and Ruth ("What will he do with his advantages? Will he exploit her too? Or is he her ticket to freedom?").  Won't we do well to hear the voices of African women and not forget the forlorn hidden away from among us by men who would traffic and own them?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Aristotle and the Indians (and Us Too)

I don't know about you, but one of my favorite things about blogging is having friends who teach me new things. One of my friends, Suzanne McCarthy of Suzanne's Bookshelf, is a prolific reader who reads blogs, essays, articles, and books, and shares pertinent snippets. At her suggestion, I've been reading Aristotle and the Indians: A Study in Race Prejudice in the Modern World by Lewis Hanke.

Would you like some snippets? And do, also, note below them how much Willis Barnstone makes some of the same observations Hanke has made. They both refer to Bartolomé de Las Casas and see him as instrumental in opposing Christianized Aristotelian slavery. Hanke includes (untranslated) some of the correspondence of Las Casas and a major proponent of enslavement of Indians as a natural class of slaves.

Here's from Hanke:
At first sight, the conjunction of Aristotle and the American Indians appears absurd and meaningless. One may ask why sixteenth-century Spaniards came to apply the ideas of a Greek, who lived four centuries before Christ, to the problems of their conquest of America. What did Aristotle say that had any relevance to the Indians? The explanation is simple. The opening up of a vast unknown world peopled by strange folk led the Spaniards as they advanced among them bearing the Cross to ask themselves who these people were. And in asking this, they found themselves involved in a larger question that Aristotle never had to face: How ought Christians to conduct themselves towards human beings who differ in colour, culture, and religion? Aristotle's authority remained so strong among Christian thinkers that some eminent Spaniards did not hesitate to apply his doctrine of natural slavery to Indians.
(page 1)
Of all the ideas churned up during the early tumultuous years of American history, none had a more dramatic application than the attempts made to apply to the natives there the Aristotelian doctrine of natural slavery: that one part of mankind is set aside by nature to be slaves in the service of masters born for a life of virtue free of manual labour. Learned authorities such as the Spanish jurist Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda not only sustained this view with great tenacity and erudition but also concluded that the Indians were in fact such rude and brutal beings that war against them to make possible their forcible Christianization was not only expedient but lawful. Many ecclesiastics, including the noted Indian apostle, the Dominican friar Bartolomé de Las Casas, opposed this idea scornfully, with appeals to divine and natural law as well as to their own experience in America. The controversy became so heated and the king's conscience so troubled over the question of how to carry on the conquest of the Indies in a Christian way that Charles V actually suspended all expeditions to America while a junta of foremost theologians, jurists and officials in the royal capital of Valladolid listened to the arguments of Las Casas and Sepúlveda. All this occured in 1550, after Cortez had conquered Mexico, Pizarro had shattered the Inca empire, and many other lesser-known captains had carried the Spanish banners to far corners of the New World.
The idea that someone else should do the hard manual work of the world appealed strongly to sixteenth-century Spaniards, who inherited a taste for martial glory and religious conquest and a distaste for physical labour from their medieval forefathers who had struggled for centuries to free Spain from the Moslems....
A Scottish professor in Paris, John Major, was the first to apply to the Indians the Aristotelian doctrine of natural slavery. He also approved the idea that force should be used as a preliminary to the preaching of the faith, and published these convictions in a book in Paris in 1510.
(pages 12-14)
Now, here's from Barnstone also mentioning Las Casas:
Slavery was accepted by the church. When the Roman Empire became Christian, under Constantine, slavery continued, flourishing in the Byzantine Empire as well as in the West. It came to the New World in the sixteenth century under the Spaniards, a century before the English and French brought in slaves from Africa. Bartolomé de Las Casas (1474-1566), a Spanish missionary and historian called "the Apostle of the Indies," heroically devoted his life to obtain, though without success, the complete abolition of slavery (the encomienda) among the native population in the New World. In order to save the souls of the Indians for Christian conversion, he proposed to import black slaves from Cuba, who had no souls, he claimed, to work in the mines. In Mexico, slavery was normal even in monasteries and convents. When Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648/51-95), the major poet of the colonial period, entered the cloistered Hieronymite convent of Santa Paula in Mexico City, she brought with her to her luxurious apartment two slaves, one Indian, one black, onw of whome she later sold to her sister Josefa for 250 gold pesos. Although Sor Juana's biography, Response to Sister Filotea (1691), was the first and truly most significant literary book concerning a woman's right to intellectual and artistic freedom prior to the publication of Virginia Woolf's emancipatory Room of One's Own, Sor Juana was unconcerned with the slavery that prevailed in working class Mexico during her lifetime.
Anciently, slavery was present in Israel and Christianity, in the Hebrew Bible and the Greek scriptures. There were rules concerning slavery in both the authentic and disputed letters of Paul. He asked for kindness to slaves and commanded that in the spiritual realm they be treated as brothers [siblings?] in Christ. With respect to the slave's obligations in the material world, in the letters in which he discusses slavery, he commands that a slave under threat of punishment, obey his master and not escape.
(The Restored New Testament, pages 856-57)
One of my hopes in posting such passages is to show that Aristotle's incorrect, racist notions can be exposed, confronted, and overcome.  Of course, Aristotle does not have a monopoly on the ideas that he conceived, on the methods he developed and used, or on the influence he has wielded.

