Born of a woman (as an idiomatic expression).

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Ben C. Smith
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Born of a woman (as an idiomatic expression).

Post by Ben C. Smith » Tue Oct 03, 2017 7:13 am

Subject: Rules of Historical Reasoning
neilgodfrey wrote:
Mon Oct 02, 2017 2:02 pm
In addition to navigating the Perseus lexicon interface I am primarily interested in identifying evidence for "born of a woman" as an idiomatic expression . . . . (I looking for more than "not the blood of a woman" or "of a queenly woman", etc)
This seems to be a hot topic right now on the forum.

I wish to say at the outset that I am using a definition of the word "idiom" similar to what is found in the American Heritage Dictionary: "a traditional way of saying something." This dictionary goes on to say that "often" an idiom will "not seem to make sense if taken literally." Often, but not always. I mention this because online one can find definitions of "idiom" which insist that the phrase must be figurative; then these same sites will turn around and list as idioms phrases such as "a man of few words" (which is so literal that a female will call herself "a woman of few words" instead) or "alive and well" ("alive" literally means alive here, and "well" literally means well).

"Born of a woman" obviously has a very literal element to it insofar as all humans literally have mothers who literally gave birth to them. However, it is anything but the most direct way to say "human being" (or "mortal"), since where the idiom is used most purely as an idiom the mother has nothing to do with the situation in context.

That said, here are a few instances of "born of a woman" used idiomatically. Since the sticking point for some people seems to be the exact word used in Greek to render what must have originated as a Hebrew turn of phrase, I will include the relevant term in the original language(s).

Job 11.2c (LXX only): Is the short-lived offspring [γεννητός] of woman blessed?

Job 14.1: For a mortal [אדם, βροτός] born [ילוד, γεννητός] of woman is short-lived, and full of wrath.

Job 15.14: What is a mortal [אנוש, βροτός] that he should be blameless, or one born [ילוד, γεννητός] of woman that he would be just?

Job 25.4: How then is a mortal [אנוש, βροτός] just before God? Or what offspring [ילוד, γεννητός] of woman can cleanse himself?

Sirach 10.18: Arrogance was not created for men [ἀνθρώποις], nor wrathful rage for the brood [γέννημα] of women.

1QS 11.21a: As what shall one born [ילוד] of woman be considered in your presence?

1QHa 5.20b: What is one born [ילוד] of woman among all your fearful works?

Matthew 11.11: Amen, I say to you, there is not greater than John the baptist among those born [γεννητοῖς] of women, but the lesser in the kingdom of the heavens is greater than him.

Luke 7.28: I say to you, no one is greater than John among those born [γεννητοῖς] of women, but the lesser in the kingdom of God is greater than him.

Thomas 15: Jesus said: When you see one who was not born of woman, prostrate yourselves onto your faces and worship him; that one is your father.

Josephus, Wars 4.8.3 §460: The report is that this fountain at the beginning caused the blasting not only of the earth and the trees but also of the offspring [γονάς] of women....

Origen, Against Celsus 1.70: But it clearly appears that after his resurrection he ate fish; for according to us he took on a body, as one born [γενόμενος] from a woman.

Pseudo-Clementine Homily 3.52: Since, then, while the heaven and the earth still stand, sacrifices have passed away, and kingdoms, and prophecies among those who are born [γεννητοῖς] of woman, and such like, as not being ordinances of God, hence therefore He says, "Every plant which the heavenly Father has not planted shall be rooted up."

As might be expected, the Hebrew word used is completely consistent; it is always yalad. Also, the Hebrew parallelismus membrorum sets "one born of a woman" in parallel with "mortal" or "human" (both אדם and אנוש are used here). Translating the concept into Greek, however, produced several possibilities. Job (LXX), Matthew, Luke, and the Clementine Homilies all use γεννητός (the adjectival form of γεννάω); Sirach uses γέννημα (a noun related to γεννάω); Josephus uses γονή (a noun derived from γίγνομαι); and Origen uses γενόμενος (the participle of γίγνομαι, quite possibly under the influence of Galatians 4.4 itself, though the context does not demand this).

So some form of γεννάω is used most often, but some form of γίγνομαι may also be used sometimes. This lines up with the usage of γεννάω and γίγνομαι to indicate birth overall, outside of any idiom; the former is more common, but the latter is also used. Both are used to translate the Hebrew word ילד (yalad) in the LXX. Genesis 4.18 is an interesting case, because it has four instances of the Hebrew ילד, one of which is translated by the Greek γίγνομαι, the other three of which are translated by the Greek γεννάω, all in the same sentence (at least in the critical editions; I have mentioned before that the LXX manuscripts often differ within the same verse on which Greek word is used to translate yalad). There are other instances (Genesis 17.17; 21.3; 36.5) in which the sentence has two instances of the Hebrew ילד, one of which is rendered by γίγνομαι, the other of which is rendered by τίκτω ("to have a child").

I hope this is something close to what you were seeking.

Ben.
Last edited by Ben C. Smith on Sat Oct 07, 2017 7:56 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Born of a woman (as an idiomatic expression).

Post by neilgodfrey » Tue Oct 03, 2017 5:34 pm

I don't see how the biblical tradition contradicts or adds to what I have already suggested about that usage, sorry. :-(
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Re: Born of a woman (as an idiomatic expression).

Post by Ben C. Smith » Tue Oct 03, 2017 5:38 pm

neilgodfrey wrote:
Tue Oct 03, 2017 5:34 pm
I don't see how the biblical tradition contradicts or adds to what I have already suggested about that usage, sorry. :-(
What was your suggestion again? Just a link would suffice.

(My original comment on this topic was not in response to you, so I am not sure exactly what your position is.)
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Paul E.
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Re: Born of a woman (as an idiomatic expression).

