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Womanly Silence in the Dirt: a translation of the fragment of John 8

August 26, 2014

Let me offer here a translation of the first 11 verses of John 8, a reading, an Englishing with the verb tenses tense. This is how I hear it (in light of some of the recent blog commentary here and here).

1 Joshua goes to the Mount of Olives

2 At the crack of dawn again he comes to the Temple
The people all go with him
He sits he teaches them

3 To him the Midrash Writers, the Purists, bring
a “wife” wearing a Scarlet Letter
They sit her in the middle 4

“Teacher” they say to him
This “wife” for her adultery has cause to wear this Scarlet A
5 By law we are commanded, by the Torah of Moses, to execute her by stoning
What do you say to that, sir?

6 This speech of theirs is intended to test him
To give cause to categorically convict him

Joshua goes squatting in the dirt, like a woman, silent, his finger writes in it

7 Since they stay with their line of questioning at him,
He goes back up to their eye level and says to them

Fine, the “Error-Free” Men Go First: “Bash her with a stone”

Again, Joshua goes squatting in the dirt, like a woman, silent, writes in it

9 The men hear, they go away, the senior men first
He is left alone
This wife is in the middle

10 He goes back up to her eye level, says to her

Where are they?
Are none of your judges here?

11 She says
None, Master

Joshua says
None is your judge, not even me
Go on now
No more error for you

[[1 Ἰησοῦς δὲ ἐπορεύθη εἰς τὸ Ὄρος τῶν Ἐλαιῶν.

2 Ὄρθρου δὲ πάλιν παρεγένετο εἰς τὸ ἱερόν,
καὶ πᾶς ὁ λαὸς ἠρχετο πρὸς αὐτόν,
καὶ καθίσας ἐδίδασκεν αὐτούς.

3 ἀγουσιν δὲ οἱ γραμματεῖς καὶ οἱ Φαρισαῖοι
γυναῖκα ἐπὶ μοιχείᾳ κατειλημμένην,
καὶ στήσαντες αὐτὴν ἐν μέσῳ 4 λέγουσιν αὐτῷ,

αὑτη ἡ γυνὴ κατείληπται ἐπ’ αὐτοφώρῳ μοιχευομένη·
5 ἐν δὲ τῷ νόμῳ ἡμῖν Μωϋσῆς ἐνετείλατο τὰς τοιαύτας λιθάζειν·
σὺ οὖν τί λέγεις;

6 τοῦτο δὲ ἐλεγον πειράζοντες αὐτόν,
ἵνα ἐχωσιν κατηγορεῖν αὐτοῦ.

ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς κάτω κύψας τῷ δακτύλῳ κατέγραφεν εἰς τὴν γῆν.

7 ὡς δὲ ἐπέμενον ἐρωτῶντες [αὐτόν],
ἀνέκυψεν καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς,

Ὁ ἀναμάρτητος ὑμῶν πρῶτος ἐπ’ αὐτὴν βαλέτω λίθον·

8 καὶ πάλιν κατακύψας ἐγραφεν εἰς τὴν γῆν.

9 οἱ δὲ ἀκούσαντες ἐξήρχοντο εἷς καθ’ εἷς ἀρξάμενοι ἀπὸ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων,
καὶ κατελείφθη μόνος,
καὶ ἡ γυνὴ ἐν μέσῳ οὖσα.

10 ἀνακύψας δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτῇ,
ποῦ εἰσιν;
οὐδείς σε κατέκρινεν;

11 ἡ δὲ εἶπεν,
Οὐδείς, κύριε.

εἶπεν δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς,
Οὐδὲ ἐγώ σε κατακρίνω·
[καὶ] ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν μηκέτι ἀμάρτανε.]]

6 Comments leave one →
  1. August 26, 2014 11:59 pm

    What motivates “squatting in the dirt like a woman“? Does the Greek suggest it?

  2. August 27, 2014 6:09 am

    Thanks for the questions, Victoria.

    What eisegesis motivates “like a woman, silent”?

    What’s in the Greek to suggest these ideas?

    γύναι, γυναιξὶ κόσμον ἡ σιγὴ φέρει.

    Gynai, gynaiksi kosmon hē sigē pherei

    This is Aristotle’s law that he finds in Aristophanes. The irony of this sort of eisegesis is that it is males putting damning words of silence in the mouths of females. Aristotle quotes Aristophanes’s woman in the play Ajax, speaking to quote this man, conceding that

    “Woman, silence graces woman.”

