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Psalm of a Soiled Dove

December 17, 2014


**The following is a flight of theological imagination**

Psalm 84

The original author of this psalm was a young woman, perhaps a Midianite, who was ravished away from her home by a pillaging army and forced to serve as one of the whores that traveled with the army to provide recreation for its soldiers. She was freed from sexual slavery by the Israelite forces that defeated her captors, and found refuge among the Israelite women. Psalm 84 is a song of praise to the God of the armies who freed her and of the women who welcomed her, a God who sees her as pure and innocent despite her enslavement as a whore. Although the text was later adapted for use as a pilgrim psalm during the Temple period, traces of its origin remain, as we shall see.

1 How sensual are your tents,
O LORD of armies!
2 My soul yearns, it faints
for the encampments of the LORD.
3 My heart and my flesh
cry out for the living God.

These verses mix imagery of the boudoir with that of the military camp. The erotic imagery is frequently interpreted as a poetic means of indicating intense passion for the LORD, while the remaining language is overlooked. In fact, the psalmist here deliberately uses the language and imagery of impassioned sexual desire — which she had been forced to simulate in her sexual slavery — to convey the depth of her authentic passionate response to the God who freed her from enslavement.

The incongruous juxtaposition of a boudoir response to the rough surroundings of a military encampment is clever and intentional, as can be seen by reading them together with verse 11. If the locations in these verses are interpreted as referring to the beautiful courts of the Temple, as they are often translated, the psalmist’s rhetoric is weakened.

4 Even the sparrow has found a home
and the swallow a nest for herself,
that places her fledglings by your altars,
LORD of armies, my king and my God!
5 Blessed are those who dwell in your house!
They never cease to praise you!

These verses are about the women of Israel, among whom the psalmist found a home. The words for “sparrow” and “swallow” are also the names of women, Zipporah the Midianite wife of Moses, and Devorah the judge of Israel whose army drove Sisera to defeat at the hands of Jael, who later became the wife of Heber the Kenite. Devorah’s song of Jael’s victory notably includes a passage in which the mother of Sisera wonders what is keeping him, and concludes that he must be delayed by raping young women, as usual. Some scholars even speculate that Jael herself was the psalmist, but there is little evidence to support this view.

The psalmist may be referring to herself as the “fledgling” who has been taken in and given a home by the women of Israel, the descendants of Zipporah and Devorah. Or, perhaps she identifies with the swallow (thus the speculation that she herself was Midianite) and had recently been made pregnant by her captors (in which case, her plight would have been even more desperate), and she rejoices that she has found a place to settle her own child.

In verse 5, she invokes blessings on those who dwell in the encampment of the LORD, who have made a place for her. It is by their actions of welcome and charity for an oppressed alien that they “never cease to praise” the LORD.

6. Blessed the folk whose strength is in you,
in whose hearts are the ways of the pilgrims,
7. who, as they pass through the Valley of Tears,
transform it to a refreshing spring,
bringing early rain that cloaks it with blessings.

These verses continue the theme of blessing the people of Israel, who find their own strength in the LORD and whose actions, made powerful by that strength, have transformed the psalmist’s bitter tears to blessing psalms. The references to water here also allude to the ritual cleansing of impurities, looking ahead to verse twelve. A “soiled dove” might have expected that her past would be held against her; instead, the loving actions and generous spirits of the women of Israel recognize that as a victim, she was blameless, effectively washing away any impurity associated with sexual sin, in floods and springs and rains of blessing.

8 They walk from strength to strength:
the God of Zion is shown forth.
or
May they walk from strength to strength;
May they see God in Zion.

Verse 8 could be read either as a description of the faithful people of verse 6, who by their actions make present the God of Zion; or as a blessing upon those people, as they continue their pilgrimage towards Zion. In fact, both readings are intended.

9. LORD God of armies, hear my prayer;
listen, O God of Jacob [and Leah and Rachel].

The prayer of verse 9 is the blessing of the previous verses.
Although the surviving text invokes only the God of Jacob, it seems quite probable that the psalmist would also have associated that God with Leah and Rachel, considering her experience and the kindness she received from the Israelite women.

10. Regard our protection, O God;
look upon the face of your anointed.

This verse continues the prayer of the previous, asking God to look (favorably) upon those who rescued and now protect the psalmist (and perhaps her child, or other women who had also been rescued), and are demonstrably the anointed of God.

11. Better one day in your encampments
than a thousand “I have chosen.”
Better the threshold of the house of God
than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.

The quoted phrase may have been the ritual language used by the patron of a brothel to indicate his selection, and might therefore have been used by the women as shorthand for such a forced sexual encounter.

These verses return to the opening theme of the psalm. The brothel in which the psalmist was enslaved would have been relatively luxurious, devoted as it was to sensuality, and she would likely have had a private section allocated to her, at least while she was working. But even a place at the threshold of the camp of the LORD is a thousand times to be preferred to her former circumstances.

12. For a sun and a shield is the LORD,
God is acceptance and honor.
The LORD does not withhold, but bestows
blessings on those who are blameless.

Verse 12b is usually translated “grace and glory,” for the parallel with sun and shield in 12a and for the alliteration. But the semantic fields of the Hebrew words include acceptance and honor, which the psalmist — blameless for the sexual slavery into which she was forced — has received.

13. O LORD of armies,
happy is the woman who is secure in you!

As the psalmist, indeed, now rejoices that she is.


Thanks to my co-blogger Suzanne McCarthy, whose speculation about whether Psalm 84 was written by a woman, and whose association of sparrow and swallow with women’s names, gave wings to this flight of fancy. Robert Alter’s translation and commentary, particularly the footnotes that puzzled over certain phrases, provided additional inspiration. Special thanks to Thomas Bolin, who helped me fuss over possible readings of the verb forms in verse 8.

I must also acknowledge, with deep gratitude, the generation of women who developed the practice of reading with theological imagination as a means of accessing the lost, forgotten, and suppressed voices of women in scripture: a practice that I had previously held at arm’s length. Without their work, particularly that of Sr. Dr. Miriam Therese Winter, in whose writing I was primarily exposed to the technique, this piece would never have been written.

While I do not present this as an academically solid exegesis of psalm 84, it does offer a plausible reading of some otherwise puzzling images and phrases. I found that my imagination was quite thoroughly captured by the story of my “soiled dove” psalmist, and her experience with the generous and loving Jewish women who gave her refuge. They were a blessing, a mitzvah, to her, making present the blessing of the LORD upon her; and she blessed them and blessed the LORD in return.

Did it really happen?
Could it really have happened?

Does it matter?

I will never read this psalm in quite the same way again.

May the God of Hagar, Sarah, and Abraham,
the God of Rebecca and Isaac,
the God of Leah, Rachel, and Jacob,
the God of Zipporah, Devorah, and Jael,
bless our reading and our imagination,
and inspire us through them
to grow in faithfulness, generosity, and praise.
Amen.

Hands Up, a call to art

November 24, 2014

Not waiting on a grand jury verdict, the Alliance of Black Art Galleries announced an initiative on the killing of Michael Brown, and artists by the score have responded. When this young man was still alive, some artists from sometime back and from some other places had already heard this call to art. Here are three examples:

Christ.in.Alabama

untitled.gun

tale.2.hoodies

These works are by Langston Hughes, by Jean-Michel Basquiat, and by Michael Dantuono.

Translingual Practice, Evangelization, and Ecumenism

November 16, 2014

I was struck by these excerpts quoted in Kurk’s post on Chinese translation:

As I [Lydia H. Liu] have argued elsewhere, one does not translate between equivalents; rather, one creates tropes of equivalence in the middle zone of translation between the host and guest languages. This middle zone of hypothetical equivalence, which is occupied by neologistic imagination, becomes the very ground for change. . . . Meanings, therefore, are not so much “transformed” when concepts pass from the guest language to the host language as invented within the local environment of the latter.

because it reminded me of the changes that have occurred in recent years in both missionary and ecumenical discourse.

The understanding of missionary work during the imperial and/or colonialization period was laced with Manifest Destiny and drenched in power dynamics: we civilized European Christians had been commanded by God to “go and make disciples of all nations.” That means bringing the civilizing effect of the gospel to the heathens and the savages. That means making them over in our own image, bringing them the benefits of Christianity and Anglo-European culture whether they like it or not. We’ll come with our bibles in one hand and our military and economic weapons in the other, to ensure they accept the truth. It’s for their own good, after all. We’ll suppress their heathen customs and force them to live like civilized Christians — two words that often seemed to be used synonymously. Christendom was to be extended, and Christendom started life as an empire.

