Translations of the Bible (and Translators) are Important to Women by Jennifer Sharp

One of the most interesting topics is the theory that YHWH’s roots may be found in information about the ancient Goddess IO, and that YHWH is an inclusive name for an inclusive deity.

Some years ago I read the Bible and objected to passages about women. That was when works by Ruether, Stone, Daly, Schüssler Fiorenza, Eisler, etc. became available. I read all of the feminist writers I could find. Because of this reading, I looked up biblical passages in different Bibles.  I began to notice something rather curious. A passage in one Bible would say “she did it” – the same passage in another Bible would say, “he did it.” “This,” my current minister would say, “This is the word of God. You can believe in it.” “Believe in it”? Which biblical passage was I supposed to believe – the “she” or the “he”?

Being a questioning person, I got serious. I searched the University of Wisconsin bookstore shelves for required reading in Hebrew and Semitic studies, acquired references listed in bibliographies of those books, read about the development of the biblical text, purchased interlinear Bibles, Hebrew and Greek grammars, analytical lexicons, concordances, commentaries, and more English versions of the Bible and eventually took a class in Hebrew.

Also, I wanted to know more about the biblical text – when, where, and how it originated. I studied prior and contemporaneous ancient cultures – in other words, cultures all around the Mediterranean, from Sumeria to Egypt, to Crete, to Ugarit, to the Hittites and other ancient Anatolians, to the Greeks writers, etc. I read Archeology, mythology, and about Goddess worship….

All the while I was comparing one biblical text with another, the Hebrew with the English, the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah with the more recent Hebrew text, an interlinear Bible with the Hebrew text above and English below, the Greek text, etc. The results of these studies are two books, the most recent is an eBook, A GENDER NEUTRAL GOD/ESS: Be Inclusive but MAKE NO IMAGES was the Religious Change.

One of the most interesting topics in this eBook is the theory that YHWH’s roots may be found in information about the ancient Goddess IO, and that YHWH is an inclusive name for an inclusive deity.

The link between IO and YHWH is not an entirely new idea. J. Singer, in Androgyny: The Opposites Within, writes: “The Mother of All, the Supernal mother, the Creatrix appears in the very beginning in early matriarchal myths…. she is…Demeter; Ishtar and Astarte….and Isis. There is no end to her names or to the tales about her. In Sumer she appears as Iahu, the exalted dove.” M. Daly, in Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism  says:  “…. Her Sumerian name was Iahe meaning “exalted dove.” This title later passed on to Yahweh as creator.”

Schliemann, in 1881, in Ilios The City and Country of the Trojans, wrote:  “But the wandering of Io is nothing else than the symbol of the moon, which moves restlessly in its orbit. This is also shown by the very name of Io (′ω) which is derived from the root Ya….”

Research in my eBook, and a discussion of language usage and translation, along with the inclusion of a number of images of ancient artifacts, explain how these ideas relate to each other.

Hebrew was a very early language. Language had reached the point where one could express concepts in words rather than by tangible artifacts. The Hebrews were making a transition from people worshipping “graven images” to conceiving of Deity as an imageless She/He. Because Goddess worship was so prevalent in the ancient world, it was central to that struggle. Yet, instead of excluding the feminine, many early biblical writers attempted to express their idea of an INCLUSIVE Deity by using plurals, mother/ father language, poetic parallelism, masculine and feminine generic labels for Deity, metaphor, and simile in their writing (there are chapters about these topics in my eBook). Those literary attempts have been obscured by later translation decisions.

The struggle over this religious change is reflected in texts in the New Testament Greek. How many people know that there are texts criticizing men for not recognizing and honoring feminine importance?

And indeed likewise these delusional ones (m.)
defile flesh on the one hand,
despise feminine authority/lordship on the other,
and rail at feminine credits/honors/glories.
Jude 8 GNT.

Or

most of all the ones going after flesh
in lust of defilement
and despising feminine Authority (kuriotes)….
these men,
as animals without reason having been born.
2 Peter 2:10-12 GNT

I’ve kept at my research because I see what a profound influence religion has on women and gender issues. I have found that translation decisions, that obscure such passages as the two quoted above, have contributed to the diminishment of the role of women in early biblical texts. Thus, I heartily agree with this statement by McGregor Mathers (in The Kabbalah Unveiled):

 Man and Woman are from the creation co-equal and co-existent, perfectly equal one with the other. This fact the translators of the Bible have been at great pains to conceal by carefully suppressing every reference to the Feminine portion of the Deity, and by constantly translating feminine nouns by masculine. And this is the work of so-called religious men!

Jennifer Sharp (pen name: J. J. McKenzie) is an independent scholar. For many years she has been doing research, with a focus on feminine material, on the biblical text. The results of her research is in two books – the recently published eBook: A GENDER NEUTRAL GOD/ESS: Be Inclusive but MAKE NO IMAGES was the Religious Change and an earlier book: I Will Love Unloved: A Linguistic Analysis of Woman’s Biblical Importance. In both books Jennifer has attempted to write in a style accessible to an interested layperson and yet provide ample documentation of her finds.



Categories: Bible, God-talk, Goddess Movement, Scripture, Textual Interpretation

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

12 replies

  1. Interesting theories. I wonder though. Whatever the name Yahweh derived from, the word takes masculine verb and pronoun forms in the Hebrew Bible. Also in the period before the prophets, Yahweh was worshipped alongside Asherah a female deity understood as “His” consort. This implies that “He” was understood to be male. And why should there be no images of Goddess/God? I believe it is part of the “process” in Biblical religion of eradicating the Goddess. What is your sense about these quesitons?

