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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.

Father Wil Gafney and womanism

January 13, 2015

Rachel Held Evans invited readers of her blog to “Ask a womanist biblical scholar” questions, namely “The Reverend Wil Gafney, Ph.D. [who] is Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas and is an Episcopal priest canonically resident in the Diocese of Pennsylvania and licensed in the Diocese of Fort Worth.”

The Rev. Dr. Gafney has responded to many of the more than 40 questions posed to her. My favorite of her responses is this one:

Rebecca and Erin, Teaching a girl that she matters, that her voice and ideas matter even when others say they don’t is appropriate at any age. I have been an out feminist and womanist my entire clergy and scholarly career. Girls have always been able to see and hear that in my experience. Some of my practices are using explicitly feminist God-language, not just “inclusive” because folk hear/see/imagine a male god when they hear “God.” I also chose to be known as Father Wil when I became a priest so that the male priests and I would have the same title – which in that church they also used for God. When the Sunday School teacher told the 5 year-olds, “This is Father Wil and she’s going to say our Mass today,” the little girls’ eyes lit up and they sat up. The paradigm shifted before their eyes. There was another woman priest but she used a different title and I felt was seen/placed in a different category.

I don’t know that we can talk about freedom in the gospel without talking about freedom from the enslaving paradigms with which it is also framed and which are constitutive of it. That means talking about androcentrism, patriarchy, sexism and misogyny in the scriptures and in the church from the pulpit, in the theological classroom, in congregational conversations, in public theology and the scholarly literature. We must talk about slavery in the gospels, about Jesus healing but not freeing slaves and using the language of slavery as normative.

Father Wil does here with one male familial pronoun what one of my BLT-cobloggers, Suzanne McCarthy, does with another. She notes at another blog how she counts herself among the brethren:

I grew up among the Brethren and accepted that term as applying equally to men and women. Early letters of the Brethren to groups of believers were usually worded “greetings to my brothers and sisters in the Lord”…. I have a fair tolerance for archaism and would feel included in the term ‘brethren’. I came close to putting a subtitle on my Powerscourt blog of “women among the brethren,” since the only biography of Lady Powerscourt was in a book called “Chief Women among the Brethren.”… However, I decided to research the word ‘brethren’ a little more and found that it has been considered outmoded as a word for ‘brothers’ for several hundred years.

What Father Wil does for a girl in Sunday School, this same clergy person does for me. My eyes light up and I sit up, which brings me to another of her responses to questions, another of my favorites:

Dear Dan, first I’d like you to know something about your [“white, comfortable, middle-aged Englishman”] perspective that you may already know, that it is not the only one nor even the “right” one. Womanism is black women’s interpretation but it is not only for black women. Womanist biblical interpretation enriches every person and every community’s understanding of the biblical text. There are things you will never see in the text without reading in the company of black women. In the post-colonial, post-Atlantic slave trade world, it is crucial that peoples who have historically benefited from the sale and plunder of black women’s bodies, justifying those practices with their readings of scripture learn to hear and the scriptures in our voices and through our eyes.

I am one of those every persons with a community, and, with my eyes lit up and sitting up now, I am enriched by Father Reverend Dr. Gafney’s interpretations.

We can find her blogging and preaching here:

And here are the responses she gives to several of the questions asked:


P.S. – my own question asked is this one:

You have at times discussed yourself as a “fem/womanist” and have talked of the value of a “fem/womanist hermeneutic; that is, one that lies at the intersection of feminist and womanist hermeneutical practices.” You nuanced that to go on to call yourself, “a black feminist who works and worships in solidarity with my womanist sisters.” You make clear your “intent to participate in the redemption of a radically egalitarian ethic from the pale hands of those who infected it with racism and classism.” And you say that a “fem/womanist hermeneutic … affirms the full personhood and divine image of all humanity and combats oppressions—racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, elitism, imperialism—on multiple fronts in response to the presence and activity of God in the cosmos.” This seems as expansive, inclusive, and universal as bell hooks’s saying, “Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” And yet when you acknowledge the multiple oppressions (of more than just “pale hands”) the slashmark in “fem/womanist” begins to sound like Catherine Keller’s “feminist fourfold” from “genderfold” /to “colorfold” /to “queerfold” /to what she seems to leave open and fluid as “manifold.”