Another blogger, Paula Fether, writes a post today entitled "Sound Familiar?" While Fether, like Barnstone, does not connect the notion of natural-born slavery back to Aristotle, she does connect slavery to Christian arguments for slavery that just happen to be Aristotelian. She gives a number of statements of logic before she appeals to us, her readers, to work through them:
I want to focus on two things right now: how these very arguments for slavery in the US could be lifted almost without alteration to support the resurgance of patriarchy / male supremacy in the Christian community at large, and also the charge that it is elitist to insist that accurate interpretation of scripture does require the expertise of scholars at some point.

Try reading through the quotes again, this time substituting “women” or “the subordination of women” for terms about slavery. You will be struck with the familiarity of the arguments, because the modern male supremacist movement has adopted practically all of them and merely changed the names....

[I] challenge anyone to say how these [arguments] apply to slaves but not women....

Whether we look at this from the perspective of proof-texts or an appeal to the whole teaching of scripture, there is no logically consistent way to make one set of arguments valid or invalid solely on the basis of the name of the group under examination. In other words, it would require a double standard or the fallacy of “special pleading” to make these arguments valid for the subordination of women but invalid for slavery.

Regarding the alleged elitism of arguing for some expertise in order to have an accurate understanding of scripture, we see first of all that if one rejects this argument on the topic of women, one must also reject it on the topic of slavery.
What Barnstone, Fether, Hanke, Las Casas, and McCarthy are doing is helping us see the connections between Aristotle's sexism, logic, and elitism and that of others' too, even in our cultures and our times.

Exploring Barnstone: Anti-Semitism, Slavery, and Sexism in the Bible

My blogger friend John Hobbins attacked me earlier this year for saying there is “sexism in the Bible.” John noticed how I'd been trying to restore some of that at my other blog by translating.   Back then, I wished John had explored in greater detail what translators like Ann Nyland and Willis Barnstone had been saying and doing.  Both Nyland and Barntone see sexism in the New Testament and consider the need to recover the New Testament, to restore the text, by translating, and translating creatively.

John's attack against me was an odd turn, I thought, because months earlier he'd thanked me "for introducing Barnstone to a wider audience." John also exclaimed:
You are absolutely right, J. K.: Barnstone rocks. Most scholars cringe before his creativity. May they enjoy the reward of their pedantic conservatism: the insurance men will praise them. As for me, I prefer skydiving with the likes of Barnstone.
And John added: "This Barnstone guy seems worth exploring in greater detail."

Very few in the biblebloggersphere have explored Willis Barnstone or his new robust translation of the New Testament and what he himself says about it .  (Many more, it seems, have been excited by Robert Crumb's graphically illustrated version of Robert Alter's Genesis -- though far fewer have dared to say anything about its sexism and anti-Semitism.)

