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What Are Slave Owners (who are female) Called?

March 31, 2015

Marg Mowczko has a very worthwhile and interesting post up today at her blog New Life: “The Household Codes and Male Slaves with Female Masters.” One reader notes how odd (how marked) “Female Masters” and “Women Masters” is.

In her reply, Marg remarks:

It’s a real problem. When we say “lady” we usually don’t think it’s the feminine of “lord”, and when we say “mistress” we don’t usually think it’s the feminine of “master”.

“Lady” and “mistress” often don’t convey the literal meaning anymore.

English may have evolved since slave times. I would be interested in learning about other languages whether they encode femininity differently than English does for terms of Lords and Masters of human slaves when the owners of people are female or women.

And how about ancient Greek, used for systems of slavery prescribed by the likes of Plato and Aristotle? I’m looking now at how playwright Euripides has this line: κυρία γάρ ἐστι νῦν. Was this standard at any time?

Whose Ἀντι Γονικη? Mine, Yours, Theirs?

March 30, 2015

Where we tend to go wrong is in assuming that if there is to be a correspondence between two systems it must be a one for one correspondence–that A in the one system must be represented by a in the other, and so on. But the correspondence between emotion and sensation turns out not to be of that sort. And there never could be correspondence of that sort where the one system was really richer than the other. If the richer system is to be represented in the poorer at all, this can only be by giving each element in the poorer system more than one meaning. The transposition of the richer into the poorer must, so to speak, be algebraical, not arithmetical. If you are to translate from a language which has a large vocabulary into a language that has a small vocabulary, then you must be allowed to use several words in more than one sense. If you are to write a language with twenty-two vowel sounds in an alphabet with only five vowel characters then you must be allowed to give each of those five characters more than one value. If you are making a piano version of a piece originally scored for an orchestra, then the same piano notes which represent flutes in one passage must also represent violins in another.
– C.S. Lewis, “Transposition

What do you hear when you hear somebody say Ἀντι Γονικη? You’re not exactly likely to hear Ἀντιγόονη. And it probably doesn’t even sound like “Antigone.” You might think more of the scientist Aristotle hearing something like that, or like this: ANTIGO  NICK. And you might even think less of the playwright Sophocles if you didn’t know better.

Our first questions are these. Are these titles the same? Are they all plays? Ἀντι Γονικη = ANTIGO  NICK = Ἀντιγόνη = “Antigone”?

If these all were written as titles, as plays, then which would not be a version for the stage? Theophrastus, my BLT co-blogger, has confirmed his conclusion after both reading and seeing, recently, one of these versions. His confirmed conclusion:

this [version called ANTIGO NICK] can only exist as a book — this work cannot be properly performed.

I do look forward to seeing the work that Theophrastus alludes to as a stage play improperly (and impossibly) performed. He and I both have read it as a book. And my own humble assessment is this:

this very book is a rather like a performance (if a not so proper one).

When I wrote a review of this book on a tiny iPhone screen in the space of 10 minutes or so, here’s some of what I remember thinking. I recall typing with both thumbs:

Once upon a time, Greek men used the little suffix “-ike” or “-ic” to make very technic-al all the things they didn’t understand. Hence from logos came log-ic, from oikos and nomos came econom-ics, from the muse came mus-ic, and this allowed men disparaging others to render the other mute. You can find Carson talking in an interview online about this work, but she will never give all of that away. How could she? You must read this book to hear it.

And this morning, I re-read and re-heard the book, a proper anti-performance perhaps. Here’s what I thought again and a bit of how I hear it–>

Anne Carson, the translator, is playing with Greek sounds and Greek meanings and Greek words. ANTIGO NICK is how we “see” the word(s) in English on the page. There’s a plurality, a division of white space in this title. NICK looks, and sounds, a little like ΝΕΙΚΕΣ, as in Πολυ-Νείκης. And yet ANTI-GONICK looks, and sounds, a little like ἈΝΤΙ ΓΟΝΙΚΕ.

If you hear the person saying  Ἀντι Γονικη in Modern Greek and ask her to explain its meaning in English, then she might rather accurately reply to you,

Anti Gonike? Well, it seems a little strange to say, perhaps, but it sort of indicates ‘To stand in for the parents’. Maybe the way a foreigner would say ‘Adoptive parent’?

That’s modern Greek, on the one hand.

On the other hand, Ἀντιγόνη, is inventive, ancient Greek. But we don’t have to think about the playful name much these days, not in English anyway.

Antigone is today what we using English have come to learn as both the name of the protagonist, Antigone, in one of the plays written by Sophocles and also the title of that play of his. It’s been translated many, many times, and the English-writing wikipediaists have made for us a good list here:

The additional facts are these. The playwright likely has this titular character, this prot-agonist of his so named, to mean something like “Instead of her Mother.” It’s hard to be sure of his intention, exactly, since the letters of the Greek alphabet so strung together are somewhat ambiguous. They also seem to suggest an Agony, a struggle or a contest. Who we know as Polynices is the dead brother of Antigone, whom she strives to bury despite the order of the King, which would be against her and anti this dead body of this dead brother. As we all know by now, Poly Nices, means something like Many Strivings, the root of the phrase meaning strivings, Νείκης. Was this intentional by the playwright Sophocles?

About all we can be sure of on this side of the translations into English is that this play has a main living character whose name is the title; and the titular phrase itself is a play, a theater of letters, a play on words, if you will.

And so comes Anne Carson translating Sophocles’s Ἀντιγόνη, published in 2013. She enlists Bianca Stone. And she changes what Sophocles intended, or at least she changes his particular play on words, his theatre of the alphabet, that ancient inventive ambiguity of his; and she calls it ANTIGO NICK.

Those who judge the resulting book of hers see its cover. An art panel (by Stone) divides the title in parts: Antigo Nick (and the playwright’s own right to be named as the very original author is relegated to parentheses).

There is the hint that the English translation is playing with ancient Greek forms. The alphabetic letters are written by hand.


Why the transposition? Is this real translation? Is this really a play?

The play on letters is more severe than that, some of us readers think. We listen and see:

We see poetry. We see word play. We see a performance of letters and sights and sounds. Probably they are not proper. How can actors bound to a strict interpretative script play with these?

Since I’m writing yet another full post here (thankfully taking a bit more time after a second read and typing with fingers also and not just on an iphone), let me repeat a bit said earlier in the initial review:

Carson knows ancient Greek better than any classicist or rhetorician or New Testament or Septuagint scholar that I know of. She plays on the English word, “nick.” Antigone, of course, is the titular protagonist of the play. And Nick, she notes in her list of the cast, is “a mute part [always onstage, he measures things]” (her brackets). I mention this detail, as if it’s not obvious to all readers, simply because when you understand the play as a commentary on the lack of agency of females when it comes to the law and to rhetoric, then you get a hint of what Carson the translator means by her title for the work.

Nick, I suggest here, is agony and striving, if everpresent and mute. Nick, in English, has its own connotations quite apart from this Greek play (and play on words). It can’t always be good, and Carson suggests this in her own original works such as in “On Sunday Dinner with Father,” (a poem), in which she has (her) father asking things like,

Are you going to put that chair back where it belongs or just leave it there looking like a uterus?


Are you going to nick your throat open on those woodpecker scalps as you do every Sunday night or just sit quietly while Laetitia plays her clarinet for us?

Nick seems pretty personal to Carson, the translator, the poet, the one who performs with words and plays. Nick is “a mute part [always onstage, he measures things]” (her brackets). Nick, like the dead Πολυ-Νείκης, can neither perform (though always on stage, he measures things) nor “be properly performed.”

(And Ἀντι Γονικη, which is what I hear every time I read ANTIGO NICK, makes me think not of Sophocles but of Aristotle. Like his teacher Plato, Aristotle used the suffix -ικη with regularity to coin new words, neologist-ic stuff. Language scientist and rhetorician and historian Edward Schiappa noted this:

Plato’s creative use of language is well established, as is his need to invent a proper philosophical vocabulary. In particular, it is significant that Plato was a prolific coiner of words ending with -ική denoting ‘art of.’

Now that sounds proper indeed when, for Plato philosophical vocabulary and then for Aristotle tech-nic-al terms of log-ic and such. This may be one of Carsons’ plays against Greek sounds by such men. It just may not have played properly as a stage version. And it makes me ask, Whose Ἀντιγόνη? Mine, Yours, Theirs?)