At what point do self-identities free us / and must they always somehow also implicate us (in the acts of oppressings)?

(I’m thinking of your related statement here: “Those of us who self-identify as Christian can never allow ourselves to forget that the Shoah, Holocaust, wasperpetrated in Christian lands by baptized hands.”)


Enumerating Techie Sexism

January 13, 2015

“This, of course, isn’t the first time a tech product has prioritized men over women. The vast majority of tech companies are staffed by men, especially on the development side. Phones are too big for many women’s hands. The newest artificial hearts are designed to fit 80 percent of men but only 20 percent of women. Drop-down menus show ‘male’ over ‘female’ even when the rest of the menus are alphabetical. But when it comes to data-tracking, there’s a perceived element of democratization. How could an app or tool that simply lets you track things be biased? Let us count the ways.”

— , “How Self-Tracking Apps Exclude Women: ‘Self-knowledge through numbers’ seems like a genderless goal, yet the actual products out there are anything but.” The Atlantic

The Deadly Violent Evangelists and their Gospel

January 12, 2015

Nick Norelli has a post up today entitled “The Gospel” that starts in this way with a contemporary English language problem for Christians:

The term “the gospel,” it seems, functions as a buzzword nowadays. It’s a shorthanded way of talking about one’s hobbyhorse of choice. For example, a preacher who is big on holiness will tell us that the cheap grace teaching of so many is not “the gospel,” but rather holiness is “the gospel.” Or a teacher big on grace will tell us that the legalistic teaching of the holiness preacher is not “the gospel,” but rather grace is “the gospel.” Or six day creationists might tell us that “the gospel” is God creating all that exists in six 24 hour days. Liberation theologians tell us that “the gospel” is social justice. You get the point.

It’s worth going back a bit to the ambiguities in the good spellings of English to recall how the word evolved rather problematically; here’s from the Oxford English Dictionary:

Etymology: Old English godspel, doubtless originally gód spel (see good adj. and spell n.1), good tidings (compare láð spel evil tidings), a rendering of the Latin bona adnuntiatio (Corpus Gloss. Int. 117) or bonus nuntius (‘Euuangelium, id est, bonum nuntium, godspel’, Voc. c1050 in Wright-Wülcker 314/8), which was current as an explanation of the etymological sense of Latin evangelium, Greek εὐαγγέλιον (see evangely n.). Compare Gothic þiuþspillôn ‘to preach the gospel’ (εὐαγγελίζεσθαι), < þiuþ-s good + spillôn to announce (cognate with spell n.1). When the phrase gód spel was adopted as the regular translation of evangelium, the ambiguity of its written form led to its being interpreted as a compound, gŏd-spel, < god n. and int. + spel in the sense ‘discourse’ or ‘story’. The mistake was very natural, as the resulting sense was much more obviously appropriate than that of ‘good tidings’ for a word which was chiefly known as the name of a sacred book or of a portion of the liturgy. From Old English the word passed, in adapted forms, into the languages of the Germanic peoples evangelized from England: Old Saxon godspell, Old High German gotspell, Old Norse guð-, goðspiall; in each case the form of the first element shows unequivocally that it was identified with God, not with good. The Old Norse form has survived into modern Icelandic; the continental Germanic languages early discarded the word for adoptions of Latin evangelium.

And since the OED editors want us to look back to the Greek (from which the phrases like Godspell and Gospel and such are derived semantically), well then. Let’s return to the Hebraic Hellene of the Septuagint, where the good news was not always so good. Where it was, rather, actually violent, and even deadly:

καὶ ἐξέδυσαν αὐτὸν καὶ ἔλαβον τὴν κεφαλὴν αὐτοῦ καὶ τὰ σκεύη αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀπέστειλαν εἰς γῆν ἀλλοφύλων κύκλῳ τοῦ εὐαγγελίσασθαι τοῖς εἰδώλοις αὐτῶν καὶ τῷ λαῷ

