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Sunday, April 27, 2008

The most sexist verse in the Old Testament?

Here it is, after two verses to give it a little context:

Judges 5:28 “Out of the window she peered,
the mother of Sisera wailed through the lattice:
‘Why is his chariot so long in coming?
Why tarry the hoofbeats of his chariots?’
29 Her wisest princesses answer,
indeed, she answers herself,
30 ‘Have they not found and divided the spoil?—
A womb or two for every man;
spoil of dyed materials for Sisera,
spoil of dyed materials embroidered,
two pieces of dyed work embroidered for the neck as spoil?’ (ESV)

A womb or two for every man? Huh? So I checked the NIV, and the KJV. They don't use "womb." But a check of the original language, courtesy of the Blueletter Bible, indicates that there is a valid reason for the ESV translation.

So, this verse, part of a song celebrating God's help in delivering Israel, speaks of captive women as if they were wombs, not people. Wow!

I must remember the context. Judges 5 is a song of praise to God, attributed to Deborah and Barak, after they jointly led an attack against the army of Jabin of Hazor, which was led by Sisera. Part of what they are celebrating is the killing of Sisera by Jael, wife of one of the descendants of the father-in-law of Moses. So this is hardly the statement of an Old Testament male chauvinist -- it's being said by a woman, who led Israel (Judges 4:4), even in battle, and it includes celebration of a valiant act of war by a woman. It's possible that what Deborah and Barak were saying was that one of the reasons that Jabin's army was evil was the way they treated captive women. I don't know. I'm not sure that the Israelites didn't also treat them that way.

It is also doubtful that Deborah and Barak had any personal knowledge of what Sisera's mother, or her princesses, may have said. They may have made all that part up. However, these verses are part of the Bible, so must have some validity.

I noticed this passage as a consequence of following the ESV on-line Bible reading for a day in April.

Thanks for reading.


Julana said...

I read Phyllis Tickle somewhere saying she was looking forward to a Bible story book that put in all those juicy tales that always get left out. But no publisher will take it on, so far.

Martin LaBar said...

May 3, 2008: Maybe she should self-publish!