Thursday, June 16, 2011

Proverbs 14, Part II

There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.

In Part II of this series on Proverbs 14, I'd like us to get to the Hebrew, the Hebraic Greek, and to various translations a bit later in the post.  The questions I'd really like to start with are these:  "What's the right way to read the Bible, to read the Proverbs?"  and "What is the worst consequence of just reading in a way that seems right?"  You see how I'm immediately riffing off of Proverbs 14:12, the epigraph above.  My own father used to quote this one often, often in his daily life but as an outgrowth of his Southern Baptist evangelical Christian missionary preaching.  He used this proverb not only to justify his work; but he used it also as a metonym for the entire mission of the gospel.  As far as I know, he never ever gave a second thought to whether this was the right way to interpret the proverb or not.  What seemed right to him was right.  And so I'd like us to consider this:  there's a bit of irony here in really believing what this proverb means, for any of us.

But let's skip back to verse 1 of Proverbs 14.  There are some, I've noticed, who read Proverbs 14:1 as justifying a woman's, particularly a wife's, being sub-ordinated to a man, to her husband.  For example, here and here are two bloggers who self-identify as Christian women, as helpmates of their respective husbands; both of these wives quote the proverb not only to justify their sub-missive position to their husbands but also to suggest that this complementarianism is the universal and timeless norm for all wives in every place.  The way these individuals are reading Proverbs 14:1, are claiming their reading as right not only for themselves but also for others, certainly seems the right way for them.  But then we find Jared, and Bob, and Kristen, all reading this proverb differently in comments here from Part I of this blog series.  So what's the right way?  What seems right?  And what about the big fat but the end (that's so plain to see in Proverbs 14:12)?

Today, I see that yesterday the Associated Baptist Press reported that representatives for the denomination made clear:  "Southern Baptists ‘cannot commend’ [the] new NIV Bible translation."  It's the way that seems right to these Southern Baptists that's at issue:
The Southern Baptist Convention went on record June 15 saying it “cannot commend” the 2011 New International Version Bible translation and its use of gender-neutral language. “This is as big as it gets....  This is the word of God. The best-selling Bible translation in the United States is now gender neutral.”  ...[T]he NIV retains 75 percent of gender-neutral language included in a Today’s New International Version translation denounced by the Southern Baptist Convention in 2002....  “As Southern Baptists, I don’t think we have the luxury of not speaking to this important issue....  People are buying this translation unaware of what’s happening. We are the anchor of the evangelical world.”
So sure enough, we see this:

The old 1984 NIV, which was not "gender-neutral," had Southern Baptist language that seemed right.  And 1984 NIV Proverbs 14:12 reads in this way:  "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death."  But in the end, the 2011 NIV Proverbs 14:12 goes this way:  "There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death."  Now it's not just "a man's" Bible version, like the right NIV was, and the KJV, the NASB, the ESV, and the "Holman Christian Standard Bible, released in 2004, ... considered [by many Southern Baptists to be] among the most accurate translations" all still are.  And the new NIV's explicit omission of a man, that obvious gender neutrality added so inaccurately to the Bible, just appears to be wrong here in this proverb.  So what's the right way?  What seems right?

Well, let's get to the Hebrew and the Hebraic Greek in just a bit.  I'm going to inflict a little feminism on us blog readers for just a bit first.  Please, by all means, feel free to skip right over this paragraph.  This is my reader's advisory to you.  This paragraph contains references to radical, activist and not-just-academic feminism.  If such does not seem right to you, if its end is death somehow for you, then please do skip the white space to the paragraph immediately following.  Now, I've been following with great interest how bloggers are covering (either promoting or dissing) the Slutwalk movement.  Here's the background:  It seemed right to a man, Michael Sanguinetti, a Toronto police officer, a Constable with considerable authority, to announce publicly that it's not seemly, it's not right, for females to dress provocatively, or else they're setting themselves up for abuse, even rape.  Some of  Mr. Sanguinetti's actual words to the wise were these:  "women should avoid dressing like sluts."  And so feminists, worldwide now, are taking to the streets in protest of this victim-blaming wisdom.  They're dressing like sluts to show that there is a way that seems right to a man but in the end for the woman it can mean abuse, rape, death.  There's a growing entry at wikipedia for any who are just getting up to speed on all of this.  If you want to be impressed, however, with how feminists who disagree are talking, then see this set of blogposts:  Meghan Murphy's conversations with Hugo Schwyzer; and Jessica Valenti's conversation with Meghan.  At stake is what seems right.  And then what appears right to somebody else.