How different is the language used in the Vatican 2 document on missionary work, Ad Gentes, meaning “To the Nations.” Its paradigm for missionary work is what we commonly refer to as “enculturation”: rather than imposing our cultural pattern as the means by which we carry the gospel, we instead endeavour to discover the native dress in which the stories and truths of the gospel may be clothed, so that they may be encountered as respectful visitors rather than marauding invaders. The document refers to local culture or cultural conditions more than twenty times.

Of course, care must be taken to avoid creating a syncretist melange that is no longer Christianity on the one hand, and to avoid exploiting or appropriating elements of local culture for our own purposes, on the other. This requires the practice of an attentive respectfulness both to our own experience of the gospel we carry, and to the experience of those with whom we hope to share the gospel. Missionaries are indeed visitors in a host culture, and evangelization is an act of translation: as it was when Paul first preached to the Gentiles, finding points of contact in the religious and philosophical beliefs of the citizens of Athens in which he could clothe the gospel, that it might be more easily comprehended and received.

Similar issues of translation arise in the practice of ecumenism. The great ecumenical movement of the 20th century began with a methodology of convergence. The hope was that we simply misunderstood: misunderstood each other, or misunderstood God’s Word; and if only we could strive together for understanding, we could resolve our differences, eliminate our divisions, and reunite Christ’s church: “that you may be one, as the Father and I are one.”

And this hope was at least partially well founded. Great progress was made, especially in the early years, as separated sisters and brothers approached our texts and traditions with eyes and hearts unclouded by the polemics of the history that divided us. Through bilateral and multilateral dialogues often facilitated by the WCC Faith and Order Commission, we found language in which we could express our shared beliefs, and clearer, calmer statements of the matters that still divided us. One of my most compelling experiences in graduate school was reading the Lima document on Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry, in which the body of the text contains language that all could agree on, while remaining differences are set off in boxed text, and seeing with joy that most of the document expressed shared consensus. In more recent years, the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation have signed a similar document on the doctrine of justification, to which a number of other denominations have also become signatories.

In the latter half of the twentieth century, many churches embarked on, and some have completed, a process of re-establishing full ecclesial communion. Our contemporary Christian landscape is filled with churches that have “United” in their name, and some that don’t, that are the outcome of this process. Other churches defined, or discovered, or created means by which they could be in partial or full communion without giving up their separate ecclesial identities, traditions, and cultures: permitting eucharistic sharing and even full clergy recognition, so that a minister ordained in denomination X is fully qualified and eligible to pastor a church in denomination Y.

And yet, despite the hard work and devout prayer of ecumenists, there seem to be limits to this method of convergence. Church-dividing differences still remain, and new ones have arisen, as some churches move towards full inclusion of women and LGBT Christians while others do not. Churches in the process of uniting have encountered difficulties for various reasons; the process has stalled or been descoped, settling for partial rather than full communion.

While dialogue towards convergence still continues, in a modified approach that works towards a more nuanced differentiated consensus, a different approach has also emerged. Called receptive ecumenism, the goal of this approach to ecumenical dialogue is appreciation, rather than agreement. Participants focus on sharing the treasures of their own ecclesial traditions, and appreciating the beauty of treasures that are not their own. Instead of trying to forge an objective consensus expression of truth on neutral common ground, receptive ecumenism traverses the liminal space between dialogue partners, crossing and re-crossing the space between ecclesial traditions, as respectful visitors and as gracious hosts. The paradigm of appreciation fosters a generosity of spirit: after all, one can freely admire certain features of a work of art even when one would be entirely disinclined to take it into one’s own home! The language of receptive ecumenism resembles the translingual practice described by Liu, as gracious hosts try to articulate their love of their own treasures in language that their visitors can understand, and respectful visitors try to encounter and appreciate foreign treasures in their own settings, on their own terms.

Although receptive ecumenism does not explicitly work towards ecclesial unification, it seems to me that it is well suited to accomplish the communion of hearts. To the extent that Christianity is relational, that the church is a community of persons (and Persons) and their network of relationships, it can be said that receptive ecumenism does work towards full communion, after all.

Psalm 84: was it written by a woman?

November 15, 2014

image

This is a reflection on Psalm 84 in Hebrew. It is copied from an email I sent to one of my sisters. I would love to know if anyone else has offered this interpretation of Psalm 84. It keeps me focused on women’s responsibility to their fellows, their peers, sisters or brothers, and not to their “fellows.”

I hope I can figure out why my authorship has been swallowed up on my laptop, but not on my iPad.

Car Trouble, the Tiger Bell, and Chinese Translation into English

November 13, 2014

The White House pushed very hard for President Xi Jinping to take questions during his news conference with President Obama at the end of their two days of meetings Wednesday. It did not want a repeat of the stilted, scripted encounter Mr. Obama had with Mr. Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, in 2009 on his first trip to China as president.

What the White House got was Xi Jinping, Unplugged, and that may have been more than it bargained for…..

The Chinese leader reached for an unexpected metaphor to describe the predicament of The Times and other foreign news organizations, saying they were suffering the equivalent of car trouble. “When a car breaks down on the road,” he said through an interpreter, “perhaps we need to get off the car and see where the problem lies.”

“The Chinese say, ‘let he who tied the bell on the tiger take it off,’ ” Mr. Xi added, in a somewhat enigmatic phrase that was not immediately translated into English. It is normally interpreted as “the party which has created the problem should be the one to help resolve it.”

– Mark Lander, “Fruitful Visit by Obama Ends With a Lecture From Xi.” New York Times (12 Nov 2014)

As New York Times reporter Lander and his editor use English metaphors “Fruitful” and “Unplugged,” they also make their “objective” report personal (and perhaps very very subjective):

Lander writes how, at the recent news conference in Beijing, “Mr. Xi seemed to ignore two questions from a reporter for The New York Times — [1] about whether China feared that the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia represented a threat to China, and [2] whether China would ease its refusal to issue visas to foreign correspondents in light of a broader visa agreement with the United States.”

“White House officials said” — Lander reports further — that “Mr. Obama had called on The [New York] Times reporter to make a point.”

The backdrop to the two at-first ignored questions for the Chinese president asked at the urging of the American president is this, Lander notes:

“Several of the newspaper’s China correspondents had their visas applications denied by the government, an issue Mr. Obama raised with Mr. Xi in one of their meetings.”

President Xi’s “circled back” eventual response to this is the “car trouble” and the “tiger bell” metaphors. We read in English from Lander how the interpreter translated and then hesitated to translate the Chinese into English.

So do we readers of The New York Times in English get this right? We do infer that there’s an indirectness on the part of both President Xi and his interpreter in the issue of allowing direct news coverage of China especially by reporters like Lander. But do we understand the motivations and the means of the interpreter’s translations (and does Lander get that right)?

I recall how Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping describe English translations of Chinese poetry in The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry: From Ancient to Contemporary, The Full 3000-Year Tradition:

The Chinese poem [translated] in [American] English is like a stolen car sent to a “chop shop” to be stripped, disassembled, fitted with other parts, and presented to the consumer public with a new coat of paint. But despite its glossy American exterior, it’s a Chinese engine that makes this vehicle run, and fragments of the poem’s old identity can be glimpsed in its lines, the purr of its engine, the serial number, which we may still be able to read…. [We do well] to discuss ways … found of negotiating between Chinese and English-language poetic paradigms, and to touch on the aspects of English that have proved compatible with the Chinese poem, which has been a part of Western poetic traffic since the early years of modernism.

The use of the metaphor of the car, certainly an invention during the days of modernism, is just fascinating. But why “stolen” and why the violently altering “chop shop” metaphors?

And we remember how Language Log blogger and linguist Victor Mair notes a use of the English letter Q as a loan into Chinese, even for a car:

Another usage for QQ on Mainland China is as the name for a mini car produced by Chery Automobile (Qirui 奇瑞), a Chinese company.  To avoid confusion with the internet QQ, it is often referred to as Chery QQ (奇瑞QQ).  Unveiled in 2003, Chery QQ was so successful that it became the best-selling mini-car in 2005-2007.  It is often thought of as a car for ladies.  Since it is the cheapest car in many foreign markets, including the EU, its sales have skyrocketed. (A photo of the Chery QQ ishere.)

And so now let’s get back to President Xi’s metaphors, his interpreter’s translation of them into English, and reporter Lander’s English language reporting of them as a guest in China. It may be even more useful for us to read Lydia He Liu’s works on the historical context. We might start with Tokens of Exchange: The Problem of Translation in Global Circulations (Post-Contemporary Interventions) and Translingual Practice: Literature, National Culture, and Translated Modernity-China, 1900-1937.

