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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Moses, his two dads and ...

and his two brothers.

I don't have to ask myself why people laugh at me. But by now, it is fun and gives me a focus for browsing a lot of ancient literature - gender language.

Here is how I see the family of Moses - two fathers, three sons, and many male relations.
    καὶ υἱοὶ Αμβραμ Ααρων καὶ Μωυσῆς καὶ Μαριαμ 1 Chron. 6:3 (1 Chron 5:29 LXX) ESV

    the children of Amram: Aaron, Moses, and Miriam

    πίστει Μωϋσῆς γεννηθεὶς ἐκρύβη τρίμηνον ὑπὸ τῶν πατέρων αὐτοῦ Heb. 11;23

    By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, Heb. 11:23 ESV

    ἀνέβη ἐπὶ τὴν καρδίαν αὐτοῦ ἐπισκέψασθαι τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς αὐτοῦ τοὺς υἱοὺς Ἰσραήλ

    it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. Acts 7:23 ESV
Here is the problem. I don't think that the Bible literally or otherwise, tells us that Miriam was a son of Amram, or that Moses was hidden by his fathers. I just don't think we can lay down a list and say that πατηρ (pl) cannot be translated as "parent" and υιος (pl) cannot be translated as "children." It is eminently clear that if υιος (pl) refers to male and female then it can be translated by a gender neutral term and likewise for πατηρ (pl) and αδελφος (pl).

So, in seeking consensus, in coming together as readers of the scriptures, we should be able to agree to a certain latitude, and acceptance of the fact that these words, in Greek and Hebrew, had a legitimate gender neutral use which cannot be applied to the masculine terms in English.

At present the use of gender neutral language in Bible translation is causing unnecessary contention. The two statements against the TNIV are still posted. I suggest that first step towards communication between complementarians and egalitarians must be the ability to acknowledge the scriptures of the others as valid.

And so I attempt to demonstrate that gender neutral language is one valid way to translate the gender terms of Greek and Hebrew. We really cannot say in English that Donny and Marie are brothers, Joe and Mary are my two sons, and I was raised by my two fathers. We can't do it in ordinary speech, so can we not agree that gender neutral terms, when referring to groups of mixed gender is accurate.


At Tue Jun 03, 08:13:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Another very important post. Thanks for having fun with it though the laughter sometimes is a horrible "laughing at."

I do think you sound a great warning to Christians reading the Bible. Makes me think of something Carolyn Osiek says:

"Christianity, or at least the teaching of Jesus, contained a spark of new insight that led to the beginnings of an egalitarian movement. . . A danger here is to read Christianity as liberator of women from an oppressive Judaism."

I quoted Osiek in a related post some time back, when noting that Jewish translators of their scriptures (i.e., the LXX translators) were brave enough to add something of clarity to the Bible's discussion of Miriam the sister of Moses.

Exodus (at 6:20) in the original Hebrew reads like this and includes only Aaron and Moses (while simply just implying their sister Miriam):

כ וַיִּקַּח עַמְרָם אֶת-יוֹכֶבֶד דֹּדָתוֹ, לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה, וַתֵּלֶד לוֹ, אֶת-אַהֲרֹן וְאֶת-מֹשֶׁה; וּשְׁנֵי חַיֵּי עַמְרָם, שֶׁבַע וּשְׁלֹשִׁים וּמְאַת שָׁנָה.

But the translators say this:

καὶ ἔλαβεν Αμβραμ τὴν Ιωχαβεδ θυγατέρα τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ ἑαυτῷ εἰς γυναῖκα καὶ ἐγέννησεν αὐτῷ τόν τε Ααρων καὶ Μωυσῆν καὶ Μαριαμ τὴν ἀδελφὴν αὐτῶν τὰ δὲ ἔτη τῆς ζωῆς Αμβραμ ἑκατὸν τριάκοντα δύο ἔτη

Then I had to go on and say something more about how feminists get laughed at, how some Christians don't help, and so how I have to laugh at myself, at the academic voice I too often hear myself speaking.

At Tue Jun 03, 07:28:00 PM, Blogger Bill said...

Sometimes accurate or all-the-times accurate? I think your example was great. I don't know what other examples I might feel differently about.

You know, it occurs to me that the idea of a "gender neutral" language has always tended to strike me (partly? subconsciously? wrongly?) as if it's goal is gender-less-ness. And that just seems daft.

I do not believe in subordination of women, but I do believe God had some purpose in creating male-ness and female-ness. Perhaps we don't even quite see it clearly yet, but He must see it. And He must long for us to see it the way he does. So personally - in general, at the very least - I would never want to see any translation of the scriptures become completely devoid of gender terms.

Your moses example was good. But I imagine it could take one's whole life to keep up with the replies if I earnestly now ask, "So what else ya got?" ;)


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