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: One — Jesus is Condemned, by Henri Nouwen

March 16, 2015

J. K. Gayle:

Henri Nouwen was a man not only of words but also of action. Here is he marching in Selma:

Originally posted on The Value of Sparrows:

From Walk With Jesus

A man behind bars. He is condemned to death. He is put in the category of the “damned.” He is no longer considered worthy to live. He has become the enemy, the rebel, the outsider, a danger to society. He has to be put away, cut out of the communal life.

Why?  Because he is different.  He is black, and blacks are dangerous.  He is gay, and gays are perverts.  He is a Jew, and Jews cannot be trusted.  He is a refugee, and refugees are threats to our economy.  He is an outsider, saying what we do not want to hear, and reminding us of what we would rather forget.  He upsets our well-ordered lives.  He tears aside the veil that covers our impurities and breaks down the walls that keep us safely separated.  He says, “We belong to the same humanity, we are all…

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Hannah Arendt: Eichmann in Jerusalem

March 12, 2015

Just received this in an email and thought I should pass on this thoughtful and positive reflection on how to respond to anti-semiticism.

FROM ARENDT, ABOUT DENMARK: “The story of the Danish Jews is sui generis, and the behavior of the Danish people and their government was unique among all the countries of Europe—whether occupied, or a partner of the Axis, or neutral and truly independent. One is tempted to recommend the story as required reading in political science for all students who wish to learn something about the enormous power potential inherent in non-violent action and in resistance to an opponent possessing vastly superior means of violence. … of the three [countries] that were in the German sphere of influence [and that were opposed to the “final solution”] … only the Danes dared speak out on the subject to their German masters. …

When the Germans approached them rather cautiously about introducing the yellow badge, they were simply told that the King would be the first to wear it, and the Danish government officials were careful to point out that anti-Jewish measures of any sort would cause their own immediate resignation. It was decisive in this whole matter that the Germans did not even succeed in introducing the vitally important distinction between native Danes of Jewish origin … and the fourteen hundred German Jewish refugees who had found asylum in the country prior to the war. …

What happened then was truly amazing; compared with what took place in other European countries, everything went topsy-turvy. … riots broke out in Danish shipyards, where the dock workers refused to repair German ships and then went on strike. The German military commander proclaimed a state of emergency and imposed martial law, and Himmler thought this was the right moment to tackle the Jewish question …

What he did not reckon with was that—quite apart from Danish resistance—the German officials who had been living in the country for years were no longer the same. Not only did General von Hannecken, the military commander, refuse to put troops at the disposal of the Reich plenipotentiary …; the special S.S. units … employed in Denmark very frequently objected to “the measures they were ordered to carry out … [Despite Eichmann sending a ruthless enforcer to Denmark] von Hannecken refused even to issue a decree requiring all Jews to report for work. …[Later, when police sent from Germany came to take Jews to Theresienstadt concentration camp, the Reich plenipotentiary] told them they were not permitted to break into apartments, because the Danish police might then interfere, and they were not supposed to fight it out with the Danes.

Hence they could seize only those Jews who voluntarily opened their doors … [when the Jews were scheduled to be taken to the camp] a German shipping agent … having probably been tipped off by [the plenipotentiary] himself, had revealed the whole plan to the Danish government officials, who, in turn, had hurriedly informed the heads of the Jewish community. They, in marked contrast to Jewish leaders in other countries, had then communicated the news openly in the synagogues on the occasion of the New Year services. The Jews had just time enough to leave their apartments and go into hiding, which was very easy in Denmark, because … ‘all sections of the Danish people, from the King down to simple citizens,’ stood ready to receive them.”

The Danish fishing fleet then helped evacuate Danish Jews to Sweden, the poor Jews having their passage paid by wealthy Danish citizens. “It is the only case we know of in which the Nazis met with open native resistance, and the result seems to have been that those exposed to it changed their minds. … they had met resistance based on principle, and their ‘toughness’ had melted like butter in the sun. … That the ideal of ‘toughness,’ except, perhaps, for a few half-demented brutes, was nothing but a myth of self-deception, concealing a ruthless desire for conformity at any price, was clearly revealed at the Nuremberg trials, where the defendants accused and betrayed each other and assured the world that they ‘had always been against it’”.

Sexualized Racism: Hebrews 6:6 and SAE at OU

March 12, 2015

Earlier in the year, I posted “Sexualized Racism: Crucifying Jews and Lynching Blacks.”

Today, this post examines Hebrews 6:4-6 as a backdrop to discuss the anti-black racism of white student members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.

Yesterday, Jacob Cerone referred to “these verses” as “some of the most debated passages within the New Testament” in a post he entitled “Public Shaming of Christ.” He did not in that post discuss the anti-Semitic racism of the Roman fraternity of Pontius Pilate’s imperial military force at The Praetorium in Jerusalem.

Cerone did not show this image:

But without commenting on it at all he did show this image, a bit of graffiti found in the Roman city of Pompeii:

And Cerone did see “the word παραδειγματίζω” (the final Greek phrase of Hebrews 6:6) as meaning to “‘hold up to contempt’ or ‘disgrace publicly'”;

and he did “look through the LXX, the Greek version of the Old Testament” to “find it [i.e., that Greek phrase of Hebrews 6:6] used in a number of places,” particularly Num. 25:4 and Esth[er] [4]:11 and Dan. 2:5 in order to state, among other things more central to his point, that “crucifixion isn’t in view in these instances.”


Now, I want to suggest quite pointedly and centrally that crucifixion actually is in view in the Hebraic Hellene version of Esther.

Let me first say (again) that scholars such as Adele Berlin say things like this about Ἐσθὴρ (that is, about “Esther” in Greek and how it gives Jewish views on the Hebrew Bible):

The Septuagint is a window onto how Greek-speaking Jews of the early pre-Christian centuries read and understood the story of Esther.

Then allow me to conjecture (again) that the book of Hebrews, where Cerone examined the Greek in comparison to Esther, may be a Greek-speaking, early Jewish-Christian statement of violence.

Given all this language of herem here, we might read Hebrews 4 as rather devoted and dedicated and destructive language.

Now let’s look at the Hebraic Hellene called Hebrews 6:6 –

καὶ παραπεσόντας, πάλιν
ἀνακαινίζειν εἰς μετάνοιαν,
ἀνασταυροῦντας ἑαυτοῖς // τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ
καὶ παραδειγματίζοντας.

Without yet viewing the meanings, please hear the alliterations and the rhymes. Or at least look at the bolded font above to see the parallels in sounds represented by the Greek alphabetic prefixes and suffixes. The last phrase, παραδειγματίζοντας, both starts and ends with the same sounds as the first phrase, παραπεσόντας. And there are two phrases in the middle that have the same start:  ἀνακαινίζειν and ἀνασταυροῦντας.

Now let’s look at Willis Barnstone’s English translation of this bit of Greek-language Hebrews, which he entitles “Yehudim or Jews” –

But have collapsed [παραπεσόντας], it is impossible
For them to come into a new [ἀνακαινίζειν] repentance
Since they are crucifying [ἀνασταυροῦντας] the son of God
And making him a public spectacle [παραδειγματίζοντας].

Note how Barnstone, who is a Jew restoring the Jewishness to the New Testament and who not a Christian, has the English phrase “have collapsed” for the Hellene παραπεσόντας. Christian translators of the New Testament, in contrast, have for this Greek phrase English phrases such as “have fallen away,” “turn away from,” “have committed apostasy,” “would sin again,” and “have deserted [Christ].” (This may be in part how Cerone has been able to note, “Now, these verses are among some of the most debated passages within the New Testament.” Christians do not want to lose their salvation in Christ, and they argue over who is apostate and how one becomes apostate and whether one can become apostate since, for some, “once saved always saved.”) I’d like us to see how this Hebraic Hellene phrase παραπεσόντας is used in the Septuagint, in Esther.