    “Listen woman! Women are only beautiful when they are silent!”

    My previous post here gives the Greek sources that spell this out.

    Paul, writing to Greek readers in Korinth, spells it out this way:

    “Let your women keep silence in the churches!
    for it is not permitted unto them to speak!
    but they are commanded to be under obedience!
    as also saith the law [the Torah of Moses]!”

    Here Paul and Moses (and his LXX translators) and Aristotle and Aristophanes agree, in the Greek.

    Αἱ γυναῖκες ἐν ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις σιγάτωσαν

    hai gynaikes in tais ekklesiais sigatōsan

    Their Greek common denominator in Greek letters and law is this:

    Gynai = Sigē

    You Woman/Wife!! = Silence!!

    And the equals sign in the trite jingle, the sexist insult, in Greek is

    κόσμον / Cosmos

    It speaks of appropriateness, of grace, of beauty, of cosmetics, of make up, of the way men like their women, their wives, their mistresses until they get caught by other men,

    So I don’t think I’m doing much more or much less than these men with their Greek have done, reading exegetically, more, or less.

    But you asked something else.

    The Greek is ambiguous, and your question is fair.

    Bending down, bowing over, being lower than, in silence. Isn’t this the posture of women? And of wives? Squatting down is not difficult for them.

    And, in Greek, Woman!!!/Wife!!! rhymes with Dirt!!! These are some of the first words of the Torah of Moses in Greek. (And I blogged very briefly on that once upon a time here.)

    So this odd Greek in this odd gospel (albeit an adulteress fragment of odd text) does suggest things like this and does motivate my rendering in English like this:

    “squatting in the dirt like a woman

    I know, I know. Purists and some other men will surely disagree. Which is some how this very clever Greek text deconstructs the Greek text here.

    Jesus is put in the position of putting himself in the position of the woman.

    In the end he gives her agency, asks to hear her voice on the matter of judgment.

    In the end they, this man and this wife, find that it’s not the woman/wife who has had to be silent (appropriately, cosmetically, in a well-ordered Cosmos) but it’s the purist men, the Textual Men, the literalists, the legalists, the letter writing men, who finally are absent, the ultimate silence.

    Jesus is put in the position of putting himself in the position of the acused, the adulteress.

    He’s low, in the birth material, in the ground, in the Earth (under Heaven). He’s low. And he is silent. He is literal only with his body, an embodiment of meanings. Even his finger is his living word, writing something ephemeral that to this day no one, none, can judge. None even remembers it. It’s unrecorded. It’s only now eisegesis, some reading of subjectivities into something that suggests, that motivates.

  3. August 31, 2014 12:20 am

    A really lovely interpretation. Thank you.

  4. August 31, 2014 9:41 am

    Thanks, Sue. I love that you say “interpretation”!

  5. August 31, 2014 12:00 pm

    You have inspired me to post today.

  6. August 31, 2014 6:16 pm

    Thanks, Kurk, for your very interesting amplification. I find your train of thought here poetic and interesting, especially with the silencing being inverted.

    I think there may be some cultural issues that are relevant, though. Isn’t squatting, rather than sitting, simply an ordinary posture of waiting in the Middle East for both men and women?

    And this is very obscure and fanciful, but:
    – When I think of “squatting in the dirt like a woman,” I think of urination.
    – I vaguely recall a passage in the Mishnah or Talmud ruling that a man urinating in the snow is like writing, but a woman urinating in the snow is like plowing, and using this distinction to rule on whether either is permitted on the Sabbath.
    – One of the things that makes this passage intensely problematic for feminists is that we have a woman taken in adultery: okay, so where is the man who was involved? How did they manage to take her, but not him?
    – So now I have an image of silent critique: Jesus squatting in the dirt to urinate like a woman, silently writing in the dirt with his finger mimicking the urination of a man, as if to say, Where is the man involved?

    And now I think of Susannah and the Elders, and wonder: could the man involved have been in that crowd? Wouldn’t a man who had just barely escaped being taken in adultery consider that the safest thing to do was to join in the crowd calling for the woman to be stoned?

    Eisegesis indeed. But doesn’t that make the challenge to “the man who is without sin” more provocative!

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