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Sunday, November 05, 2006

When is a man not a man?

Chris Heard has a detailed post discussing the translation of two different Hebrew expressions for man/mortal/human and the sociological implications. I have several times brought up the sociological implications of the contrast between anthropos and aner. I wonder if the contrast between בני אדם and בני איש is comparable.

Chris writes about the opening of Psalm 49,

      שמעו זאת כל העמים האזינו כל ישבי חלד
      גם בני אדם גם בני איש יחד עשיר ואביון

    The first line, verse 2 (English 1), is a straightforward call for “all peoples” and “all inhabitants of the earth” to pay attention to what the psalmist has to say. It strikes me as unusual, however, for the psalmist to use בני אדם, literally “sons of (a) man,” and בני איש, literally “sons of (a) man,” as phrases that apparently mean something not just different, but in some sense polar opposites. Here are some samples of English translations:

      NRSV both low and high,
      rich and poor together
          (read the other versions in Chris's post) Chris continues,
        In all of these English translations, בני אדם has apparently been taken as synonymously parallel to אביון, “poor,” and בני איש has apparently been taken as synonymously parallel to עשיר, “rich,” thus yielding the “low and high” as references to social standing.
      I have to ask if this isn't a case of where, in certain contexts, the two expressions contrast, but in others they are synonymous. That seems to be how the Greek anthropos/aner pair work. There are no simple rules.

      Read the rest of Chris's post for more explanation.

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