Wednesday, September 28, 2011

sexist Roman slogan (and what Paul may do with it)

Kay Bonikowsky has a post up in which she suggests that "Paul was quoting a slogan" when writing in Greek to men and women in Korinth, Greece.  Translator Ann Nyland, likewise, says the following, right in the middle of her translation of what we call Chapter 14 of Paul's letter; Nyland says: "Paul now quotes from the letter sent to him by the Corinthian assembly."

The Corinthian men had quoted the Law of the Roman empire at Paul.  So how did that go?  Well, in a bit, I'll show you.  First, I want to let Cheryl Glenn remind us about that Roman law:
A particular point of Roman male pride seems to have been the deliberate exclusion of women from civil and public duties; and in the first centuries of its history, Roman law reflected rigid legal inequalities between males and females.  Cicero reportedly contemplated with utter dismay a society which "included women in assemblies" and which allowed women "soldiery and magistracies and commands."  "How great will be the misfortune of that city, in which women will assume the public duties of men" (Lactantius, Epitomes 33.[38.]1-5, ascribed to De re publica 4-5, qtd. in Hallett, Fathers 8)....  Over centuries, Roman law constructed and guaranteed the sexual distinction -- and division -- between males and females.  The differential between the legal status of women and that of men was justified by the natural inferiority of women:  their congenital weakness, limited intellectual faculties, and ignorance of law....  Roman women were perpetually restrained by law. [ Rhetoric Retold: Regendering the Tradition from Antiquity Through the Renaissance, pages 61-62, emphases mine: the red font the Roman exclusions, the blue the more liberal inclusions elsewhere.]
Glenn goes on from her research to discuss at great length the effects of the Law.  The legal constraints applied to women more severely under Roman rule even more than they had under the old laws and customs of the Greek empire.  The oppressive Law worked to silence women in Rome, in Athens, in Jerusalem and in Korinth:
Like the Greek matron, then, the Roman woman was oppressively busy managing her household and family [i.e., the Roman Domum as the counterpart of the Greek οἰκοδομή -- the OIKO-DOMĒ -- the domain of the home].... Because the Romans clung to the ideal of the domina, of the strong privatized woman, they [i.e., the Roman men] often reacted with perplexity or disgust at the women who pursued intellectual or political aspirations. Unlike the very few Greek women who found acceptance and admiration in the public domain, no Roman woman seems to have succeeded in establishing herself as a public figure in her own right....  The Greeks and Romans [i.e., the men] regarded most women as ciphers, whose worth varied according to the property and family connections accompanying them.  Women were to be traded among men.  And historians -- from the first -- have had little more to say about these women, who were always, particularly in their exceptions, defined by the private, feminine sphere.  The women in my study who passed into the public sphere, even if only temporarily, found themselves vulnerable to assaults on their families, their honor, their sexuality, their "feminine" influence.  These women endured the closest of inspections and critiques by males and females alike, usually being disarmed of their influence and respect in the process.  [ Rhetoric Retold, pages 63, 72-73, emphases mine: the red font the Roman exclusions, the blue the more liberal inclusions elsewhere.]
Okay, so what was the slogan, the Roman law, that the men of Korinth wrote to Paul?  And how did he reply?  Let's look, first at their Greek, then at our English.  (What my translation attempts is to show Paul's play with "feminine" words, with HOME-DOMAIN and with SILENCE and with ALL-inclusion in the ASSEMBLY and with the creative, maternal words of BIRTH.)  Here, hear:

Τί οὖν ἐστίν, ἀδελφοί;
Ὅταν συνέρχησθε ἕκαστος
ψαλμὸν ἔχει,
διδαχὴν ἔχει,
ἀποκάλυψιν ἔχει,
γλῶσσαν ἔχει,
ἑρμηνείαν ἔχει.
Πάντα πρὸς οἰκοδομὴν γινέσθω.

Εἴτε γλώσσῃ τις λαλεῖ,
κατὰ δύο ἢ τὸ πλεῖστον τρεῖς,
καὶ ἀνὰ μέρος,
καὶ εἷς διερμηνευέτω·
ἐὰν δὲ μὴ ᾖ διερμηνευτής,
σιγάτω ἐν ἐκκλησίᾳ·
ἑαυτῷ δὲ λαλείτω καὶ τῷ θεῷ.

Προφῆται δὲ δύο ἢ τρεῖς λαλείτωσαν,
καὶ οἱ ἄλλοι διακρινέτωσαν.
Ἐὰν δὲ ἄλλῳ ἀποκαλυφθῇ καθημένῳ,
ὁ πρῶτος σιγάτω.

