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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Ps. 68: Part 7: Reflections

J. K. Gayle had written on Psalm 68, picking up again my reference to the psalmist as possibly a woman. He comments,
    for Aristotelianism (and likely for Aristotle himself):
    - woman is a "botched" man
    - rhetoric is "botched" logic
    - translation is "botched" authority
In my view, masculine and feminine, as values, exist apart from actual men and women. An analysis of translation as feminine and the original as masculine is misleading in Biblical terms. When the translation becomes authoritative, the translators must be masculine. Masculinity is attached to authority.

Much systematic theology is derived from the Torah and the epistles. These are "masculine", and the narratives and poetry more "feminine". Segments of poetry throughout the scriptures are associated with the feminine voice, Deborah, Prov. 31, Mary's Magnificat and Anna. Authority is associated with the masculine.

At John's suggestion, and because the feminine voice will become very evident in the next few verse of Ps. 68, I have chosen to think of the psalm from a feminine point of view. This has no bearing on essential differences between men and women, but is a constructed view. If one were to think of the differences as essential, then one would have to see all poetry and musical expression as being intrinsically more feminine, and less masculine. That simply is not so. However, women were, and still are, in some contexts, restricted to, or encouraged to remain within, the musical domain in religious participation. It is less authoritative.

We have to reconsider. Are men less musical, are men less interested in expressing themselves through music and language than women. In some way, yes, but in others, not at all. Is my interpretation of the psalm actually feminine, or is something else going on?

In fact, my translation of Psalm 68 is heavily dependent on Rotherham, Jerome, Pagnini and Luther, all men, but men of a different era. It is men who translated "fatherless" as "orphans" "home" as "children" and "congregation" as "herds". The domestic and pastoral theme, the sense of restoration after war, is one I sensed in Luther's translation.

It is important to realize that what is feminine in one context, is masculine in another. Assigning an attribute to either the masculine or the feminine, is not a constant, but dependent on context. If in one rhetoric "protection" is assigned to the male, in another it is assigned to the female - think of the expression "protect her cubs." "Nurturing" is assigned to the female, but Paul assigns it to himself. Think of the good shepherd carrying the lambs in his arms. There is little that is absolute in terms of male and female attributes. Having said that, we are reared differently, we do behave differently, and although much of this is cultural, we do have our differences.

One of the reasons that I have taken up the domestic or "feminine" reading of this psalm, is because John had already intitiated his analysis of the psalm as a processional in time of war. That is, my reading of the psalm is gendered mainly because I am writing in the context of other writers who are men. If I sat down to write about this psalm on my own, in a vacuum, so to speak, it would most likely come out very differently, more neutral.

When I write in another domain, not religious, my writing is not distinctly feminine; it has been confused with that of a certain John McCarthy. Many commenters on this blog have also had their gender misread.

I write here with a woman's identity as a conscious choice. It highlights the dilemma of gender accuracy in translation and it establishes the author as one who is interacts with the text. It also provides the opportunity for me to embroider the posts with a little colourful ornamentation from time to time. I am not writing a thesis after all. :-)

Was Psalm 68 written by a woman? Does it matter? Not really but the next post will argue that at least for some verses, the psalmist really is a woman. Someone we have met already.



At Mon Sep 10, 01:47:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks, Suzanne, for this post (and your Part 8 too)! Very smart, and very thoughtful. You've inspired me to muse and to read Psalm 68 more and to write. (Some of that is on a new post of mine, "Reflections Around an Embroidered Psalm").


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