In Esther 6, the Old Greek addition (not in the Alpha addition), here’s the use of that same phrase with my formatting and with my attempt at a Barnstonian English translation:

εἶπεν δὲ ὁ βασιλεὺς τῷ Αμαν
Καθὼς ἐλάλησας,
οὕτως ποίησον τῷ Μαρδοχαίῳ
τῷ Ιουδαίῳ τῷ θεραπεύοντι ἐν τῇ αὐλῇ,
καὶ μὴ παραπεσάτω
σου λόγος ὧν ἐλάλησας.

But the king said to Haman,
Well spoken!
Thus do to Mordechai
The Jew serving the court,
And ensure your word so spoken
Will not collapse [παραπεσάτω].

Of course, in the narrative, Haman keeps his word and has to publicly show off the Jew named Mordecai as exemplary of the type of person the king extols publicly. And all of us familiar with the story know what happens to Haman at the end of the very next chapter of Esther. Again, here’s the Old Greek addition (and another Barnstonian English rendering by me):

εἶπεν δὲ ὁ βασιλεύς
Σταυρωθήτω ἐπ’ αὐτοῦ.
καὶ ἐκρεμάσθη Αμαν ἐπὶ τοῦ ξύλου,
ὃ ἡτοίμασεν Μαρδοχαίῳ.
καὶ τότε ὁ βασιλεὺς ἐκόπασεν τοῦ θυμοῦ.

But the king said,
Crucify him on it.
And they hanged Haman from the tree
That he had readied for Mordechai.
And thus the king had no more anger.

So we see that there is, there really is, some view of crucifixion here. Haman hated Jews and the Jewish man named Mordechai, and he was preparing to lynch him, to get public permission to show him worthy of a hanging.

From this point in this text, this crux, this crucial literary point, we might fast forward in time to that other text called Hebrews (or Yehudim or Jews). And there we see crucifixion still in view. Instead of the anti-Semitic racist Haman hanging the Jew named Mordechai, it is the anti-Semitic Roman racists who have hanged a Jew named Yeshua. In Hebrews 4, two different Jews named Yeshua are noted. In Hebrews 6:6, the crucifixion of one of them is mentioned again: “Since they are crucifying [ἀνασταυροῦντας] the son of God.” And here the mention is of those who are lynching, are hanging, are crucifying him all over again. This is certainly not a literal crucifixion of this Jew, but it’s a figural hanging, a literary sort of violent public spectacle lynching meant.

And from our point in the Esther text where the Jew is not lynched but the anti-Semitic racist is, we might back track a bit in the story again. We might return to Esther 4, again to the Old Greek (and we hear a prayer of Mordechai to the Hebrew God who is only here explicit in these Hebraic Hellene additions):

μὴ παραδῷς, κύριε, τὸ σκῆπτρόν σου τοῖς μὴ οὖσιν,
καὶ μὴ καταγελασάτωσαν ἐν τῇ πτώσει ἡμῶν,
ἀλλὰ στρέψον τὴν βουλὴν αὐτῶν ἐπ’ αὐτούς,
τὸν δὲ ἀρξάμενον ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς παραδειγμάτισον.

Do not betray, Oh Lord, your royal scepter to those who do not even exist.
And do not let them laugh at our collapse.
Rather, turn their wishes upon themselves.
But make this arch-ruler against us a public spectacle.

The Hebraic Hellene texts of Esther and of Hebrews both share a view of anti-Semitic racism that involve the public spectacle of lynching, hanging, or crucifixion. In fact, three different moments in the story of the Septuagint text are reflected in the short space of the one little verse in the New Testament. Behind Purim, behind Harem to a degree, is sexualized anti-Hebrew, anti-Jewish, anti-Semitic racism. The public spectacle of naked hangings motivated by hate is alluded to and implied and understood.


For some time in the States of America, artists and writers have linked the sexualized hangings and lynchings perpetrated by anti-black racists with the crucifixions by anti-Semitic racists. Here are some examples in contexts where Jesus (or the one Yeshua mentioned in Hebrews) is the Christ of Christianity:

In 1916, there was this Political Cartoon – “Christmas in Georgia.” It puts Jesus there with the victim of a lynching.

In 1931, Langston Hughes published the poem “Christ in Alabama.” It makes Jesus black, on the cross.

And then there were these analogies made between the lynchings and the crucifixion (noted in the pages of The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America by Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey):


Aaron Douglas, Crucifixion, 1927

An Illustration by Charles Cullen. Frontispiece to Countee Cullen’s “The Black Christ and Other Poems,” 1929.

Another Illustration by Charles Cullen. Frontispiece to Countee Cullen’s “The Black Christ and Other Poems,” 1929.

Christ in Alabama, Prentiss Taylor, 1931

Julius Bloch, “The Lynching,” 1933

And all  of this seems to have stirred up Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a way sympathetic not to the white Christians in America but to the black Christians, as his own people in Germany were killing Jews in their attempt to extinguish the entire race. Here’s a bit from Willis Jenkins’s history on Bonhoeffer:


Writers wrote, and painters painted, and theologians theologized as much as they could to try to expose the lynchings as as significant an issue in the States of America as the Holocaust was becoming in Europe.

And at Lincoln University in the States of America, not long afterwards, Albert Einstein had to say this even after the lynchings and the news of them were finally no longer tolerated:

My trip to this institution was in behalf of a worthwhile cause. There is a separation of colored people from white people in the United States. That separation is not a disease of colored people. It is a disease of white people. I do not intend to be quiet about it.

Einstein was painting with his words, using “disease” as a metaphor for hatred and utter irresponsibility towards humans on the planet. He also elsewhere, for example, had to write this:

As a citizen of Germany, I saw how excessive nationalism can spread like a disease, bringing tragedy to millions.

And he wrote:

The Germans as an entire people are responsible for these mass murders and must be punished as a people if there is justice in the world and if the consciousness of collective responsibility in the nations is not to perish from the earth entirely. Behind the Nazi party stands the German people, who elected Hitler after he had in his book and in his speeches made his shameful intentions clear beyond the possibility of misunderstanding.

And that brings us to the quicker discussion of the fraternity of white men at the University of Oklahoma this very week, of March, 2015. Their well-rehearsed and profoundly memorized racist chant was this:

There will never be a nigger in SAE. There will never be a nigger in SAE. You can hang him from a tree, but he can never sign with me. There will never be a nigger in SAE.

If anybody objects to my quoting their use of the n-word (linked from Michael W. Twitty’s blog Afroculinaria), then please also object to my also pasting in the first image above showing a naked Yeshua and two other clearly Jewish men being lynched by anti-Semitic Romans. (It’s from the Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney’s blog.)

What I’d like us all to see is that the racism is the white man’s disease, based on separation and on particular separations:

  1. The white brothers in the SAE fraternity chanting on the bus are pledging their separation from the black man.
  2. They pledge to separate the black man from the world of the living by lynching him.
  3. Other white men in Professor Nolan L. Cabrera research confess to separating the racism in their jokes, ostensibly, from real racism.
  4. These also separate themselves physically (when telling their “we’re just joking” jokes) from non-whites.
  5. These also separate themselves from those they claim are overly sensitive to their expressions of racism.

Here’s a figure from Dr. Cabrera’s research showing these separations as rationalizations:


The figure is from the article, “But We’re Not Laughing: White Male College Students’ Racial Joking and What This Says About ‘Post-Racial’ Discourse.” And Cabrera explains more this week in an interview here with the Chronicle of Higher Education.


Well, this may be too much in one little post. Racism is too much.

There are interesting parallels in this month of Purim between what happened in the story of the Septuagint Esther and what has happened in the news of the University of Oklahoma. The tree intended as a public spectacle of shame and death for the Jew named Mordechai is where the racist named Haman gets hanged. The joke intended as a private denigrating pledge against men who are African Americans in university in the States of America is a public spectacle of separation from their fraternity and their university for the white men telling it.

There is an interesting parallel between the Hebraic Hellene phrase μετάνοια (which Barnstone translates into restored Jewish English in Hebrews 6:6 as repentance) and the calls for profound re-thinking and paradigm-shifting and re-orientation and re-training and real-educating sounded by a few. For example, Twitty in his blog suggests this:

Make these boys take classes in African American history. Make them work with young Black kids with a Black fraternity. Make them understand that working together we have more to gain than we do constantly figuring out ways to misunderstand each other. Make them go to an HBCU in an academic exchange so they can feel what it’s like to be in the minority for a change. Make them see the world differently, make them care.

