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Gender Issues in Ancient and Reformation Translations of Genesis 1-4 (review)

From: Hebrew Studies
Volume 53, 2012
pp. 375-377 | 10.1353/hbr.2012.0021

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In this diachronic study, Kraus traces the history of translations of Genesis 1-4 by choosing five authoritative translations from the Hellenistic period to the Reformation. Selected are the Septuagint, the Vulgate, Luther's German Bible (1534), the English Authorized Version (1611), and the Dutch State Translation (1619). Kraus contends that these translations of Genesis 1-4 display a tendency to reframe the relationship between man and woman from one of desire to one of hierarchy. She concludes, with lucidity characteristic of her study, "that both Hebrew text and its translations are largely accountable for the development of comparatively 'innocent' androcentricity into justification for the subjugation of women" (p. 193).

Kraus commences her study with an exegesis of the Hebrew text as the Vorlage of all later translations of Genesis 1-4. Successfully conveyed in her interpretation is the ongoing nature of creation throughout the first four chapters of Genesis. Rather than analyze the text using source theory, Kraus concentrates on the semantic domains of words in the Hebrew text. In some cases, she includes comparative cultural practices that illustrate the force she wishes to attribute to a word. Thus, for example, she develops the image of God as potter and man as the "clay figurine Pinocchio-like coming to life" in 2:7 first by noting that the verb נפח is associated with furnaces and heat (p. 21). Then, she finds resonance between the creation of woman in 1:26-27 and in 2:18-25 and the clay effigies found at Sha'ar Hagolan, a Neolithic village on the Yarmuk River.

While interpreting Genesis 1-4 in the Septuagint, Kraus identifies an emphasis on the human rather than on the anthropomorphic activity of God. The deity breathes into not the nostrils but the face of his creation. More active participation in creation is suggested by the rendering of the Hebrew "deep sleep" as ἔκστασις, which could refer either to Ptolemaic Alexandrian surgical practice or to the magical activity of God. Kraus notes that the insertion of the emphatic δύο in 2:25 underscores the nakedness of both man and woman at this point in the narrative, an inclusive state of naturalness found not even in the all-male gymnasium. Yet, this nakedness seems to have very little to do with the gymnasium and its accompanying intellectual apparatus when the Hebrew pun ערום ("naked" in 2:25 and "clever" in 3:31) is lost like the other Hebrew puns and leaves no doubt that the creatures have found themselves exposed.

Jerome, by contrast, attempts to preserve the Hebrew play upon words, a decision especially important in his construction of the relationship between man and woman. Jerome chooses to preserve the etymology in Latin with the terms vir and virago. In so doing, Jerome not only dismisses mulier, but he also rejects virgo, which denotes a girl of marriageable age and probable virginal status. Kraus suggests that Jerome's translation may have been influenced by the use of virgo for pagan priestesses and by the associations of virago with a woman with the physically strong and warlike qualities of a man. Despite the heroic qualities with which Jerome endows women at creation, his translation of the fall situates woman under the control of the pater familias. Felicitously then, in 4:1, when the man knows his wife (uxor), she simply gives birth to a human (homo), not a man (vir) and certainly no Adam. There is a clear separation between God's act of creation and the human process of procreation.

In treating the translations from the Reformation, Kraus continues the concentration on women and marital status that she began in her discussion of the historical background of Jerome's activity as a translator. Luther emphasizes gender by having God create menlin and frewlin (literally "little man" and "little woman"). In his commentary, Luther sees this as diverging from a "Jewish tale" of which Plato presented his own version in the Symposium. On the one hand, this gendered emphasis reduces androcentrism and misogyny in that it constructs man as the sinful, desirous one and woman as the antidote to man's sickness. On the other hand, Luther nevertheless displays a thoroughly early Lutheran Reformation...

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