Saturday, April 18, 2009

He called her Life

The way I see it is that the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, was used by the writers of the Christian scriptures as a base text. There is a publication of the Septuagint called the Apostolic Bible since it was the Bible of the apostles.

Therefore, we should take these scriptures as authoritative in some way - I would think -that is, if we think of the Bible as having authority, and that authority deriving from the apostles.

So, it is with interest that I read some of the Septuagint as a commentary on the Hebrew Bible. Although it is in some ways literal enough, interpretation is added, as we can see in any translation.

For example, in the opening three chapters of the Bible, the story of the creation of man and woman, and of the sorrow of man and woman, is described in this manner.

Forming the human
    2:7 And God formed the human,
    dust from the earth
    and breathed into his face
    a breath of life
    and the human became
    a living being.
Forming the woman
    2:21 And God cast a trance on Adam,
    and he slept,
    and he took one of his ribs
    and filled up his flesh in its place

    2:22And the rib that he had taken from Adam
    the Lord God fashioned into a woman
    and brought her to Adam.
    2:23 And Adam said,

    This is now bone of my bones,
    and flesh of my flesh
    this one shall be called woman
    for out of man she was taken
Cause of pain and death for woman
    3:16 I will increasingly increase
    your pains and your groaning
    with pains you will bring forth children
    and your return will be to the man
    and he will dominate you.
Cause of pain and death for man
    17b cursed is the earth in your labours
    with pains you will eat it all the days of your life

    19 By the sweat of your face
    you will eat your bread
    until you return to the earth
    for you are earth
    and to earth you will depart

    20 And Adam called the name of the woman Life,
    because she is the mother of all living.
Whether this is a "correct" interpretation or not, this is the commentary of the Greek translation on the original Hebrew. The man was taken from the earth and returns to the earth, while the woman was taken from the man and returns to the man. The woman's pain is in bearing children of the man, and the man's pain is in extracting fruit from the ground.

The parallels and chiasm are clear in the Greek. Most striking is that in Gen. 3:16 and in Gen. 3: 19, the Greek uses the same word for "return." The woman returns to man, from whom she was taken, and man returns to the earth, from which he was taken. Each one bears fruit from that from which they were taken, and they bear this fruit with pain.

This is not about the subordinate role of women, or the equal role of women. No, this is about the reality of those substinence farmers who have no way of limiting births, who live off the soil, for whom life is pain and labour, from youth to premature old age.

It is a beautifully crafted commentary on life. The Greek is shaped into a chiastic pattern, which is not evident in the original.

Add to this shape, the plot line. Humans will die if they eat the fruit of the tree. They eat and this is the cause of mortality, the cause of prolific and painful child-bearing, and the cause of the struggle with the land, to wrest a livlihood from the earth. They experience not only death, but the many little deaths of pain and failure.

And what is the culmination of this tale? The man turns to the woman and calls her "Life."

If you read Greek you can verify that I have provided a translation based on the NETS but altered to make it concordant with the Greek in ways that the NETS is not. I have also benefitted from a discussion of this passage in The Septuagint, sexuality and the New Testament.

Note: This post has been edited.


Gem said...

So simple, yet so profound!
Thank you for enlightening us!
Keep up the good work!

Shawna Renee said...

I need to get the LXX. I love how this throws such light on the Genesis passage.

I agree with Gem: keep up the good work. Suzanne, I forget how I found your blog. I think I found you thru Aristotle's Feminist Subject.

CD-Host said...

I love this translation! More and more I'm thinking you should be the author of the next inclusive bible.

As an aside when I was a Christian I used to consider the LXX authoritative over the MT. There far too many places the NT was inconsistent with the renderings in the MT where the NT was consistent with the LXX. There were places where it was consistent with neither but I didn't believe in strong preservation so.... Of course there were 0 Pharisees that used the LXX in preference to the MT (they had the same hostile attitudes to translation that Jews and Muslims do today) and so it bothered me a bit that Paul kept using the LXX in preference, but I rectified that soon enough.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

It would have to be a translation of the LXX. I have no qualifications to translate from Hebrew.

CD-Host said...

Fine with me. The Jews do a good job on MT translations already, and as we've talked about translating from the LXX works better with Greek literature.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

The NETS translation just came out last year.

Gem said...


I would love to see you post this material on the latest CBE blog:

Gender roles display sin nature ?