Monday, June 08, 2009

The Messianic daughter

One of the important passages to be aware of in thinking about the logos who was with God in the beginning, is Proverbs 8. Here, in the NETS version from the Septuagint, is the song of wisdom, or sophia, who was in the beginning with God,
    23I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.

    24When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water.

    25Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth:

    26While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world.

    27When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth:

    28When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep:

    29When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth:

    30Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him;

    31Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men.

But verse 30 is the one that I am having the most difficulty with. In the Greek, the first clause is ἤμην παρ' αὐτῷ ἁρμόζουσα ἐγὼ. This is translated in the NETS as "Then I was by him, as one brought up with him" but it could also read, "Then I was with him as the joiner" - as the one who crafts creation. The participle is in the feminine form agreeing with sophia, wisdom.

There is a broad range of offerings for this verse, and I will post only a representative smattering,
    Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: KJV
    then I was beside him, like a master workman ESV, NASB, RSV
    Then became I beside him, a firm and sure worker, Rotherham
    then I was by him [his] nursling Darby
    Then I was by Him, as a nursling JPS
    Then was I with him as a nourisher, Geneva
    I was with him ordring all thinges Bishop's, Coverdale
This poses lots of questions. Why does our English translation represent sophia, clearly feminine, as a "workman?" Was the pre-incarnate Christ feminine or masculine? Is there some metaphorical significance to the movement from the feminine sophia to the masculine logos?

Perhaps the author of John's gospel had a choice of whether to write about sophia or logos, who had been there in the beginning; and chose to write logos, because it was masculine. But that is no reason for modern English Bibles to dress sophia in the clothes of a man and disguise her gender, labeling her a "workman."

For me, "God" is beyond gender, and I have no quibble with accepting that Jesus was a male. But, is there some theological weight to gender? I don't think so. I'll leave it at that. However, as a translator, we need to do justice to metaphorical gender when appropriate. Gender is expressive and speaks to us.

If this is the case, then we need to share what gender is saying to us, we need to allow the feminine voice, without paganizing it or subjecting it.

If the logos is the sophia, then we need to signal that sophia, the pre-incarnate "expression" of God is feminine; just as Jesus, the logos become flesh, is masculine.

I'll pass you along to El Shaddai's post on this topic, Reflections on the Messianic daughter and the image of God.


ElShaddai Edwards said...

Thanks for the link and good thoughts, Suzanne! You might also be interested in my follow-up post specifically on Proverbs 8:30.

Peter Kirk said...

In defence of RSV, when it was published "man" and so "workman" still had a gender generic sense. Presumably NASB and ESV simply copies this. Anyway all of these were translating the Hebrew, not the LXX which you refer to. The Hebrew word translated "workman" appears to be a masculine noun 'amon with that meaning, although probably not intended to specify gender; LXX might have read this with an alternative pronunciation as a masculine participle meaning "foster-father", as in Numbers 11:12.

J. K. Gayle said...

Fantastic, important questions!

And what is the backdrop of the translating of Proverbs 8 (LXX)? Aren't the translators in Alexander's dominant namesake city having to decide whose conceptions of "sophia" and of "logos" they'll follow? (Don't they have the same kind of issues then that Peter here notes RSV, NASB, and very recently ESV translators had to make? And didn't the LXX translators and John himself translating make better choices than ESV translators have in such cases?) Socrates, Plato, and then Alexander's tutor Aristotle had tried to construct "sophia" and "logos" much differently from how sophists such as Gorgias and Isocrates were using the terms. These sophists like all the Presocratics presumably were, according to Aristotle and his teachers, the perveyors of "rhetor-ic," of "muse-ic," of "myth-ics" and "poet-ics."

Ekaterina Haskins, in her Logos and Power in Isocrates and Aristotle, gets at how "logos" and "sophia" worked before and contemporary to Socrates (which gets at how, I think, the Jewish LXX translators - and John the Jewish gospel writer too - were making choices):

Gorgias, in Encomium of Helen, "pronounces speech (logos) 'a powerful lord (dunastēs), which by means of the finest and most invisible body effects the divinest works: it can stop fear and banish grief and create joy and nurture pity' ([Rosamond Sprague, The Older Sophists,] 1972, 8). The personification of the logos as an arbitrary ruler bears resemblance to the mythical narrative casting used by several Presocratics and by the poets of the archaic age. The power of the logos is akin to brute force (bia, 12) that moves the hearer in an almost physical way. Yet unlike the Presocratics, Gorgias is not concerned with the cosmic logos. Rather, he employs poetic technique to expose the mechanism of alētheia in its sense of un-forgetting. Because 'memory of things past and awareness of things present and foreknowledge of the future' are unreliable (11), he contends, it is easy for people to come under the influence of speech. However, besides reactivating culturally embedded truths, speech [i.e., "logos"] in Gorgias appears as a potent force that can be deployed by human agents to different ends. In addition to exposing the linguistic mechanism of enculturation, Gorgias sheds light on its new rationalistic uses aided by the onset of writing [i.e., rationalistic uses by Aristotle's 'log-ic' to oppose 'logos' and so-called 'relativisms' like 'dissoi logoi']" (pages 14-15).

"Wisdom (sophia) for Isocrates is neither a divine gift nor a scientifically precise art. Rather, it is an intelligence acquired through habituation and trial by concrete circumstances. 'I think that the wise (sophoi),' he says later in the Antidosis, 'are those who have the ability to reach best opinions (doxai) most of the time, and philosophers are those who spend time acquiring such an intelligence as quickly as possible' (271). Isocrates' statement is not a mere exhortation that practice makes perfect, even though he admits that his view of the issue happens to be 'simple' (haplōs) (271). A great deal more is at stake here. Isocrates advocates discursive education (logōn paideia) as a training in social conduct. A student coming to Isocrates for instruction should expect not only to memorize poetry and prose for the sake of gaining facility in speech but also to gradually become a public person whose actions are worthy of being praised in similar discourses [i.e., 'logoi']" (pages 40-41).

J. K. Gayle said...

Ekaterina Haskins also notes the following (suggesting that Plato and much more so Aristotle found the sophist terms such as "logos" and "sophia" to be much too involved with embodied human subjectivities):

"Elsewhere in the Antidosis, Isocrates reiterates his objection to the Platonic search for an art that will 'implant justice in the souls of the citizens' (Gorgias 504d), using nearly the same phraseology as Plato: 'I think that an art that can produce self-control (sōphrosynē) and justice (dikaiosynē) in those who are by nature badly disposed to virtue (aretē has never existed and does not now exist' (274)" (page 40).

That last statement by Haskins reminds me of what Anne Carson notes of Aristotle; he observes about sōphrosynē: that for males it is "self control" but for females, in Nature, it has to be defined "the quality of submission."

J. K. Gayle said...

Joel Watts has a post up comparing John's and the LXX translators' (Wisdom, Sirach, and Baruch) statements. It would be nice to see the Greek side by side, but what comes across in English translation (Tyndale for John, NJB for LXX) is compelling evidence enough that John was carefully considering, and following, some of the earlier choices of the translators in Alexandria.