In the former, she considers what many of us in English limit as “translation” from a more Chinese perspective:

As I [Lydia H. Liu] have argued elsewhere, one does not translate between equivalents; rather, one creates tropes of equivalence in the middle zone of translation between the host and guest languages. This middle zone of hypothetical equivalence, which is occupied by neologistic imagination, becomes the very ground for change.

In the latter, she elaborates:

I am interested in theoretical problems that lead up to an investigation of the condition of translation and of discursive practices that ensue from initial interlingual contacts between languages. Broadly defined, the study of translingual practice examines the process by which new words, meanings, discourses, and modes of representation arise, circulate, and acquire legitimacy within the host language due to, or in spite of, the latter’s contact/collision with the guest language. Meanings, therefore, are not so much “transformed” when concepts pass from the guest language to the host language as invented within the local environment of the latter. In that sense, translation is no longer a neutral event untouched by the contending interests of political and ideological struggles. Instead, it becomes the very site of such struggles where the guest language is forced to encounter the host language, where the irreducible differences between them are fought out, authorities invoked or challenged, ambiguities dissolved or created, and so forth, until new words and meaning emerge in the host language itself. I hope the notion of translingual practice will eventually lead to a theoretical vocabulary that helps account for the process of adaptation, translation, introduction, and domestication of words, categories, discourses, and modes of representation from one language to another and, furthermore, helps explain the modes of transmission, manipulation, deployment, and domination within the power structure of the host language.

and

If it is always true that the translator or some other agent in the host language always initiates the linguistic transaction by inviting, selecting, combining, and reinventing words and texts from the guest language and, moreover, if the needs of the translator and his/her audience together determine and negotiate the meaning (i.e., usefulness) of the text taken from the guest language, then the terms traditional theorists of translation use to designate the languages involved in translation, such as “source” and “target/receptor,” are not only inappropriate but misleading. The idea of source language often relies on concepts of authenticity, origin, influence, and so on, and has the disadvantage of re-introducing the age-old problematic of translatability/un translatability in the discussion. On the other hand, the notion of target language implies a teleological goal, a distance to be crossed in order to reach the plentitude of meaning; it thus misrepresents the ways in which the trope of equivalence is conceived in the host language, relegating its agency to secondary importance. Instead of continuing to subscribe to such metaphysical concerns perpetuated by the naming of a source and a target, I adopt the notions “host language” and “guest language” . . . (. . . radically alter[ing] the relationship between the original and translation), which should allow me to place more emphasis on the host language than it has heretofore received.

Notice how Liu changes the Western, modernist notion of translation to more of a social exchange, which implies one is the host, the other the guest. Why should she want change in general that sounds less like chopping up the body of a car and more like hospitality and mutual respect? More particularly, why should she want more emphasis on the “host” by those who are more clearly the guests?

If we answer with merely nationalistic and modernistic answers, then we may miss Liu’s astute points. In the struggle over free press and over foreign passes into China by her guests, for Liu, as somebody who is Chinese, as a person who is a woman, there is more to consider. This is evidenced by her saying things like this: “Is there a female tradition in modern Chinese literature? By asking this question, I intend to bring to critical attention a number of interesting claims put forth by women.” And she goes on to say more here.

My only point for this blogpost is simply that there is much to the translational exchanges between China and the former empires of Europe and between China and the present super power of the USA. Car trouble and the tiger’s bell may need a little more attention.

The Exegetical Method of Antioch

November 9, 2014

The exegetical method I was taught began with a clarification of purpose: exegesis was intended to excavate the intended meaning(s) of the original author of the text, as it would have been heard by the original audience of the text. Following the procedure given in Michael Gorman’s excellent book The Elements of Biblical Exegesis, this meant that we began with the historical and cultural context: when, and where, was it written? For what purpose? In what particular setting? This was followed by the canonical context: what were the surrounding passages? How was this passage positioned in the scriptural book, and where was this book in the scriptural canon? (Preachers or liturgists might also ask “or in the lectionary?”) Were there similar passages elsewhere?

Having situated the passage, we proceeded to a structural analysis, identifying symmetries and parallelism; which segues neatly into detailed analysis, looking at specific words and linguistic relationships, wordplay, and other literary devices (including soundplay, for those who could read the original languages) that emphasize or relate significant concepts. This is where one pulls out the concordance to look for other scriptural uses of significant words, and examines relevant contributions from other scholars. Ultimately, one pulls it all together and presents one’s resulting interpretation of the text. We were encouraged to close the paper with a reflection, a pastoral or spiritual application of the passage to the Christian life.

This method was taught to us so clearly, and produced such clear papers, that I was especially intrigued to read about a similarly clear exegetical method practiced by the Antiochene theologians such as Theodore of Mopsestua. In his paper “Search the Scriptures for they Speak of Me”: Reading Scripture with the early Fathers,” presented at an ecumenical consultation on the church fathers, Eastern Orthodox scholar John Behr draws on the work of Frances Young to outline this method, which has been associated with the historical and grammatical methods used by the rhetorical schools of Antioch.

The method begins by identifying the hypothesis, a technical term which here means the proposed subject of the text, the underlying framework which creates literary unity.

[T]he lexical level is examined next, establishing the correct punctuation and construal of sentences; attention is then paid to uestions of translation and etymology, foreign words, metaphors, and figures of speech; and finally the interpreter turns to the train of thought in the text, comparing it to other texts, which might provide further background material, from the scriptures, to set the text in its proper [scriptural] context. (Behr, 11)

In our studies, we were also introduced to the concept of a “canon within the canon,” which becomes especially relevant when two passages appear to conflict with each other. All biblical scholars have some method of resolving such conflicts, which often asserts that some books of the bible have greater weight than others: thus, these books constitute an informal and sometimes implicit “canon” within the canon of scripture. For Christians, the New Testament is generally given heavier weight than the Shared Scriptures; and within the New Testament, the gospels. Those with a more historical bent might prioritize Paul’s letters, or his undisputed letters, over the gospels, because they were written earlier; likewise they might give greater weight to the earlier gospels. Liturgically minded scholars might define the lectionary as the canon within the canon; and so forth.

It seems that the Antiochene scholars used the historical books of the Bible as their “canon within the canon”: according to John J. O’Keefe, “the narrative of the historical books completely controls and restricts the meaning of other texts” (O’Keefe, JECS 8:1 (2000), 92-94, quoted in Behr). I find this fascinating, given the significantly different Jewish and Christian ordering of the Shared Scriptures, and the fact that some books which are included under the Prophets in the Tanakh are classified as historical books in the Old Testament. Without further investigation into the relative chronology of the Antiochene exegesis and the ordering of the canons, I wouldn’t make any claims about causality (in either direction); but it certainly is suggestive.

Behr concludes that Antiochene exegesis did not ultimately survive in Christian biblical interpretation because it took history, rather than Christ, as its primary hermeneutical key; he also notes that, of course, there was not perfect consistency among all Antiochene scholars all the time. But I thought the discussion of method was interesting enough to blog about. :)

On a somewhat different topic, Behr also notes that Irenaeus gives an example of creating a Homeric pastiche when discussing incorrect methods of scriptural interpretation, using technical terms.

The terms Irenaeus uses are all technical terms in Hellenistic literary theory and philosophy. The term “fabrication” describes stories that are not true but seem to be so and “myth” refers to stories that are manifestly untrue.
(Behr, 5, discussing Against the Heresies, 1.8.1-9.4)

I thought this last point might interest one of my Greekier co-bloggers, who might consider engaging with Irenaeus… (hint, hint!)

The Bible translation I am most looking forward to this Fall

October 19, 2014

The Bible translation I am most looking forward to this Fall is Everett Fox’s The Early Prophets:  Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings.  Fox tries to realize in English what Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig accomplished with their German Die Schrift

While I need to wait until November 4th for the volume to appear, it is already partly readable in the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon.  Reading portions of the Translator’s Preface make it sound like this will be an interesting volume.  (Fox’s translation of the Pentateuch is my favorite recent translation of those books.)

If you could just revise one word in a Bible translation ….

October 19, 2014

Suppose that you could just revise one word in a Bible translation.  Which word would it be?

Well, that’s the opportunity that presented itself to Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler in their (brand new for Simchas Torah) second edition of the (Oxford) Jewish Study Bible.  They were able to persuade the Jewish Publication Society, which owns the copyright on the NJPS (“Tanakh”) translation to change one word. 

The word they chose was חטאת, which they persuaded the JPS to allow them to present as “purification offering” rather than “sin offering.”  Now doubtlessly this was a justifiable choice – after all, it is 43 years since Jacob Milgrom published his study “Sin-Offering or Purification-Offering,” persuasively arguing that “purification offering” was the better translation.  But certainly there must be more words than that to revise!

