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Hebraic Hellenisms and Human Epistemological Places

April 24, 2014

Suzanne is making some pretty important observations about our human classifications for humans. She has noted, for example, specific places where the Hebrew Bible writer(s) won’t necessarily keep separate the (1) male humans from the (2) not male, or female, humans. The writer(s) will have the 2 together as variants or types or kinds of just 1 humankind.

She also shows that, when switching to Hellene, translators of that same Bible do the same thing. In other words, Hellene, or Greek if you will, becomes a variant language of the (Hebrew) Bible. And that Bible, then, does the same thing. It lets the first human (named “Life”) give life to another human, without regard for female and male difference, saying, “I have created a human, through the Creator-God.”

What I want to show with this post is how arbitrary our human classifications can be. Yes, as we all know, scientists as early as Aristotle and as recent as Simon Baron-Cohen can show us in excruciating detail the male and female differences between humans. But why not treat men and women and boys and girls the same anyway? As variants of humankind?

And we all know there are differences between pears. There are differences between winters. And there are differences between pears and winter. And there are differences between towns. And so what? When there’s life, and when humans like us know it.

Shall we just take a few moments to illustrate?




Why, when we’re talking about how we humans construct knowledge out of categories, do we need to show how we all tend to have a high tolerance for difference?

Let’s keep Jews and Greeks different. Let’s keep men and women different. Hebrew and Hellene. Different. Pears and winter. Yep. Different.

Anne Carson and Eve. Eve and David. David and Anne. Moses and David. Prose and Poetry. The original text and its translation. Different. Different. Different. Different. Different. Different.

Well, let’s back up and exercise our high tolerance again. Let’s look again at one of the Anne Carson poems that has made the rounds in the Best Of poetry volumes since its initial publication in her collection entitled, Plainwater. Here’s a version online. A version in book form, yes also online. A version in musical score by Carl Schimmel. Wait now! Isn’t he a man. Anne Carson is not a male, is she? No, she cannot be. Different.

Well, we slipped again. So, let’s back up and exercise our high tolerance again. Look what happens, Anne Carson, writing, tells us when one reader “takes a different position” than another. We’re all forced to ask, “But what about variant readings?”

What when “the world is, as we say, an open book”?

What when “you [and I] will stand and see pear and winter side by side”?

What if you get stranded in the town where pears and winter are variants for one another?” What if you and I are not so different? Or what if in our differences, so obvious to scientists and scholars, we really are variants of humanity of kinds of kindnesses of humankindness, where we, you, I, we back up and exercise our high tolerance again?


5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 24, 2014 6:41 pm

    We think of “pears” and of “winter” in such strict, scholarly and scientific categories. The illustrations in my post, however, are meant to deconstruct the categories a bit. I mean, look at the variant pears. And then if we try to add “prickly pears,” then what? Or what must we mean by “winter”? I mean, really.

    What we humans do to know anything and practically everything is not to ignore differences. And yet we tolerate differences, often just making them as insignificant as possible so much so as to call them “no different.”

    To make significance out of body or brain or other biology difference allows for racism and for sexism and even for classism.

  2. April 24, 2014 7:01 pm


    I have been thinking that ish is a word for “insider” vs “outsider.” And isn, and its female equivalent ishah are both members of community. In general, women are ish also in any group or indefinite example. It doesn’t really matter about isn/ishah when you are worried about keeping everyone in community and defining your community.

    But in Greek, aner is a class term. An anthropos is often a slave or just any old person, and an aner is of the knight class, or citizen class. So a woman can be of that class also. Even though, beside gune, aner is man, beside anthropos, aner is a citizen, and a woman can be of that class as well.

    But sometimes, in Acts Paul says andres adelphoi, probably meaning “members of this community and of my people.” So there he is encorporating ishness into aner.

    But as an adjective andreios, andreia, refers also to Esther, Judith, Ruth, the wife of Proverbs 31, and so on. Not “manly” but women of class.

  3. April 24, 2014 7:45 pm

    You’re on to something, I think, looking at emic (insider) uses of the Hebrew. My corrolary to that would be the way the Jewish translators of their Bible used Greek for their Scriptures. The LXX renderors do some unusual things with the Greek, their Greek. They seem to work more in a Homeric epic paradigm, more in a Sapphoic and Hesiodic paradigm than in a Platonic or an Aristotelian paradigm.

  4. April 25, 2014 12:18 am

    Suzanne, re “not manly but women of class” — I would immediately wonder if the meaning was actually women of virtue?

  5. April 25, 2014 7:12 am

    Just as you use “virtue,” we recall Anne Carson noticing some difference Aristotle claims to see and to stress as significant between women and men –

    “The celebrated Greek virtue of self-control (sophrosyne [σωφροσύνη]) has to be defined differently for men and for women, Aristotle maintains. Masculine sophrosyne [σωφροσύνη] is rational self-control and resistance to excess, but for the woman sophrosyne [σωφροσύνη] means obedience and consists in submitting herself to the control of others.”

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