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Jane Schaberg translates “kebar enash” as “us,” the “Human One” and the “Tyrant”

April 22, 2012

Jane Schaberg, Professor of Religious Studies and Women’s Studies at the University of Detroit Mercy, passed away last week.  Bloggers Kathy Schiffer, Mark Goodacre, and Jared Galloway have written respective brief tributes here, here, and here.  I just wanted to let some of Schaberg’s wonderfully alive and perceptive thoughts on translation and on biblical text speak on.

Here are Schaberg’s last words of her final appendix of her 2004 book:

“[A]nother picture has imposed itself upon the foreground.  It is the figure of a man; some say, others deny, that he is Man himself….  He is called in German and Italian Fuhrer or Duce; in our own language Tyrant or Dictator.” — Woolf, Three Guineas


For kebar enash in Dan 7:13 … the Aramaic phrase [translated into English]…, A. Y. Collins argues that translation should depend on the translator: if the aim is historical accuracy, then gender-exclusive language [i.e., “Son of Man”] should be used; if the aim is “to serve the process by which an ancient text becomes living Word for the worshiping community and to foster equality,” then gender inclusive language [i.e., perhaps “Di Lella’ “one in human likeness” or “one like a human being”] is appropriate and is “in line with the primary intention of the tradition in which these texts stand, to overcome”….  Her aim is historical accuracy in her essay, “The Influence of Daniel on the New Testament”; there she uses “Son of Man” “in part because the masculine terms were probably significant in the historical contexts in which the relevant phrases were used and in part because of [our own present and contemporary] scholarly tradition.”

She is right that a translation should not prejudge or ignore historical and interpretative issues.  But I see these texts, beginning with Daniel, as having a horizontal “intention” as well: to overcome certain divisions among humans. Later traditions about the Maccabean war, during which Daniel 7, 12 was written pay attention to the courage and suffering of women. 1 Macc 1:60 – 62 mentions women….  In 2 Maccabees 7, seven brothers are arrested with their mother…. cf 4 Maccabees 14 – 17 for praise of this mother…. The figure of kebar enash …. the Human One depict it as a male (cf. 1 Enoch 71; 4 Ezra 13), but it stands for more than an individual.

I think that in the Christian Testament… Son of Man traditions strain to become expressions of full humanity, inclusive of men and women. But the fact remains that the word used is “son,” not “child” because only a male figure “could function rhetorically as a general or universal type.  Modern inclusive translations from Daniel and 1 Enoch on into the christian and “gnostic” texts challenge this rhetorical custom in the name of alerting us to a possible ideal.

In a sense the Human One has no face. This figure, I think, can and should be understood by a woman to refer to herself. Surely it was — and is — more difficult for a man to understand it to refer to a woman. And most difficult for all to understand it as wo/man. As both Tyrant and the Human One are “us,” both can be changed.

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