Now, let's get to the Hebrew (Masoretic Text) and the Hebraic Greek (the so-called Septuagint):

יֵ֤שׁ דֶּ֣רֶךְ יָ֭שָׁר לִפְנֵי־אִ֑ישׁ וְ֝אַחֲרִיתָ֗הּ דַּרְכֵי־מָֽוֶת׃

ἔστιν ὁδὸς ἣ δοκεῖ ὀρθὴ εἶναι παρὰ ἀνθρώποις τὰ δὲ τελευταῖα αὐτῆς ἔρχεται εἰς πυθμένα ᾅδου 

What doesn't really seem so right to translator Robert Alter is the repetition of a Hebrew word, which he gives in his English translation as "a straight way" (in the first part) in comparative contrast with "the ways of death" (to end the proverb).  In his footnote, Alter says:
The repetition of "way" from the first verset is a little awkward.  That effect might be at least mitigated if one adopted Tur-Sinai's proposed emendation of 'aharit to 'orhotaw, yielding "its paths are ways to death."
Alter, I'm sure, is not intending just to be pedantic here.  What do you think?  What I'm noticing is how little he needs to appeal to the Septuagint here (which he does so often elsewhere) even though the Greek would help his case, as the awkwardness that seems not right to him is avoided in the Hellene.  Oh well, I just finished reading Rob Bell's book that talks so much about Hell and such and noticed how he keys in on the Greek word Hades as one of the few references to this place in the Bible.  (A friend who bought the book and was also given a second copy lent it to me to read because there is a way that seems right to a man but in the end it's not.  My friend wanted me mostly just to look at what's right, or just seemingly right, in Bell's way of looking at the biblical language.  Well, he himself uses the word Hades four times.  So I got a free meal out of my book review for noticing things like that.  So did you notice how this LXX Proverb 14:12 ends in Hades?)

What way seems right? What's the end?


Bob MacDonald said...

Ha! - Take this comment with joy. I see I played right into your hands yesterday - for in proverbs 14:1 already God is Woman by my interpretation. The woman builds and the same tears down though the cross.

Here in verse 12 I will suggest that the Hebrew of proverbs builds on concepts I have already met in the psalms - that God looks on the upright (yshr) that the way is 'in my face' (lpni) and that the afterpart is death - I will leave off writing. There are some good aspects to death. But I must admit I have always been wary of this proverb. The beloved 'upright' is of infinite importance. The 'right' as an attitude applied to self is a treacherous thought. That has led Christians to commit murder in order to preserve their social and theological order.

Kristen said...

Not being a reader of Hebrew, I went back to the online Interlinear and saw that they render this verse in word-for-word English as:

"There-is way upright to-faces-of man and-last-of-her ways-of death."

I then consulted an online lexicon, which told me that "man" here can mean both "male" (when contrasted with "female") and "human" (when contrasted with God). It appears to me this proverb is not talking about male-female issues, and therefore, "man" refers to men and women.

Perhaps the NIV 2011 was incorrect in leaving out that the word "iysh" does appear here-- but since it does not appear to mean "male human" but simply "human," they are correct in taking out the possible misunderstanding based on gender. "Man" in English is now only archaically used to mean "human." The SBC might not like this change in modern English usage, but it exists, and they can't turn back the clock. Are the readers to believe that only "a man" can fall into the trap of thinking something is right when it really leads to death? In that case, they'd better stop claiming that it is women who are easily deceived!

But to claim the NIV 2011 is being deliberately "gender neutral," whether or not the text bears out such a translation, is to slander the translation committee. Their stated purpose was to make the text read gender-accurately according to the way we use gendered words in modern English. To reach this goal, they could have translated it "there is a way which seems right to us, but it ends in the ways of death" or something similar. But I find no real problem with their letting the word for "human" be implied here.

Kristen said...

I did find it very interesting that the Hebrew uses different words for “way” in the two halves of the proverb, the first of which is singular and the second plural. What is the significance of this? Perhaps that starting out deceived as to the rightness of a particular way can lead to following many different ways of destruction/death. This certainly seems to be true in real life. I wish there were a way to bring out this nuance in English better than the translations I have read do.

