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Friday, July 25, 2008  

An Accordance Case Study, Part 2

In yesterday's post, I recounted a study I did of the word meaning "desire" in Genesis 3:16. An internet discussion had prompted me to examine a popular interpretation first proposed by Susan Foh in 1975: namely, that the "desire" spoken of in this verse does not refer to sexual desire, but a desire for mastery or control.

I began my study by consulting a variety of lexicons and looking at every place I could find that this word is used, including extrabiblical texts like the Qumran sectarian manuscripts. Doing that gave me a good sense of this word's semantic range, but it did not really provide any certainty as to whether Foh's interpretation is correct. So I decided to look at a few commentaries.

The easiest way to do this was to go back to my window containing Genesis 3:16, and add a parallel commentary pane. Since it had been alleged that Foh's interpretation is suspect because of its novelty, I was curious to see how this verse had historically been understood. I therefore started with the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (ACCS), which includes comments by a variety of church fathers. Unfortunately, when I added the pane containing the ACCS, I discovered a mistake where a reference to Numbers 3:16 is mistakenly tagged as Genesis 3:16, and since the parallel panes always go to the last comment on a verse (since that is usually the most specific one), I found myself looking at the comments on Numbers rather than Genesis!

Embarrassing as this is, particularly since I'm the one who worked on the ACCS and so am responsible for the mistake, I mention it to help you learn how to get around such tagging errors. One option would be to open the ACCS in a separate Tool window and then browse or search for Genesis 3:16 in the Reference field. Another option, and the one I chose, is to keep working with the ACCS as a parallel pane, and to scroll the Bible text back until the ACCS pane jumped back to Genesis. Since the mistagged reference in Numbers was to Genesis 3:14-20, I only needed to scroll back to Genesis 3:13 to get the ACCS pane to sync back to Genesis. Then I just selected the ACCS pane and used the scroll bar to scroll down to the comments on Genesis 3:16. It's not the most elegant solution, and I'm sorry about the mistake, but I hope this negative example helps you to understand how to forge past our faux pas.

The comments in the ACCS were interesting. Most focused on the first half of Genesis 3:16, which deals with pain in childbirth, and did not seem to address the nature of the woman's desire. Those that did seemed to understand desire in a sexual sense. The ACCS was actually more helpful in elucidating other aspects of the creation story and the relationship between the sexes. The interesting thing is to see which interpretations of this passage are still being discussed today, and which rise out of perspectives and assumptions which are largely foreign to us.

Another commentary which was interesting from a history of interpretation perspective is the JPS Torah Commentary, which surveyed the perspectives of two Medieval rabbis before giving the modern commentator's perspective. The rabbis both seemed to view the desire in a sexual sense, while the modern commentator suggested that it was descriptive of economic dependence.

I then turned to Calvin, who understood the woman's desire as a kind of psychological orientation leading to her "subjection" to her husband. To use a modern psychological term, we might describe it as a form of "enablement." Calvin observed the parallel with Genesis 4:7 and emphasized a "battle of the sexes" dynamic in Genesis 3:16 (though he obviously didn't use that terminology).

When looking at Old Testament passages, I always consult Keil and Delitzsch. Although written in the nineteenth century, it is in depth and technical, and I usually come away feeling like I have a better grasp of the Hebrew in a passage. Keil and Delitzsch understood teshuqah as a "violent craving" and a "desire bordering on disease." Their conclusion was similar to Calvin's that this desire contributes to the woman's subjection by her husband.

At this point, I began turning to modern commentaries, such as Expositor's Bible Commentary and Word Biblical Commentary. EBC, which contains the main text of Expositor's Bible Commentary, offered a good summary of the passage, but the EBC Notes (which contains the text of the footnotes) offered an excellent technical discussion of the passage. Word also offered a good technical discussion. Both EBC and Word understood the woman's "desire" to be a "desire for control," and Word actually cited the article by Susan Foh which the internet discussion I had been following had mentioned. It turns out that the article was published in the Westminster Theological Journal, which is included in the Theological Journal Library. So I opened TJL-Westminster and browsed to the article cited.

The article in question actually surveyed historical understandings of "desire" in Genesis 3:16, including those of Calvin and Keil and Delitzsch which I had already read, and showed how they had not fully taken into account the parallel usage of teshuqah in Genesis 4:7. Foh's argument was actually more sophisticated than I had assumed. Rather than arguing that teshuqah always refers to a desire for control, Foh emphasized the fact that Genesis 3:16 and 4:7 both use the exact same sentence structure, and asserted that the two passages should therefore be understood in the same way. Whether Foh's argument is correct, it certainly struck me as sound; and it appears to have been highly influential—at least on modern conservative commentators.

Again, my point in recounting this study is not to focus on the theological discussion in question, but to offer a kind of case study for how Accordance can be used to examine various interpretive stances. First I did my own study of the word in question, examining lexicons and then exploring the usage of that word in whatever contexts I could find. Because teshuqah is a rare word, I ended up turning to extrabiblical texts, like Qumran, which most people don't have and which they probably don't need. For most words, a search for every occurrence in the Biblical text is more than sufficient to give a good handle of its usage in context. And if you don't have the Hebrew or Greek texts, you can right-click a word in a Strong's number text and Search For Key Number to look up every occurrence of the Greek or Hebrew word.

Once I had studied the word in question on my own, I began turning to commentaries. I don't always do the kind of historical survey I described in this post, but since it had been alleged that Foh's interpretation is excessively novel, I thought it appropriate in this case. There are certainly other commentaries I could have surveyed. For example, the NET Notes and IVP Bible Background Commentary on the Old Testament might also have been helpful, and of course there were numerous other classic commentaries I could have consulted.

When I got to the modern commentaries, I found a reference to Foh's article and realized that I had access to it from within Accordance, so I was able to examine it for myself.

All of this took maybe a half hour to forty-five minutes to do, and most of that time was spent reading Foh's article. Obviously, the more Accordance modules you have, the more likely you are to find helpful information, and I hope this case study has helped expose you to resources you may not have known were available. But the kinds of things I've done in this study are easily done with even a basic package of Accordance modules.

Take a look at IVP-Hard Sayings regarding Genesis 3:16!

That one is indeed interesting. In yesterday's post, I mentioned in passing that NIDOTTE cited a Septuagint reading which was apparently based on a different Hebrew word: teshubah (return) rather than teshuqah (desire). I also noticed in the Aramaic Targums the use of a word meaning return or turning, and in the ACCS Augustine also repeated that reading. I sort of tucked all this in the back of my mind as a textual issue I needed to explore further, and I didn't mention it in the post because it was already getting too long.

I'm surprised the author of that article in IVP-Hard Sayings alleged that the difference was a mistranslation rather than a textual variant, so now I really need to investigate the textual question further!

Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

Or go here, download the document, and read chapter 7!

Regarding the Qumran sectarian MSS, there's the distinct possibility that usage is influenced by their perceived understanding of the term's use in Genesis and Song of Songs, so it may not really tell us all that much after all.

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