Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Shallum's Daughters and the NET Bible

I am alive and kicking, and feeling very well, as it happens. All fall I moved around the house with a ladder and bucket of paint daubing away at the trim, and now I am putting in a path of paving stones in the back. But I do appreciate those who have emailed to ask if I am okay. I'm okay.

I had a good conversation with the Home Depot salesman today, suggesting that Home Depot should develop a women's line of packaging for such things as base rock. How many women can throw 55 pounds over their shoulders on a whim? In the interests of women's equality, as more women desire to do their own stonework, there really ought to be an effort to develop products for this market - you think?

Fortunately, the Home Depot salesman seemed to find me rather cute and not at all a virulent feminist. That is just a rumour that someone started about me in the interests of perpetuating the myth that women who don't bow and scrape to patriarchy are ugly. Ha ha. Anyway, the pathway is coming along very nicely, but I am a wee bit too tired to to work up an intellectual rant against the usual suspects. Or so I thought.

It turns out, however, that I don't have far to look to unearth more exegetical perfidy. Some exegetes really can be pathetically and contradictorily against women at all costs. Check this out.

The daughters of Shallum are recorded as helping to repair the walls of Jerusalem in Nehemiah 3:12. There is nothing at all ambiguous about the Hebrew text.

    And next unto him repaired Shallum the son of Hallohesh, the ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, he and his daughters.

    וְעַל-יָדוֹ הֶחֱזִיק, שַׁלּוּם בֶּן-הַלּוֹחֵשׁ, שַׂר, חֲצִי פֶּלֶךְ יְרוּשָׁלִָם; הוּא, וּבְנוֹתָיו
So how is that commentators can claim both that it is very unlikely that women would be doing this work, and therefore we may wonder if this is what the verse meant, AND, that it is so likely that women did this kind of work that it would not even be mentioned?
"Daughter" is a regular term for the hamlets which grow up about the city and which are dependent upon it, 11:24-31. Ryle prefers a literal interpretation that Shallum's daughters aided him in the work. But as women in the East were quite sure to have a large share in such a work as this, their special mention here is unnecessary. (cited in the Women's Bible Commentary, page 128)
This first commentator seems to find it so natural that women should labour that there is no need to mention it. But here is a contrary opinion.
The reference to daughters, while not impossible, is odd in light of the cultural improbability that young women would participate in the strenuous labor of rebuilding city walls. All other such references in the Book of Nehemiah presuppose male laborers. Not surprisingly, some scholars suspect a textual problem. One medieval Hebrew MS and the Syriac Peshitta read וּבָנָיו (uvanayv, “and his sons”) rather than the MT reading וּבְנוֹתָיו (uvÿnotayv, “and his daughters”). Some scholars emend the MT to וּבֹנָיו (uvonayv, “and his builders”). On the other hand, the MT is clearly the more difficult reading, and so it is preferred. NET Bible
Not only is there evidence that some manuscripts were changed to delete these women, but the NET Bible commentator appears reluctant to acknowledge that women would participate in the "strenuous labour of rebuilding the city walls."

I hardly know what to say. Exegesis has not improved since I last checked. Here are two men trained in the interpretation of ancient documents who present completely opposing points of view, all in the interests of explaining away a mention of women in the text. It is no wonder women don't want to blog in the bibliosphere where the NET Bible is still so admired by men.

I will hang out in hardware stores with men who find a woman who enjoys a little strenuous labour (of the productive but not reproductive nature) to be a pleasant diversion and not a sinful creature who is rebelling against God and the cultural norms of Bible commentators. Good grief!

Read an inspirational post about the daughters of Shallum here.


G said...

Seems like people see what they want to see. Men enjoy their dominant position and reject any contrary evidence. Perhaps if women were physically more powerful than men, history might show the opposite to be true, but why can't we just be a bit more spiritual and rise above the flesh.

Jane said...

Dear Suzanne
Today is Pentecost Monday and a public holiday in both France and Switzerland. I am enjoying getting back into raeding my favourite blogs and was delighted to see that you are back to writing and on such good form. Thank you for your thinking and writing, for your feisty spirit and intellectual honesty. Keep up the good work. Sometiem soon I may even have time to engage with the debates.
What I really appreciate about what you write is how detailed and well researched you are. You make the case implacably but with spirit and show very clearly how many of the interpretations of our sacred texts harm (female) human beings today. Thank you for doing what you do and for daring to enter into the male domain of bibliobloggers - although I'm a spirited woman myself I know I don't have the energy, spirit and certainly not the erudition to do this myself, but I am deeply grateful for you and others like you.
All power to your keyboard!

Tonia Hobbs said...

Enjoyed this post today!

DebDessaso said...

I just came across this today, and the only comment I can make is that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Too many Christian men just find it impos- sible to be like Jesus when it comes to acknowledging what the Holy Spirit took the time to include in the Word of God!

Keep up the good exegetical work, Suzanne!