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When is it sexism and other knotty questions

June 24, 2012

This question comes up over and over. The other question which I wrestle with all the time is when we consider something a primary source. The two go together since one has to ask why information regarding women in the Bible is so frequently misrepresented. Do people not consult primary sources? I ask myself this constantly.

This is not as easy to do as it seems. For example, no electronic source is a primary source. But there are better and worse electronic sources. A digital image or a photograph is a fairly reliable source especially if we can think of no motive that anyone could have for photoshopping the image. So I do think that the photos of the Opramoas inscription were reasonably reliable. Next to that, a text copy of an inscription for which the original is still extant is relatively reliable. So the text on Junia Theodora was relatively reliable. It can be cross-checked. After that, reliability goes downhill somewhat, as we shall see.

Now back to sexism. I will proceed with a familiar example.

In Romans 16:1 and 2 Paul writes about Phoebe,

Συνίστημι δὲ ὑμῖν Φοίβην τὴν ἀδελφὴν ἡμῶν,
οὖσαν καὶ διάκονον τῆς ἐκκλησίας τῆς ἐν Κεγχρεαῖς,
ἵνα αὐτὴν προσδέξησθε ἐν κυρίῳ ἀξίως τῶν ἁγίων,
καὶ παραστῆτε αὐτῇ ἐν ᾧ ἂν ὑμῶν χρῄζῃ πράγματι,
καὶ γὰρ αὐτὴ προστάτις πολλῶν ἐγενήθη καὶ ἐμοῦ αὐτοῦ.

16:1 Now I commend to you our sister Phoebe,
who is a servant1 of the church in Cenchrea,
16:2 so that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints
and provide her with whatever help she may need from you,
for she has been a great help to many, including me.

This is the NET Bible translation. I will leave aside the fact that diakonos has been translated as “servant” since a note is provided. However προστάτις is translated as “great help” in spite of the fact that we have evidence, as seen in the letters of recommendation for Junia Theodora, that prostasia was something which typically received official recognition from government bodies, and for which an individual could be offered a crown, the right to wear purple or other privileges. Prostasia, that is patronage, was a role which required public recognition in the ancient world. Paul chose to recognize Phoebe in this way. The translator does not provide a note to this effect. Is this sexism?

The next issue in this chapter relates to the gender of Junia’s name. There are still quite a few people out there in blogland who are very confused about this. Here is the verse in Greek,

ἀσπάσασθε Ἀνδρόνικον καὶ [g]Ἰουνίαν τοὺς συγγενεῖς μου καὶ συναιχμαλώτους μου, οἵτινές εἰσιν ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις, οἳ καὶ πρὸ ἐμοῦ [h]γέγοναν ἐν Χριστῷ. SBL

And here is what Dr. Wallace wrote originally about the text issues relating to the name Junia,

If Iounian should have the circumflex over the ultima ( Iounia’n)then it is a man’s name; if it should have the acute accent over the penult ( Iounivan) then it is a woman’s name. For help, we need to look in several places. First, we should consider the accents on the Greek manuscripts. This will be of limited value since they were not added until the ninth century to the NT manuscripts. Thus, their ability to reflect earlier opinions is questionable at best. Nevertheless, they are usually decent indicators as to the opinion in the ninth century. And what they reveal is that Iounian was largely considered a man’s name (for the bulk of the MSS have the circumflex over the ultima).1

First off, there is the possibility that even if there were an acute accent over the penult it could hypothetically be a masculine name – if one could attest to the existance of a male name Iounias at all. Al Wolters is the only one who offers this solution, but even he does not make a strong recommendation to this effect. However, I mention this to point out a faulty presentation regarding accents in the first sentence of this paragraph.

Next, Wallace mentions the manuscripts. He does not cite his source. Since he is someone who has an enormous interest in NT manuscripts, one might expect him to actually consult digital images if not original manuscripts. According to Swanson, 2002, there is not even one NT manuscript where Iounian has a circumflex over the ultima. What are we to make of Wallace’s statement at the end of the paragraph? Obviously he did not look at any manuscripts. Fair enough! If he had provided a citation for his secondary source, we could evaluate this statement and consider whether he was simply misinformed or sexist. He suggests that he is familiar with ninth century manuscripts, but in fact, he had not looked at even one. It is the disregard not the error which is so telling. Because of Dr. Wallace’s ongoing role in preserving NT manuscripts, many people who read his articles, like this one, then feel that they can cite the article as if it were reliable.

