Bereshit – better late than never!

21 Oct

Finally, I’ve found the time!! (Well, I know we’re now one reading past Bereshit, but I’ll catch on that during the week, I hope).  Reminder: the parshah ‘Bereshit’runs from the start of the Bible to Gen. 6:8.

I had various thoughts on this parshah…so much of an obvious nature to comment on…but something in particular caught my eye and I just thought I’d say something about that.  I just hadn’t noticed the strong parallel between Gen. 3:16 and Gen 4:7 before.  In the former passage, God is giving his/His/Her  angry response to the Taking of the Fruit.  Having bawled out the serpent, he turns to Eve:

‘And to the woman He said,

“I will make most severe/Your pangs in childbearing;/In pain shall you bear children,/Yet your urge shall be for your husband,/And he shall rule over you.’

It’s the last couple of lines I’m interested in here.  ‘Ve el-ishekh t’shuqatekh/ve-hu yimshal bach’ (No, I have no consistent transliteration system, sorry.  I am using the latest JPS trans, by the way).
He uses the noun ‘Teshuqah’ for ‘urge/desire’ and the verb ‘mashal’ for ‘to rule’.
And now the 2nd passage. In 4:7, God addresses Cain who is upset that God thinks less of his offering than Abel’s, and says:

‘”Why are you distressed…?/..if you do right..There is uplift,/But if you do not do right/Sin couches at the door;/ Its urge is toward you,/Yet you can be its master.”‘

Again, I’m focussing on the last two short lines: again for ‘urge’ the Hebrew is, once again, ‘T’shuqato’ and what the JPS translates as ‘Yet you can be its master’ is “ve-atah timshal-bo’ so once again the verb ‘mashal’ is used for ‘rule’.

So…it’s as if Eve is placed in some parallel relationship to ‘sin’ itself; and maybe, if we read the two passages in direct parallel, we can read that God is saying that Eve needs to be kept under control, under governance, like the potential force for bad that she is, and Adam is therefore given that control…sin is not about to be eradicated, but can be kept under control, and so can Eve.  I had always read the first passage as ‘and now you are going to be stuck in this situation where you will be ineluctably drawn to your husband but that means being ruled by him, and that’s a price you have to pay…(and perhaps also, that because you are so drawn, you are going to have to suffer the miseries of childbirth that result from that attraction. And perhaps the use of ‘Yet’ in JPS to translate the ambiguous ‘ve’ in ‘Ve el-ishekh t’shuqatekh’ reflects that interpretation – despite knowing what misery childbirth is, YET you won’t be able to escape it because you will desire your husband etc )  But this other reading would mean something, shall we say, worse: ‘and here’s how I’m going to minimize the harm you can do…’

I don’t know if this is silly…anyway, I”m enjoying thinking about it.  Let me know any thoughts/ reactions.  I haven’t access just now to the JPS commentary, but I’m guessing it JPS didn’t make much of this similarity or they could have translated them to reflect it, e.g. using ‘rule over ‘twice and not ‘be ..master’ the 2nd time.

or thoughts about anything else in the parshah…


10 Responses to “Bereshit – better late than never!”

  1. Jill October 23, 2012 at 2:14 am #

    Thanks for this. Actually I’m relieved to learn it’s not a sexual urge. The author (J?) was clearly a misogynist. Even so political struggle from my perspective is much more palatable and less demeaning than uncontrollable bodily urges.

    • lillithblogs October 23, 2012 at 2:28 am #

      That’s interesting. I see what you mean. But actually, I don’t know that it rules out the nature of her urge as sexual, even if his power isn’t, or isn’t purely, sexual…or in what way are women supposed to be drawn to their husbands? And how is sin supposed to be drawn? it’s rather mysterious. It’s interesting that sin is said to be drawn to someone – we usually think of it as the other way around, but here I think I really do need to consult a commentary! Anyway, as you say, a text by a person without much respect for women…

      • Jill October 23, 2012 at 2:45 pm #

        very interesting! I wonder about the meaning of sin at the time, and what verbs were associated with it. Always curious. Very thought-provoking post about that parallel with Eve, though!

  2. lillithblogs October 23, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    Alan Cooper, King of Parshanut, wrote about the way that medieval Jews actually did have a concept of original sin like the Christians…in fact, I think he once emailed me that article! Have to dig it out…

    • Jill October 23, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

      Silly me, actually the real question about the word “urge” in the Bible, where else it is used, what it means, since you pointed to two interesting uses already!

  3. Reuben October 24, 2012 at 3:40 pm #

    V. interesting parallel! Surprising, maybe,that it comes out much more clearly in the KJV than in the Bible you quote:

    thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee (3:15)
    unto thee shall be his [sin’s] desire, and thou shalt rule over him. (4:7)

    The first English translator (Tyndale) seems not to have seen it, and in fact translates the second passage very differently. He has:

    thy lustes shall pertayne vnto thy husbond and he shall rule the.
    Notwithstondyng let it [thy synne] be subdued vnto the/ ãd see thou rule it.

    What do the Septuagint and the Vulgate have ..?

    (This adds nothing to the more interesting discussion, I know, but does show something about reception of the phrase!)

    • Jill October 26, 2012 at 3:41 pm #

      Reception is v interesting!

  4. lillithblogs October 26, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

    Certainly is. I did some work on this the other day and as soon as I get another chance, I’ll be writing something here…Jill, Nahum Sarna seems to incline to your view that Eve’s ‘urge’ is not going to be (or exclusively be) a sexual one…anyway, more later.

  5. Tamara October 29, 2012 at 4:30 pm #

    So I haven’t yet got to Tyndale. But I have comments to make on the Septuagint and the Vulgate: the former uses the same word in each verse for ‘Teshuqah’ – ‘apostrophe’; then for the verb ‘to rule’, for 3:16, it uses ‘Kurien’ and ‘archein’, when it cd have used the same for both…anyway, meanwhile the Vulgate has ‘sub viri potestate eris et ipse dominabitur tui’ for 3:16 but for 4:7 it has ‘sed sub te erit appetitus eius et tu dominaberis illius’…I’m being pulled off line, but just to say that this shows that the vulgate went out of its way to give a political, really non-sexual translation in 3:16, really a loose trans. too. Backing up Nahum Sarna and also Jill! Must go, more later (damn Sandy..)

  6. lillithblogs November 4, 2012 at 5:06 pm #

    oh, and just to add that Sarna adds that (I’m paraphrasing) it’s clear that the ideal state is equality between man and woman, and that part of the consequence of the disobedience in the garden is to bring about this dominance of woman by man. Interesting…anyway, just to add to the Jill political power point

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