Better Bibles Blog has moved. Read our last post, below, and then
click here if you are not redirected to our new location within 60 seconds.
Please Bookmark our new location and update blogrolls.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The she ass

I have only read the first paragraph of an article* on the defense of women preaching in the Reformation, but I must share it with you. I had heard of this before, but forgot. There has been a another buzz about gender accurate language, looking at the metaphorical potential of grammatical gender in the Hebrew Bible.

Here is an official apology to dear friends who I have clucked at in the past. May it never be said that I cannot laugh at myself - after the fact, of course. (This is not a major capitulation, maybe an indulgence.) Here is the opening of an article on K. S. Zell.
    N'est-il pas vrai que jadis une ânesse a parlé, et qu'elle a vu l'ange que le prophète n'a pas voulu voir. Katherina Schutz Zell (1498-1562)
This is not to say that she did not use other scriptures to justify women preaching, she did, but she also had an easy way to express the sense of Num. 22,
    Is it not true that once a she ass spoke, and she saw the angel that the prophet would not see.
How much the story loses in translation! It was, after all, a female donkey through whom God spoke to Balaam. Actually, the correct word is a "jenny."

I'll let you know later if anything else in this article relates to Bible translation.

Update: Towards the end of the article I found this mention of gender language in the first Psalm by Martin Bucer, 1491-1551,
    Bucer a voulu interpréter les premiers mots de l'hébreu 'ashre ha-'ish, de la manière suivante, "Béni soit la personne, homme ou femme, qui se donne à l'étude de la Loi divine," car, dit-il, "quand il est question de la piétié, toute distinction basée sur le sexe ou des choses extérieures doit être bannie."

    Bucer wanted to translate the first words of the Hebrew 'ashre ha-'ish, in the following manner, "Blessed is the person, man or woman, who gives themselves to the study of the divine law," for, he said, "when it is a question of piety, all distinction based on sex or exterior things should be banished."

*R. Gerald Hobbs. Le cri d'une pierre: la prédication de Katherina Schütz Zell dans son contexte religieux." Positions Luthériennes 47:2 Avril-Juin 1999.

Errata: I was mistaken in thinking that Zell made use of a feminine gender for the donkey in quoting from Numbers 22. She wrote,
    Hat doch ein esel ein mol geredt, und den engel gesehen, den der Prophet nit sehen wolt. Ist den ein wunder ob ich die wahrheit red, so ich doch ein Mensch byn.
Entschuldigung Katherina Schützinn für M. Matthes Zellen iren Eegemahel. Strasbourg. 1524. Sign. cii r.


At Sat Nov 17, 05:05:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

How much the story loses in translation!

Maybe! But Zell, from her name and place of origin (in those days Strasbourg was a German city), probably wrote in German (see also this article in that language), and R. Gerald Hobbs seems to be mainly an English speaking scholar, based in your own city, who has published mostly in English. So the chances are that this statement of Zell has been translated from German into English and then into French, before you translated it back into English. It would be good to see something more like the original.

At Sat Nov 17, 07:17:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

You have me there, Peter.

Although this article was written originally in French by Gerald, I believe, it appears to be mistranslated.

The original German was,

Hat doch ein esel ein mol geredt, und den engel gesehen, den der Prophet nit sehen wolt. Ist den ein wunder ob ich die wahrheit red, so ich doch ein Mensch byn.

This is, in fact, a reference to Luther's letter to the German nobility.

Luther's Bible has "eine Eselin". However, it seems from the German that Zell actually said "ein esel" and that the statement was in defense of the right of laity to preach. Naturally, Zell said this before Luther's Bible was available.

I will have to check this out further.

It turns out that googling Luther and esel shows only that Luther was very fond of the word "esel". He uses it here, for example, and here.

I can't find his original quote but, no doubt, he did say "esel".

Somewhere along the line a mistranslation occured - more than one, since the donkey was female, but Zell quoted Luther's letter to German Princes, not his Bible.

At Sat Nov 17, 12:58:00 PM, Blogger flacius1551 said...

The ass is a quite common early modern metaphor for the fool; it appears in a great deal of early modern evangelical anti-Catholic propaganda.

At Sat Nov 17, 02:45:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


It appears that Luther hardly wrote anything without calling someone an ass.

At Sat Nov 17, 03:02:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


It was also one of my mother's favourite insults to her children if we did something rather foolish,
"You are behaving like a complete ass!" And we would say, "Mother, don't say things like that in public, pleeeease."

At Sat Nov 17, 09:41:00 PM, Blogger Kevin said...

Luther's use of expressive language also went much further than "ass". They included things you wouldn't normally say in front of your children but they were published anyway. And now after 500 years, I don't think a retraction would be possible.

At Sun Nov 18, 02:09:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Suzanne, I assume your mother was calling you an "ass" in the British English and KJV sense, a synonym of "donkey", which was Luther's meaning, rather than in the US English meaning which is quite different and more offensive. It all depends on which part of Canada you and your mother were from, according to this Wikipedia article which explains the various insulting meanings of this word.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home