This blogpost is about biblical verses and uncovering the magic and spirit behind its words. Why, you might ask, is this a project that belongs on a blog dedicated to feminism?
I believe it does because it helps us to strip away the many layers of patriarchy with its attempts to hide and/or change original teachings. Remember; these stories were originally oral wisdom teachings of the “folk.” They weren’t written down until the Babylonian exile, hundreds if not thousands of years removed from their origins. And who was doing the writing? Priests, scribes, and prophets, all with their own agenda. Even the earliest writings we have, the Dead Sea Scrolls, were still written in patriarchal times.
And then there is the issue of translation. Many translations are based on work that had already been translated into Greek before finding its way into the English language adding another layer of patriarchal meaning. The King James Bible from 1611 is arguably the most influential to our understanding of the verses. It was based on other bibles that had been translated from Greek (another layer to penetrate) and earlier translations that were all male-centric. The King James Bible took 47 men (yes, men) 7 years to complete their work. As far as I know, they didn’t even consult any Jewish sources for interpretation.
There was a clear agenda to their work – political power. King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England in 1603 in the midst of deep division between Catholics and Protestants. In fact, his mother, Mary, Queen of Scots, had been executed by his predecessor, Queen Elizabeth I irritating the religious conflicts all the more. Further tension was increased by the then-popular Geneva Bible which had problematic passages regarding the powers of bishops versus kings. The solution was this new and expansive translation project with an eye to legitimizing King James’s powers.
For many years I have played with translating Biblical verses by working to understand original meanings. One great resource for this is the scholarly work of Jeff Benner and his Ancient Hebrew Research Center. He does a masterful job of working to understand Ancient Hebrew in its oldest forms. The written language was made of pictographs creating rebuses or picture puzzles. The rebus format gives clues for differing layers of meaning. For example, the word most often translated as God in the Bible is El or Elohim – made up of two root letters; lam or lamed (L) and aleph (A).
Ancient lam was the image of a shepherd’s staff indicating a guide or leader (as the shepherd would lead the sheep) and the aleph was a bull’s head. The two letters together are a remnant of the Canaanite Bull God – EL. I would argue that it is also reminiscent of Great Cow Goddesses found in Egypt. Their names are familiar – Isis, Hathor and Sekhmet among others and they, too, would be represented by bovine horns. Elohim and its shorthand El are plural and non-gender based, so we can obviously throw out “he” as a pronoun for “god.” Benner translates El as “Powers” reflecting the power of a bull. I have started translating it as “All-Potential Powers” in recognition of the life that is formed when the male bull and the female cow come together.
Lately I find myself doing a different sort of translation. I am not sure what to call it. Biblical spirituality? Biblical interpretation? For now, I’m settling on “poetry based on biblical verses.”
Here are the first 4 verses of Genesis in 3 different interpretations. The first is the King James Version (KJV) for its familiar reference, the second is Benner’s Revised Mechanical translation[i] (Benner) which I believe uncovers beautiful and original meanings and the third is my own biblical poetry (Mystic Pagan Version or MPV).
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
The earth was without form, and void;
and darkness was on the face of the deep.
And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
In the summit “Elohiym [Powers]”
Fattened the sky and the land,
and the land had existed in confusion
and was unfilled and darkness was
upon the face of the deep sea
and the wind of “Elohiym [Powers]”
was much fluttering upon the face of the water.
At the headwaters of creation, All-Potential Powers
Birthed fire/water and earth
All was unformed chaos, deep water earth cauldron
All-Potential Powers, Deep.Sea[ii] created much fluttering[iii]
Drawing forth breath
God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light
And he will say Elohim [Powers] he will exist
Light and he will exist Light.
All-Potential Powers danced waves of vibrations
BEING LIGHT and being light
[i] Benner does fascinating work analyzing the ancient words and using a literal translation of each word. He calls this is Mechanical translation. The Revised Mechanical translation makes the verses more English-friendly. Both can be found on his website (link above).
[ii] Benner uses the form of a period within a word to denote two words which form one concept. I think it works very well and I use it here.
[iii] I love this concept of “much fluttering.” It reminds me of the story where Isis finds Osiris in the wood column of the king’s palace and she flaps her wings like a bellows in order to bring him back to life.
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