Aristotle’s Ἀριστοτέλης and my יְהוֹשֻׁעַ‎

I didn’t want to have to be a feminist at these blogs I’ve called “Mind Your Language.”  With the new blogs, I wanted to transcend my issues with sexism, to write less often, to live more presently with my loved ones (face to face), and not to have to explain myself so much to others (in social media).  As a man blogging about the man Aristotle and his consequences (at “Aristotle’s Feminist Subject”), I’ve said quite enough already, or so I thought.  Today, I’m compelled to say more:

Aristotle said very little about himself.  But that’s just because he was using masculine language or what you might call “language of masculine hegemony.” He pretended, in the great body of writings he authored, to be objective.  He wrote in Good Greek, proper, and despised foreigners and barabaric tongues and translation unless it was a rendering into Greek.  He was a man, a male, writing exclusively to males.  So when he wrote that females are, as science and logic declares it, just mutant or deformed males, then he was being objective.  When he talked about politics and home economics and male baldness and the ideal ages for marriage, Aristotle used language that presumed the male was natural, the female much less so.

Jesus, in contrast, said a great deal about himself.  But he didn’t say even one word of it directly, letting or perhaps even requiring that women and men around him be his subjective reporters and quoters and interpreters of what he said.  No doubt, with various accents, those around him called him יְהוֹשֻׁעַ, which sounds somewhat like Hebrewish English Joshua or perhaps the Hebraic Hellene Ἰησοῦς (but much less like jē’zəz).  Instead of railing with racist overtones against parables and poetry, as Aristotle so railed, Jesus used fables and psalms.  Instead of warning against ambiguity, as Aristotle so warned his disciples, Jesus riddled his apprentices and those who were against him with unclear puzzles that employed double-entendres and unclear sophistry.  Instead of cautioning against extremes in speech, as Aristotle cautioned those who would be balanced, Jesus seemed to enjoy the epitome of hyperbole.  Instead of focusing on the natural (physics) and meta-physics, as Aristotle so focused exclusively, Jesus “engaged the supernatural” so that his “revelation animates the unknowable–what a limited species such as Homo sapiens cannot know–and apprehends eternity as a supernatural realm” (observes David Rosenberg in the introduction to his book, An Educated Man: A Dual Biography of Moses and Jesus).  The biographies of Jesus, thus, are not auto-biographies or pretense of natural-born importance that, for a male versus a female, can go without saying.  What we know of his own writings is from a minor disputed passage, in which his words are translated into somebody else’s Greek words for his, a text in which he’s shown to be writing in the sand, something no one can now see, defending a woman against accusing men.  Emphemeral stuff, but critical.

Just as I was reading Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible with one of my daughters and with my wife;

and just as I was reading Rose N. Uchem’s now-published dissertation Overcoming Women’s Subordination in the Igbo African Culture and in the Catholic Church: Envisioning an Inclusive Theology with Reference to Women in which she goes on at length (very important and compelling stuff) to show how “The maleness of Jesus has been used to rationalize women’s exclusion from ritual and political leadership in the Catholic Church and in the Igbo culture”;

and just as, last evening, I was listening to my father, a retired missionary, tell about how a woman translated for him when he preached a sermon in English in Vietnam last week (and “this was her first time to interpret, and she did real good” he said, which is all real good for him to say, and since he’s now come so far to say it!);

well, just about then my blogger friends Joel Watts and Suzanne McCarthy point out something important that a seminary professor, a male, a father, has said about needing to read the Bible with the sort of Homo sapien language that includes females with males, the sort that my Jesus (and apparently Willis Barnstone’s and David Rosenberg’s and Ann Nyland’s and Matthew’s, Mark’s, Luke’s, and John’s Jesus too) uses when he lets others use it.  So very unlike what this same professor blogging (i.e., J. R. Daniel Kirk) has called “masculine language” or what you might call “language of masculine hegemony,” the sort of language Aristotle used and called for.  Aristotle makes me a feminist in public again.  So there you have it, and so there I blogged again where I hadn’t really intended to.  I may not post again for a long time now.