Even in the first (2004) edition, Baruch Schwartz’s notes made it clear that he considered “purification offering” the better choice (in the way that scholarly study Bibles often correct the translation being used).  And there are many more places in both the first and second editions that commentators suggest better translations than the NJPS used. 

But there are so many other places one could revise.  For example, David E. S. Stein, in a series of volumes (Torah:  A Modern Commentary, The Contemporary Torah, Torah: A Women’s Commentary) has been making persuasive arguments for revising the NJPS translation of the Pentateuch and Haftoroh for nearly a decade.  But instead, Berlin and Brettler decided just to settle on “purification offering.”  Odd.

Berlin and Brettler say “in some cases, we sought new annotators to reflect more recent scholarship and to include more women and Israeli scholars.”  (However, despite these words, a number of women got the boot in the second edition, including Carol Meyers – who was the consulting editor for the Genesis and Exodus in The Contemporary Torah.  Neither can we somehow assume that the Berlin and Brettler were ignorant of The Contemporary Torah – in fact, Berlin was the consulting editor for Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy in that work.  And the same editor, Ellen Frankel, was key to both The Jewish Study Bible and The Contemporary Torah.)  Somehow, it seems that Berlin and Brettler were eager “to include more women” (even though that meant booting women) but were not eager to use a more accurate translation that better reflected the meaning of gender in the Pentateuch.

(Note:  I hope to post a full review in due course.  But for now, I’ll just mention my disappointment that much good material from the first edition has been deleted, including Elliot Wolfson’s sublime essay “The Glorious Name and the Incarnate Torah.”)

May the Angels Lead Her Into Paradise: Remembering Ann O.

October 16, 2014

I was saddened to learn of the recent death of Ann Olivier from a lovely eulogy at Commonweal. Although we had fallen out of touch, Ann was a very significant influence during my years of self-directed theological study leading up to graduate school.

I first met Ann online in the autumn of 2004 when I joined the VaticanII-Documents group on Yahoo, which was beginning a round of detailed reading and group study of the council documents by email. It was a very large group, but Ann O., as she always signed herself, was one of the more frequent and substantive commenters, and I soon began to look for her contributions in particular. She was a generation older than I am, and hearing about her experience with the pre-conciliar church and the changes that resulted from the council was a real gift. She also brought the training and perspective from her PhD in philosophy into our theological discussion of the documents.

What I particularly remember about Ann’s participation in the group is that, while she often had strong opinions which she expressed spiritedly, she seemed to do so almost always without ego. I never got the sense that she took criticism of her opinions or arguments as a personal attack. The word that comes to mind is dispassionate, except that she wasn’t! She had a lively curiosity, and was always willing to wonder, to ask questions, and to follow the implications of an idea no matter where they led.

I dropped out of the group after a little over a year (partway through Lumen Gentium — I still regret not having gotten to do the close read of Dei Verbum or Gaudium et Spes with that group), but I had already started emailing with Ann and a couple of other women from the group offlist. We formed our own little email group for a while, discussing various theological and spiritual themes that interested us from our varied backgrounds and perspectives. This included the time when I was deciding, applying, and preparing to go to grad school for theology, and all three of these women were tremendously helpful and supportive of me during that process.

As I recall, Ann and I were both particularly interested in language, how language functioned liturgically and theologically and symbolically. She introduced me to the work of Wittgenstein (ever so slightly) and Lonergan (more seriously), so that when I encountered them in grad school, we were already acquaintances. As it turned out, my master’s thesis engaged with ecclesiologists who had been strongly influenced by Lonergan, and one theologian who correlated Lonergan with Girard.

My particular gift from Ann as I was preparing for grad school was twofold. First, she strongly recommended that I read a book called How to Read a Book.

“Ann,” I said. “I’ve been a voracious reader since I was four years old. Surely I know how to read a book by now!” But she was adamant that I would find it helpful, because I had expressed concern about the culture shock and other difficulties I might experience moving from the sciences to the humanities. And she was quite right: it was very helpful, especially as I transitioned out of the self-directed theological reading I’d been doing for a couple of years, during which I had been reading everything that interested me as fast as I could looking for the pieces that would “click,” that would fit, that would seem right. Reading this book helped me understand that although I was reading extensively, I had not been reading critically, and that this would be a critical (ahem) skill in grad school. (Science majors don’t do critical reading in college; we do math instead. Lots and lots of math!)

She also persuaded me to… to… to start writing… in my books. :gasp!: Words cannot convey the depths of horror with which I greeted this suggestion. Write in my books?? Write in my books??!! Blasphemy!! I was brought up better than that! Books are for reading, not for writing in! Only barbarians write in books! I… I… I don’t think I could!

But she kept encouraging me to do it, insisting that it was an invaluable way to really engage with ideas of a text, to have conversations with the author in the margins. She said I could use a mechanical pencil, because it had the finest point. I really respected her opinions, so I dubiously agreed to try it… once… in this book she thought I should read.

And sure enough, she was right. I started out by making little notations, question marks, exclamation points, asterisks. My marginal comments gradually expanded. I started circling key words; bracketing key phrases; and ended up by drawing all over the page to connect the key ideas to each other! I was a convert. To this day, when I’m deciding between hardcopy or ebook, I’ll buy the hardcopy if I will need to really engage with the text, so I can write in it. Without Ann, I would never have known the joy (and it is a joy) of arguing with authors in the margins. :)

We lost touch not long after I started school, but I have always remembered her with fondness and gratitude. I would occasionally come across a comment from her in the Catholic blogosphere and once again appreciate her clarity and perspective. And I still, often, think of her when I pick up a pencil to write in my books.

They say that when someone dies, while we who have lost them are mourning that they’re leaving us, the great cloud of witnesses in heaven are rejoicing, Here she comes!! I’m confident that Ann is gathered with the saints at the river, deep in spirited conversation by the river that flows by the throne of God.

Pour que tu ne te perdes pas dans le quartier?

October 9, 2014

This sentence is the one that the NobelPrize.org translator has left in French in the following excerpted “free English (not literal) [translation] of a telephone interview in French with Patrick Modiano following the announcement of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature, 9 October 2014. The interviewer is Hélène Hernmarck of Nobel Media.”

[HH] My name is Hélène and I’m calling from Nobelprize.org. Thank you for giving us the time to ask you a few questions.

[PM] Ah, yes, yes, yes.

[HH] Where were you when you received the news?

[PM] I was actually in the street. Yes, I was in the street. It was my daughter who notified me.

[HH] Oh your daughter called you on your mobile?

[PM] Yes, yes, yes. I was very touched. It gave me even greater pleasure because I have a Swedish grandson.

[HH] Where were you, in the centre of Paris? In which particular street?

[PM] Oh, I was just next to the Jardin de Luxembourg….

[HH] You’ve written 20 or 30 books. Is there a certain book that you take greater pleasure in, which signifies more to you than the others?

[PM] Listen, it’s difficult. I always have the impression that I write the same book. Which means it’s already 45 years that I’ve been writing the same book in a discontinuous manner. You don’t really know your reader.

[HH] Now that you will become world famous which book would you recommend everyone to read?

[PM] Yes, I always have the impression that’s the last book I write.

[HH] What’s the title?

[PM] It’s called Pour que tu ne te perdes pas dans le quartier.

[HH] Pour que tu ne te perdes pas dans le quartier?

[PM] Pour que tu ne te perdes pas dans le quartier.It’s about losing perspective within your surroundings. The last book is always the one I recommend because it leaves you …

[HH] Wishing for more?

[PM] Yes, yes.

And, Henri Astier, for BBC News, makes these additional, related and somewhat pertinent observations:

Only a handful of his 25-odd novels have been translated into English.
One reason for this might be that Modiano’s storylines are as slim as the books themselves. They usually centre on young men cast adrift among high-living crooks in 1960s Paris. There is a sense of threat, but little is explained.

The plot, however, matters much less than the feelings evoked by his deceptively simple prose. Blurred memory plays a key role. Modiano’s narrators try to make sense of half-remembered events from their youth, looking back through a glass darkly.

The lack of clarity goes hand in hand with geographical precision – with each Paris location overlaid with layers of imperfect memories. The poetic character of Modiano’s writing may explain why few have ventured to translate him so far.

sources:

http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/2014/modiano-interview.html

http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-29553516

The Purpose of Marriage: Gen 1 or Gen 2?

October 4, 2014

The bible begins with two creation stories, and each has its own purpose. Gen 1 tells the story of how all creation came to be, with the creation of humanity, male and female, as the culmination of creation. In this story, which is dominated by themes of generation and fertility, God tells people to be fertile and multiply, fill the earth; eat these things for your food, and leave those things as food for the animals. This is a story about the world, and humanity’s relationship to the world.