Post by Paul E. » Wed Oct 04, 2017 5:28 am

Ben:

Interesting post, thanks. I once heard an apologist argue that the idiom is purely Hebrew, and since Paul used the phrase in Greek in an original composition, Paul was not "translating" the idiom or expressing the concept in Greek. Therefore the word usage was significant because Paul was not using an idiom but was trying to prove a virgin birth. In response to a comment pointing out that secular scholars have concluded that, linguistically, it is an idiomatic usage, the apologist countered that such scholars have built-in background assumptions that rule out miracles and that they would risk their jobs if they would even consider the possibility of a virgin birth. Thus, I'm not sure if there was really anything else to the argument than that. Not sure if this is relevant and I don't mean to side-track the thread, but I just thought it was interesting.

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Re: Born of a woman (as an idiomatic expression).

Post by Secret Alias » Wed Oct 04, 2017 3:08 pm

ילוד is also the likely first part of the gnostic 'Ialdabaoth' creature. Odd that the Greek translates this 'born' when 'child' is more appropriate. In a rush.
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Re: Born of a woman (as an idiomatic expression).

Post by Ben C. Smith » Wed Oct 04, 2017 5:57 pm

Paul E. wrote:
Wed Oct 04, 2017 5:28 am
Interesting post, thanks. I once heard an apologist argue that the idiom is purely Hebrew, and since Paul used the phrase in Greek in an original composition, Paul was not "translating" the idiom or expressing the concept in Greek. Therefore the word usage was significant because Paul was not using an idiom but was trying to prove a virgin birth. In response to a comment pointing out that secular scholars have concluded that, linguistically, it is an idiomatic usage, the apologist countered that such scholars have built-in background assumptions that rule out miracles and that they would risk their jobs if they would even consider the possibility of a virgin birth. Thus, I'm not sure if there was really anything else to the argument than that. Not sure if this is relevant and I don't mean to side-track the thread, but I just thought it was interesting.
That is why I seldom engage with people who hold such strong ideological presuppositions.

The idiomatic nature of the expression strikes against both extremes: (A) the desire to see something special in the fact that the woman/mother is mentioned but not the father and (B) the desire to make this verse mean something other than that the author (or redactor) was calling Jesus a human being who was born in the usual human manner. This is why a mythicist like G. A. Wells has no difficulty at all with Galatians 4.4 as it stands, whereas a mythicist like Earl Doherty (whom I debated at length on this very point many moons ago) has to strain credulity beyond the breaking point in order to explain away the implications. (To his credit, Doherty seemed to me to be leaning toward the phrase being an interpolation toward the end of our debate, and I think he has always kept that option open even while defending his own idiosyncratic interpretation of the phrase.)
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Re: Born of a woman (as an idiomatic expression).

Post by Nathan » Wed Oct 04, 2017 7:05 pm

Secret Alias wrote:
Wed Oct 04, 2017 3:08 pm
ילוד is also the likely first part of the gnostic 'Ialdabaoth' creature. Odd that the Greek translates this 'born' when 'child' is more appropriate. In a rush.
The Greek translation is not a problem.

yelud is a passive participle from the verb yalad, meaning "to bear, bring forth, beget," hence the translation "born" or "one born" for yelud.

The construct yelud ishah thus means "(one) born of (a) woman."

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Re: Born of a woman (as an idiomatic expression).

Post by davidbrainerd » Fri Oct 06, 2017 1:40 pm

backwards. born (with no modifer, like from a rock) is an idiomatic expression for born of a woman.

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Re: Born of a woman (as an idiomatic expression).

Post by Paul E. » Sat Oct 07, 2017 6:25 pm

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Wed Oct 04, 2017 5:57 pm
Paul E. wrote:
Wed Oct 04, 2017 5:28 am
Interesting post, thanks. I once heard an apologist argue that the idiom is purely Hebrew, and since Paul used the phrase in Greek in an original composition, Paul was not "translating" the idiom or expressing the concept in Greek. Therefore the word usage was significant because Paul was not using an idiom but was trying to prove a virgin birth. In response to a comment pointing out that secular scholars have concluded that, linguistically, it is an idiomatic usage, the apologist countered that such scholars have built-in background assumptions that rule out miracles and that they would risk their jobs if they would even consider the possibility of a virgin birth. Thus, I'm not sure if there was really anything else to the argument than that. Not sure if this is relevant and I don't mean to side-track the thread, but I just thought it was interesting.
That is why I seldom engage with people who hold such strong ideological presuppositions.

The idiomatic nature of the expression strikes against both extremes: (A) the desire to see something special in the fact that the woman/mother is mentioned but not the father and (B) the desire to make this verse mean something other than that the author (or redactor) was calling Jesus a human being who was born in the usual human manner. This is why a mythicist like G. A. Wells has no difficulty at all with Galatians 4.4 as it stands, whereas a mythicist like Earl Doherty (whom I debated at length on this very point many moons ago) has to strain credulity beyond the breaking point in order to explain away the implications. (To his credit, Doherty seemed to me to be leaning toward the phrase being an interpolation toward the end of our debate, and I think he has always kept that option open even while defending his own idiosyncratic interpretation of the phrase.)
Thanks for the response. For what it's worth and fromm what limited material I've seen, Doherty, to his credit, seems receptive to arguments that push back against his thesis.

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Re: Born of a woman (as an idiomatic expression).

Post by spin » Sat Oct 07, 2017 7:33 pm

Yo Ben C.! I don't think that "born of a woman" is idiomatic. I think it is a culturally laden phrase, somewhat like "born of immigrant parents" is in American dream narratives. Do we have the notion of "born of a woman" in the Judeo-Christian tradition where it does not refer to a Jewish mother? To read the phrase to mean anything non-literal seems to me to be eisegetical.
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