So in this post, I'd like to begin to explore Barnstone a bit more.  Below are some quotations of him from Barnstone's new, restored New Testament translation. He discusses anti-Semitism, slavery, and sexism in the Bible.

Here's Barnstone on the anti-Semitism in the traditional Christian Bible translations:
The scriptures are anti-Semitic just because Jews are falsely slammed in "words" that, as [Karen] Armstrong notes, "for centuries inspired the pogroms that made anti-Semitism an incurable disease in Europe."
I address this dire and central question of disenfranchising Yeshua [aka Jesus] of his religious identity in two ways:  by restoring the probable Hebrew or Aramaic names to biblical figures and framing savage anti-Semitic passages in a historic context in the introduction and the textual annotation.
(page 19)
On the slavery in the Christian Bible translation tradition, Barnstone observes:
    Slavery was accepted by the church.  When the Roman Empire became Christian, under Constantine, slavery continued, flourishing in the Byzantine Empire as well as in the West.  It came to the New World in the sixteenth century under the Spaniards, a century before the English and French brought in slaves from Africa.  Bartolomé de Las Casas (1474-1566), a Spanish missionary and historian called "the Apostle of the Indies," heroically devoted his life to obtain, though without success, the complete abolition of slavery (the encomienda) among the native population in the New World.  In order to save the souls of the Indians for Christian conversion, he proposed to import black slaves from Cuba, who had no souls, he claimed, to work in the mines.  In Mexico, slavery was normal even in monasteries and convents.  When Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648/51-95), the major poet of the colonial period, entered the cloistered Hieronymite convent of Santa Paula in Mexico City, she brought with her to her luxurious apartment two slaves, one Indian, one black, onw of whome she later sold to her sister Josefa for 250 gold pesos. Although Sor Juana's biography, Response to Sister Filotea< (1691), was the first and truly most significant literary book concerning a woman's right to intellectual and artistic freedom prior to the publication of Virginia Woolf's emancipatory Room of One's Own, Sor Juana was unconcerned with the slavery that prevailed in working class Mexico during her lifetime.

Anciently, slavery was present in Israel and Christianity, in the Hebrew Bible and the Greek scriptures. There were rules concerning slavery in both the authentic and disputed letters of Paul. He asked for kindness to slaves and commanded that in the spiritual realm they be treated as brothers [siblings?] in Christ. With respect to the slave's obligations in the material world, in the letters in which he discusses slavery, he commands that a slave under threat of punishment, obey his master and not escape.

(pages 856-57)
The above comment is in introduction to Paul's letter to Philemon.  But Barnstone notes the pro-slavery arguments elsewhere:
The demanded behavior of slaves in I Peter, while stupefying, is not as offensive to contemporary understanding as its fuller articulation in the Pastoral Letters and in Paul's letter to Philemon.  However, here [in Peter's letter] as there [in Paul's], there is no hint of moral dilemma with respect to the institution [of slavery].  Indeed, the author of the sermon, as in the Pastorals, associates God's grace with obedience of slaves to masters.
(page 1002, footnote 31, a fn on I Peter 2:18)
Observing sexism in the Bible, Barnstone translates Paul's (or a pseudo-Paul's) first letter to Timo-theos this way, with some commentary:
11 Let a woman learn in silence and in full submission.
12 I do not allow women to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man.*
She must be in silence.
13 Adam was formed first. Then Eve.
14 Adam was not decieved, but the woman was deceived an became a transgressor.
15 She will be saved through childbearing, if she remains in faith and love and holiness and good behavior.**

*The word "man" in Greek can also secondarily mean "husband." However, by not choosing a specific word for husband, the Greek leaves the command open to all states of womanhood with respect to men.

**The extreme degradation of women in these famous verses, while often explained away, remains a fierce source of contemporary debate and protest. The kindest thing one can say in Paul's defense is that they were in all likelihood composed by church authorities between two and five decades after his death. However, the forgers using Paul's name were attempting to reproduce Paul's presumed thing.