And Professor  recommends these things in her instructive blog post here:

  1. how about we cut these boys a little slack?

  2. after 12 years of a steady diet of erasure, dismissal, and hypocrisy when these boys have a full blown cardiac arrest of racism, rather than giving them a defibrillator of God’s grace and challenging them to see the sacred worth of all—we pull the plug and do a dance on their [sexualized racism’s] graves.

  3. Rather than marching and shouting, what if President Boren [of OU] invited the young men on that bus who sang their hateful song to sit and watch the video with the black staff members of the SAE house who fixed their meals and cleaned their rooms? Just played it over and again or even ask them to sing the song live. What if after their live performance President Boren finally allowed Walter, the man who cooked their meals for the last 15 years to ask the young men one simple question: “is this what you really think of me?” See most racists, like homophobes hold to their views in isolation. I believe when those young men came face to face with the people who cared for them and loved them, the full impact of their behavior would then be clear—“How can you profess love for a God you have not seen while hating (hurting) your brother that you see every day?” As the boys and girls who withstood Bull Conner’s hoses will tell you— the human conscious is a most power ally in the battle for social justice. [[And Twitty has already suggested we all get this:]]

  4. do something meta-noia like about this:  They have learned that racism must never be articulated; it must be hidden; it must enacted but never espoused.

There’s indeed an interesting parallel between the sort of sexualized racism that wants to make a shaming public spectacle and the sort of repentance for that racism (with all its dependency on secrecy for and by the racists) that calls for prayer and fasting and real exposure to education that brings persons of difference in contact to confront the hate.

Anne Carson: withness

March 10, 2015






Anne Carson has one book (Glass, Irony, and God) in which she writes poetry on three subjects. She mentions in one of her poems a single Latin prefix and asks with that mention about the sort of meaning it means in English.

Anne Carson has a second book (Economy of the Unlost) in which she writes prosaicly on the poetry of Simonides of Keos with the poetry of Paul Celan. She there mentions on one of her pages a single Greek preposition and asks with that mention about the sort of meaning it means in English.

“Withness” is the concern from the Latin with the Greek. My interest in this is their difference and similarity. I am thinking a lot about Bob MacDonald’s comments after the post I entitled, הוה : three perspectives on the gender(s) of G-d. With gender, and with Hebrew letters, and with God, I wondered about what Anne Carson writes about what Aristotle writes about a certain Greek adjective that he means different things for depending on whether he applies it to women or to men. The mix of the two Anne Carson “withnesses” seems more interesting.

יהוה : three perspectives on the gender(s) of G-d

March 9, 2015



8. The gender of God: Even though, like most people, I do not conceive of a deity who is male or female, there is no way around the fact that the Torah does in fact present God in consistently masculine terms. Even the name of God is masculine. (The feminine would be THWH.) I have therefore conveyed the masculine Hebrew conception in the translation as well. My point is that in each case I am translating an original work that someone else wrote, and I do not seek to impose my theological conceptions on that person’s work, nor do I want to hide that person’s views by means of a translator’s power.

Professor Richard Elliott Friedman, (2012-09-18). Commentary on the Torah (Kindle Locations 37324-37328). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. (ht EricW via fb)


Yet… Judaism long ago acknowledged the validity of [the] feminine dimension of the Deity. The two names of God differ grammatically with regard to sexual connotation…

The Tetragrammaton (YHVH)…is…feminine;

it refers to God as if “He” were in fact “She.” Yet, as we have frequently noted, the Lord is also called ELoHiYM. That name ends with…masculine plural…. If human beings are created in God’s image, and the single most important thing we know about God is that He is One – why did God create two kinds of people, male and female, after His likeness? …God chose to create two different kinds of people on this earth, not in spite of the fact that He is One, but precisely because God in the deepest sense of the word is really two. Of course we do not suggest any kind of dualism implying separate identities. Rather, as the very names of God imply, there are two distinct aspects to the Deity. God is both masculine and feminine. This gender difference is not one of physical attributes but one of emotion and typology.

Rabbi Benjamin Blech, (September 1992) Understanding Judaism: The Basics of Deed and Creed page 273. (qtd on wikipedia)


Eve = Ava = Havah



Yah & HaVaH

The Tetragrammaton is YHVH.  It is a four-lettered name translated as Yahweh or Jehovah.  Well Eve is right there.  She’s the HVH havah part. So the Yah-Havah –YHVH — is yet another plural god-name containing masculine and feminine deities.  We have a compound deity, God-and-Goddess for Elohim and for Yahweh, the most popular names for God in the Bible.  Used thousands of times.  In Samaria, what is now Tel Aviv and parts of modern Israel, the two names of the Tetragrammaton, both feminine and masculine were intertwined in Samaritan phylacteries –  the prayer ribbons Hebrews wrap around their forearms and put on their foreheads in little boxes.

This YHVH combination of four letters reminds me of the male female chromosome thing.  Males are XY and females are XX.  So you combine an XY with an XX and you get XYXX.  The result is a Y and the other three letters where the Y happens to be the lone masculine element while the other three letters are feminine.  Just like Yah and Havah.

Bishop Katia Romanoff (n.d.) God Has a Wife! Unveiling Goddess in Judeo-Christianity, Islam and around the world (Slide 93)

אשר : Μακάριοι : Blesseds

March 8, 2015

This morning, I’ve translated “the beatitudes” in the Hebraic Hellene gospel of Matthew into English.

Yesterday, and this is what got me going with the rendering today, I listened to Anthony Heald narrating Book One of the Iliad. He was reading aloud the brilliant English translation of the Greek by W. H. D. Rouse. And while listening to Heald (and Rouse), I was reading along in A. T. Murray’s English translation with Homer’s Greek original text.

Early enough (line 339), this is what I saw and heard:

πρός τε θεῶν μακάρων πρός τε θνητῶν ἀνθρώπων

blessed gods” and “mortal men”

And then again (406) and again (599):

μάκαρες θεοὶ

μακάρεσσι θεοῖσιν

blessed gods”

blessed gods”

Do the Septuagint translators use this Hellene phrase this way? Well, it seems not. In fact, of the 20 uses of the Greek word translated “blessed” none is for God and all are for humans.

In Tobit (13:16), for example, there’s this:

αὶ μακάριοι πάντες οἱ ἄνθρωποι

And in 2 Chronicles (9:7), there’s this:

μακάριοι οἱ ἄνδρες μακάριοι οἱ παῖδές σου οὗτοι

And in the Greek translation of 1 Kings (10:8), there’s this very strange addition of women (not in the Hebrew text, which parallels the Hebrew of 2 Chronicles 9:7):

μακάριαι αἱ γυναῖκές σου μακάριοι οἱ παῖδές σου οὗτοι

There are no uses of this Greek word for the translation of the Pentateuch, the Five Books of Moses aka Torah aka (Nomos, the Law of Kyrios). But in the Psalmoi, we can find the phrase. And it’s repeated in poetic parallelisms so like the Hebrew text; here’s from the Hellene translation of one of the Psalms:

119:1  αλληλουια αλφ μακάριοι οἱ ἄμωμοι ἐν ὁδῷ οἱ πορευόμενοι ἐν νόμῳ κυρίου

119:2  μακάριοι οἱ ἐξερευνῶντες τὰ μαρτύρια αὐτοῦ ἐν ὅλῃ καρδίᾳ ἐκζητήσουσιν αὐτόν

At most, the references of “the blesseds” in the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures are in relation to Kyrios, and to the one God’s Law or instruction, and Kyrios (the LORD) translates here in the Psalms the tetragrammaton, יהוה. So humans, mortals, both men and women, and not G-d, are the “blesseds.” The happy Hebrew here is אשר [esher or ashar].

So Matthew writing in Greek has Jesus speaking Greek, beginning his famous sermon with the famous “beatitudes.” The Hebrew scriptures read in Hellene by that time have accustomed the Greek readers and audiences to thinking of the people of the Jewish God as the blesseds.

The Greek phrase blessed does not explicitly apply to The One G-d Himself, to Kyrios. In Homer, in the Iliad, in contrast, it blessed is the way the gods are described in contrast to the mortal human people.


And the people of the Hebrew scriptures are blessed because they are undefiled and are instructed in His ways and give testimony to Him and whole-heartedly follow His ways and seek Him.