Bob MacDonald said...

In the KJV the verb 'seemeth' is imposed on the text (double in 16:25). The 'results' of things are noted in psalms 37 and 73. I am stumped on this one.

there is an upright way revealed to each
and its result the ways of death

certainly I too could read into it - but I have too little context at the moment to read it out.

Kristen said...

Hmm. I guess I thought that word which the Interlinear renders "to-faces-of" metaphorically conveyed something with a surface-only appearance. It's "rightness" is only skin-deep, as we might say. Is that incorrect?

Bob MacDonald said...

teh word can be a sinple preposition, or face, or presence - see e.g. psalm 68 which begins with 9 verses using the word 8 times. One online lexicon is here

Bob MacDonald said...

So in my usual subversive way I have tried to undermine the usual take on this verse - the ways of death can be exceedingly positive if it is a means to life such as is the death of Jesus.

sorry for the typos in the last comment - I am sure you can correct them on the fly as you read

Bob MacDonald said...

Kurk, directly to your question on the emendation suggested by Tur Sinai. I enjoyed reading Tur Sinai's book on Job way back when, but I did notice that there seemed to be suggestions for textual emendation on every page! (or at least on lots of them). I am not secure enough in Hebrew to suggest emendations. And I think that one ought to be sparing at rewriting what we have received. I was intrigued with his reconstructions - all good exercises for me, but I wrote this also: he is imposing his reason on the text rather than seeing if there is any way to slide the razor between the words of the text itself. Depends on what the razor is searching out, I guess. All of us must take care not to be so blinded by our own hopes and loves that we forget to see what is in our face.

John Radcliffe said...

We are the anchor of the evangelical world.

The arrogance of these people astounds me. I also find it rather ironic that I’m not keen on the NIV2011 because of the way they have reintroduced “man” and “men” as supposedly “generic” terms, while others complain about it being “gender neutral”.

He’s an example I met only yesterday:

“Paul, an apostle – sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father …” (Galatians 1:1, NIV84). The TNIV amended this to “Paul, an apostle – sent not with a human commission nor by human authority, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father …”, but the NIV2011 goes right back to the NIV84 version, complete with “men” and “man”.

Now I’m not particularly keen on the TNIV’s “human” as an adjective here, nor on its use of those nouns “commission” and “authority” – I’d prefer something simpler, like: “Paul, an apostle – sent not from human beings nor by a human being, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father …”. Like the TNIV’s rendering it’s “gender neutral”, but in my view it should be because the Greek is too – there’s nothing masculine about ἄνθρωπος, so why imply that there is in the English.

Now I suspect that some would argue that Paul’s readers would only envisage him being sent by a group of men or a single male individual, but whether that idea is right of wrong, to my mind that kind of thing belongs in a subsequent interpretational or expositional step, and not in the translational one.

Similarly in Proverbs 14:12 I fail to see anything masculine here, and the LXX translators seem to agree with me on that. [Is the Hebrew “ish”? That term often seems to mean “citizen” or “individual (member of a group)” rather than “human being (in general)” or “adult male” (in particular). At least that’s how it seems to me.]

As for women dressing like sluts … – well, however they choose to dress that wouldn’t excuse assault, abuse, or rape – I don’t see how anything they might do or wear would. Of course, it might not be wise to dress in a certain way, but that’s a different matter.

J. K. Gayle said...

“People are buying this translation unaware of what’s happening. We are the anchor of the evangelical world.”

Doesn't it seem that the fear expressed here is an economic one? Isn't the awareness that the "anchor of the evangelical world" wants to bring to "people" as much about sales as it is about some gender neutralizing hidden agenda of the latest revisers of a version of the English Bible? Well, such is the legacy of the spokesmen of this denomination. It was established as Southern Baptists to allow white owners of black people to continue to use the scriptures to justify their American practices of enslavement. Each time the SBC meets and makes resolutions, it seems, there is controversy. My spouse and I both are children of fathers who are SBC ministers; she has suggested to them, rightly I think, that while there are politics and differences - and sometimes very, very sharp ones - within the denomination, consistently there's been a need for somebody to manage the group's public relations. The US media sometime have a field day with the SBC resolutions. (The expressions of difference between feminists on slutwalking seem almost benign in comparison.) So thank you for focusing more here on the NIV and the gendered languages it's translated from.