Monday, January 05, 2009

babble from Babel 5

Note: The discussion of vocabulary for circumcision in this post reflects issues which would have affected the translators of the scriptures into Greek. It does not reflect the language for circumcision in Hebrew.

This is not exactly from Babel but it has to be part of this series. First, you must read Kurk's post here and the last section on how circumcision was translated into Greek.

Here is a funny thing. In Hebrew there was the akrobustia (1) which was peritemno, or cut around, we now say, circumcised; but also the word of your mouth, logos, which if you remember well is called the "lip" in Hebrew, ought to be likewise circumcised, but in the case of Moses was, in fact, un-cut-around - he stammered.

And this does not sound so bad in Hebrew, since the heart Lev 26:41; Jer 9:26 can also be un-cut-around and the ears too Jer 6:10. So, in Hebrew, this is just an expression.

But the Greeks would have none of that. The translators of the Septuagint could not write that Moses was of "uncircumcised lips." They clearly found this kind of formal equivalence to be impossible and refused to accept such a foreign notion in this case. In Greek the ears could literally be "uncircumcised" and the heart, as well. This leads me to believe that the Greek translators did, indeed, associate the "lips" with the female pudenda, and deliberately rejected the possibility that "lips" could be circumcised.

Here we see the stammering dynamic equivalence of the Greek translation. But first, the Hebrew is

    וַאֲנִי עֲרַל שְׂפָתָיִם
and literally means "I am of uncircumcised lips" KJV

The Greek translators, however, tried out both ἄλογός and ἰσχνόφωνός, an indication of their inhibitions on this topic.

    ἐγὼ δὲ ἄλογός εἰμι Ex. 6:12

    I am un wordy (wild and irrational)

    ἐγὼ ἰσχνόφωνός εἰμι Ex. 6:30
    I am weakvoiced (stammering)

    cum incircumcisus sim labiis? Jerome (I lack Pagnini's Exodus)

    with uncircumcised lips
The Greeks, of course, knew that the ancient Egyptians practiced female circumcision, and perhaps the Hebrews did not want that phrase found in their scriptures. The earliest written record of female circumcision dates back to Herodotus.

    It has not been possible to determine when or where female circumcision originated. Theories and supposition date it as far back as the 5th century, BC. Herodotus stated that the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Hittites, and Ethiopians practiced female genital excision 500 years before the birth of Christ. Although it is commonly believed that female circumcision originated in Egypt at the time of the pharaohs, there is no evidence of infibulation in the Egyptian mummies.
    The practice has been documented in pre-Islamic Arabia, ancient Rome, and tsarist Russia.l As late as 1870, British surgeons performed female circumcision to treat psychological disorders. In the United States, as late as 1954, clitoridectomy was practiced for the treatment of melancholia and had been recommended for nymphomania, hysteria, epilepsy, kleptomania, and even truancy.2
    Today, female circumcision is common in 30 African countries, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Yemen.3
But traveling back from Ex. 6 to Ex. 1, we find another story of bricks and mortar. This time the Hebrews, both men and women, were making bricks as slaves. Pharoah wanted to eliminate the baby boys but he could not,

    And the midwives said unto Pharaoh: 'Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwife come unto them.'
The Hebrew women were lively or חָיוֹת and did not have trouble giving birth. I want to know if this means that the Hebrew women were "lively" or like "livestock," either one would work well here. Were the Hebrew women uncircumcised and able to give birth with greater ease than the Egyptian women? And why are we still debating this topic, or rather being silent on this topic still today? Has the world progressed in several thousand years?

These are my questions and not my answers. But we do know for sure that the translators of the Septuagint chose to use dynamic equivalence in translation instead of a foreignizing oddness when they felt they needed to. No sign of a circumcision of the lips here.

Thanks to Carolyn McCulley for posting on this topic recently.


(1)LSJ 1. akro-bustia , ,
A. foreskin, LXX Ge.17.11, al., Ph.Fr.49 H., Act.Ap.11.3.
II. state of having the foreskin, uncircumcision, Ep.Rom.2.25, etc.
2. collect., the uncircumcised, ib.2.26, 3.30, etc. (Prob. from akros and a Semitic root, cf. Bab. buśtu 'pudenda', Heb. bōsheth 'shame': wrongly derived from akros, buô by EM53.48.)

Liddell and Scott 1871 (only for use in schools) says this:

akrobustia - uncircumcision

(No doubt teenage boys should not be reading about pudenda!)


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