Breast-God: women in the male literary imagination of Genesis 49
With the dim hope of discovering more … female authors writing in Hebrew, the only path left for the Hebrew … feminist is treating issues of women and gender via the male-authored texts. Historians may try to reconstruct the actual life-experiences (Grossman 2001; Baskin 1991, 94–103; Assis 1988, 25–59) and the authentic voices (Kraemer 1995, 161–182) of real women captured in male-authored documents. The task of feminist literary critics, for their part, is to account for the ideological and symbolical functions designated to women in the male literary imagination; to map the positions of female figures and the positioning of their voices within the patterns of male discourse; to explore the artistic strategies of women’s presence/absence and the procedures of their signification.
— Tova Rosen
In seeking the meaning or connotation for El Shaddai I have come up with no answers but plenty of poetic allusions. Here are the three major connotations of El Shaddai – breasts and by association mountains, and destruction. These do not represent the known etymological roots of the word, but rather euphonic and associative connections.
In Genesis, El Shaddai is the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. In Genesis 49:25, Shaddai, – שַׁדַּי the Almighty, is the one who blesses with the blessings of the heavens and the deep and the breasts שָׁדַיִם (the shadayim) and the womb.
— Suzanne McCarthy
The name or epithet Shadday (translated as “the Almighty”) derives its significance from … the pre-Mosaic patriarchal people…. However, the “etymology and primary meaning of the name [had] long since been forgotten” by the time of the LXX.
— Harriet Lutzky
My mother has been studying the biblical names of God and told me this week that Shaddai has signified Breast.
About that time, Abram K-J, blogger, was announcing a soirée. To use his words precisely, he’s “Announcing the Septuagint Studies Soirée.” In “the” party, he’s announced the “four Septuagint-related blogs” that he knows of. All men authored, these four, I see; and so I’m back to posting about the LXX, as a man. In a private conversation, Abram tells me he’s struck by how proportionally there seems to be more women doing scholarship on the Septuagint than on other biblical studies. He names Karen Jobes, Kristen de Troyer, Jennifer Dines. And I say not to forget Adele Berlin, Sylvie Honigman, Naomi Seidman. Or Ann Nyland, who has translated the Psalms, using (as many translators do) both the MT and the LXX as the sources.
Then I recall what the Septuagint translators did with Shaddai in Genesis 49. They were men, weren’t they? Yes, breasts are mentioned, and womb. These motherly wifely womanly female images are in the Hebraic Hellene. And absence, margin, lack is there. The men – as if Moses writing the blessings spoken by Father Jacob over Son Joseph – imagine Jewish voices in Greek. Their LXX translation even helps men translating the Hebrew later try to figure out what the original Hebrew must have meant. So what?
What does that signify about women? To women?
Below is the MT and the LXX side by side. And beside that is Sir Lancelot Brenton’s Englishing of the Greeking of the Hebrew.
Notice the name in the Hebrew that is missing from the Hellene.
Now here is how Everett Fox Englishes the Hebrew.
He transliterates Shaddai and includes a footnote (which I’ve put in the box above, to the right of his translation).
Now here is how Robert Alter puts the Hebrew into English. (His footnote is also included; I’ve again placed it to the right of his translation).
We should note that Alter is translating not only from the Hebrew MT but also from the Hellene LXX. And so he adds this footnote on the very next verse:
The Masoretic Text is not really intelligible at this point, and this English version follows the Septuagint for the first part of the verse, which has the double virtue of coherence and of resembling several similar parallel locutions elsewhere in biblical poetry.
Verse 26: the absent mother
Immediately following [Genesis 49:25] is a highly ambiguous passage (verse 26a), whose Masoretic rendition “is obviously corrupt and cannot be restored”. There should be a line parallel to “blessings of breasts and womb”, with the form “blessing of x + y”. And, in fact, in some translations, after ’ā·ḇî·ḵā (your father) we find … καὶ μητρός σου (LXX) (and your mother).
And that brings us again to what Tova Rosen has said:
The task of feminist literary critics, for their part, is to account for the ideological and symbolical functions designated to women in the male literary imagination; to map the positions of female figures and the positioning of their voices within the patterns of male discourse; to explore the artistic strategies of women’s presence/absence and the procedures of their signification.
To have women scholars working on male texts that imagine women is critical. Would you agree? And what difference do women make when they talk about men talking about women? And God? And breasts?