Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pagnini and Bushnell

Pagnini translated teshuqah in Gen. 3:16 as desiderium and in Gen. 4:7 as apetitus. My sense is that by distinguishing between the "desire" of the beast in Gen. 4 and of the woman in Gen. 3, Pagnini is not attributing to the woman the "lust of the flesh." He is simply saying that Eve has a want or need for Adam. I see no moral commentary in this. It is a perception of the condition of woman. She wants a husband and what does she get but a ruler. Men want a family and what do they get but work.

Katherine Bushnell, who wrote God's Word to Women, published in 1943, had much the same notion as I do about Pagnini in one respect at least. She notes the overwhelming influence of his Latin translation of the Bible.

Let's look at what Katherine Bushnell wrote about Pagnini,
143. Pagnino's version was published at Lyons in 1528. Seven years later, in 1535, Coverdale's English Bible appeared, published at Zurich, probably. Tyndale's version, in sections, had appeared in the time between Pagnino's and Coverdale's, published at Cologne and at Worms. It is to be noted that these were days of persecution, when no English Bible could have been published in England, and this may in part account for these versions being influenced by Pagnino. At any rate, from the time Pagnino's version appeared, every English version, excepting the two Vulgate translations we put on one side, has followed Pagnino's rendering for the first passage, up to the present day. As to the second passage, Cranmer's Bible (1539) first introduced "lust" into this place, which was later followed by the Geneva Bible, and the Authorized and Revised versions. But Tyndale, Coverdale, Matthew (John Rogers) and Cranmer all retained "turning" in the third passage. But the three latest Protestant Bibles, Geneva, Authorized and Revised, have obliterated all trace of any other sense but "desire." The reading of the older English Bibles which follow Pagnino is, "Thy lust (or lusts) shall pertayne to thy husband."

144. Now will you please turn to the Title Page of your Bible. If you have an Authorized Version, you will read the assurance given to the reader, that the Book has been "Translated out of the original tongues; and with the former translations diligently compared and revised." If you have a Revised Version of 1884, it will claim to be "the version set forth A. D. 1611 compared with the most ancient authorities and revised." These assurances do not hold good, in this case where the status and welfare of one-half the human race is directly and vitally concerned; and the highest good of the other half just as vitally concerned, if even more remotely and less visibly. Pagnino's word has been retained against the overwhelming authority of the ancient versions.
While I agree that Pagnini had this influence, I do not necessarily agree that interpreting Gen. 3:16 with "desire" is a negative towards women in and of itself. Bushnell argues,
139. Since this passage in Genesis, "Thy desire shall be to thy husband," has been the cause of much immorality among men, in the cruelty and oppression they have inflicted upon their wives; since this false translation has been the cause of much degradation, unhappiness and suffering to women; and since this translation has been made the very keystone of an arch of doctrine subordinating woman to man, without which keystone the arch itself falls to pieces; and since the Apostle Paul's utterances on the "woman question" are always interpreted as though this perversion of the sense of Genesis 3:16 was his accepted foundation upon which he builds his super-structure, it behooves us to review again the history of the ancient translation of the word teshuqa, and this we will do with the aid of the appended table:
Bushnell does not demonstrate how the interpretation of "desire" has caused so much grief but I would guess that it may have. These days it is the new translation "desire to control" that causes so much grief. It really doesn't seem to matter much what the Bible says about women. Some will use this against women in very painful ways.

I am not sure what teshuqah means but it seems to simply say that a woman wants a husband, and I have not seen it demonstrated that Pagnini intended to say that a woman has a sinful libido or sensual desire that she ought not to have. Perhaps some commentaries discuss this. I just don't see how we can know that Pagnini meant this from his use of the word desiderium. It is true that Coverdale translated this with "lust" but this word has an innocuous meaning in German, and may have been quite unmarked in Coverdale's English.

That some men somewhere have punished women for an overactive libido would not surprise me. Nothing much surprises me. I just don't know that Pagnini himself had these thoughts about women.

I agree with Bushnell that parts of the Bible have been mistranslated in order to punish women. But its hard to get at the original meaning of some of these passages. If, in fact, a woman is accused of being frigid, it isn't much use to worry about why Coverdale despised women for having too much libido. Its a sad thing to think that women are subjected to so much pain for some of these verses.

It is better to think of Isaac and Rebekah, Abraham and Sarah, and the many other couples who seem to have loved each other in spite of these obscure and much contorted passages.


Gem said...


I think you might find this enlightening as to how desire taken as "lust" might have been among the stones thrown at a woman in Bushnell's day and age.

The Woman Condemned by Katharine Bushnell

There was this victorian idea that a woman should have no sexual needs (while male immorality got a pass). This is a bit of a tangent, but I deeply appreciated this Jewish perspective posted by Cindy Kunsman:

The onah experience may not be mere mechanical fulfillment, for as such it does not conform to the biblical requirement to rejoice one’s wife. Rejoicing means satisfying needs, and it signifies a sensitive and caring involvement of the whole person and a genuine sense of intimacy, (kiruv). Therefore, Mainonides teaches that one may not have intercourse without being mindful, sensitive, and alert. “One may not have intercourse while either intoxicated or sluggish or in mourning; nor when [one’s wife] is asleep, nor by overpowering her; but only with her consent and if both are in a happy mood.” The act must be capable of expressing devotion. Thus one may not have intercourse if husband and wife are not committed to one another are thinking of divorce, nor if they quarreled during the daytime and have not resolved it by nightfall. Raavad refers to this as exploitation, using one’s partner as a harlot. One should not perform the conjugal act while imagining some other partner. The physical onah must be expressive of love; otherwise, it is simply animalistic...

Great sensitivity is a basic requirement in the Jewish attitude toward sex. No excuse of superior religiosity on one hand, or of rough-and-tumble masculinity on the other, may justify a less than delicate approach. The Midrash asserts, “The groom may not enter the bridal chamber without the specific permission of the bride” ...

Ramban added a nuance to these requirements. In these obligations of marriage, the husband’s duty is to provide food, clothing and conjugal relations... The reasoning of Ramban is also significant: “A wife is not to be treated as a concubine... The bedroom atmosphere must have honor.”

Police, pastors, judges, domestic abuse counselors scratch their heads and wonder why an abused woman will return to her abuser even unto death sometimes. I think the Genesis 3:16 "desire" has something to do with it (and no, I do not take that to be about sexual desire). Only men are instructed by God to "cleave". I don't think women need that instruction because they do so even to their own destruction.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


Have you read Gender and Grace by Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen. It was written a while ago, but it does have some good passages about Genesis.

I don't have any further insights into what this means, but I am simply not sure that Pagnini was wrong in his translation. It is to be regretted that this verse is used against women.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


Have you read Gender and Grace by Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen. It was written a while ago, but it does have some good passages about Genesis.

I don't have any further insights into what this means, but I am simply not sure that Pagnini was wrong in his translation. It is to be regretted that this verse is used against women.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Thank you for this comment. It sounds very useful.

This post was not intended to be about sexual dysfunction :-) but about stereotypic blaming of women.

I perceive the accusation of "frigid" to be similar to the label of "bitch." Opposite problem, but simply a label used to hurt someone, not a description of the woman's condition.