καὶ ἀποστρέφουσιν αὐτὸν καὶ ἐξέδυσαν τὰ σκεύη αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀποστέλλουσιν αὐτὰ εἰς γῆν ἀλλοφύλων κύκλῳ εὐαγγελίζοντες τοῖς εἰδώλοις αὐτῶν καὶ τῷ λαῷ αὐτῶν

ὅτι ὁ ἀπαγγείλας μοι ὅτι τέθνηκεν Σαουλ καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν ὡς εὐαγγελιζόμενος ἐνώπιόν μου καὶ κατέσχον αὐτὸν καὶ ἀπέκτεινα ἐν Σεκελακ ᾧ ἔδει με δοῦναι εὐαγγέλια

These three verses are respectively the Greek Jewish translations of the Hebrew scriptures for 1 Chronicles 10:9 and 1 Samuel 31:9 and 2 Samuel 4:10. And here is Sir Lancelot Brenton’s English rendering of that Hellene:

And they stripped him [Saul] and took his head and his armour and sent them into the land of the Philistines round about to proclaim the glad tidings to their idols.

And they turned him and stripped off his armour and sent it into the land of the Philistines sending round glad tidings to their idols and to the people.

he that reported to me [David] that Saul was dead even he was as one bringing glad tidings before me: but I seized him and slew him in Sekelac to whom I ought [as he thought] to have given a reward for his tidings.

This translation of a violent and deadly bit of history of “Philistine evangelists and their ‘good tidings'” is probably good news for anybody who is tired of dogma around religious words.

“tout est pardonné”

January 12, 2015

According to the AFP news agency, the gunmen shouted: “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad”. This is absolutely ridiculous and an insult to the Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him). Our Prophet does not require avenging. Forgiveness and compassion defined our Prophet Muhammad, not violence and revenge. These extremists show complete disregard for the compassion and care displayed by the Prophet throughout his life. Islamic sources include many instances where the Prophet (peace be upon him) had the opportunity to take revenge upon those who wronged him, but refrained from doing so.
Qari Muhammad Asim – Senior Imam at Makkah Masjid, Leeds

French media are reporting on what they say is the cover of the latest issue of Charlie Hebdo, the satirical French weekly that was the target of a deadly attack last week. It features an image apparently of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad shedding a tear and holding a sign that reads: “Je Suis Charlie” [“I Am Charlie”]. The cover reads “Tout Est Pardonné” [“All Is Forgiven”].

The new cover was released two days before the magazine’s latest issue hits the newsstands. And it comes less than a week after some of Charlie Hebdo‘s top cartoonists were killed in a deadly attack on the magazine’s offices.

Some Muslims regard any depiction — even positive ones — of their prophet as blasphemous. The two gunmen who killed 12 people at the magazine’s offices last Wednesday claimed they had “avenged the Prophet Mohammed” as they left the scene….

Charlie Pelloux, one of the magazine’s columnists, said that this week’s issue will be available in 16 languages, according to Agence France-Presse.

NPR is not posting images of Charlie Hebdo’s most controversial cartoons at this time. For an explanation of why, please click here.
Krishnadev Calamur – editor, National Public Radio

Learning to Call Myself White

January 10, 2015

I remember how hard it was to learn to call myself a woman.

Growing up, through high school, my female classmates and I were called “girls,” of course. (Or very rarely, “young ladies,” though mostly when we were in trouble.) So that’s what we called ourselves.

That’s what our mothers called themselves, too. They talked about “getting together with the girls”, “girls night out.” Occasionally “ladies,” usually in a humorous vein.

In college, I didn’t much like any of the words I might use to describe myself. I paid close attention to their counterparts for my male classmates. We all called them “guys,” which would mean I should call myself and my female friends “gals”: which I did, often, but it felt just a little too cowboy-Western to me. If my male friends weren’t “boys” then I shouldn’t be a “girl”; only on the rare formal occasions when they were “gentlemen” should I be a “lady.” “Young men” and “young women” sounded both too young, and too nineteenth-century. “Males” and “females” sounded both insufficiently human, and even more nineteenth-century.

I remember when I went to a sleepover party, the summer after sophomore year, with some reunited high school classmates of both sexes. One of them had made signs that designated separate sleeping areas for “Men” and “Women”: spelled out in a hand that was big, bold, unapologetic, and perhaps just a little self-conscious. I remember looking at that sign, “Women”, and thinking, I would not have had the nerve to write that word.

