Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"Not of blood"

While reading this post at Church-Discipline, I realized that I had not previously understood the meaning of "blood" in John 1:13,
    But to all who received him,
    who believed in his name,
    he gave power to become children of God,
    who were born,
    not of blood
    or of the will of the flesh
    or of the will of man,
    but of God.
CD-host writes,
    If I were translating I personally would mix dynamic and formal here. I wouldn't want to lose John's clausal structure but I think the "bloods"to "blood" translation is far too literal, and men rather than husband is just plain wrong. The reference to bloods here is critical, but it relies on the Greek idiom that the fetus grows on blood which is not an American English idiom. You could translate it keeping blood with a technical term, something like "not from fetoplacental circulation" but that shifts the tone too much. The key is to retain the spirit vs. flesh theme from John while changing idioms i.e. being dynamic to be made more explicit. Anne Nyland's The Source Bible does a great job for this verse,

    "children not born from a woman
    nor from the purposes of the natural realm
    nor from the purposes of a man,
    but born from God."
What's happening here? Here is the Greek,
    οἳ οὐκ ἐξ αἱμάτων
    οὐδὲ ἐκ θελήματος σαρκὸς
    οὐδὲ ἐκ θελήματος ἀνδρὸς
    ἀλλ' ἐκ θεοῦ ἐγεννήθησαν.
If Nyland is right then, ἐξ αἱμάτων refers to the womb of the mother. I mught try
    children not born from the womb of a mother
    nor from the will of the natural body
    nor from the will of a father,
    but born from God.
This reminds me of a passage in Wisdom of Solomon 7:1-2,
    καὶ ἐν κοιλίᾳ μητρὸς
    ἐγλύφην σὰρξ
    2 δεκαμηνιαίῳ χρόνῳ
    παγεὶς ἐν αἵματι
    ἐκ σπέρματος ἀνδρὸς
    καὶ ἡδονῆς ὕπνῳ συνελθούσης.

    and in a mother's belly
    carved into flesh
    For the time of ten months
    fit together in blood
    out of the seed of a man
    and the pleasure
    which comes together with sleep
I always wondered what it meant to be born "of blood." And yet, this should be perfectly obvious to me as a woman. I wonder now how I missed that meaning in John 1:13.


J. K. Gayle said...

LOL, "fetoplacental circulation" sounds like Aristotle.

But Euripides (in Bacchae, 987b-990) has the Chorus singing:

"... Bacchae? Who bore him? For he was not born from a woman's blood, but is the offspring of some lioness 990 or of Libyan Gorgons."

... ὦ βάκχαι; τίς ἄρα νιν ἔτεκεν;
οὐ γὰρ ἐξ αἵματος
γυναικῶν ἔφυ, λεαίνας δέ τινος
ὅδ’ ἢ Γοργόνων Λιβυσσᾶν γένος.

A question of mothers (as translated by E. P. Coleridge).

J. K. Gayle said...

Blood is also very important in literary and theological feminisms.

For example, Adriene Rich writes, "Blood, Bread, Poetry: The Location of the Poet," an essay in her anthology by the title Blood, Bread, Poetry in which she considers the "facts of blood" as personal, familial, and social issues. And Mary Ann Tolbert, taking Rich's analyses as a starting point, writes, "When Resistance Becomes Repression: Mark 12:9-27 and the Poetics of Location" (in her coauthored / coedited volume Reading from Place: Social Location and Biblical Interpretation in Global Perspective), discussing the implications of the "flesh-and-blood" reader and author.

Likewise, Wholly Woman, Holy Blood (edited by Kristin De Troyer, Judith A. Herbert, Judith Ann Johnson, and Anne-Marie Korte) is a cross-discipline look at how "blood" figures in the Bible and in the Christian tradition especially in relation to women, childbirth, menstrual prohibitions, and motherhood. De Troyer's essay "Blood: A Threat to Holiness or toward (Another) Holiness?" shows contrasts between "blood" and "water" as in Ezekiel 16:9 - "Then I bathed you with water and washed off the blood from you, and anointed you with oil." And Kathleen P. Rushton's essay gets at some of the imagery in John's gospel: "The Woman in Childbirth of John 16:21: A Feminist Reading in (Pro)creative Boundary Crossing."

J. L. Watts said...

Excellent translation, and connection to Wisdom 7, Suzanne.

J. L. Watts said...

This might be another que to John's use of Wisdom in his Prologue.

Doug Chaplin said...

I know I can't do trackbacks to Blogger, but I think there is a problem with this over the question of whether John knows the tradition of a virginal conception and alludes to it here. See this post for a fuller argument.