Advertisements

15 responses to “Aristotle’s Ἀριστοτέλης and my יְהוֹשֻׁעַ‎

  1. To the overall question, why require a gender-inclusive translation? My overall answer is this: to keep transforming the culture of the church until we actually believe (and therefore act like) that women and men are equal members of the body of Christ, equally addressed by the word of God, and equally empowered by the Spirit to serve in it (and therefore lead it).

    It’s quotes like these that worry me. “women and men are equal members of the body of Christ, equally addressed by the word of God” should be part of a translation philosophy. “equally empowered by the Spirit to serve in it (and therefore lead it)” should not, as that is theology, interpretation, and should be the result of our study of the word, and not what guides our translation of it.

  2. Would you please explain, Dannii, how you are interpreting this?

    2 Statements that “should be part of a translation philosophy”:

    1) “women and men are equal members”

    2) “women and men are … equally addressed”

    1 Statement that “should not … be part of a translation philosophy”:

    * “women and men are … equally empowered.”

    How is this third statement not equal to the first two? How are the first two not “interpretation”? What’s the difference, in your interpretation, between any of these being “results of our study” and “what guides our translation”? Can such statements ever be both the guides to translation and the results of study? I confess, I’m not following your logic.

  3. Actually “women and men are equal members” really belongs to the interpretation basket too.

    It’s most clear to me with the third one, something I don’t believe the Bible actually teaches. I would not want a translation which started out with such a proposition and translated accordingly. But to be fair, I wouldn’t want a translation which was translated according to other interpretations which I do agree with.

    The second is not really made all that explicit in most parts of the Bible, but I think is essential for a general purpose translation.

    Essentially I am worried when agendas guide translation philosophies too much. To aim for a translation which can be happily read be a wide and non-discriminating audience is a good aim to have. To attempt to accurately convey gender related terms into a target language with different ways of using gender is a must. I don’t think it is controversial to say there is a big difference from those and from translating so that all will know they are equally empowered to lead.

  4. I am worried when agendas guide translation philosophies too much.

    Are philosophies without agendas? And what of texts that have no biblical reference at all? Isn’t gender important with respect to translation whether the text is the Greek bible or Chariton’s novel? Would you mind tracking over to my comment at the following post to see whether you think theology influenced or misguided the translations of the novel?

    See my comment here with two gender-inclusive English versions of the Greek novel: http://powerscourt.blogspot.com/2010/06/reminders-about-esv.html

  5. Those translations look fine… I don’t think they’re examples of how I interpreted J. R. Daniel Kirk’s statement.

  6. the Bible actually teaches

    Dannii,
    Why can’t J.R. Daniel Kirk come to the first century novel (i.e. to Chariton’s Chaereas and Callirhoe) with his profound belief, “women and men are … equally empowered”? Does the novel teach him that, actually? You see where I’m going, don’t you?

    Isn’t it a bit strange to treat the Bible as a person who teaches some absolute and invariable lesson? Is that what’s going on in the ESV translation of the Bible, when there’s this narrative, which we all must “interpret” somehow as teaching?

    male and female he created them.

    28And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

    Is the blessing and the teaching of God to “them” (to “male and female”) not equal (that is, not equal to both “male and female”)? Isn’t this a text that is not teaching you? Aren’t you interpreting it one way (i.e., as not saying a thing about a command with empowerment) while you interpret J.R. Daniel Kirk as interpreting it in quite another way (i.e., the command given to male and female equally = the empowerment to obey the command equally)?

    And then there’s Jesus reading this, interpreting the very same words (likely reading in Greek translation if not in some edited original old Hebrew). Does he (in the gospels) use the Bible as the teacher? Or does he have the readers of the Bible teaching and interpreting themselves? Since doesn’t he interpret it? Isn’t his translating (i.e. into spoken Aramaic from written Hebrew or from textual Greek translation) interpretation and not “what the Bible actually teaches”?

