Re: Division and Illusion (was Re: Qv2)
- From: "S McFarlane" <nothanks@xxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Thu, 13 Apr 2006 22:28:42 -0500
"Diane" <dmb55uk@xxxxxxxxxxx> wrote in message
This seems to be a little less than clear cut. It looks to me like the
Hebrew usage is very similiar to English usage, in that the word 'man' is
often used to indicate the species as a whole (not to mention the word
'mankind', which is almost exclusively used in this sense), but
has very obvious gender-specific connotations. Perhaps this is
of a male-dominated society, as certainly the English-speaking world was
during the period in which the language was forming.
No - your argument would only hold if we were talking about the hebrew
"ish" which means a specifically male human being. If 'ish were used as a
generic to mean any human then it would be equivalent to the way "man" has
been used in English.
'adam is a generic word for human beings, sometimes it is used of groups
women, sometimes of groups of men, sometimes of individuals. But it means
human being. English does have words for "human" as distinct from
and those should be used.
English translations have confused the meaning of the original text by
the same word to translate 'adam and 'ish. They should not both be
translated by the same word in any language, they are different words in
hebrew with different meanings, they should be translated as different
in whatever language they are being translated into. Not to do this is to
distort the meaning of the text into the meaning implied by the use of the
I don't think the male-bias is as strong in Hebrew as in the case of English
or German (keeping in mind that I don't know ancient Hebrew and can only go
by very secondary sources), but it nevertheless seems to be present. This
should really be no surprise, since ancient Jewish society was decidedly
'adam' does seem to have a strong masculine connotation to it. If for no
other reason than that the same word happens to be the name of the first
'iysh', as distinct from the first 'ishshah', whose proper name also gives
us clues as to how the ancient Jews regarded gender roles. There are many
instances in Genesis 2 where the meaning is obviously 'man', but the Hebrew
word used is 'adam'. Gen 2:7-8 is somewhat ambiguous (though I believe it's
sufficiently clear that 'adam' = 'man' here). However, beginning with Gen
2:15 up to the first occurence of 'iysh' in 2:23, 'ha-adam' refers to one
_man_, not simply one person. If there were any doubts about 2:15 - 22's
use of 'adam' as 'man', then Gen 2:25 is beyond such doubts. Here, my
English translation has the phrase 'the man and his wife..." This is a
rendering of the words 'ha-adam' and 'ishshah', both of which occur in 2:25.
I don't think the use of 'adam' in the context of the Genesis story is much
less ambiguous than English usage of 'man' when 'humankind' is what's meant
(and therefore, the English translations are not so much more ambiguous than
the original Hebrew.) On the other hand, I don't believe that a native
English speaker is confused by this usage any more than a Hebrew speaker had
difficulty sorting out the various uses of 'adam'. It is clear that the
Hebrew writers meant 'humankind' in many instances in both versions of the
creation story. It seems equally clear that many Hebrew speakers would not
find it to be purely coincidental and without meaning that this same word
happens to represent the first 'iysh'.
It's also interesting that the word 'iysh' is not exclusively used to
connotate a masculine person. It apparently also has somewhat rare uses
when it is not gender-specific (though the undercurrent of gender is clear.)
(e.g. Ex 21:12 [iysh] cf. Gen 9:6 [adam])
While every translation is an interpretation, because there are usually
decisions to be made about what exactly is implied, this is a pretty
cut case of a different word being used in hebrew ('adam) for generic
beings from the very specific word used for males.('ish).
But translation is very tricky work, especially when it is literature that
is being translated. Fine, if we're translating a technical document we can
focus exclusively on semantics. But in something like the Hebrew bible this
is not enough. There are many nuances in play in any work of literature
that give it much of their flavor, and incorporating these nuances into a
new language while accurately conveying the semantic content is always very
difficult, if not impossible.
IMO, the use of 'man' for 'adam' - referring to 'humankind' - is not
obviously a bad choice in translating Genesis 1-3. To say so completely
ignores the likelihood that 'adam' did have masculine connotations in the
minds of the native audience, something that doesn't seem obviously false on
the surface of it. My very limited knowledge of Hebrew doesn't allow me to
take a firm stand on this. However, if there was such a connotation, then
using a more generic term (i.e. humankind, people, etc) would be a worse
translation, IMO, because it would completely obliverate this subtlety in
the original language. Some would argue that it is a subtlety that should
be obliverated. But that would be saying that a translator should also make
value judgements instead of simply rendering the text as faithfully as
possible, something I strongly disagree with.
You will find that modern translations try to be faithful to the original
hebrew text by not using the word "man" for 'adam. - almost all of them
a generic such as "humankind" when translating 'adam in genesis 1 -
although most of them cop out when it comes to genesis 2 and revert to
for the same word, while noting that the word in 2:7 is a play on adam
'adamah - they still say "man from the ground" not "earthling from the
earth" or "human from the humus". They do this to reconcile it with
where the word suddenly changes from 'adam in v 22 to 'ish in v23.
I suppose it depends on what you mean by modern. The NASB (1995 edition) I
use does not use any of these generic terms in rendering 'adam' in Gen 1-3.
In all cases, it uses either 'man' or 'Adam' as a proper noun. Looking at
Gen 1:26 (possibly the most clear-cut case for 'adam' as mankind), there are
many recent translations that also retain the traditional rendering.
Personally I don't think trying to iron out contradictions in this way is
either faithful to the original text or fair to readers who only have
to the translation. What they have access to is what a translator
the text SHOULD have said, not what it does.
I don't personally see this as an attempt by translators to alter the
original message. In most cases, it is sufficiently clear to the reader
when the English is using 'man' to refer to 'mankind'. There are people who
object to such gender-bias in the English language in general, but that does
not alter the fact that most native speakers of English are capable of
understanding when 'man' means 'male person' and when it means 'humankind'.
In other words, the offensive gender-bias in the translation does not imply
that the translators have done a bad job of conveying the semantical content
of the original. It only means that they have done so in a way that will
offend some readers. If, in fact, the original text also contains
gender-bias, then it would be the translator who opts for more neutral
language who has wrote what they thought _should_ be written as opposed to
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