Saturday, February 13, 2010

Rashi, Pagnini, Zwingli and a woman's desire

One of the most discussed phrases in the Hebrew Bible, with reference to women, is "and thy desire shall be to thy husband," Gen. 3:16 KJV.

Some say that the Hebrew word translated here as "desire", really means "turning" and was interpreted as "desire" or "lust" because of the perversion of the rabbinical tradition. Katherine Bushnell, in God's Word to Women writes about teshuqa,
    With such testimony as this before us (and we have quoted every ancient version we have been able to find, and none of importance, as likely to shed the least light on the meaning of this word are omitted from the list), we can see no justification for rendering this word "desire." Even the Babylonian Targum renders it "turning" in the second passage (Genesis 4:7), and thus lends its authority to this sense. Nothing but that rabbinic perversion and addition to the Scriptures, teaching that God pronounced ten curses on Eve (something that Scripture nowhere teaches) seems to be at the bottom of this extraordinary reading. A hint of such a meaning for teshuqa as "lust" seems to have crept into the Bible through Jerome’s Latin Vulgate. But even he did not give the sense "appetite" for the word as relates to Eve, but as to Abel; and further, even Jerome adds his authority, in his translation of the third passage, to the sense "turning," and for 3:16, in his writings.

    After Wycliffe's version, and before any other English Bible appeared, an Italian Dominican monk, named Pagnino, translated the Hebrew Bible. The Biographie Universelle, quotes the following criticism of his work, in the language of Richard Simon: "Pagnino has too much neglected the ancient versions of Scripture to attach himself to the teachings of the rabbis." What would we naturally expect, therefore? That he would render this word "lust,"—and that is precisely what he does in the first and the third place; in the second, he translates, "appetite."
I would like to correct some of the inferences in this passage. It is true that the Septuagint translated teshuqa as "turning" and the Vulgate as "subject to." The meaning of "desire" was then introduced subsequent to Pagnini's Latin translation, which was based on the tradition which we find represented in Rashi's commentaries. But is "lust" an accurate representation of the rabbinical tradition or Pagnini's Latin?

First, let's look at the rabbinical tradition. Here is a translation of what Rashi wrote,
    And to your husband will be your desire: for intimacy, but, nevertheless, you will not have the audacity to demand it of him with your mouth, but he will rule over you. Everything is from him and not from you. — [from Eruv. ad loc.]

    your desire: Heb. שוקָת , your desire, like: (Ps. 107:9):“a yearning (שוֹקֵקָה ) soul.” - [after Targum Onkelos]
There is no indication here that Rashi wrote of teshuqa as "lust," but rather he compares it to the longing soul who is satisfied by God in Psalm 107:9.

Bushnell also states that Pagnini was responsible for translating teshuqa into Latin as "lust." In fact, Pagnini translated teshuqa as desiderium in Gen. 3:16 and as appetitus in Gen. 4:7. We have no way of knowing exactly what connotation Pagnini intended to attach to his translation of teshuqa. However, it is most likely that Pagnini intended this word to mean "longing" or "longing for intimacy" either emotional or physical.

Coverdale did translate teshuqa as "lust" and I simply do not know the reason for this. Coverdale says that he depended on four translations in producing his English Bible. These were the Vulgate, Pagnini, Tyndale and Zwingli's Zurich Bible. I can only express curiosity about whether Zwingli used the German word "lust" in the Zurich Bible, which would make relatively good sense.

So Rashi, Pagnini, or Zwingli? Who is responsible for Coverdale's use of the word "lust?" I don't know and I don't think that I have any way of finding out what was in the Zurich Bible. Help, anyone?

Here's to Valentine's Day, Rashi and Pagnini.


Donald Johnson said...

FWIIW, I think Bushnell goes too far here. That was in reaction to the rabbis going WAY too far in saying there were 10 curses on Eve when there were actually none.

I have no problem with translating it as desire. The key as I understand it is to recognize that not all 5 things mentioned in Gen 3:16 need to be bad things. If you assume they are all bad, then there could be a concern with "desire". But if you see it as God giving info to the woman, I do not see a problem.

Peter Kirk said...

And what did "lust" mean anyway, in Coverdale's time? As I understand KJV and Book of Common Prayer English, at that rather later time it had a meaning more like modern "desire", perhaps negative but not purely sexual as in modern English. Perhaps it was at that time a good translation of Zwingli's supposed German "Lust".