This is the context in which one may come to the sermon on the mount of Matthew. Who are the blesseds?

Here, then, is Jesus speaking LXX (perhaps Homeric) Greek followed by my Englishing:




Reading Womanly Sex in Shakespeare, Donne, and the Greek translator(s) of the Song of Solomon?

March 5, 2015

Readers of William Shakespeare and of John Donne have found allusions to the female anatomy and sexuality in imagery and puns. For example, where Shakespeare has this:

scarlet lip William Shakespeare pun

Pauline Kiernan in Filthy Shakespeare: Shakespeare’s Most Outrageous Sexual Puns reads this:

scarlet lip read by Pauline Kiernan

Similarly, John Donne has phrases that appear erotic, and so Robert H. Ray in A John Donne Companion (Routledge Revivals) compiles this:

Velvet glass John Donne pun

This sort of readerly expectation has come with texts much earlier, and especially when the subject matter has to do with bodies and love the images and allusions appear more forthcoming and rather obvious to the audience. For example, in reading the Song of Solomon 8:23, Carey Ellen Walsh in Exquisite Desire: Religion, the Erotic, and the Song of Songs has this:

Song of Songs Pomegranates


Is this a genre thing? Is this what love and sex literature does for us readers? Maybe so.

My BLT-coblogger Suzanne has pointed us all to the fact that, for some readers, “linguistic data has suggested that the Song of Solomon was written in the 3rd century BC, some are looking closer at its structure as a wedding song, in the same genre as Sappho’s songs.”

What is the Song of Solomon goes to Egypt as a Greek lyric despite Aristotelian and Alexandrian notions of τὸ ἑλληνίζειν (or “purest, correct Hellene)? Would the lover there sound much more like Sappho? Would the puns there, the imagery and allusions that readers see and that audiences hear and feel, be more profound?

Don’t the Septuagint translators mix the various ways and words of Greek love, of the Hellene tongue, in playful, sexual ways? Yes, we might read the “erōs (English ‘erotic’) never … in Scripture” way John Piper does, saying this in Desiring God:

Historically, ethicists have tended to distinguish these two forms of love as agape and eros, or benevolence and complacency. Not only is there no linguistic basis for such a distinction, but conceptually both resolve into one kind of love at the root. God’s agape does not ‘transcend’ His eros, but expresses it. God’s redeeming, sacrificial love for His sinful people is described by Hosea in the most erotic terms (11:8-9).” What?! I had to read that three times to even believe I read it. Here is another example of ignoring language. There is a very good reason why erōs (English “erotic”) never appears in Scripture, namely, because it speaks of the physical and sensual. Erōs is not used even for the physical relationship of a husband and wife because their love transcends sex alone.

And yet we might find in these Jewish texts in their Hebraic Hellene renderings a sexual mix of the phrases: ἀγαπᾷ (agapa), φιλίας (philias), and ἔρωτι (eroti).

Today, at the blog Feminism and Religion, Stuart Dean has up a post in which he reads the following connections between the LXX Song of Songs and the Lesbian lyrics of Sappho this way:

It is otherwise inexplicable for the main reason Songs in Greek sounds like Sappho: the explicitness of its female sexuality.  It has been argued Songs 5:5 could be interpreted as “a not-too-cloaked reference to a woman’s orgasm,” but based on the Hebrew that sort of argument has met with considerable pushback.  In the Greek version, however, the door’s bolt is kleithron, a word that, with only a minor tweak in pronunciation, would have likely been recognized as a pun on kleitoris (clitoris)(even with gender and case ending differences) by all but the most prudish or naive of Poppaea’s day.

Such a description of an orgasm would have been taken by Poppaea and other Hellenized Jewish women as an unmistakable legacy of Sappho’s influence (for all the many echoes of Sappho just in Songs 5:2-6 click here).  That is important because though Hellenistic culture generally celebrated the human body as itself a manifestation of the divine (e.g., nudity in Greek athletic competition and in Roman public bathing), Sappho’s description of her own orgasm (S. 31) especially influenced Greek medical thinking on the importance of orgasm to human health.  Eventually this led to the prescription by ancient Greek physicians of masturbation for men and women who for whatever reason did not have partners.

Of course, Dean may be a good bit sloppy with how he characterizes Poppaea. And in a note to the text that his link (S. 31) above provides, where he strangely reads the Septuagint as if translated by New American Standard Version, he has to conjecture:

τοῦ κλείθρου:  This word, neuter kleithron, -ou and the pun on feminie kleitoris, -idos, that it likely plays upon is not attested in Sappho–except a variety of scholars have suggested that the name Sappho gives her ‘daughter,’ Kleis, may have been a play upon the word kleitoris (See S. 132).  One scholar has strongly, but somewhat arrogantly, insisted no such sound play would have been possible, but exactly how Sappho pronounced her Aeolic Greek is a guessing game with no end because there is not enough evidence to end it.  The same scholar somewhat absurdly implies that because kleitoris is not attested until a first century CE medical dictionary it was at that time a neologism.  But dictionaries, then even more so than now, did not create words but rather attest to usage.  Whatever is the case with respect to Sappho’s daughter’s name, it seems unduly skeptical to dismiss the sound play of kleithron, -ou and kleitoris, -idos, and it would seem that would have been in the original written or oral material upon which Songs is based.

And yet he gets (us) readers reading the Hebraic Hellene for ourselves:

ἀνέστην ἐγὼ
ἀνοῖξαι τῷ ἀδελφιδῷ μου,
χεῖρές μου ἔσταξαν σμύρναν,
δάκτυλοί μου σμύρναν πλήρη
ἐπὶ χεῖρας
τοῦ κλείθρου.

And how does anyone hear these? How would those with ears to hear hear this?

A rising in me, a real waking resurrection I am,
An opening to my brotherly-lover,
My hands, dripping with myrrh,
My fingers, with myrrh drenched,
On the handles of
The latch.

Denying Human(s) Categories

March 1, 2015

On this first day of the month, I just read Mysia Anderson‘s “Celebrating black women during Women’s History Month.” And I was just as shocked just now reading Ana Marie Cox’s “Why I’m Coming Out as a Christian” (and confessed to my fb friend who posted the article that she is braver than I).

Let me quote a bit from each respectively and then respond.

Anna Julia Cooper was born to a black mother and a white slavemaster father and …. notably wrote, “Only the BLACK WOMAN can say, ‘when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole Negro race enters with me.’”

With this bold assertion, Cooper poignantly articulated intersectionality. This term, coined by contemporary black feminist scholar Kimberle Crenshaw, acknowledges the interconnectedness and nuance of various forms of oppression, domination and discrimination. Crenshaw’s scholarship focuses on the double bind of gender and race. Her analyses of oppression looks at the ways that systemic oppression interacts with multiple aspects of identity.


I’ve lately observed conservatives questioning Obama’s faith with more than professional interest. Because if Obama’s not Christian, what does that make me?

I have not been public about my faith. I am somewhat tempted to embrace the punk-rockness of being a progressive, feminist, tattooed, pro-choice, graduate-educated believer—and then I have to remind myself that believing in God is about as punk rock as wearing pants, maybe even less so. Almost nine in ten Americans believe in God; in any given moment, how many are wearing pants?

In my personal life, my faith is not something I struggle with or something I take particular pride in. It is just part of who I am.

Well, Anderson, who is a woman, does not make a big explicit deal out of the fact that Cooper was “out” as a Christian, calling herself “black” when the proper term of her day was “Negro.” And, Cox, who is white, does not make a big explicit deal about Obama being as black as Cooper.

I find the human agency to self-label incredibly important. “Coming out” gay or black or Christian or woman is incredibly important and takes — in our days and months and years and centuries and millennia of homophobia, misogyny, black hatred, racism, and religion or science or intellect bashing — bravery.

It’s not just me. Some of my co-bloggers with me, and many of you thinkers and readers here and elsewhere, struggle with our human categorizations and categories. It’s the doubly and triply and mutiply marginalized who we do well to show the most attention and to give the most care and to allow the most agency.