Genesis 2 tells a story about humanity. In Gen 2:18, God says “It is not good for the human to be alone,” determines that none of the animals are suitable companions for the human, and fashions a suitable companion from the side of the human, from the very same flesh. (Note the single-nature anthropology implied here: ie, there is a single human nature shared by women and men.) Gen 2:24 says “that is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.” This is a story about the origin of marriage.

Notice that the story about the origin of marriage says nothing about procreation.

Read the rest at Gaudete Theology.

Isaiah 54: a poem in mother-tongue

September 23, 2014

First, please read this post. Then this one by Jade Davis.

Davis shows this caption to an old photo:

warrior

And she explains what we know and do not know:

The photograph is of a “A warrior woman, near Kambole; insisted on fight with the men” according to the caption. While we do not know much other than the location (the date and name of the photographer are unknown), we do know that at some point the photograph was in the hands of an English speaker, and was probably taken by an English photographer as Zambia was part of the English colony of Rhodesia. The photograph belongs to a larger collection entitled “Scenes of daily life of natives and a foreign missionary in Malawi” (where it states that the collection is from not before 1862).

Now we are just about ready for the mother-tongue of the poem, Isaiah 54.

There are, of course, different ways of gazing and being gazed at, depending on who you are and how your body is sexed and what color it is. The two posts I’ve linked to above try to get at that. So to be just a little more ready, we might read the Hebrew-Bible Hebrew of Isaiah 54. My BLT co-blogger has called it HerBrew. Read it beside the 1917 JPS translation (mainly because, for Proverbs 31, our English translator, the Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney gives her “[t]hanks to Leonard Greenspoon for pointing out that the 1917 JPS translation is ‘woman of valor'”). And you may want to see and to sound out the mother-tongue where the JPS has named “the LORD” out of respect.

Here that is: http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt1054.htm.

Now we may be ready, for her or him who has ears to hear, Isaiah 54 -

Isaiah.54.Wil.Gafney.translating.1to7

Isaiah.54.Wil.Gafney.translating.8to17

 

A Prophet Without Honor by the Rev. Bernice A. King

September 17, 2014

Several years ago, President Reagan signed the legislation setting aside the third Monday of January to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. Many across the land rejoiced. For many of us, it was an honor long past due for a man who changed the face of this nation. It was the first time an African American was honored with a national holy day. And now every January, in every state, we pause to honor the man, the message, and his mission.

Unfortunately, as we survey the land, we would have to ask ourselves, where is the real honor? On the one hand, we celebrate a man who stood for peace, and yet we are the most violent nation in the world, so where is the real peace? We pay tribute to a man who fought for justice, and yet we have the Rodney King [Amadou Diallo, Rodney King, Timothy Thomas, Renisha McBride, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Shelly Fry, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Rekia Boyd, Michael Brown] incidents. We pay tribute to a man who fought for economic freedom, and yet African Americans are denied loans to buy homes and start businesses. We commemorate a man who struggled for equality, and yet African Americans continue to be judged first by the color of their skin and not by the content of their character. We honor a many who championed nonviolence, and yet we glorify violence from the silver screen to the TV screen, from the state house to the school house.

How dare we say we honor the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. when we allow these atrocities to occur with impunity? We must do more than honor a man of this magnitude with just a holiday; we must honor him with action. We must honor him by bringing into reality what he merely dreamed about. Until we are willing to honor Dr. King with consistent, liberating actions, then we dishonor him with our mere words, and he is a prophet without honor.

Throughout history God has sent us prophets who have spoken the word, but who have seldom been heeded. In essence, they were forced to prophesy in a vacuum. That’s why Jesus said, “A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country.” (Matt. 13:57) It was, and in some cases still is, very difficult for America to find a real place for Martin Luther King Jr. We fear the prophet. We ridicule the prophet. We jail the prophet. We even kill the prophet. But we have no problem making the prophet merely a dreamer. Let’s face it, there are some people in power how have no intention of allowing my dad’s dream to become a reality.

from Hard Questions, Heart Answers

the offense of the poor, of the midwives, of the black folk, of the local prophets

September 16, 2014

On Sept 11, h00die_R (Rod) wrote:

God’s kindness and compassion are not restricted to ever-fluctuating rules of civility that give those with privilege the advantage. Rather God’s lovingkindness for all persons shines through in God demonstrating God’s preferential option for the poor. It is in the bodies and experiences of the oppressed that have the greatest knowledge of what human wickedness looks and feels like.

He rightly focuses on kindness and compassion, as these are God’s, as “in the bodies” of “the poor.”

Notice what else. He is reading Exodus and is reading a contemporary context where he himself is not the most othered other:

When Pharaoh asked why infant boys were living, the midwives satirize the essentialist logic of the [majority, privileged] Egyptians, “declaring” Hebrew women to be stronger (therefore, more capable of reproducing more children, thus the population growth). The Hebrew midwives played with the fears of the oppressor. And in turn for their acts of mercy, Exodus 1:20 says that YHWH was kind to the heroic midwives.

I observe the harassment that Women of Color educators/activists face everyday; trolls creating multiple accounts to make racist diatribes and violent threats against persons like Mikki Kendall, Sydette, Trudy, Suey Park, and others. I don’t think I can claim to have encountered a microcosm of what these brave women deal with every day 

On Aug 15, Wil Gafney wrote:

The Church does not have a good track record of responding to holy rage – particularly of black folk. It kills prophets.

Notice what else. She is reading Job and is reading a contemporary context where she herself is not necessarily the most othered other:

And I am complicit….

I have been stunned into silence by this summer of horror. I could not blog. I could not shape a paragraph. I don’t know if I could have preached. Instead I tweeted, I prayed, I raged – keeping vigil in the age of social media.

On a day, in a summer, two years earlier, Wil Gafney wrote:

We have these ideas about who can be God’s messenger: men, white men, heterosexual white men, with long beards and robes, projecting our notions about race and gender and sexuality onto the text. So many think of Charlton Heston but not Harriet Tubman or Toni Morrison or Maya Angelou when we imagine prophets. We don’t think to look to our children for a prophetic word, not always to our elders, especially when they are no longer strong and vibrant, to people whose bodies don’t work like ours, or to people who don’t live and love like we think they ought.

Notice what else. She is reading the gospel of Mark and is reading a contemporary context where she herself is not the most othered other:

[I have to say here that I am guilty of this (i.e., this “not thinking to look to our children for a prophetic word”), thinking that today’s guest musician must be an adult, and I was wrong and happily so! Thank you Abigail, for sharing your gifts with us.]

And so today let me write others’ words:

No. I haven’t the heart to go and see the sufferings of my people played on the stage. I’ve heard Uncle Tom’s Cabin read, and I tell you Ms Stowe’s pen hasn’t begun to paint what slavery is as I have seen it at the far South. I’ve seen the real thing, and I don’t want to see it on any stage or in any theater.

“Once upon a time there was an old woman. Blind but wise.” Or was it an old man? A guru, perhaps. Or a griot soothing restless children. I have heard this story, or one exactly like it, in the lore of several cultures.

“Once upon a time there was an old woman. Blind. Wise.”

In the version I know the woman is the daughter of slaves, black, American, and lives alone in a small house outside of town. Her reputation for wisdom is without peer and without question. Among her people she is both the law and its transgression. The honor she is paid and the awe in which she is held reach beyond her neighborhood to places far away; to the city where the intelligence of rural prophets is the source of much amusement.

That’s right—all of my history as an African-American woman, as a Jewish woman, as a Muslim woman. I’m bringing everything I ever knew [and all the stories I’ve read]—everything good, strong, kind and powerful. I bring it all with me into every situation, and I will not allow my life to be minimized by anybody’s racism or sexism or ageism. I will not. So I will take the Scandinavian story of the little princess, I will take the story of Heidi in the Alpine mountains, I will take the story of O-Lan in Pearl S. Buck’s book The Good Earth, I will take them all. I take them, and I know them, and I am them. So when I walk into a room, people know that somebody has come in—they just don’t know it’s 2,000 people!

….Yes. Some think, “If I marry this guy who’s two inches taller than I am and who has a nice bank account, I won’t die. If I buy six cars, I won’t die. If I hate Jews, I won’t die. If I hate homosexuals, I won’t die.” They think they will increase their life by shunting misery onto somebody else, but it’s just the opposite….

Freedom and discipline. Freedom and responsibility. Freedom and a path. Freedom and a row to hoe. Freedom to do something, not freedom to be idle. And the hardest part for me is to realize that while God loves me, and I am a child of God, I have to see the bigot and the brute and the rapist, and whether he or she knows it or not, I have to know that that person is a child of God. That is part of the responsibility—and it’s hard….

