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Thursday, June 28, 2007


In a comment on my post, Wiki vs the NOAB, Teknomon drew my attention to Katherine Bushnell, author of God's Word to Women.

    Katharine C. Bushnell (1856-1946) was a courageous and gifted servant of God who modeled her life’s motto “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13). She was a physician, missionary, crusader, reformer, author and speaker as well as a brilliant and original scholar who spoke seven languages and was grounded in Greek and Hebrew. Bushnell left medicine to do what she considered the more important work of reforming conditions of human degradation through leadership in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) ofthe 19th century women’s movement. The scriptural status of women was of intense concern to Bushnell who came to believe that mistranslations were responsible for the social and spiritual subjugation of women. She left the WCTU in 1896 to spend her remaining years writing and sharing the biblical truth of God’s original and unchanging intent of full equality for women.

Although I was aware of this site, I had previously only taken a brief look at her book. This time I went back and spent some time on the lessons 77, 78 and 79, titled Sex Bias Influences Translators.

I am not going to revisit points previously blogged about. However, I have wanted to write about Ruth for a while and will be drawing on material both from this book by Bushnell and Gospel Women, by Richard Bauckham. I will also be venturing into the Hebrew scriptures for a bit.

חסד hesed (Koehler-Baumgartner) - obligation to the community in relation to relatives, friends, guests, master & servants, etc. unity, solidarity, loyalty, between father and son, wife and husband, relatives, people who do favours for each other, faithfulness, protection, etc.

Bauckham writes, page 6-7,
    The law of gleaning provides one means of support for those who could not grow their own crops, while the laws of redemption and levirate marriage enable a widow without a son to acquire economic security by marrying and bearing a son who can inherit her first husband's property. But the narrative shows these legal provisions operating for the benefit of Naomi and Ruth only because Ruth, Naomi and Boaz them so operate - only because Ruth acts with חסד (loyalty or caring responsibility) only because both women act with initiative and mutual support, and only because Boaz responds with חסד. He allows Ruth to glean beyond her legal right, and, as the example of the nearer kinsman (4:6) shows, he had the legal option not to marry her. In both cases he meets Ruth's initiative with חסד. Thus the legal structures over which the elders in the gate preside operate for the good of the women when both the women and the man make them do so.
Bauckham uses the translation "caring responsibility" for חסד and indicates that it is a characteristic which governs every party in a relationship. God shows חסד to us, women show חסד to their husbands in Gen. 20:13, they show חסד to guests, Gen. 24:14, and men also show חסד Gen. 21:23.

חסד is more than just a kindness; it is a caring provision which is demonstrated by God, and men and women alike in community, to guests, friends and in family and marriage relationships. חסד is usually translated as either "kindness" or "loyalty". There is nothing controversial about this translation, but it gives some background for my next post which is about a much more problematic translation issue which Katherine Bushnell handles well.

In חסד we see an ethic which binds people together with a common bond. It might be possible to imagine that showing חסד is one way for both men and women to reflect the image of God.


At Thu Jun 28, 07:09:00 AM, Blogger Talmida said...

I've always loved Rabbi Spira-Savett's definition of hhesed. He prefers the expression "covenant loyalty" and the more I think about it, the more appropriate it seems.

Looking forward to your subsequent posts.

At Thu Jun 28, 07:36:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


It is so good to hear from you again. I meant to write but I lost your email. I love the site you mentioned. Here is an excerpt,

Here too the usual English translation of "lovingkindness" misses a key element. In the Bible, chesed meant living up to a covenantal responsibility, so my Bible professors taught me to translate chesed as "covenant loyalty." Loyalty captures the blend of duty and feelings of concern, connection, and sympathy that we naturally have for those with whom we feel a bond. Doing chesed means feeling that loyalty toward all other human beings. We owe each other our compassion, not only when it happens to well up within us.

Gemilut chasadim literally means "paying back chesed." Since chesed is showered on us each day, all our lives-from family and loved ones, from the created world around us-the only way to repay it is to do chesed for others.

At Thu Jun 28, 09:42:00 AM, Blogger Dr. Claude Mariottini said...


Hesed is one of those words in the Hebrew Bible that deserves special attention. I like to use the translation "commitment" because hesed always refers to commitment to a relationship. Read my post on hesed


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