(pages 935-36)
Likewise, in his footnotes on verses of Paul's first letter to Corinthians, Barnstone says this in viewing sexism in the text:
[Paul, whose authorship is not in dispute here] is contrasting the woman whose head must be covered, with the man whose head must not be covered (11.4). The more general meaning of the head covering is to give freedom to the man and to confine the woman to modest subservience. It is said that a woman exposing her hair in public reveals loose general morals and promiscuity.
In the next lines Paul develops the intense differences in station between man and woman, husband and wife, by the exposure or revelation of hair. He tells us that a man needs no cover since he is "the semblance . . . of God," but a woman need cover because she is the semblance of man. Paul pushes the parallel metaphor too far, since if the woman is indeed the semblance of man (even as a small relection), she is a semblance of an uncovered man and so she too should necessarily be uncovered.

The basis for Paul's assertion is that man was created before woman in both creation stories, in Genesis 1.27 and 2.7. The notion that woman was created "for the sake of man" has been a sore point emphasizing Paul's less-than-amenable position concerning the position of women, which is always subservient to men....

Paul now [in 11.15] acknowledges that women have a natural covering [i.e., their relatively long hair], which should imply they need no head covering. Then, catching the trap into which his metaphors have led him, he state succinctly states that if anyone wishes to take up a "contentious" line of reasoning, neither he and his group nor the synagogues of God have the custome of permitting women to go bare-headed.

(pages 738-39, fns 97, 98, and 102)
In his introduction ("Why a New Translation"), Barnstone gets at what he means by "restore" with respect to translating.  "And third," he enumerates, "I wish to translate as verse what is verse in the New Testament, as in Yeshua's speech..., following a practice that... has prevailed in rendering Hebrew verse as in the Song of Songs, the Psalms, and Job."  Barnstone sees as central to restoring (that is, as central to his project) that restoration of a Jewish, abolitionist, and feminist voice in the New Testament, namely Barnstone's translating of Yeshua (aka Jesus).  Barnstone adds:
    On all questions of faith versus fact, I take a neutral stance and address them in annotations.  As far as possible, I limit these matters to indicating a historical context of biblical happenings, always with the awareness that more is unknown than known.  In her brilliant Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, Paul Fredriksen presents her first fact, from which all historical speculation must radiate:  "The single most solid fact about Jesus' life is his death: he was executed by the Roman prefect Pilate, on or around Passover, in the manner Rome reserved particularly for political insurrectionists, namely, crucifixion.  Constructions of Jesus primarily as a Jewish religious figure, one who challenged the authority of Jerusalem's priests, thus sit uncomfortably on his very political, Imperial death:  Pilate would have known little and cared less about Jewish religious beliefs and intra-Jewish religious controversy.
    As to denominations--Jewish, Christian, Muslim, the world--while respecting all views, I have not pitch for any camp.  There is no more polemic or preselytizing here than were this book a new version of the Odyssey or of Sappho's fragments, yet I hope that my love for these extraordinary world scriptures will show through.
(pages 14-15)
I do hope that John Hobbins and other bible bloggers too will explore more what Barnstone's done and is doing with greater detail.  To say that there's sexism in the Bible (and anti-Semitism and slavery) does not mean, as John has claimed it it does, that the Bible cannot be light to the outsider, the reader, so saying. "Good open-minded reader," Barnstone addresses those of us who will listen, "here is one translator's way to find the past of a book that may bring you light" (page 8). I think fellow blogger Michael Carden (at his blog Jottings: Michael Carden's Biblio-Blog: Reflections on Bible, Religion, Society, Sexuality, Politics) is listening. Michael takes note of "Ideology and translation of biblical texts" and of the difference translation can make.  A translator of the Bible does well, he says, when she or he "plays with and releases the text from such straitjackets and allows it to be revelation no matter how uncomfortable that might be." I myself am grateful to Barnstone for giving us the insight, courage, and willingness just to try to follow his lead. There are indeed various wayS of approaching the Bible, its sexism, and its translation.