1 Timothy 2:11-12 — Plato and Paul, Teaching Against Loud Men and Women
In this post, we’re going to consider Plato’s and Paul’s teachings against loud men and loud women. We’ll be looking at Plato’s Republic (aka his Politeia, or his Πολιτεία). And we’ll be looking at Paul’s first letter to Timothy.
In the former, you’ll see, Havelock claims that, in the Republic, through the voice of Socrates, “Plato so often describes the non-philosophical [Homeric] state of mind as a kind of sleep-walking” as “truly a form of hypnosis in which emotional automatism played a large part, as doing leads to doing and image precipitates image.” The Ideal Philosopher King [a male of course] would ideally wake the Greek people from this hypnotic [woman-like] state. Now, just to be clear, I’m marking the gender here; and in a moment I’m just going to let Plato’s Socrates mark the differences he and other Greek men marked in women. Do understand, nonetheless, that Havelock shows how Socrates is working against the Homeric state of mind, that he works against what is in “the Greek epic” of Homer. This includes the following (all noted on page 190 of Havelock’s book):
[The hypnotic] aspects conferred on the Greek epic [noted by Plato’s Socrates in the Republic included] powers of evocation, of grandeur, of psychological fulfillment, unique after their kind. They could not supply the descriptive and analytic discipline [that a Philosopher King could], but they could [merely] supply a complete emotional life. It was a life without self-examination [so was the claim], but as a manipulation of the resources of the unconscious in harmony with the conscious it was unsurpassed.
In the latter bit of homework, you’ll find that Held Evans announces the following … with the following, sure conclusion:
It’s time! Today we discuss one of the most controversial passages of Scripture: 1 Timothy 2:11-12, where the apostle Paul writes that “a woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”…. No one seems to know for sure what this passages means, and frankly, I’ve just about given up on figuring out exactly what’s going on with it. But here’s the thing: Anyone who says that Paul’s instructions regarding the women at Ephesus are universally binding because he appeals to the creation narrative to make his point can be consistent in that position only if they also require women in their church to cover their heads, as Paul uses a very similar line of argumentation to advocate that.
Held Evans is writing on these two difficult Pauline verses in the context of her weeklong blogging on mutuality, in which she’s invited others to “synchroblog.” (One of you messaged me on facebook to ask if I’d post too, then.) In my post, below, I think you’ll see that I agree with Havelock and Held Evans. Plato seems to rail against Homer’s heroes who act unconsciously, unlearnedly, and un-self-reflectively (like loud women). And Paul’s letters really are difficult to understand (and I’ve quoted C. S. Lewis, and George Steiner, and Simon Peter here and here to say that too, as loudly and as repetitively as a blogger can).
MY POST FOR THE MUTUALITY WEEK SYNCHROBLOG:
1 TIMOTHY 2:11-12, — PLATO AND PAUL, TEACHING AGAINST LOUD [WOMANLY] MEN AND WOMEN
Paul, writing letters and speaking in Athens, sure seems to know his Greek. I think he’s read the Septuagint. I think he’s read Plato’s Republic. The Septuagint is as difficult as Paul’s letters. And Plato may be too (as the homework above suggested). Let’s look.
In the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures that Paul quotes from so often, there’s a woman who has learned to be quiet (ἐν ἡμέραις ἡσυχίας μου). She’s Queen Esther, who, in the Old Greek version anyway, says, “16 You know my necessity, that I abominate the sign of my pride and glory, which is upon my head in the days of my public appearance, and detest it as a menstruous rag, and wear it not in the days of my silence.” Esther is not your typical literary hero. She’s not your typical monarch. Then again, she’s not your typical, loud woman.
Socrates discusses the typical loud woman. He does so in Plato’s Republic, (around Stephanus page 605 section d line 8). Here that is in the English translation by Joe Sachs [with Plato’s Greek in Socrates’s mouth put back in]:
“Listen on and consider. Presumably, when the best of us [men] hear Homer or any of the others, the tragic poets, imitating one of the heroes when he’s in grief and indulging in a long extended speech of lamentations, or even singing a lament and beating his chest, you know that we [men] enjoy it, give ourselves up to it, and follow along in empathy, taking it seriously, and we praise as a good [male] poet whoever puts us [male listeners or readers of this poetry] in this [emotional] position the most.”
“I do know that; how could I not?”
“But whenever sorrow comes to any of us [men] personally, you realize [man] that we [men] pride ourselves, on the contrary, if we’re able to stay calm [ἡσυχίαν] and bear it, feeling this to be what belongs to a man [ἀνδρὸς], while the other response, which we were praising before [in Homer’s male heroes], is that of a woman [γυναικός].”
“I realize that,” he said.
“Well that’s a beautiful sort of praise, isn’t it,” I [Socrates] said, “for anyone [who’s a man] not to be disgusted but to enjoy it and praise it when he sees a man of that sort [who’s responding with outspoken emotion, as a woman], when he’d consider it unworthy of himself to be like such a person [such a calm, quiet man] but would be ashamed?”
What Paul, reading Plato, clearly would see in Socrates’s analysis of male Homeric heroes is that these men act like women. In other words, the Homeric heroic men do not stay calm, but they grieve loudly and indulge in long extended speech. Such womanly men of the Greek epic literature are not like the heroine Queen Esther in Greek, who does stay unusually calm and quiet. The philosopher [male] King, also in contrast to the Homeric heroes and any other man of Greek manhood, is able to stay quiet and calm.
Being familiar with Esther’s strange manly quietness and with Socrates’s ideal man who is quiet, Paul would have no trouble writing to the Jewish-Greek man Timothy. He’d have no trouble asserting, in a letter:
“Let the woman [γυνὴ] learn in silence [ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ] with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman [γυναικὶ] to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man [ἀνδρός], but to be in silence [ἀλλ’ εἶναι ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ].”
Paul, to Timothy, in his letter, writes more. Paul himself has read more. So Timothy and Paul’s other readers too would do well to read widely: Homer, Esther in Hebrew, Esther in Greek, Plato, Aristotle, Sappho, Havelock, Held Evans, other Synchrobloggers, those who oppose them without much quietness either.
In summary, then, my post is loudly indulging in a long extended assertion that Plato and Paul (and whoever added Addition C to the Greek version of the story of Queen Esther) are promoting that men and women stay calm, that they mutually learn in quietness. Timothy, reading Paul’s letter, might have struggled with it as much as Simon Peter, or C. S. Lewis, or George Steiner, or Rachel Held Evans, or you, or I should. Dogmatists, who would say the only good woman is a silent one in a church and home position under all men who can be loud, haven’t yet learned what Paul wrote Timothy. They’ve not yet learned and have actually stopped reading.