Mistranslations, missing vowels and the gender of God – Margaret Barker talk

Margaret Heath writes

Temple Theology and Care of creation was the promising title of a recent Modern Church talk in Bath by leading Methodist theologian Dr Margaret Barker, a Hebrew scholar who has developed an approach to Bible studies known as “Temple Theology”.

She is controversial but gave much food for thought. Her study of the Hebrew Scriptures led her to conclude that the most important Old Testament covenant was between God and humankind: that we should remain in a right relationship of loving kindness with our creator and if this broke down chaos followed. She did not believe a snake talked, but was most interested in what it said. There were TWO trees; one of wisdom, one false (Richard Chartres has written about how “they chose the wrong tree”). Wisdom made good use of knowledge, which was not in itself bad (music to the ears of the daughter and granddaughter of physicists).

The role of the High Priest was to ensure this right relationship was maintained. The sacrifice of a goat, one of a perfect pair of twins, chosen by lot and the sprinkling of blood played an important part. She cast new light on Jesus’ interpretation of his role and mission, and was most critical of the substitution theory of the atonement that Jesus had to die to appease God’s wrath.

Her comments on translations from Hebrew and the deliberate mistranslation were of great interest. Hebrew, as Friends may be aware, has no vowels and all the words are run together. Puns are frequent and some words cannot be translated into other tongues eg the all important “loving kindness”. Dominion and stewardship are not in the Hebrew. “Be fruitful and multiply” could better be put, “be glorious and be great” and “fill the earth and subdue it” “fill the earth with glory and bind it together”.

No vowels, and no direct English translation for the Hebrew word Chesed (image SteveChervitzTrutane; from Wikimedia)

Adam was not a MAN, but a person partly female. Throughout the Old Testament, Dr Barker confirmed the following day in a sermon, “wisdom” or “the Holy Spirit” attracts a female verb.

Margaret has written a lot should all this interest you; her web site is http://www.margaretbarker.com

West Country Modern Church’s next speaker is Canon Bob Reiss (Canon Emeritus of Westminster Abbey). He will speak about his latest book, Sceptical Christianity: Exploring Credible Belief, on Sat 12 May.

One comment

  1. This was fascinating to read. Margaret is one of the most powerful rethinkers of our relationship with a text – The Hebrew Bible/Old Testament – which we think we know but frankly has been barely scratched by the Church. I don’t always go all the way with what she says but certainly she asks us to look again at concepts which to be honest have often crippled Christians intellectually, emotionally and psychologically. The issue of the gender of God is a major one. Essentially the imagery of God as an old man is a fusion between the face of Zeus in the temple of Olympia and the image of the Roman Emperor seated on his throne. Hence we talk in the Creed about Christ being seated on the right hand of God which is where the heir apparent of the Roman Emperor sat. So little of our imagery of God is acually Biblical!

    Martin Palmer


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