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    • Hi Carol,
      Thanks for your comments about my eBook. In it I try to explain what was going on with language usage. And about Asherah and YHWH, see my discussion of the jar from Kuntillet Ajurud in the chapter YHWH and Io. The chapter “She is the Spirits and Wisdom….addresses some of your question about the treatment of the feminine element of the Deity.
      Jennifer Sharp

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  2. Right on, Jennifer!! Not an intellectual response, I know. It makes me sad to see my friends shock and confused looks when I use gender neutral language. The Inclusive Bible and a People’s Prayer can support a progressive community.

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  3. I don’t want a gender-neutral deity, nor do I want one without images. Our first Creatrix was our Mama, the Great Mother Goddess who is the mother of Yahweh and all the other gods and goddesses whose names we know (and whose images we have) and the grandmother of us all. Or maybe She’s our auntie and our nanny.

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    • Hi, Barbara,
      Thanks for your comment. I respect your position. However, my eBook is not about what “I” want. It is about what early Hebrew and Christian theologians were attempting. Strabo, a Greek who wrote between 64 B. C. E. and 21 C. E., stated: “Moses….went away from there” (Egypt) to “Judaea, since he was displeased with the state of affairs there, and was accompanied by many people who worshipped the Divine Being….Nay, people should leave off all image carving and worship God without an image.” Strabo used a NEUTER pronoun, not a masculine, when he wrote “the Divine Being.” See my eBook for the discussion of ancient androgyny and the large amount of inclusive/feminine material in the biblical text.
      Jennifer Sharp

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  4. I just recently threw a bible away that I had gone through (Old Testament) and made angry comments in the margins in relation to how women were treated (in my opinion like cattle). It’s interesting to read about someone like yourself digging deeper beyond the surface to see what the texts “really mean.” Good luck on your continued research.

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  5. Read my earlier book, “I Will Love Unloved” to see the large amount of feminine material in the Bible and how it has been changed and downplayed by translation decisions. (There is one used copy that is only $.01 on Amazon. All of the other copies are much too expensive!)
    Jennifer Sharp (pen name J. J. McKenzie)

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  6. I no longer believe that gender-neutral language in a patriarchal context makes any positive difference for women. There have been studies that show that if a gender-neutral noun is used in English, people assume that the person is male unless otherwise defined. For example, a journalistic sentence that reads: “There were 9 survivors, 3 of them female.” In this sentence, the survivors are assumed to be male unless otherwise designated. Or for example, “The chair (or chairperson) brought the meeting to order.” When we wrote or said chairman and chairwoman, we named women’s presence in such meetings, but now we have lost the linguistic naming of women in those settings.

    As a result, it seems to me that a) the transition from a gendered godhead, where there are both male and female god/desseses, to a non-gendered godhead within a patriarchal society like ancient Israel was probably a loss for women (i.e. the assumption is that the “God” is male, because the context is masculine, AND we lose the naming of a any female goddesses that existed); and b) that the prohibition against graven images also was a loss for the Goddess, because a statue would SHOW whether the deity was male or female, not leaving it up to the social context to make assumptions that the deity was male.

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    • Nancy:

      Re your statement that the prohibition against graven images helped to obfuscate the femaleness of the deity — what a fascinating idea! Thank you for sharing that; I had never thought of that before, but it sounds like a very effective strategy; it also answers some of my perplexity as to that particular intellectual leap.

      Jennifer:

      Thank you for doing this research. While I do not feel the modern “great” organized religions have anything to offer women anymore, I believe it is critically important that women regain and implement their understanding and knowledge of their previous cultural centrality. I think your work offers women that opportunity, and I hope it will cause more women to question and refuse their current culturally oppressed status.

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      • Thanks for your reply. The idea of prohibiting graven images to obfuscate femaleness is an interesting theory. However, two biblical passages prohibiting image making are found in Exodus 20:4 MT and Deut. 4:15-19 MT and both begin by prohibiting masculine images. This is a case where knowing the gender of Hebrew words is important – something that is lost in English translations. That in Exodus begins: “and not shall you make for yourself an image (m.) or any image (f.)”…. While that in Deut. Is: “Lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image (m.) the form of any figure (m.) the shape of a male or a female….” I wish that people would read my eBook to see all that I’ve written and the context of my findings. Religious or not, we women need to reclaim our portion of the Bible.

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  7. I meant to add that translations that obfuscate the presence of women in the Bible, of course, make all of this worse.

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    • Nancy, I simply believe that women need to realize how their biblical importance has been diminished by a process of their being translated out. And then realize, as witnessed today, that that supposedly unchanged “holy word of God,” document is being used against them.
      Here are three reasons I gave in my first book for continuing to work with biblical material:
      “4. Humankind is seeking the religious experience in unprecedented numbers. BIbles sell in the millions of copies every year, giving the document an immense influence.
      5. Today, as in the past, religion and the Bible play a major role in shaping the position of western woman – even if one is an atheist. As Fiorenza states, biblical religion is still influential today, so a cultural and social feminist transformation of society must take into account it’s impact. If one simply ignores the biblical tradition, one runs the risk of being subject to its tyranny without realizing it.
      6. More people believe in the Bible than any other document. If it is used for manipulation and dishonesty, this needs to be brought to light.”

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