  7. I’m finding you harder to understand these days… apologises if I misunderstood you.

    Isn’t it a bit strange to treat the Bible as a person who teaches

    No. It’s a religious text. Religions teach. Even from narratives. You may wish that wasn’t how the world is, but I’m not interested in some hypothetical world like that.

    Is the blessing and the teaching of God to “them” (to “male and female”) not equal (that is, not equal to both “male and female”)? Isn’t this a text that is not teaching you? Aren’t you interpreting it one way (i.e., as not saying a thing about a command with empowerment) while you interpret J.R. Daniel Kirk as interpreting it in quite another way (i.e., the command given to male and female equally = the empowerment to obey the command equally)?

    I think you missed my point. I think it’s a command, given with the appropriate empowerment, to humanity. But my point is that our ideal translation doesn’t start out with such an interpretation already in mind.

  8. Thanks for trying to understand me, Dannii. Please know that this is a two-way street; I’m also trying to follow what you’re saying.

    You may wish that wasn’t how the world is, but I’m not interested in some hypothetical world like that.

    Yes, the Bible is a text, a collection of texts, and could be classified as “religious.” In my view, it’s easier to talk about persons who write texts, and persons who propagate religion by writing. I’m finding it difficult to hear you saying that a text teaches or that religions teach. These are abstract metaphors. Your language allows an impersonal subject noun (whether “the Bible,” “a religious text,” or “religions”) to be the thing that does the teaching. But the people being taught, in your language, are still personal. So impersonal things (such as text, the Bible, religions, or religious texts) teach people; the impersonal — the way you’re speaking of it — teaches us people. We humans, then in this way of talking, Dannii, are subject to a text, to religions, to the Bible, as if people have no say, have no interpretation.

    In my language, a text and especially the Bible, is wholly interpretation. It’s person above the text. It’s never the Bible over the reader. If anything it’s the author over the reader. But that’s another discussion. The author and the reader are interpreters; the text is over neither of them. Texts, in my language, are some like paintings (as in studio art). What does a painting “say”?

    I really like how Adele Berlin has talked about this. She writes the following (in Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative – Page 13):

    “Abraham in Genesis is not a real person any more than a painting of an apple is a real fruit. This is not a judgment on the existence of a historical Abraham any more than it is a statement about the existence of apples.”

    The painting does not teach about an apple. At best the painter uses the painting to represent something and maybe she or the viewers of her painting learn something in the process. Likewise, with the biblical texts. IT teaches much less than the people in the process of reading and using it to teach do.

    I’m not interested in some hypothetical world …. our ideal translation doesn’t start out with such an interpretation already in mind.

    Dannii, Help me out here. Aren’t you wanting the ideal — something hypothetical? You seem to differentiate me from yourself by calling me “hypothetical” and then turning right around and arguing for your “ideal.” But neither how you characterize me nor the way you characterize yourself gets away from a presuppositional starting point, if you’re insisting on logic here. Maybe I’ll understand if you explain how your “ideal translation doesn’t start with such an interpretation already in mind.” Are you saying you don’t start with any interpretation in mind when working with a text to translate it? Or that you can?

  9. I’m going to leave aside the teaching discussion as I don’t fully disagree nor can I find the right words for my agreement.

    Translation is interpretation is translation. We are shaped by the text as we work with it, as it too is shaped.

    What I don’t like about Kirk’s statement is that it says “no” to that. It puts proposition above us, as we cannot be reshaped by the text, lest we turn ourselves into church-culture destroying monsters. Nor is the text free to be shaped by anyone, as it must conform to proposition.

  10. What I don’t like about Kirk’s statement is that it says “no” to that. It puts proposition above us, as we cannot be reshaped by the text, lest we turn ourselves into church-culture destroying monsters.

    Ah, now I get your point, Dannii. And someone commenting over at Kirk’s post says something not too different, it seems. The comment (by AMBurgess) was:

    It seems to me it’s quite a modernist, Westernized luxury to worry so much about gender-inclusive language. It’s also very English-centric in that many other languages don’t even have a hope of escaping their “sexism”.

