Sunday, February 10, 2008

Ezer: aid or succour

In French there are two acceptable ways to translate 'ezer. We see the first in Gen. 2:18,
    L'Éternel Dieu dit:
    Il n'est pas bon que l'homme soit seul;
    je lui ferai une aide semblable à lui
And we see the second, secours in Psalm 46,
    Dieu est pour nous un refuge et un appui,
    Un secours qui ne manque jamais dans la détresse.
Clearly, the woman is an aid, help as assistant; and God is succour, or help as rescue.

English bibles are more even-handed, translating both woman and God as "help". It is only the reader that has turned one into "the help" and the other into "Help."

I haven't been educated in the hermeneutic of suspicion, but I am suspicious nonetheless. Apparently, the thinking goes something like this. A word is translated according to its context. We know that when 'ezer describes woman it must mean subordinate help because woman is subordinate. Later, the reader comes along and says, the word means subordinate, so woman must be subordinate.

However, this is not the case in either the English or German translation. The notion of subordination is added by the reader.


Charity said...

Hi Suzanne

The picture isn't quite so bleak in all French translations.

In the "Second Révisée" Genesis 2:18 has:

"L'Eternel Dieu dit : Il n'est pas bon que l'homme soit seul ; je lui ferai une aide qui sera son vis-à-vis.

You can't be someone's subordinate if you are their vis-à-vis, and you can't be someone's vis-à-vis if you are their subordinate.

I really like this translation.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Thank you Charity,

I chose this as an example. It also helps to clarify what happened to Phoebe when she was downgraded from one who succours, to one who helps.

Of course, prostatis is a complicated word. The masculine refers to a temple leader or officer. It is definitely an office in the LXX, when it is used of a man, why not when it is used of a woman?

Charity said...

You make an excellent point Suzanne.

I remember talking with Jules-Marcel Nicole, who was one of the translators for the Second Révisée, about this years and years ago. He was then a very old man, but he was very clear on why they had chosen this particular wording, to avoid the subordinate connotations which are clearly not there in the original Hebrew. I think they didn't use 'secours' because that would have suggested superiority which wouldn't have been right either.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


What do you think of this. Woman is an ally and champion of man and man should be the same to woman.

The reason why the first is mentioned and the second is not, is because it was written from the man's point of view.

On the other hand, maybe it means, as Alter wrote, a sustainer. Women sustain life by giving birth.

Charity said...

I would definitely go with "ally and champion". And with your second point too.

In my understanding part of what it means to be "made in the image of God" is the need to be in relationship. God is a relational being within the Godhead.

I think that's what it means when it says that without woman, man had no vis-à-vis. As I see it, the marriage relationship is supposed to be exactly that - a relationship where each is the vis-à-vis, or ally, of the other. Yes I would go completely with the reciprocal thing.

I'm not familiar with Alter... Women sustain life by giving birth, but I see the Genesis 2 passage as speaking more about the incompleteness without relationship.

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Anonymous said...

Well, there are two stories of creation in Genesis. In the one, male and female were made at the same time, both in the image and likeness of God. Clearly, equality between them is the message.

But even in the other story - the spare-rib story - male and female were created equal. In that version of creation, God created Adam (or the adam - "adam" can mean three things - a human, a human male, or a particular human male named Adam) and decided it was not good for Adam to be alone. But God does not rush right out and create a women. Nope, God brings to Adam, one after the other, the various animals. Adam names these animals and they are found unacceptable to be his partner. Why? Well one reason might be that if you named something, you were asserting ownership over it. So when Adam named the horse, platypus, etc., etc., he was claiming to own them. This claim of ownership (among other obvious reasons) is why those creatures were not suitable partners for Adam.

After God fashions the woman out of Adam's rib, Adam does NOT name her, but proclaims that at last this is flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. There is still no hint of superiority or inferiority.

It is only after the "fall" that Adam calls his wife "Eve." Thus, the notion of hierarchy is the product, not of God's original intent, but of the sinfulness of humans. This is seen by how quick Adam is to blame Eve (and, by the way, God, as well "this woman YOU gave me"), and then Eve just as quickly blames the serpent. What would have happened if, instead of blaming others, each had confessed her/his own guilt and sought forgiveness? Well, it would have been a much shorter book, no doubt.

At any rate, women's "inferiority" isn't something ordained by God, but rather something caused by the original sin of pride (not, sex, pride). And, for Christians, doesn't the coming of Jesus and His institution of baptism wash away the stain of original sin? And thus, shouldn't the sinful belief in human inequality be rejected by Christians? Perhaps some day, but not yet.