Δύνασθε γὰρ καθ’ 
ἕνα πάντες προφητεύειν,
ἵνα πάντες μανθάνωσιν,
καὶ πάντες παρακαλῶνται·
καὶ πνεύματα προφητῶν
προφήταις ὑποτάσσεται.
Οὐ γάρ ἐστιν ἀκαταστασίας ὁ θεός,
ἀλλὰ εἰρήνης,
ὡς ἐν πάσαις ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις τῶν ἁγίων.
Αἱ γυναῖκες ὑμῶν ἐν ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις σιγάτωσαν·
οὐ γὰρ ἐπιτρέπεται αὐταῖς λαλεῖν,
ἀλλὰ ὑποτασσέσθωσαν,
καθὼς καὶ ὁ νόμος λέγει.
Εἰ δέ τι μαθεῖν θέλουσιν,
ἐν οἴκῳ τοὺς ἰδίους ἄνδρας ἐπερωτάτωσαν·
αἰσχρὸν γάρ ἐστιν γυναικὶ λαλεῖν ἐν ἐκκλησίᾳ.

ἀφ’ ὑμῶν ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ ἐξῆλθεν;

εἰς ὑμᾶς μόνους κατήντησεν;

Εἴ τις δοκεῖ προφήτης εἶναι ἢ πνευματικός,
ἐπιγινωσκέτω ἃ γράφω ὑμῖν,
ὅτι κυρίου ἐστὶν ἐντολή
Εἰ δέ τις ἀγνοεῖ, ἀγνοεῖται.
Ὥστε, ἀδελφοί μου, ζηλοῦτε τὸ προφητεύειν,
καὶ τὸ λαλεῖν μὴ κωλύετε γλώσσαις·
πάντα δὲ εὐσχημόνως
καὶ κατὰ τάξιν γινέσθω.

In English, that goes something like this:

What is it, then, brothers?
When you meet together, each one may
have a Psalm,
have an Instruction,
have a Revelation,
have a Tongue,
have a Translation.
All gives birth to the Domain of the Home:

Whether it's a Tongue that is uttered,
by two or at the most three,
both a Top Part,
and through to a Translation.

Should there, however, not be the Translation, then: 
Silence in the Assembly!
To oneself, nonetheless, is an Utterance, and to God.

Prophesy, nonetheless, by two or three Utterances,
And the others through to a Judgement. 

Should there come, in fact, some Revelation to another seated, then:
For the first one, Silence!

You all, in fact, are quite able:
One and all may Prophesy
So that all may be Apprenticed
And all may be Called to Encouragement.
And may the Spirit of a Prophecy
Be given Order Under Prophets.
There's not, in fact, a God of Disruption,
but rather of Peace,
which is in all, in the Assembly, of the Holy ones. 
Your women, in the Assembly, are to be Silent! 
Give, in fact, to them no Turn to Utter anything there,
but rather give them their Order Under. 
just as the Law also states
If, however, some wish to be Apprenticed,
Then it's in the Home where their own men are that these may Question.
It is shameful, in fact, for women to Utter anything in the Assembly.
Is that from you all, The Statement of God springing out like your baby?
Is this your special delivery?

If someone opines that they have so Prophesied, or are so Spiritual,
then let him understand what I have written to you all:
our Master is giving Commandments.
If, nonetheless, someone is without understanding, then he lacks understanding. 
Therefore, my brothers, yearn to Prophesy,
and to Utter (don't forbid it) a Tongue.
All, nonetheless, with Blessed Form
and according to Arrangement be birthed! 


Kristen said...

Fascinating. :) Why do you think Paul calls the thing usually translated as "church", the "domain of the home"?

(I have a new blog, btw: it's - I have linked to this site over there.)

Bob MacDonald said...

For some time I have had little doubt that the voice of the other letter from the Corinthians to Paul was being heard in the response.

Is it really birthed? Lovely. I read the definition online - but I like where this is coming from - the same birthing struggle as is evident in the psalms.

J. K. Gayle said...

First - ever since first talking with you in the blogosphere, I've thought you'd make an excellent blogger! Your comments are always so spot on, so very insightful and thought provoking. You've prompted a number of my posts here! And I love your first post - on things you've learned in the context of spiritual abuse - now things I might learn from you, things others might hear from you and learn from you too! I've linked to your blog, added it to the list of blogs I follow also, and have put it in my reader feed. I'm excited! And, wow, what an honor that you'd link to this blog of mine here, that it would be included among such wonderful blogs! Thanks!

J. K. Gayle said...

Kristen and Bob,

Thanks for your encouraging words!

Now, your questions. At I Corinthians 14:26b, we read Paul writing

πάντα πρὸς οἰκοδομὴν γινέσθω.

I've not read this line by the common or "common sense" interpretations of most translators, and I provide the usual translations below.

I believe Paul's Greek readers in Korinth would have read the line, in context, this way:

All gives birth to the Domain of the Home:


The indirect object is clear reference to the Household, and to the building up of the Household. The household is the OIKOS. It's the root word that allows Aristotle to coin OIKO-NOMIKE, or Household-Laws, which he develops into his famous treatise, a set of rules for good Greek households. From this neologism of Aristotle's, we derived our English word economics. Of course, English translators can take Paul's word more generically and literally to mean "a building up" or metaphorically "an edification." But Paul is talking to a group of women and men in Greek speaking Households, and is, I believe, referencing the common, feminine, domain of the home, in private. At this point in his letter, he's building up to the point where he has to address the Roman-Law slogan:

"If, however, some wish to be Apprenticed,
Then it's in the Home [ἐν οἴκῳ EN OIKO] where their own men are that these may Question.
It is shameful, in fact, for women to Utter anything in the Assembly."