I had to get to a place where I could forgive the man who raped me when I was 7 years old. And that was a matter of incredible mental gymnastics. I had to think of what I had done to other people and how I’d been forgiven. Whatever I’ve done, I’ve been forgiven. I won’t—I don’t—forget. And I will not put myself in a situation where that can be done to me again. But I understand.

Notice what else. We are reading the words of scandal of other prophets and are reading a contemporary context where we ourselves, very likely in the local locale, are not the most othered other.

 

The NFL, Ferguson, and the Bible

September 16, 2014

nflcovergirlWith a pregnant girlfriend in the news because she’s been allegedly beaten,
and two different 4-year-old boys of different mothers allegedly by the same father beaten,
and Janay Palmer,
and Nicki Holder,
and Candace Williams
in the NFL news,
and with Michael Brown dead
in the Ferguson, Missouri news,

I was reminded of the Bible,
and the ways that Wil Gafney,
a woman, African-
American, in the diaspora
reads it

(not so unlike what Brigitt Hamman

and Willis Barnstone see):

Here -

The normative portrayal of marriage in Ruth is a particular problem for English readers because it masks sexual and domestic violence in a text that has been canonized as scripture for Jews and Christians.  There are at least three indicators that Ruth was abducted into marriage:  (1) the use of the verb ns, “lift,” with “woman,” instead of the standard lach, “take (as wife),” (2) the long-standing Israelite practice of abduction or rape-marriage, and (3) the preferential abduction of foreign women for rape-marriage.

The verb in Ruth 1:4, vayis’u, from ns’, “to lift” or “pick up,” may be taken to indicate that Ruth and Orpah, both Moabite women, were abducted into marriage.  I translate the first three works of Ruth 1:4, “They-abducted for-themselves Moabite-women. . . . ”  The verb ns’ occurs 661 times in the MT.  The primary meaning of ns’, according to The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT), is “to carry” or “to lift.”  In virtually every translation of ns’ in which the object is not a person, the verb is rendered with some form of “lift,” “carry,” “take,” or something similar.  Any thing or person may be the object of ns’:  the hand (Deut. 32:20), prayer (Jer. 7:13), or sin may be lifted off of a person or community (Isa. 53:11), and so forth.  In Ruth ns’ is also used to indicate lifting grain in 2:18.  Women are the object of ns’ five times:  Judges 21:23; Ruth 1:4; Ezra 10:44; 2 Chr. 13:21 and 24:3.  Note that in Judges, the context is the abduction of sexually naive girls from Shiloh into forced or rape-marriages for the purpose of progeny.  The verb chtph in Judges 21:21, “to catch” (women), functions as a synonym.  In Ezra, the women in question are specified as foreign.  In 2 Chr. 13:21, Abijah’s collection of women and the resulting offspring is cited as evidence of his strength in the previous verse, suggesting that these were abduction-marriages….

The normative verb indicating marriage in the Hebrew scriptures, lach, “to take,” with a woman as the object, indicates in every case in the Hebrew scriptures socially sanctioned union (Gen 4:19; Exod. 6:20; Jer. 16:2, and so on)….  Rape-marriage as a normative practice is introduced in Numbers 31, where sexually naïve girls are abducted as “booty,” shalal.  It is codified subsequently in Deuteronomy 20,21, and 24.  Among the modifications introduced are the shift of focus from any outsider girl whose people are designated as “enemies” (as in Num. 31:19) to “beautiful” women and girls among the enemy (Deut. 20:11).  Deuteronomy20:12-13 also calls for the abducted women and girls to be stripped, their heads shaved, and their nails cut….

…. The very name, “Moab,” literally “from [my] father,” evokes the alleged incestuous and therefore despicable nature of all Moabites according to the Israelite account of their origins in the Genesis 19 account of Lot and his daughters.  As a result, Moabites, particularly Moabite women, are highly sexualized in the scriptures of Israel, as are many contemporary Africana women readers of those same scriptures.
Given the specific vocabulary deployed in the text and Ruth’s identity as a Moabite woman — which she never escapes — Ruth is multiply marginalized, socially and sexually vulnerable.  Ruth and Orpah’s marriages, therefore, hide dirty not-so-little secrets, covered up by generations of male translators.  Yet the experience of abduction-marriage and forcible pregnancy is not unimaginable to contemporary Africana readers.  In some parts of Eastern and raped into marriage.
The Associated Press (AP) ran a story on June 21, 2005, under an Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, dateline in which a twelve-year-old girl, kidnapped by men who wanted to force her into marriage, was rescued by three lions that chased off her abductors and guarded her until police and relatives located her.  Sergeant Wondimu Wedajo of the local police reported that the men had held the girl for seven days, repeatedly beating her:  “Often these young girls are raped and severely beaten to force them to accept the marriage.”

The AP report noted that in Ethiopia, kidnapping has been part of the marriage customs for quite some time and that the United Nations estimates that more than 70 percent of marriages in Ethiopia occured by abduction, particularly in rural areas where the majority of the country’s population lives.  (The AP report did not delineate its sources).

Interpreters appealing to biblical narratives to describe idealized marriage have in many cases legitimized violence in marriage.  Religious authorities (Bible translators, pastors, seminary professors) have been negligent (and, I argue, criminally so) in failing to expose the ways in which the biblical narrative sanctions and contributes to the abuse of women in general and wives in particular.  By highlighting Ruth’s embrace of Naomi and Naomi’s god, interpreters of the book of Ruth have regularly overlooked the colence with which Ruth was initiated into marriage (and relationship with Naomi), as specified by the Biblical Hebrew vocabulary of that union.  Biblical interpreters, like all readers, are shaped by their own constructed cultures, which they in turn lay onto the text even as they identify “biblical principles” for marriage.  In doing so, lay and professional, clergy and academic interpreters of the Bible overlook the violence in which many women live, particularly in their marriages.  Men in every part of the world rape their wives.  According to Molly Egan and Jason Wood’s 1999 Lehigh University report, The Abolition of Marital Rape Exemption, in the United States, spousal rape was criminalized by only seventeen out of fifty states in 1996.  By 2007, all fifty states and the District of Columbia had criminalized spousal rape.  (The state of New York relies on the ruling of an appeals court in 1984, People vs. Liberta, because an exemption for married men accused of raping their wives remains on the books.)  Spousal rape affects all people in the United States and beyond, including those in the African dispersion.

and here – 

Hitler adopted Jewish “purity of race” as nothing less than a model for his own weltanschauung regarding the necessity of the racial purity of Aryans.

Brigitte Hamann, “Jews in Vienna,” Hitler’s Vienna: A Dictator’s Apprenticeship

 

It is enough to say that Yeshua and his circle, whatever masks their writers gave them, would have fared less well in Germany between 1933 and 1945. In those days, the designation of the Jew as “vermin,” found famously first in Matthew’s “brood of vipers,” was fixed, and even the intervention of Pope Pius XII could not have altered that designation of Yeshua’s blood and racial identity, and his inevitable way to the chamber. His parents, brothers, sister, and messengers would also have been picked up in trucks and sent to the death camps as Jews. In the eyes of the master race, the identity of Yeshua as one of the Jews had no way out.

Willis Barnstone, “Afterword:… A Gentleman’s Agreement in the Gospels that Jews in the Yeshua Movement Not Be Perceived as Jews,” The New Covenant: Commonly Called the New Testament

 

Responsible reading of the scriptures of Israel also calls for revisiting the ways in which racial constructs are imposed on the text. Israelite identity is, like all identities, a constructed identity; in its earliest formulation, it is a cultural rather than a biological identity. Yaakov, the Heel-Grabbing Sneak, who becomes Israel the God-Wrestler, is the grandson of Abraham the Chaldean in Gen. 11:28. His Caldean kinfolk would eventually evolve into the Babylonian Empire that decimated his descendants — so the Israelites and Babylonians shared biology but not culture. The tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh shared African maternity because of Joseph’s marriage to Asenat, the Egyptian in Gen. 41:45. Even Moshe, Moses, the Torah-Vessel, married non-Israelite women — Zipporah the Midianite in Exod. 2:21 and an unnamed Nubian woman in Num. 12:1 — meaning that some of the priestly community had multicultural heritage. A non-Israelite, mixed multitude accompanied Israel when they departed Egypt in Exod. 12:38 and became absorbed into the community. In 2 Sam. 22:51, David — called “meshiach,” or “messiah” in Hebrew, and “christos,” or “christ” in Greek (although generally translated “anointed” in English) — was the grandson of a Moabite woman named Ruth.

The multicultural nature of Israel is especially important to read over and against racialized constructions of Israel as ethnically and racially monolithic, and their construction as “white” in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The supposed whiteness of biblical Israel has been used to sanctify colonization of black, brown, and beige peoples around the globe, invoking the ahistorical “Conquest of Canaan” paradigm.