The NET Bible, on the other hand, provides no note with regard to the manuscript tradition for Junia’s name. A brief note explaining that when accents were added to the text, for Junia’s name, the accent was always on the penult and not on the ultima, would have been a very helpful as a corrective to Wallace’s earlier article. I have several times in the last couple of years been in dialogue with seminary professors and others who have completely misunderstood this information. Perhaps they trusted Wallace’s earlier article.

Now that I have expressed my disappointment over what the NET Bible note does not say about Junia’s name, I will show you what it does say,

The feminine name Junia, though common in Latin, is quite rare in Greek (apparently only three instances of it occur in Greek literature outside Rom 16:7, according to the data in the TLG [D. Moo, Romans [NICNT], 922]). The masculine Junias (as a contraction for Junianas), however, is rarer still: Only one instance of the masculine name is known in extant Greek literature (Epiphanius mentions Junias in his Index discipulorum 125).

How significant is the rate of occurence in the TLG and what is the TLG.

The Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG) is a research center at the University of California, Irvine. Founded in 1972 the TLG has collected and digitized most literary texts written in Greek from Homer to the fall of Byzantium in AD 1453.

The TLG includes literary texts and not personal letters and inscriptions (epigraphy.) That is why Junia (Iounia) Theodora, about whom much has been written in the last 10 years, (in English even) was not mentioned in the text note, or in either of the articles which Wallace wrote about Junia. Linda Belleville, however, found at least 10 inscriptions in Greek mentioning Iounia, not counting Junia Theodora. There was no suggestion from her that this was an exhaustive search. Ten seemed like enough. The descriptor ” quite rare” in the NET Bible note is hardly suitable and the TLG is not a particularly helpful source of information on the rate of occurence of the Greek name Iounia. The layperson is likely not aware of this.

The note continues with a mention of a completely fictional name “Junianas.”  This name is also found in Wallace’s article. It is a completely unattested name, found nowhere. He may have intended to write “Junianus”  but in this discussion, with the fine level of detail required, and reproduced in the NET Bible, the error is reprehensible. The implication that there actually was a Greek or Roman name Junias, as a contraction for Junianus (if that is what he meant) is also off base, since that also is completely unattested. If there had been a contraction in Greek, it would have been Iounas and not Iounias. The only occurence of a masculine Greek name Iounias is in Epiphanius, where it is clearly a corruption of Iounia, since Epiphanius also masculinizes Prisca. It is not in any way related to either the Latin name Junianus, or to a Greek equivalent, or to the fictional name Junianas.So why is this argument presented in the NET Bible note?I have no idea. Can this note not be edited for accuracy?

The note comes back to the possibility of Junias a few sentences later,

In Greek only a difference of accent distinguishes between Junias (male) and Junia (female).

However the name Junias in Latin or its equivalent in Greek were unknown. You can’t present, as if it existed, something for which there is no evidence. It confuses people. They might think that the Greek name Iounias actually existed. Even though the NET Bible note finally concludes that the name Junia is feminine, the notes are so rife with misrepresentation that one wonders how anyone could conclude anything from them.

When it comes to the note that says that Junia is only well-known to the apostles, there is another list of misrepresentations.

The term ἐπίσημος (epishmo”) is used either in an implied comparative sense (“prominent, outstanding”) or in an elative sense (“famous, well known”).

This is a hypothesis put forward by Dr. Wallace and is not an agreed upon categorization of the uses of the word episemos. Dr. Wallace tried to establish this and failed.

The key to determining the meaning of the term in any given passage is both the general context and the specific collocation of this word with its adjuncts. When a comparative notion is seen, that to which ἐπίσημος is compared is frequently, if not usually, put in the genitive case (cf., e.g., 3 Macc 6:1 [Ελεαζαρος δέ τις ἀνὴρ ἐπίσημος τῶν ἀπὸ τής χώρας ἱερέων “Eleazar, a man prominent among the priests of the country”]; cf. also Pss. Sol. 17:30).

True enough. Frequently, if not usually. And the rest of the time? Then en plus the dative is used. So this tells us nothing new about the phrase episemos en tois apostolois.

