Saturday, February 09, 2008

Ezer as warrior and Carolyn Custis James

Carolyn Custis James makes the claim,
    Based on the Old Testament’s consistent usage of this term [ezer], it only makes sense to conclude that God created the woman to be a warrior.
Some people are calling this nonsense. I have no desire to be a warrior or to imagine that women are the rescuers of men. However, facts must defended. It doesn't matter if they are not to my taste. And so let us explore further into the meaning of 'ezer.

In the LXX, it is translated as boēthos, that is "help" or hyperaspistēs, that is the "one who holds a shield over, protector, champion." (LSJ) We find another word that occurred along with it was antilēmptōr, "protector."

In a passage about God as our refuge, J. F. D. Creach writes,
    Mahseh and related words may be even more strongly affected by the presence of 'ezer/'ōzer (see Pss. 33.20; 115.9, 10, 11; 118.7-8; 121), terms translated in LXX, boēthos or hyperaspistēs. These Hebrew terms often denote a warrior or hero. As Ps. 10.14b shows, 'ōzer refers to one who 'defends the orphan'. a role of the ancient oriental king. It is perhaps because of the popularity of this image of Yahweh that terms of refuge, fortress, and stronghold are often translated as boēthos or hyperaspistēs in LXX. Yahweh As Refuge And the Editing of the Hebrew Psalter, page 35.
I haven't much to say about woman as warrior and personally I find the expressions "defender," "ally," "champion" for 'ezer to be somewhat better. Alter's use of "sustainer" is also interesting. I hope that this is not considered a one way street, but that men and women can champion each other. However, I find myself in writing this to be a champion of Custis James, in saying 'ezer often denotes a warrior or champion.


J. K. Gayle said...

Suzanne, This is another great post of yours, and Carolyn Custis James important insights you have championed well.

I do wonder if we could turn what she's doing around the other way. That is, rather than masculinizing ezer equally among men AND women, why not feminize it equally? Why not have all the male warriors be assistants and helpers and sidekicks and (my favorite) "help meets"?

Anyway, quick glance at how Homer uses ἀσπιστάων. He only uses it in the Illiad (11 times) all for "armour" or "shields" or those bearing it. My favorite is this:

[εἴ περ γάρ σ'] Ἕκτωρ [γε [κακὸν καὶ ἀνάλκιδα] [φήσει,]
If Hektor calls you a coward and a man of no strength, then

ἀλλ' οὐ πείσονται] [Τρῶες καὶ Δαρδανίωνες]
the Trojans and Dardanians will never believe him,

[καὶ [Τρώων ἄλοχοι]] μεγαθύμων ἀσπιστάων,
nor will the wives of the high-hearted Trojan warriors,

τάων ἐν κονίῃσι βάλες [θαλεροὺς παρακοίτας.]
they whose husbands you hurled in the dust in the pride of their manhood.'

Clearly "warriors" is the translation here, but in the context of their wives!

(Boethos is much more popular, and hyper-aspistes isn't in Odyssey nor in the works of Hesiod or the fragments of Sappho, from my quick look).

Thanks again!

J. K. Gayle said...

PS: a quick look through Liddell & Scott shows an ambiguity that complicates "aspis" even more. It's used for "shield/armour" but also for the snake, specifically "an asp." Now won't that second meaning encourage sexist translators to apply the word to women?

Anonymous said...

There were, of course, women warriors written about in the Hebrew scriptures. Jael pounded a tent peg into the head of Sisera (Jg. 4:17-22) and Judith beheaded Holofernes. And Esther, although she killed no one, risked her life by going to King Ahasuerus and pleading for her people. Est. 5.


Lin said...

This is great info to know.