Wil Gafney, “Reading the Hebrew Bible Responsibly:… Multicultural Israel,” The Africana Bible: Reading Israel’s Scriptures from Africa and the African Diaspora
Ruth was abducted into the messianic lineages of David and Jesus.  But the text should not be read as an endorsement of abduction.  It is in Ruth’s power to choose where she will make her way in the world.  She chooses her mother-in-law….  When Ruth gives birth, she is a surrogate for Naomi:
“Blessed be YHWH, who has not left you, woman, without redeeming kin this day; and may that name be proclaimed in Israel!  That one shall be to you, woman, a restorer of life and a provider when your hair grays, woman; for your daughter-in-law, she who loves you, woman, she has given birth — she who is more to you, woman, than seven sons.”  Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurturer.  The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.”  (Ruth 4:14-17, my [Wil Gafney‘s] translation)
Wil Gafney, “Ruth,” The Africana Bible: Reading Israel’s Scriptures from Africa and the African Diaspora

sexism online

September 11, 2014

In addition to the difficulty of comparing data sets of varying size and depth, however, comparing male versus female online “harassment” is problematic for many reasons.

First, as Young points out, women’s harassment is more likely to be gender-based and that has specific, discriminatory harms rooted in our history. The study pointed out that the harassment targeted at men is not because they are men, as is clearly more frequently the case with women. It’s defining because a lot of harassment is an effort to put women, because they are women, back in their “place.”

Second, online comparisons like this decontextualize the problem of harassment, as though a connection to what happens offline is trivial or inconsequential.

Third, the binary frame camouflages the degree to which harassment of people, often men, is frequently aimed at people who defy rigid gender and sexuality rules. LGBT youth experience online bullying at three times the rate of their straight peers.

For girls and women, harassment is not just about “un-pleasantries.” It’s often about men asserting dominance, silencing, and frequently, scaring and punishing them.

– Soraya Chemaly, “There’s No Comparing Male and Female Harassment Online” Time online, Sept. 9, 2014

More Odd Greek: Melania, the anthropos of God

August 31, 2014

So many, many times, men have told me that anthropos means a human being, or a male human being, but never a woman on her own. One man asked me what the feminine term was for Adam. When I claim humanity for women, when I say, “but women are human beings, and these words which mean “human being” must refer also to women,” usually they mutter words like “shrill” “vitriol” etc. Why should a woman make such a fuss? Sad, but true.

Here are two passages of odd Greek, where the anthropos and the aner are female.

ποτὲ ἀνὴρ ἀγαθὸς γίγνοιτ’ ἄν,
τὴν ἀνθρώπῳ προσήκουσαν ἀρετὴν τῆς ψυχῆς ἔχων ,
εἴτε ἄρρην τις των συνοικούντων οὖσα ἡ φύσις εἴτε θήλεια, νέων ἢ γερόντων

- in which a member of our community -
be he of the male or female sex, young or old,-
may become a good citizen,
possessed of the excellence of soul which belongs to man. Plato’s Laws 1 – 6, Bury, Harvard U. P. 1926, 6. 770d. 

“In brief this was the substance of the agreement,
in whatever way a member of the community,
whether his nature be male or female, young or old,
might become a good man,
possessing the virtue of soul that befits a human being … ” page 158 Laws by Plato, trans. by T. Pangle, 1980. U. of Chicago P. 6. 770d

In the first translation, the Greek word ανθρωπος is translated as “man” generic – meaning human, “the excellence of soul which belongs to man” and the word ανηρ is translated as citizen, either male or female. Being human had an excellence which belonged equally to men and women. However, being a man had an excellence which properly belonged to men, but women could also share in it. Bury translated aner as “citizen” in a gender neutral way, and Pangle translated aner as “man,” a man which could be either male or female.

Here is another expression, one which I was told did not and could not exist. It is not found in the Bible but in Greek literature a few centuries later.

Ἐν τῷ ὄρει τούτῳ Νιτρίας γέγονεν ἀνὴρ ἀσκητὴς Ὠρ ὀνόματι ᾦ πολλὴν προσεμαρτύρει ἀρετὴν καὶ πᾶσα μὲν ἡ ἀδελφότης ἐξαιρέτως δὲ ἡ ἄνθρωπος τοῦ θεοῦ Μελανία, πρὸ ἐμοῦ εἰσελθοῦσα εἰ τοῦτο τὸ ὄρως Palladius Lausiac Histories, chapter IX

In the mountain of Nitria there was an ascetic named Or, to whose great virtue the whole brotherhood bore witness, and especially Melania, that woman (anthropos) of God, who came to the mountain before me.

The Lausiac History of Palladius, trans. W.K. Lowther Clarke B.D. Aeterna Press, April 18, 2014, tns. W.K. Lowther Clarke B.D.

Some commentators have translated he anthropos of God, as the “female man” of God. Bible translators usually translate ho anthropos of God as “man of God.” But aren’t Melania and Timothy both equally “persons of God.” How can we show the equal status of the two? How can we show that a woman does not have to be a man to be an anthropos.

There are two words translated “man” in Greek, and two in Hebrew. The way I understand it anthropos and adam predominantly mean “a human being,” while aner and ish mean an individual and predominantly refer to men, but can include women. In English, “man” can include women, but “a man” cannot. So, one cannot really say “a good man, male or female” in English. It doesn’t quite work.

However, many Bible scholars, not familiar with obscure classical Greek and modern Hebrew, claim that aner and ish exclusively mean “a man” and there is no deviation from this. Joel, at God Didn’t Say That, expresses the case regarding ish well. It is inclusive, although with less clarity, he compares anthropos to ish. These are not usually thought of as equivalent terms.

My point is that anthropos is not like “person” or “man” in English.

Here’s another example, this time from Modern Hebrew, where we can actually test hypothetical sentences to see if they are accepted by native speakers.

There’s a Modern Hebrew word ish.

In many contexts, it looks exactly like our English “person.” The phrase anashim tovim (“good ish‘s”) refers to good people of any gender or age. In the negative — ish lo nimtza, e.g., [“not an ish was present”] — it again refers to people of any gender or age. And so on.

Yet in other contexts it contrasts with “woman.” The phrase ish v’isha, “an ish and a woman,” means “a man and a woman.” Even more clearly, the phrase at lo ish, “you (f) aren’t an ish,” simply means “you aren’t a man.” It does not mean “you aren’t a person.”

The main point is clear. These words are not exact equivalents of either “man” or “person.” There will be no exact equivalents. Perhaps the most worrisome for some people is that neither aner nor ish exclude women.

Here is another passage, from the Dialogue of Palladius on the Life of Saint Chrysostom,  chapter 16, pqge 151, which may clarify a little how the early church used these Greek terms. I will take a stab at transliterating this, starting with “the deacon” at the end of the first line, and ending with schema, second word in the last line.

Olympias aner Greek

ὁ διάκ. ποταπῂ γυνὴ τυγχάνει οὖσα;
ὁ ἐπίσκ. μὴ λέγε γυνὴ, ἀλλ’ οἷος ἂνθρωπος.
ἀνὴρ γάρ ἐστί παρὰ τὸ τοῦ σώματις σχῆμα.

The deacon speaks: Now, if it’s not too much trouble, tell us about Olympias,
if you have some knowledge of her.
The bishop: Which one? There are several.
The deacon: The deacon (diakonos) of Constantinople,
who was the bride of Nebridius, the former prefect.
The bishop: I know her well.
The deacon: What kind of woman is she?
The bishop: Do not say “woman,” but “such a person” (anthropos),
for she was a man (aner) despite her bodily appearance.

The deacon: How is that?
The bishop: By her life, her asceticism and knowledge,
and her patient endurance in trials. Madigan, Osiek, 2011

So, in the early church, the most important thing about being a Christian woman was being a man. And many women were called manly in the early church. How else can we phrase this in English? Sometimes, I see that people can’t wrap their brains around the women that are men. Not women who inherit eternal life because they are “sons.” These are women who behave as men, who perform as men, and are respected as men. But you must empty your brain of your native language, before trying to fill it with a new one. Is translation – the pursuit of equivalent words and terms – even possible?

What is a man? A man is a mature and fully responsible human being with all the rights of citizen and head of the family, and with all the attributes of the ascetics and martyrs, male or female. That’s why a man would set the price of a manly – ἀνδρεία – wife far above rubies. Nobody ever remembers that the Bible says a woman should be manly. But if we define the Greek word “man” properly, then women are also to be men. Or men should be called “persons.” One way or the other.