When, however, an elative notion is found, ἐν (en) plus a personal plural dative is not uncommon (cf. Pss. Sol. 2:6).

It is highly debatable whether episemos is an adjective in this citation. Howver, we now read about ” en plus the dative” that it is “not uncommon.”  Since the first construct is “frequent if not usual”, and the second is “not uncommon”, what is this note telling us. Absolutely nothing. Which is a good thing because Pss. of Solomon 2:6 is in no way parallel to Romans 16:7.

Although ἐν plus a personal dative does not indicate agency, in collocation with words of perception, (ἐν plus) dative personal nouns are often used to show the recipients.

There is no word of perception in the Greek phrase episemos en tois apostolois, so this is irrelevant.

From Wallace and Burer’s more recent article on Junia,

An idiom noticed in several inscriptions is even more relevant. In TAM 2.905.1 west wall. coll. 2.5.18 we read the description of a man who is ‘not only foremost in his own country, but also well known to the outside population’ (ou monon en th patridi prwtou, alla; kai en tw ethnei epishmou). Here the person who is epishmos is called such only in relation to outsiders (prwtos is used in relation to his own countrymen). It is not insignificant that en plus the dative personal noun is used: the man is well known to a group of which he is not a member.

In this inscription, the person referred to, either Opramoas or his father Apollonius, (there is a break in the inscription at this point) was the president of the Lycian nation. He was first in his own home town (en th patridi), as well as prominent in the nation as a whole. To suggest that he was well known to a population of which he was not a member is on a level with claiming that President Obama is not American. The authors of the article have much better access than I do to primary sources. Why don’t they use it and view the context for this citation?

Ten years ago that was some remote chance that this conglomeration of misrepresentations was not due to sexism. But now, with our knowledge of Greek manuscripts and inscriptions, with our expectation that sources be cited and errors be corrected, with our expectation that digital resources like the NET Bible be maintained and corrected, this is inexcusable.

The question remains as to whether all the NET Bible notes are a shambles like these, or if only the notes relating to women are in this shape. Because of the lack of attention to detail and to correcting long-standing errors with regard to Junia, even when the opportunity provided itself, I am going to speculate that there are other errors in the NET Bible notes, not relating to women. But I could be wrong.

One further consideration is that the authors of the article cannot prevent themselves from using the phrase “biblical gynecology”  – just in case women forget that it is all decided based on what we have below the waist. I cannot recommend the NET Bible to anyone for any use. For some reason some poor soul wrote to me this week asking me to donate for him to buy a NET Bible audio copy. I don’t know how that happened. So sorry – can’t do it.

I don’t know whether this is sexism or extreme sloppiness or both, but I don’t find these notes in any way excusable. There needs to be some sense that primary sources are appropriatedly used. I find these notes fall short in terms of their use of primary sources. Would you recommend a textbook with this many errors?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 25, 2012 3:59 pm

    I don’t see a lot of evidence that the NET Bible uses primary sources. For instance, in Genesis 1:26 there’s a rather long note about the image and likeness of God and there’s a sentence indicating that the footnote’s author is familiar with the idea that this might have other Near Eastern parallels which indicate something like royal status or the right to rule. However, there are no primary texts cited, merely a bald assertion that “The ‘image of God’ would be the God-given mental and spiritual capacities that enable people to relate to God and to serve him by ruling over the created order as his earthly vice-regents.”

    1 Corinthians 15:44 (the next place I checked to see what the notes say) has no note whatsoever but uses the traditional “spiritual” and “natural”. No one reading the NET Bible would be aware that “natural” is actually an odd word with its root in psuche. Instead, a good Cartersian dichotomy between the natural and spiritual would be upheld.

    Unfortunately, I believe that your conclusion that there are probably errors in the NET Bible notes (or lack thereof) that have nothing to do with women is extremely likely. However, it may be getting somewhat better. There used to be a number of notes in early Genesis that struck me less as translation notes than attempts to clean up the theology of Genesis. Those appear to be gone.

  2. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    June 25, 2012 4:37 pm


    Thanks for checking on this. I was actually astonished when I read the note on Junia’s name. Then I went back and read Wallace’s articles. I just don’t see how anyone could make this many mistakes in this little prose.


  1. Biblical Studies Carnival LXVI: “According to Mark” « The Jesus Memoirs

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