I still think Carolyn Osiek is astute in helping those of us in our current set of categories recall the ancient set; let me re-quote (from a blog comment of several comments made by Kristen, Suzanne, Theophrastus, and me — at T.C. Robinson’s blog — before we commenters there decided to co-blog here); Osiek writes:

From a modern perspective, we would say the categories ‘women’ and ‘slaves’ are partially overlapping. Some women were slaves, but not all were; some slaves were women, but not all slaves were. But, in fact, in ancient categories it is the expression ‘women slaves,’ which seems to us more inclusive, that is a conceptual contradiction. While women and slaves of the ancient Greco-Roman world shared much in common within the male perspective of the patriarchal household, they did not belong to overlapping categories. Both were in Aristotle’s categories fit by nature to be ruled, not to rule. Both shared intimately in the life of the household, including its religion, economy, child production and nurturing, and burial. . . .

Both women and slaves in many ways remained in a state of perpetual liminality. Ancient literature regularly ascribes to one the vices of the other. But if females who were slaves had to be fitted either into the category of women or of slaves, the ancient thinker would have considered them slaves, not women. As females who were slaves, they were doubly fit by nature to be ruled and dominated.

Osiek gets at the rape consequences of the different categorization of humans as “‘women’ and ‘slaves’”:

There is an astonishing lack of specification about slaves even in the literature of marital advice. More ancient authors than might be supposed advocate the marital fidelity of husbands, including Aristotle . . . and Pythagoras . . ., but it is doubtful whether sex with one’s own slaves is included. Plutarch, on the other hand, considers it normal for husbands to take their debauchery elsewhere, to go wide of the mark . . . with a . . . slave. . . . If Plutarch is consistent, then his advice about educating freeborn males not to be overbearing with slaves . . . does not prohibit rape of slaves.

Rape today represents for us all one of the most egregious sins that any in our societies might perpetrate. And we startle at the fact that our forefathers metaphorically and physically might have allowed it, legally, ethically, and culturally. We know women (and in some cases children and men) who have been raped. We (in some cases) have been the victim. We share the devastation caused when a human with a penis sexually violates another human.

We would do well, in my humble opinion, to pay attention to the human categorizations that rape metaphorically.

Here’s some what I intend by that. I struggle to get to the issues, the marginalizing categories, objectively, especially when it becomes so personal and subjective. After my friend posted Cox’s “coming out as a Christian” I found myself wanting to write the following as a comment on facebook (and so I did):

It’s ironic that Jesus Christ never came out (had to come out) as a Christian:
It’s the first day of Women’s History Month in the USA this year. We all would do well to pay attention and give care to those who multiply self identify as (black) (Christian) (manifold categories) women.

The Evolution of Siri in America

February 28, 2015

My first iPhone in the USA was a 3GS, and it had an app on it called Siri.

At the time, nobody knew either that it was intended to be called Hal or that Apple would buy it as an essential part of the later versions of iPhone. Yes, Hal, not Siri.

Not long afterwards, those with the upgraded iPhones with that essential Siri, people like Amanda Marcotte, began to wonder about the advice the app doled out:

Siri behaves much like a retrograde male fantasy of the ever-compliant secretary: discreet, understanding, willing to roll with any demand a man might come up with, teasingly accepting of dirty jokes. Oh yeah, and mainly indifferent to the needs of women.

At my house, we discovered this while playing with Siri’s quickly established willingness to look up prostitutes for a straight man in need….

More troubling and less predictable was Siri’s inability to generate decent results related to women’s reproductive health.

Apple’s spokes”woman” seems to have promised early on, in 2011, that these sorts of human observations about the sexist machine should go away. For instance, Natalie Kerris said:

Our customers want to use Siri to find out all types of information, and while it can find a lot, it doesn’t always find what you want. These are not intentional omissions meant to offend anyone. It simply means that as we bring Siri from beta to a final product, we find places where we can do better, and we will in the coming weeks.

Nonetheless, those sorts of human observations have continued through this year. For example, in late January 2015, there were a few more comments by Annalee Newitz:

Siri is a kind of disembodied presence, but clearly her gender matters. Indeed, there was no male version of Siri until 2013….

[W]e’re supposed to associate digital assistant work with traditional women’s roles. Siri is mother who actually cares about you, and Cortana is the most competent secretary you ever had. Which — of course, you never had a secretary. As David Wheeler pointed out last year on CNN, there’s a certain amount of wishful thinking here, given that the age of secretaries died along with the chain-smoking execs of Mad Men. There’s wishful thinking in the mother idea, too, since nobody has a mother who keeps track of their every whim the way Siri will…..

So what is it that Siri and Cortana deliver that a male voice cannot? I think the answer is submission. Again, there are many sexist overtones here. But the sad truth is that these digital assistants are more like slaves than modern women. They are not supposed to threaten you, or become your equal — they are supposed to carry out orders without putting up a fight. The ideal slave, after all, would be like a mother to you. She would never rebel because she loves you, selflessly and forever.

I do want to stress that Siri is female like this in the USA. In Australia, there’s also a female voice. In Canada, the voice is male. In England, the voice is, or was, male too. When he shifted to a she, then some Brits began to protest, if others began to like her:

But it’s not all bad for British users. Many have also posted that they are pleased with the work of female British Siri, saying she is much better.

And now humans using the iPhone get to choose, female or male. Here are the instructions for making the change from one to the other.

And since I’m focusing on the USA, if you speak Danish, Dutch, Portuguese, Russian, Swedish, Thai and Turkish languages here, then you’re in luck because Apple is working on a Siri that speaks and hears these languages as well.

If your language is English, then you’re still fine to use Siri. You’re okay, unless you want to use your Indian English. You still have to “the need to fake an American or British accent” to get her (or him) to work for you. But just wait, she (or he) is soon going to understand the South Asian lect.

That reminds me of another thing: One of my siblings, who is a Texan from the USA living in Europe as a Permanent Resident of the UK, to be understood, has to speak, not his Texan lect, but the British lect when driving left handed and ordering drive-through at a MacDonalds there. His Siri, an import from the USA, nonetheless, is that female American who tolerates his mother tongue just fine.

Aren’t these bodiless Siris a mere reflection of their makers? And what subtle, unconscious impressions do their replies make on us (if sometimes the responses are just funny)? And what will be the next evolutions of Apple’s Siri in America? What should they be?

Levine: Short stories by Jesus

February 28, 2015

Originally posted on Judy's research blog:

Last year, I bought a copy of Amy-Jill Levine’s new book, Short Stories by Jesus – the enigmatic parables of a controversial rabbi (HarperOne, New York, 2014) and have been meaning to post a review of it every since I started using it. I find that the perspective of Jewish scholars on Second Testament writings often helps me to shake of what I have ‘always known’ about the texts and allows me to see something different and I like Levine’s writing. She is one of the contributors to  Coogan, Michael David, Marc Zvi Brettler, Carol A. Newsom, and Pheme Perkins. The new Oxford annotated Bible  (Oxford [England]; New York: Oxford University Press, 2010) and one of the editors of Levine, Amy-Jill and Marc Zvi Brettler eds. The Jewish annotated New Testament: New Revised Standard Version Bible translation. (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2011) but this is the first…

View original 210 more words

The Oscars? Men (not women)

February 19, 2015


Oscar is a man. And the Oscars (i.e., the Academy Awards) feature men more (even though a human named Cheryl Boone Isaacs is now the president of the Academy). And for some years now, out of research conducted at San Diego State University, has come the Celluloid Ceiling Report showing men make more films and make more money from them than women have made or can make. The past year is worse than the previous year, the data in the annual reporting by Martha M. Lauzen show.

One film watcher has decided, therefore, that this year (2015) she will watch 52 films, one per week,[per her clarifying comment below] 365 new films, one per day, made not by men but by women. “Initially I was just going to do [my watching of] the films directed by a woman,” she says, “but then I realized the statistics for female screenwriters are abysmal.” In women-directed movies also written by women, there seems to be a difference that Marya E. Gates has begun to notice already when watching the films and noting how men can be presented in them: “men tend to be more intimate in films directed by women.”

What more will be seen in the 2015 movies women have made that this woman is watching?

