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

October 1, 2011

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

The Corinthian men had quoted the Law of the Roman empire at Paul.  So how did that go?  Well, in a bit, I’ll show you.  First, I want to let Cheryl Glenn remind us about that Roman law:

A particular point of Roman male pride seems to have been the deliberate exclusion of women from civil and public duties; and in the first centuries of its history, Roman law reflected rigid legal inequalities between males and females.  Cicero reportedly contemplated with utter dismay a society whichincluded women in assemblies” and which allowed womensoldiery and magistracies and commands.”  “How great will be the misfortune of that city, in which women will assume the public duties of men” (Lactantius, Epitomes 33.[38.]1-5, ascribed to De re publica 4-5, qtd. in Hallett, Fathers 8)….  Over centuries, Roman law constructed and guaranteed the sexual distinction — and division — between males and females.  The differential between the legal status of women and that of men was justified by the natural inferiority of women:  their congenital weakness, limited intellectual faculties, and ignorance of law….  Roman women were perpetually restrained by law. [ Rhetoric Retold: Regendering the Tradition from Antiquity Through the Renaissance, pages 61-62, emphases mine: the red font the Roman exclusions, the blue the more liberal inclusions elsewhere.]

Glenn goes on from her research to discuss at great length the effects of the Law.  The legal constraints applied to women more severely under Roman rule even more than they had under the old laws and customs of the Greek empire.  The oppressive Law worked to silence women in Rome, in Athens, in Jerusalem and in Korinth:

Like the Greek matron, then, the Roman woman was oppressively busy managing her household and family [i.e., the Roman Domum as the counterpart of the Greek οἰκοδομή — the OIKO-DOMĒ — the domain of the home]…. Because the Romans clung to the ideal of the domina, of the strong privatized woman, they [i.e., the Roman men] often reacted with perplexity or disgust at the women who pursued intellectual or political aspirations. Unlike the very few Greek women who found acceptance and admiration in the public domain, no Roman woman seems to have succeeded in establishing herself as a public figure in her own right….  The Greeks and Romans [i.e., the men] regarded most women as ciphers, whose worth varied according to the property and family connections accompanying them.  Women were to be traded among men.  And historians — from the first — have had little more to say about these women, who were always, particularly in their exceptions, defined by the private, feminine sphere.  The women in my study who passed into the public sphere, even if only temporarily, found themselves vulnerable to assaults on their families, their honor, their sexuality, their “feminine” influence.  These women endured the closest of inspections and critiques by males and females alike, usually being disarmed of their influence and respect in the process.  [ Rhetoric Retold, pages 63, 72-73, emphases mine: the red font the Roman exclusions, the blue the more liberal inclusions elsewhere.]

Okay, so what was the slogan, the Roman law, that the men of Korinth wrote to Paul?  And how did he reply?  Let’s look, first at their Greek, then at our English.  (What my translation attempts is to show Paul’s play with “feminine” words, with HOME-DOMAIN and with SILENCE and with ALL-inclusion in the ASSEMBLY and with the creative, maternal words of BIRTH.)  Here, hear:

Τί οὖν ἐστίν, ἀδελφοί;
Ὅταν συνέρχησθε ἕκαστος

ψαλμὸν ἔχει,
διδαχὴν ἔχει,
ἀποκάλυψιν ἔχει,
γλῶσσαν ἔχει,
ἑρμηνείαν ἔχει.

Πάντα πρὸς οἰκοδομὴν γινέσθω.

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

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

Δύνασθε γὰρ καθ’

ἕνα πάντες προφητεύειν,
ἵνα πάντες μανθάνωσιν,
καὶ πάντες παρακαλῶνται·
καὶ πνεύματα προφητῶν
προφήταις ὑποτάσσεται.

Οὐ γάρ ἐστιν ἀκαταστασίας ὁ θεός,
ἀλλὰ εἰρήνης,
ὡς ἐν πάσαις ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις τῶν ἁγίων.

Αἱ γυναῖκες ὑμῶν ἐν ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις σιγάτωσαν·
οὐ γὰρ ἐπιτρέπεται αὐταῖς λαλεῖν,
ἀλλὰ ὑποτασσέσθωσαν,

καθὼς καὶ ὁ νόμος λέγει.

Εἰ δέ τι μαθεῖν θέλουσιν,
ἐν οἴκῳ τοὺς ἰδίους ἄνδρας ἐπερωτάτωσαν·
αἰσχρὸν γάρ ἐστιν γυναικὶ λαλεῖν ἐν ἐκκλησίᾳ.

ἀφ’ ὑμῶν ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ ἐξῆλθεν;

εἰς ὑμᾶς μόνους κατήντησεν;

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

In English, that goes something like this:

What is it, then, brothers?
When you meet together, each one may

have a Psalm,
have an Instruction,
have a Revelation,
have a Tongue,
have a Translation.

All gives birth to the Domain of the Home:

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

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

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

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

You all, in fact, are quite able:

One and all may Prophesy
So that all may be Apprenticed
And all may be Called to Encouragement.
And may the Spirit of a Prophecy
Be given Order Under Prophets.

There’s not, in fact, a God of Disruption,
but rather of Peace,
which is in all, in the Assembly, of the Holy ones.

Your women, in the Assembly, are to be Silent!
Give, in fact, to them no Turn to Utter anything there,
but rather give them their Order Under.

just as the Law also states

If, however, some wish to be Apprenticed,
Then it’s in the Home where their own men are that these may Question.
It is shameful, in fact, for women to Utter anything in the Assembly.

Is that from you all, The Statement of God springing out like your baby?
Is this your special delivery?

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

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 1, 2011 2:05 pm

    Theophrastus suggested I cross-post the above post (from another blog). I’ve also posted there a follow-up:

  2. October 4, 2011 4:51 pm

    This is a particularly brilliant post, and I’m glad you cross-posted here. I’m off now to read your sequel.

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