So back to the line. Paul's verb is γινέσθω. And he later repeats this verb to punctuate things (at the end of this chapter) - "All, nonetheless, with Blessed Form
and according to Arrangement be birthed!"


LSJ have this in their Lexicon entry:

"I. abs., come into being opp. εἶναι, Emp.17.11, Pl.Phd.102e, cf. Ti.29a; and so,

1. of persons, to be born, νέον γεγαώς new born, Od.19.400; ὑπὸ Τμώλῳ γεγαῶτας born (and so living) under Tmolus, Il.2.866; “ἢ πρόσθε θανεῖν ἢ ἔπειτα γ.” Hes.Op.175; γιγνομέναισι λάχη τάδ᾽ . . ἐκράνθη at our birth, A.Eu.347; “γ. ἔκ τινος” Il.5.548, Hdt.7.11; “πατρὸς ἐκ ταὐτοῦ” E.IA406, cf. Isoc.5.136; “σέθεν . . ἐξ αἵματος” A.Th. 142; less freq. “ἀπό τινος” Hdt.8.22, etc.; “ἐσθλῶν” E.Hec.380, etc.; γεγονέναι κακῶς, καλῶς, Ar.Eq.218, Isoc.7.37, etc.; κάλλιον, εὖ, Hdt. 1.146, 3.69; τὸ μὴ γενέσθαι not to have been born,"

And even beyond these literal uses of the Greek word for "birth," there are the metaphorical ones, the wordplays, that LXX translators do in naming the Hebrew book בְּרֵאשִׁית‎, Bereʾšyt as γένεσις, or Genesis. Aristotle has written of the Generation of Animals. And it's all, if you read it, an able pun on the Greek for "woman," Gyne and on the birthing ground, Ge, and on gene and genetics, and so forth.

So here's the common, and sometimes "common sense" reads on Paul's Greek:

Let all things be done unto edifying. - KJV

Everything must be done for building people up! - Ann Nyland

Let all things be done for building up. - ESV

let all things be for building up; - Young's Literal

Let all be / Edification - Willis Barnstone

Let all things be done for edification. - NASB

Let all be for edification - Richmond Lattimore

All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. - NIV 1984

Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. - NIV 2011

But everything that is done must strengthen all of you. - NLT

Everything must be done to help each other grow. - GOD'S WORD®

be prepared with something that will be useful for all - The Message

Everything should be done to make your church strong in the faith. - J.B. Phillips

All these things must be done to build up the church. - Common English Bible

Kristen said...


Thanks for your encouraging words! So sweet! Is my link at the side of your blog now? For some reason I'm not seeing it. . .

My mind is blown by your answer to my question. So what you're saying, in effect, is that Paul deliberately used the word OIKO (home) in v. 26 about exercising our gifts, to say that we are all the household of God-- and then when the word gets picked up again in the "women be silent" quote, the inference is, "what do you mean, women can only speak in the home? Are we not all in the 'home' of God?"


Dana said...

The sensibility of "household of God" is how Orthodox Christians understand oiko. One of the things I love about Orthodoxy is what's called "economia". It's a bending or suspension of "the rules" - it's more like "house rules":)

Economia is invoked, for example, if a person' health would be damaged by fasting to the extent asked by the church. In my case, I have diabetes and I'm the only Orthodox in my family, so in economia I have a blessing to eat small amounts of non-fasting food with my husband at dinner, and if Liturgy is going to be later in the morning so that communion will be after noon, I eat some breakfast. IOW, the point of fasting is not fasting. Same goes for other "rules".

The purpose of economia is to further the health and healing of a person's relationship with God, so, in a sense, for that to be "further birthed".


J. K. Gayle said...


On the link to your blog, I think it may show once you post again.

Kristen and Dana,

Thanks for your further thoughts about OIKOS! You've made me think a lot more about this whole question, and I posted again on it here.

Katherine said...

I'm with Kristen: I think you just blew my mind. Excuse me while I go pick up the pieces...

J. K. Gayle said...

Katherine: Thank you for your kind words!

What seems incredible is the laws of the Romans that the Korinthian men (and their women) would have had to obey; for example:

In De Re Public, Cicero (c. 106 – 43 BCE) records this very interesting set of laws:

"VI. The judgment of the censor inflicts scarcely anything more than a blush on the man whom he condemns. Therefore as all that adjudication turns solely on the name (nomen), the punishment is called ignominy.

Nor should a prefect be set over women, an officer who is created among the Greeks; but there should be a censor to teach husbands to manage their wives.

So the discipline of modesty has great power. All women abstain from wine.

And also if any woman was of bad character, her relations used not to kiss her.

So petulance is derived from asking (petendo); wantonness (procacitas) from procando, that is, from demanding.

In D.1.5.9., Papinian (c. 140 to 212) writes:

"there are many points in our law in which the condition of females is inferior to that of males" (deterior est condicio feminarum quam masculorum)

In D.50.17.2, Ulpian (c. 170 to 223), writes:

"females are debarred from all civil and public functions" (feminae ab omnibus officiis civilibus vel publicis)