And don’t we already know what most film viewers otherwise will see? How about this:

With its tendency to follow conventional themes, clichéd metaphors, given genres, and above all stereotypes of the female figure—[movies of 2015 are] hardly a satisfying source for tracing women’s “real” presence (or the presence of “real” women). Rather than evidence to their presence, [the film set of this present year] furnishes manifestations of their absence and erasure. There are ample ways by which women can be made to disappear from the [movies that represent] them. Woman’s absence is represented by procedures of silencing (woman is ideally mute or notoriously garrulous); stereotypization (woman is “good,” “bad,” “ugly,” etc.); abstraction (allegorical woman as concept without body); mythologization and dehumanizing (nymph, Medusa, Amazon, demon, beast); objectification (woman is a reified body without subjectivity or mind; she is matter, commodity, chattel, prize), and the like. It is the task of [2015 film] criticism to follow the varied ways in which women and concepts of gender are manipulated—fictionalized, fantasized, poeticized, metaphorized, narrativized, dramatized—in [the movies this year].

Closely related to the question of women’s presence/absence in [film making] is the issue of female voices. To what extent are those female voices captured within [movies] “authentic” and unmediated? Aren’t they muffled by male transmission? Don’t they serve the [screen writer’s and the director’]’s androcentric position? Female voices seem often to embody patriarchal “truths” about women’s speech (women abuse language by lying, quarreling, complaining, enticing, and so on). However, utterances of female protagonists help to reveal the limits of the androcentric logic that produced them. They indicate points from which the homotextual hegemonic monolith can be dismantled.

Well, the two paragraphs above are not my words. And to be fair, they aren’t about 2015 films, who Oscar is, or the ways women are and fail to be represented in movies this year. That is not an excerpt from “Modern Hollywood Filmmaking: Portrayal of Women.” Rather, it is a quotation of Tova Rosen from her “Medieval Hebrew Literature: Portrayal of Women.” I just wanted to think about how different things might be from one era to another, from one medium to another, from one year to the next. What on this day in 2016 might be different? Who is Oscar’s sister anyway?

Masculine Greek: for an adulteress, not an authoress?

February 17, 2015

For some time, Greek readers of the unsigned and unclaimed New Testament epistle of Hebrews have wondered whether its author might be an authoress. Bloggers like me have wondered.

Facebookers continue to wonder. Yesterday, for example, one of my facebook friends posted this:

An oldie but goodie: Did Priscilla write Hebrews?

One of the most prolific “biblibloggers” responded tersely:


And I asked:

absolute no?

To which he replied, a bit more:

absolute we will never, ever know so no, no

Another of my friends (fb and IRL) entered the conversation to say how he wished the Harnack hypothesis that Pricilla wrote Hebrews were true but that he himself couldn’t overcome the fact that the author must be male because of the masculine Greek self-referential language used by the writer of the letter.

I gave a knee-jerk, bigger picture feminist response:

Recently, Deborah Copaken Kogan reminded us readers of the following:

… centuries of literary sexism, exclusion, cultural bias, invisibility. There’s a reason J.K. Rowling’s publishers demanded that she use initials instead of “Joanne”: it’s the same reason Mary Anne Evans used the pen name George Eliot; the same reason Robert Southey, then England’s poet laureate, wrote to Charlotte Brontë: “Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life, and it ought not to be.”

The earliest epistolary literature of Christianity was not the biz of a woman’s life. Not even Priscilla’s, who would be inclined to use the masculine participle (to hide her being feminine), wouldn’t we all agree?

And the conversation has stopped. Now I want to start it up again only by getting back into the particulars of the masculine Greek.

A little primer in what the masculine Greek objection is all about and why it might not be relevant is here. Ruth Hoppin there is rightly quoted as explaining how the gender of the verb in question is ambiguous: that is, διηγούμενον may be not only masculine in grammatical gender but also neuter. The author might not be “telling” (or technically, rhetorically giving a διηγήσεται (or a diegesis, or ‘narration’) as a default male – as a man. It could be some somebody (with gender not specified), says she, Ms. Hoppin.

The whole sentence goes like this:

Καὶ τί ἔτι λέγω; ἐπιλείψει με γὰρ διηγούμενον ὁ χρόνος περὶ Γεδεών, Βαράκ, Σαμψών, Ἰεφθάε, Δαυείδ τε καὶ Σαμουὴλ καὶ τῶν προφητῶν,

In the KJV, that is Englished this way:

And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me [the man writing] to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:

It’s the declension, the suffix if you will, that shows this verb takes a subject that is either a man or a gender generic (i.e., neuter) subject (i.e., anybody).

Even so, (and either ambiguous way) it is NOT a feminine verbal with a feminine subject.

But, however, nonetheless, and (as some of us, both anybody men and women, say in here Texas) hold your horses. There are examples in Greek literature, and Christian Greek literature, and Christian biblical literature (yes even the canonical Christian Bible, the Holy Bible) in which the masculine (or neuter) verb references a female. Yes, I know, that does not mean it’s feminist necessarily. The one example I want to give is of Jerusalem. Yes, that’s right. The Holy Polis, the Holy City. She is likened to a prostitute. She is called an adulterous adulteress who messes around with her own kind even. And not only the prophet of the LORD calls her that but also through the Prophet G-d Himself calls her that. Yes, I know. It’s a translation of the Hebrew scriptures. Yes, I understand; not everybody appreciates the Septuagint, that spurious translation done in Egypt, which enslaved the Hebrews. Nonetheless, here it is, what we call Ezekiel 16:34 –

καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν σοὶ διεστραμμένον παρὰ τὰς γυναῖκας ἐν τῇ πορνείᾳ σου, καὶ μετὰ σοῦ πεπορνεύκασιν ἐν τῷ προσδιδόναι σε μισθώματα, καὶ σοὶ μισθώματα οὐκ ἐδόθη, καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν σοὶ διεστραμμένα.

Here is how Sir Brenton Englishes that:

And there has happened in you [sir] perverseness in your fornication beyond other women, and they have committed fornication with you, in that you give hires over and above, and hires were not given to you; and thus perverseness happened in you.

Now, to be clear, Sir Brenton did not write the implied “[sir]” because his context shows that Jerusalem is a she, not a he. I’ve added that to his English. I’ve added it because the Greek of the LXX translators implies a male (or at the very least a gender unspecified neuter), not a female.

My question is this, Why in Christian Greek scriptures are we not so inclined to allow a Priscilla to do what another Jewish Greek writer would do? If an adulteress can be referred to by male (or clearly Not Female) terms, then why can’t an author who is a woman?

The literary of the Jews of Egypt and the Sappho of Lesbos

February 16, 2015

This is a 10-minute post to add to the blog series on the Interpretive Spins and Literary Sparks in the Ψαλμοὶ. Abram K-J (who’s in a group reading the Greek Psalmoi this year) is the inspiration for this particular post. He wrote one yesterday that reminded me of one of the fragments of Sappho. He’s struck by the syllable count of one particular word as much as anything:

One thing that continually impresses me about Greek is its preponderance of multisyllabic words. / Much of this has to do with how its verbs are conjugated. The four-syllable verb μεγαλυνω, for example, when inflected in Psalm 19:8 (Psalm 20:7 in English Bibles), becomes a majestic seven-syllable ending to an already beautiful verse:… [read the rest here]

What Abram didn’t mention is that this long-syllable-phrase appears multiply. So let me show the LXX Greek on that, the Hebraic Hellene. Then let me show the Sappho fragment of Greek lyric. And I’m going to add my quick quick English translation.

ἐν τῷ σωτηρίῳ σου,
καὶ ἐν ὀνόματι θεοῦ ἡμῶν
πληρώσαι κύριος πάντα τὰ αἰτήματά σου.

νῦν ἔγνων ὅτι ἔσωσεν κύριος τὸν χριστὸν αὐτοῦ·
ἐπακούσεται αὐτοῦ ἐξ οὐρανοῦ ἁγίου αὐτοῦ,
ἐν δυναστείαις ἡ σωτηρία τῆς δεξιᾶς αὐτοῦ.

οὗτοι ἐν ἅρμασιν
καὶ οὗτοι ἐν ἵπποις,
ἡμεῖς δὲ ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου θεοῦ ἡμῶν

We’ll cheer
In the rescue, yours sir,
And in the name of The god, ours,
We’ll Go Great Giving High Praise.
He’ll fulfill, Oh Kyrios will, all of the requests, yours sir.

Now I knew that He rescued the One, Honored-with-Oil, His.
He’ll hear Him, and out of High Heaven Holy, His,
In Power, the rescue of the right hand, His.