Matthew 18 and Spiritual Abuse

August 30, 2014

(Cross-posted from Wordgazer’s Words)

I have been asked a few times over the last several months to do a blog post on Matthew 18:15-17, where Jesus teaches about what to do if a member of a Christian group is committing wrongs that are harmful enough that they cannot be overlooked.  Here’s the text, from the 2011 NIV:

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

The context of this verse is as part of one of Jesus’ large teaching units in the gospel of Matthew.  He is here teaching about interpersonal relationships within the  “kingdom of heaven” [verse 1], which will include all who trust and follow Jesus.  He starts by stating that the greatest in the kingdom is as a little child, which, as I described in another blog post, meant letting go of earthly status and hierarchy. Then He goes on to warn against “despising” any of these “little ones– those who believe in Me.”  In other words, those who believe in Jesus should voluntarily become lowly and without status, like children (“little ones”), and their resulting vulnerability must not be taken advantage of or used to harm them. (For an excellent study of the whole chapter, see the Christian Resource Institute’s study by Roger Hahn.)  He then talks about how valuable these “little ones” are to the Father, and how He will seek them if they stray.

It is at this point that verses 15-17 occur: just after the discussion of stumbling blocks put in the way of the “little ones.”  The Christian group as a whole can choose to remove anyone who is causing grievous harm to one or more members of the group.  Jesus speaks in terms of “brothers and sisters” to indicate equality of status in the group.  He does not envisage the church as a hierarchy where leaders alone assume the power to excommunicate; an action as drastic as that should be done by the consensus of the whole group.

The rest of the teaching is about interpersonal forgiveness when brothers and sisters sin against one another.  Jesus speaks of the need to forgive “up to seventy times seven” times, and tells a parable whose point is that, since God has forgiven us so much, we ought also to forgive one another.  Taking this section together with verses 15-17 leads me to conclude that Jesus is differentiating between forgiveness (personal letting go of animosity) and reconciliation (restoring relationships).   To forgive someone up to seventy-times-seven times is one thing; to have them “listen to you” so that you have “won them over” is another.   The possibility of excommunication means that relationship is not to be restored when the person who has harmed you is unrepentant and unwilling to change– even after being confronted with witnesses to the harm that was done.

The principles of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18:15-17 are sound.  A group should have the power to disassociate itself from people who are causing serious harm to one or more members, and a graduated-step process seems the most appropriate way to deal with such people.  The problem is that these verses are so often misused, particularly by people in power to enable themselves to stay in power.  Here are some examples from around the blogosphere:

From Under Much Grace:

In many spiritually abusive groups, Matthew chapter 18, verses 15-19 is used like a static formula which is misapplied to manipulate and control others. Many misapply it as something appropriate for minor offenses instead of overt sin, as the consequences of the process can result in excommunication from that local church. A person can be offended by someone’s behavior, but it may not necessarily constitute a sin, particularly not one that carries such heavy consequences. In aberrant Christian groups, the passage is used to rid the group of “problem,” nonconformist members (who are not sinning) and becomes a means by which clergy can micromanage if not threaten church members. (It is used to manipulate and control behavior.)

Among very litigious groups, the process is used to declare people non-Christian or never legitimate Christians so that they can be at liberty to violate a directive of the Apostle Paul who forbids Christians to sue other Christians, as it is found in a letter he wrote to the Church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 6:1-11). This practice of threatening to “de-Christianize” other professing Christians is actually common among those who follow patriarchy. This type of abuse of the passage has become popular enough that the saying that a person has been “Matthew Eighteened” has become somewhat commonplace among some Protestant Evangelical groups.

From Debra Bouey at Crossword Articles:

When Biblical apologists comment publicly on . . . aberrant, sometimes heretical, teachings, the principals involved, and their supporters, quickly and repeatedly raise the “Matthew 18 Argument”, contending that the “brother” [or, as the case may be, “sister”] should have been approached privately, “according to Matthew 18″.

From ResolveChurchConflict.com:

Jesus’s words here were not intended and should not be used as a general model for all conflict resolution. . . Matthew 18 instructs the church on how to deal with sin on an interpersonal level that is serious enough to remove an unrepentant member from fellowship. . .  Matthew 18 is not applicable for solving differences of opinion and other kinds of problems.

From Slacktivist:

99 percent of the time, this is the way this passage is used and abused — as a cudgel to beat truth-tellers back into silence. How dare you expose my wrong-doing? Jesus commanded you to come to me privately, so that we could work this out just between the two of us. . .

From the Biblical Seminary Theology Blog:

Does this passage require that abuse victims forego reporting abuse to the authorities and to make a private confrontation of the perpetrator? Sadly, I have heard stories where not only were victims chastised for reporting abuse, but then made to go to the perpetrator and confess their sin of not following Matthew 18.

From Rachel Held Evans’ Interview with Boz Tchividjian:

[T]his passage is used as a justification for 1) not reporting abuse disclosures to the civil authorities and 2) convincing sexual abuse victims to privately confront their perpetrators. Needless to say, this misinterpretation of Matthew 18 is hugely destructive on a number of fronts.

It’s very important not to lift verses like Matthew 18:15-17 out of their historical context– how they were meant to be understood and applied in their original setting, to their original audience. Jesus’ words were meant to be understood in terms of a small counter-cultural group within an indifferent or even hostile surrounding culture.  Such a group had a much greater need to police its own members for things which today are crimes which should be handled by civil authorities.  Jesus also was not envisioning a church where power was concentrated in the hands of one or two people who would then be in a position to abuse their authority.  Neither was He setting forth some universal principle for conflict resolution to be applied in a blanket manner to all situations.  As Boz Tchividjian says later in the above-linked interview:

Matthew 18 is important for local church life, because Jesus commands us there how to deal with sin. But it is not the only passage in which Jesus tells us how to deal with sin. It must be properly synthesized with others that address the same subject directly and/or indirectly. It is critical to remember that all passages are regulated and interpreted by the balance of Scripture. . . [For instance,] on Romans 13, Jesus tells us through the Apostle Paul that believers are to be subject to the civil authorities.

I don’t think that even in the early days when the civil authorities were mostly hostile, would the church have required a sexual abuse victim to privately confront a perpetrator.  1 Corinthians 5:1 seems to indicate a situation like this, where the man who “had his father’s wife” appeared to be held solely responsible and the congregation was instructed to remove him from the fellowship.  Women had far less agency then than they have today in any event– but there appears to have been no idea in Paul’s mind that the woman should follow a Matthew 18 private confrontation.

In the authoritarian, spiritually abusive group I was part of in my earlier Christian life, the problem was not so much crimes that should have been handled by civil authorities, but the fact that confronting a leader with his sin would lead directly to leader-led discipline against the person who dared to complain.  Trying to discuss a wrong privately with an authoritarian leader is impossible– it will immediately be turned around to be construed as your sin, not his.  As the above Slacktivist quote states, Matthew 18 thus becomes a way to keep the rank-and-file members from speaking out.

And of course, authoritarian leaders often also use Matthew 18 as if simply disagreeing with them– about anything at all– were sin.  And then once a person has been excommunicated using the Matthew 18 process, they can be treated as enemies and prosecuted or sued accordingly (as the above Under Much Grace article notes).

Finally, a person who speaks out publicly against spiritually abusive doctrines can be accused of not handling it biblically, by taking the disagreement to the person privately first. This has a way of simply shutting down all discussion.  But Jesus and the apostles themselves were actually quite vocal about publicly refuting doctrines and teachings they disagreed with.  Matthew 18 is not about doctrinal differences.

Other passages show situations which were not “Matthew 18″ events.  In Acts 15:39 Paul and Barnabas had a “sharp disagreement” without handling it according to Jesus’ Matthew 18 teaching, because His teaching simply did not apply to disagreements about who to travel with!  And when Paul found Peter, a fellow church leader, involved in public hypocrisy, Paul also rebuked him publicly (Galatians 2:11-14).  Paul doesn’t seem to have expected any of the Gentiles who were being ostracized at the table, to confront Peter privately.  Jesus’ Matthew 18 teachings apparently didn’t apply there, either– possibly because Peter’s sin was not harmful enough that he needed to be asked to leave.  Or possibly because Peter’s actions were in front of everybody, and so his correction needed to also be in front of everybody.  Or perhaps because Peter was an apostle, and Paul thought it best for another apostle to confront him.  Or all three.

It’s never a good idea to isolate one set of verses from the rest of scripture and follow them slavishly as if they were universally applicable in every situation.  Particularly in ways that violate the good which the passage intended, and do harm the passage never contemplated.

In any event, Christians, and especially Christian leaders, need to be careful about using passages of scripture to their own advantage at the expense of others.  This is against every principle that Jesus taught– and it’s what most of His rebukes of the scribes and Pharisees were about.

A Bible used as a weapon against other human beings, is always a Bible misused.

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