Lin said...

Turning away from God and toward her husband is exactly what happened as a result of the fall. Ergo, we got Patriarchy.

I am not a scholar to answer your question but it is interesting to see the progression of the translation on Bushnell's chart. You can see it progress to what we now see as the main interpretation many years after her book: That women desire to usurp the authority of their husbands.

When in fact, God was predicting women would turn away from Him and toward their husbands. Denoting that God would not be their leader. The husband would.

Dave said...

I do not have the tools with me to check at the moment, but I remember searching for other occurrences of this word in the OT and found it in Song of Songs! I came to the conclusion that 'desire' was a good translation, as indeed when it is used to describe sins 'desire' over Cain!

Donald Johnson said...

Teshuqah is found in 3 places in the OT. In SOS it is clearly a good thing.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


Wikipedia has a good article on lust. I think for Coverdale it was a good translation, but perhaps was misused by others later.

Personally I think inappropriate attention has been given to this phrase. It seems to be a commentary on one of the sorrows of women, who in those days may have ended up in a polygamous marriage or a marriage otherwise without love.

Peter Kirk said...

Well, Suzanne, I don't think much of the Wikipedia article. Its etymology section doesn't give the etymology at all, it just hints at a false etymology from lustrum. This is the real etymology, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary:

O.E. lust "desire, pleasure," from P.Gmc. *lustuz (cf. O.S., O.Fris., Du., Ger. lust, O.N. lyst, Goth. lustus "pleasure, desire, lust"), from PIE *las- "to be eager, wanton, or unruly" (cf. L. lascivus "wanton, playful, lustful;" see lascivious).

The entry then continues with this definition which explains how the meaning of the word developed in a negative direction only under the influence of Bible translations:

In M.E., "any source of pleasure or delight," also "an appetite," also "a liking for a person," also "fertility" (of soil). Sense of "sinful sexual desire, degrading animal passion" (now the main meaning) developed in late O.E. from the word's use in Bible translations (e.g. lusts of the flesh to render L. concupiscentia carnis [I John ii 16]); in other Germanic languages, the cognate words tend to still mean simply "pleasure." The verb is first attested early 13c., "to please, delight;" sense of "to have a strong sexual desire (for or after)" is first attested 1520s in biblical use.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Thanks, Peter,

Yes, I think lust was a good translation at the time, meaning "desire." And Jim West has kindly confirmed by email that Zwingli wrote,

un zu deinem man deine gelust oder begird

All that I am trying to show is that Bushnell has missed some of the details here, and it could be cleared up.

Overall, I think Bushnell's work is very good, but this detail has always puzzled me.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Tyndale also used lust, and I have now seen from other writing of his that lust did not have a negative connnotation for Tyndale.

Martin Shields said...

It seems likely that "turning" derives from a misunderstanding of תשוקה or else either a misreading of it as תשובה (which is sometimes rendered in the LXX by αποστρπφη as תשוקה is in Gen 3:16; 4:7) or else the appearance of that term in its Vorlage. The Targum's use of תוב also points to the Hebrew root שוב.

So I think that these do not offer much assistance in understanding תשוקה in these passages.

Further, the appearance of the term in Song 7:11 is not particularly strong evidence that "desire" is appropriate since the Song elsewhere uses otherwise harsh language which is transformed in the context of a love song into a means by which the emotional depth of the message is expressed.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

I understand you to say that neither "turning" nor "desire" is the meaning? Is that right?

My main purpose in this post, is to ask if Pagnini and so on used a translation that was pejorative to women. I don't think they did. They thought that is what the word meant. Don't you think? Even if they were wrong.

Martin Shields said...

I don't think "turning" is right, but "desire" is such a vague word that it's hard to say it isn't right, although it is probably not sufficiently precise (I think sexual desire is probably not correct, it doesn't work in Gen 4:7, but you can desire all sorts of things!).

Given that the English "desire" in Gen 3:16 has prompted such a diverse array of interpretations (psycho-sexual desire, desire for intimacy, desire to dominate, craving, and so forth), I suspect it is difficult to be too dogmatic about how earlier translators understood the language without more information that I have at hand. So while I don't think desiderium necessarily implies "lust" or something like that, and I wouldn't read it that way, I can't rule out that sort of understanding for Pagnini. I'd need to know more about what he said about Gen 3:16 to get a better idea of precisely what nuances he attached to the term!