    It seems that you are accusing Kirk of inflexible proposition and of dominating imposition by wishing his students to use a Bible translated into gender-inclusive English. Likewise, it seems that AMBurgess accusing him of asserting Truth with a capital T (i.e., by lobbing the word “modernist” qualified by Westernized and English-centric).

    The irony of how you and AMBurgess are reading Kirk’s post is that you both have it backwards. If anything Kirk is accusing churches of inflexibility and English of being long in need of change.

    On churches, Kirk writes in his post:

    conservative churches are theologically opposed to gender equality. It is because they are guarding against the sort of transformation that I think needs to take place that they choose to preserve and further language of masculine hegemony. In resisting even gender-inclusive language for humanity, however (e.g., not allowing α͗δέλφοι to be translated “brothers and sisters,” but instead insisting on “brothers”), the English translation expresses an exclusivity that was not there in the Greek. This is a case where “more literal” is not equivalent to “more accurate.”

    On English, Kirk writes in his final comment at the post:

    For men to decline to include women in our [English] speech about humanity and about the people of God is as much a denial of the gospel as the [Greek speaking] Corinthians splitting in favor of a “greater teacher,” as the Corinthians getting arrogant because they have a few really cool people from the community in their church, as the Corinthians excluding poor people from the Lord’s supper.

    And, with respect to English further, Kirk points his readers to a link that commenter Don had provided, a link to an essay on “purity” in language, in which the author writes this:

    My feeling about nonsexist English is that it is like a foreign language that I am learning. I find that even after years of practice, I still have to translate sometimes from my native language, which is sexist English. I know of no human being who speaks Nonsexist as their native tongue. It will be very interesting to see if such people come to exist. If so, it will have taken a lot of work by a lot of people to reach that point.

    Notice the dominant discourse, the status quo language that must be translated from is English. Kirk calls this churchy English “masculinist,” “male hegemonic,” and “excluding of females.” Kirk is not saying “no” to masculinist language but rather “yes” to more gender inclusive language, “yes” to transformation of the status quo, the English-centric language.

    And to charges of gender-inclusive language being Western-centric, I’d ask the one making the charge to read and respond to Rose N. Uchem’s Overcoming Women’s Subordination in the Igbo African Culture and in the Catholic Church: Envisioning an Inclusive Theology with Reference to Women.

    The male position in masculinist language pretends to be objective (i.e., without need of interpretation). I think we linguists like to called that “unmarked” forms of language. Gender inclusive language tends to be “marked” in a male-dominant world. This requires shaping, not conformation to (unmarked male) proposition, no?

  11. Kirk is not saying “no” to masculinist language but rather “yes” to more gender inclusive language, “yes” to transformation of the status quo, the English-centric language.

    This is not what I have issue with, as I want this too!

    My issue is with what he wants in addition to this. He leaves us with no options for either a “literal” or an “accurate” translation if that would violate his inflexible proposition of equal empowerment for service and leadership.

    Perhaps he naively believes that no such cases could exist, and so not having options is not a problem. Even so, such inflexible propositions don’t belong in translation philosophies.

  12. I should clarify that by limiting it to translation philosophies for “general purpose” translations – the kind that the BBB is generally about. There is a place for feministic and Conservapedia-like translations, and those who write general purpose translations would do well to be shaped by them, but they are not general purpose translations. I am presuming that Kirk would like his students to use good general purpose translations most of the time.

  13. Dannii,

    Wouldn’t you want to take this up with Kirk? If you were to ask him a direct question and could hear his answer, then what would your question be?

    Seems like he’s blogging for dialog, for comments.

    What I most like about his statement, his blogpost, is that he’s trying to read through the eyes of women, whom, he confesses, have a linguistic world that “experientially I [J. R. Daniel Kirk] will never be able to relate to.” So he seems also, therefore, to appreciate “that students use a gender-inclusive translation of the Bible (NRSV or TNIV) as their English translation.”

  14. Rod of Alexandria

    Great post, Dr. Gayle. I can’t wait to get back to reading your blog articles. Yeah!

  15. Welcome, Rod of Alexandria! I can’t wait for you to make more of your insightful comments. Absolutely.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s