It wasn’t until I was out in the working world, aware that I was facing sexism, aware that the male-dominated field in which I work would further aggravate it, that I got serious about actively trying to own the word. It helped that having a fulltime job with a steady paycheck and my own apartment made me feel like an official grownup, but it was still hard. I had to practice saying it. It felt awkward for about the first two years, I think. If I hadn’t been a determined feminist, I would have given up.

Because it felt so awkward. It didn’t feel like something nice girls say. To call myself a woman was to assert my adulthood, my identity, my expectation that I would be taken seriously. It meant owning my embodied, space-taking-up identity, and naming it. It was an assertion of power: not something that girls are socialized to do.

Learning to call myself white reminds me of that. It feels awkward. Oh, I can do it all right if I’m reeling off all my social locations, perspectival-theology style: Catholic, Christian, theist, straight, cis, white, American, middle-class. When “white” is just one of many defining characteristics that I’m naming, it doesn’t stand out so much.

But simply to say “I’m white”: it feels, again, like something nice girls don’t say. It feels rude, in fact: because “white” means “privileged,” it means systemically better off in a number of ways, and I was raised to believe that it’s rude to point out how you’re better off than other people. (And you probably heard the echo in my writing, the echo in American society, that whispers, simply, “better.”) It, too, is a statement about power.

It feels wrong, too, because as a child of the 60s and 70s, I was socialized into the belief that the civil rights movement was successful, the era of Jim Crow was over, and we were all Americans now, and race didn’t matter anymore. That meant it wasn’t something you talked about. Nobody told me that: it’s just that nobody did, once the songs of the integration era were no longer played on the radio. I had tacitly learned that you don’t talk about race because we’re all not supposed to see race anymore: the word “post-racial” wasn’t coined until later, but the attitude was there.

And it feels wrong because I was taught that the correct term to use to describe such persons, when a term was necessary at all, was “African American.” And “white” is not the counterpart to “African American.” “White” is the counterpart to “black,” and until very very recently, I did not use the term “black” to describe people. “Caucasian” is the term I was taught to use to describe myself, as the counterpart to “African American”; but it isn’t, is it? The counterpart should be “European American.” But nobody ever says that; it sounds silly. (Because European-American is what “American” means, whispers society.)

But I persist, awkward as it feels. I persist because I believe, as I did when I was learning to call myself a woman, that it is important. It is important to name that privilege that I have, that power. It is important to talk about race, because the civil rights movement of the 60s did not solve everything, because race still matters, because structural racial inequities still exist, and if we cannot even name ourselves in terms of race, then how in God’s name can we talk about racism? And we need to talk about racism.

I persist because I was dumbfounded at the fulminating responses from the white men in the Senate to Sonia Sotomayor’s statement that the court needed the perspective of “a wise Latina.” It was so obvious to me that her lived experience as a Latina did bring an important perspective that white men simply did not have. I could see, in the discourse around that interaction, the privilege of the white male perspective that perceives itself, and is accustomed to being perceived as, the “neutral” and “objective” (and “correct”, whispers society) perspective.

I persist especially now, after something I heard while participating in an excellent twitterchat on James Cone, father of black theology. Someone said something that made me fully realize, for the first time, that white theology is contextual theology. White theology is contextual theology. White theology is just as contextual as black, indigenous, feminist, queer, asian, mujerista theologies are.

My brain went on reciting White theology is contextual theology over and over again, as if it were sitting in a classroom, writing lines. Even though I had studied contextual and perspectival theologies in grad school, I had missed that “white” was being treated as the neutral, objective, unconditioned, unmarked, default. (“Traditional”, whispers the academy). For the first time, I realized I had the same damn blinders on as those Senators whose ignorance had stunned me.

So I persist. And I keep practicing.

Hi. I’m Victoria Gaile, and I’m a white woman.

Thanks to my co-blogger Kurk, whose comments on my self-identification as white in other posts and comments prompted this post. And thanks to @DruHart, @h00die_R, and the other folks of @AnaBlacktivism, who hosted the excellent #JamesConeWasRight twitterchat.


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