Those’ll praise in chariots
And those others in cavalry,
But we will in the name of The god, ours,
We’ll Go Great Giving High Praise.

ἴψοι δὴ τὸ μέλαθρον·
ἀέρρετε τέκτονες ἄνδρες·
γάμβρος εἰσέρχεται ἴσος Ἄρευι,
ἄνδρος μεγάλω πόλυ μέζων.

Go high with the Great Roof!
Oh Hymen!
Grab it, technicians, men!
Oh Hymen!
Groom of the Bride is coming, equal to Ares,
Oh Hymen
A Great man? Plenty Greater!

Love subjectively: translating Luke 10

January 24, 2015

This post of mine takes a rather subjective perspective. You could call it my commentary.

This morning I’m struck by what I perceive as the Greek Rhetoric influence on the gospel of Luke. And the text, its language, seems quite aware of the Hebraic construction of the Hellene of the Septuagint. Luke Chapter 10, in particular, is an example. The first pericope, or episode, has the didactic Jesus engaged in the speech-act of sending his students (disciples, learners, talmidim) out in groups. Note the number, the nod to the LXX. Within the instruction is Greek simile, Hellenic fable/parable, and Hebraic metaphors. Through the larger story, readers find allusion both to the Hebrew Bible and also to the Greek of the translation done in Alexandria, Egypt; and so there are literary hints of insider cultural coded language. There are aphorisms and there are hidden gems and there are revelations, letting the reader in on the joke, so to speak.

Then we readers come to what is famously known as the parable/fable of the good Samaritan. The Greek readers are to this point siding with the pure Jewish interlocutors, Jesus, and his talmidim apprentices, and their god, who is called (in Hellene) Kyrios. But the surprise turn in the fable/parable is that the hero is not pure racially.

The set up, rhetorically and literaturally, is the Socratic dialectic between Jesus and one of the experts in the writings of the Five Books of Moses (a Talmid Chacham, a Torah scholar). The latter questions the former first. His is a very seemingly personal question:

Διδάσκαλε, τί ποιήσας ζωὴν αἰώνιον κληρονομήσω;

Didactic-Teacher, What do I do for life on and on? What do I do to inherit that?

And so the former, in return, questions the latter. Again, it is highly personal and intensely subjective:

Ἐν τῷ νόμῳ τί γέγραπται; πῶς ἀναγινώσκεις;

In the Torah what is written? How do you read it?

The reply, the ἀπό-κρισις, the retort if you will, might seem, to us readers of Luke, to be simply only merely a direct quotation from The Shema of the Torah. At the very least, we might expect the Hebraic Hellene of the Septuagint’s version we call Deuteronomy 6.

But there’s a twist. Or a twisting. An interpreting, a changing up, an addition to what is verbatim in the Law. It’s not even the gospel writer’s clearer Greek translating of the Hebrew text, clearer than the Hellene translation of the Hebrew translators who lived before him so far away in Egypt. No, out of the mouth of the Torah scholar, this Talmid Chacham, comes a new take in Greek, with a mashup of what’s in the Hellene of Levitikus 19:

οὐ μισήσεις τὸν ἀδελφόν σου τῇ διανοίᾳ σου,
ἐλεγμῷ ἐλέγξεις τὸν πλησίον σου

καὶ οὐ λήμψῃ δι’ αὐτὸν ἁμαρτίαν.
καὶ οὐκ ἐκδικᾶταί σου ἡ χείρ,
καὶ οὐ μηνιεῖς τοῖς υἱοῖς τοῦ λαοῦ σου
καὶ ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν·

ἐγώ εἰμι κύριος.

Which roughly can be Englished this way:

thou shalt not hate that brother of yours in that mind of yours,
reproofing you shall reproof those in that near space of yours

and thou shalt not bear sin on his account
and it shall not be vengeance of yours, thine hand,
and thou shalt not be angry with the children of those people of yours,
and thou shalt love those neigh you

I am kyrios [master]

Granted, the “dia-noia,” or διανοίᾳ σου, is a very good Greek translation of the Hebrew in the sense that it captures the profound subjectivity of the requirement of this law, this teaching. The prohibition against “hate” puts it in the individual, in his or her heart, or in the Hellene, deep in the mind’s thoughts.

And so when the one rabbi retorts to the other, and when that other (Jesus) validates the answer as “correct,” the translation or interpretation or hermeneutic here expressed is very, very singularly personal and very, very profoundly subjective.

If you won’t mind, then, let me verbatim reproduce Luke’s Greek. And my English:


The universal requirement of love, and the object of that comprehensive love, wholly falls on the individual. This law, in my view, deconstructs the hierarchy of the Kyriarchy, bringing within close proximity of the Shema the additional command to love thy neighbor and in thine own mind and heart to not hate thine own brother.

Of course, Luke 10 goes on. The two rabbis get into their dialectic over “neighbor.” And didactic Jesus tells the fable that deconstructs the pure notion of the near or neigh one as a pure breed like these two pure teachers talking.

In this literary, rhetorical, fable-parable-law context, love deconstructs and love is very very subjective universally.

Susannah Heschel on “Selma”

January 18, 2015

Here are a few links relating Susannah Heschel’s reaction to the absence of her father, Abraham Heschel, from the movie “Selma.” She wrote,

The 50th anniversary of the 1965 march at Selma is being commemorated this year with the release of the film “Selma.” Regrettably, the film represents the march as many see it today, only as an act of political protest.

But for my father Abraham Joshua Heschel and for many participants, the march was both an act of political protest and a profoundly religious moment: an extraordinary gathering of nuns, priests, rabbis, black and white, a range of political views, from all over the United States.

Perhaps more an act of celebration of the success of the civil rights movement than of political protest, Selma affirmed that the movement had won the conscience of America.

President Lyndon Johnson had just declared, “We Shall Overcome,” and congressional passage of the Voting Rights Act would come quickly. Thanks to the religious beliefs and political convictions of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., coalitions had been built, religious differences overcome and visions articulated that meshed religious and political goals.

My father felt that the prophetic tradition of Judaism had come alive at Selma. He said that King told him it was the greatest day in his life, and my father said that he was reminded at Selma of walking with Hasidic rebbes in Europe. Such was the spiritual atmosphere of the day.

Read more:

Other links and interviews:

Fresh Controversy …
Following in my father’s footsteps
Their Feet Were Praying

5 More Cities Allowing Students to Read the Letter from a Birmingham Jail for Free

January 16, 2015

This Friday in 2015 before the USA Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Monday, news sources in America are reporting the following:

What’s more, for all of my BLT co-bloggers, I would just like to announce also that students in cities around the world are now allowed to read The Letter from a Birmingham Jail published widely before the march on Selma also “for free” on Monday, when students across the States of America will neither be segregated nor integrated in schools. Here are two previews:

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.”

But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim;

when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters;

when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society;

when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people;



when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”;

Martin Luther King Jr. and Two of His Children


when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you;



when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”;



when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”;

when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments;

when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you [white rabbis and white Christian clergy] can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern.

Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws.


One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”


I wish you [white rabbis and white Christian clergymen] had commended the Negro sit inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.”

Martin Luther King Escorting ChildrenMLK-walks-Mississippi-Children

They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’ sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.


translating “tout est pardonné”

January 15, 2015

Our BLT post “tout est pardonné” is generating lots of readers, which normally we are just fine with. Some English readers are finding it by searching for “translation of ‘tout est pardonné’” and expecting to learn what the French of the cover of the most recent issue of Charlie Hebdo must surely mean.

What it means, literally, as we say, is “all is pardoned.” What it signifies, figurally, however, is not that at all. Rather, with the apparent intent to flaunt and to draw charges of “blasphemy” from those who cheered on the crime of killing 12 persons in Paris, the phrase, satirical and ironic, actually means meanness: “Not anything is forgiven after all.” The crime of murder is matched by the sin of desacralization. Eye for eye. Tooth for tooth. Death for Death. The stuff more safely in Theatre. Which brings me to the purpose of this post. I’d like to recall a few paragraphs by Hélène Cixous. This is from her essay “Le lieu du Crime, le lieu du Pardon” (or “The Place of Crime, The Place of Forgiveness” as translated into English by Catherine A. F. MacGillivray):




The full original is here, the translation here.


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