Pages 9-12: autumn 1992 A TYPICALLY INADEQUATE RESPONSE Farrell Till In the summer edition

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Pages 9-12: autumn 1992 A TYPICALLY INADEQUATE RESPONSE Farrell Till In the summer edition of TSR, Bill Lockwood attempted to resolve the problem of Sarah's alleged power to make "a deposit of semen," which is the literal meaning of the Greek expression katabole spermatos that Hebrews 11:11 clearly attributed to Sarah: "By faith even Sarah herself received power to conceive seed (katabole spermatos) when she was past age, since she counted him faithful who had promised." As I said in a front-page reference to Lockwood's response (Summer 1992), it was primarily an ad hominem attack on me that failed to rebut the major points in my article. I am writing this reply to his "rebuttal" only to underscore the inadequacy of his "solution" to the problem of Sarah's seminal emission. Mr. Lockwood tried to make an issue of van der Horst's scholastic reser- vation in his analysis of Leviticus 12:2. Because van der Horst used words such as seems, possibility, probable, and imply in his exegesis of the pas- sage, Lockwood tried to build this into a case of van der Horst's complete uncertainty about the meaning of the Hebrew original, "When a woman tazria [produces seed] and bears a male child...." In so doing, Mr. Lockwood con- veniently overlooked the fact that van der Horst clearly said in his exegesis of the passage, "The causative form, used in Leviticus 12:2, cannot mean anything else but 'make seed'" (emphasis added). That certainly doesn't sound like doubt. Mr. Lockwood's problem of course is that he is a Bible fundamentalist, who cannot relate to the scholar's reluctance to take dogmatic, this-is-what-it-means-and-couldn't-possibly-mean-anything-else positions that are so typical of fundamentalist mentality. So because van der Horst intro- duced his interpretation of Leviticus 12:2 in terms of what it seemed to mean or probably meant, Lockwood took this as a sign of scholastic pussyfooting. Nevertheless, van der Horst analyzed the original Hebrew text and concluded that it could not mean "anything else but 'make seed.'" In response to this, Lockwood said exactly nothing. Neither did he say anything about van der Horst's references to the Babylonian Talmud that unequivocally showed that leading rabbis of the time believed that women emitted semen during sexual intercourse and that Leviti- cus 12:2 was one of the proof texts that they cited in support of this belief. These were religious leaders who studied the Jewish scriptures in the original language, so common sense would indicate that they were eminently more qual- ified to pass judgment on what the original text meant than Mr. Lockwood or any of his fundamentalist colleagues will ever be. As the quotations cited plainly showed, Hebrew scholars of that time said that Leviticus 12:2 meant that women emitted semen during sexual intercourse; Mr. Lockwood denies that the text meant this. So whom shall we believe, the Jewish rabbis inter- preting their own scriptures written in their own language or Mr. Lockwood, who maybe took a year or two of Hebrew at a Bible college or school of preaching? This traditional Hebrew view of Leviticus 12:2 poses a rather embarrassing problem for Mr. Lockwood. Even if he could unequivocally prove that He- brews 11:11 didn't mean to imply that Sarah received power to make a "depos- it of semen" (katabole spermatos), he would then have to prove that Hebrew scholarship was in error about the meaning of Leviticus 12:2, for whether a scientific misconception about the female's role in human reproduction was stated in Hebrews 11:11 or whether it was stated in Leviticus 12:2 doesn't really matter. Either way, the Bible would have a scientific error in it, and the inerrancy doctrine leaves no room for errors of any kind. This is the predicament that Mr. Lockwood finds himself in. 1 In trying to show that katabole spermatos did not mean "a deposit of semen," Lockwood opened the door to a ton of trouble for his position. He said that the Greek literally meant "the laying down of seed" (p. 6) and then, astonishingly enough, went on in the same context to say that "this is an act of a male, not female, in the reproductive process." I couldn't have said it any better myself, so this admission of his underscores the problem that the passage poses for the inerrancy doctrine. The depositing of semen or the "laying down of seed" is "the act of a male, not female, in the repro- ductive process," but the writer of Hebrews said that Sarah had received the power to lay down seed or, in other words, to do the reproductive act of a male. Now perhaps Mr. Lockwood would like to explain to us why someone writing under the guidance and protection of an omniscient, omnipotent deity could have made such a mistake as this. Mr. Lockwood admitted that to translate katabole spermatos as a deposit of semen "remains an alternative" (p. 6), but he felt that a more accurate trans- lation would be "received power to establish a posterity." Exactly why he thinks this would be a more accurate translation was never explained except that he had found some lexicons and commentaries that had so rendered it. We must wonder, however, about the motives of the lexicographers. Did they translate the expression this way because linguistic accuracy demanded it, or did they so translate it to avoid an embarrassment to a presupposed notion that the Bible was verbally inspired by an omniscient, omnipotent deity? We certainly can't discount the latter. By Lockwood's own admission, katabole spermatos meant "the laying down of seed," so if that is what the expression meant in Greek, why would "received power to establish a posterity" be a more accurate translation? By coincidence, the Bible Review (June 1992, p. 7) printed a letter from a reader who pointed out that a little known version of the Bible translated by Julia Smith and published in 1876 had rendered Hebrews 11:11 like this: "By faith Sarah also herself received power for the laying down of seed, and brought forth during the time of age, for she deemed him faithful having promised." The letter writer noted that Smith had stated in the preface of this Bible that her purpose was "to define the Bible word for word" by providing "the literal meaning of the Bible text" in the original languages. Furthermore, Miss Smith had translated Leviticus 12:2 to read, "When a woman shall bear seed and bring forth a male." Here, then, is more scholar- ly evidence that the Bible, both old and new testaments, attributed to women a reproductive function that females simply do not have. To put the issue in perspective, let's suppose that we should discover a book in which it were said of a man that his faith in God had given him "power to ovulate." We would instantly know that whoever wrote this book was certainly not inspired by an omniscient, omnipotent deity, because the author had attributed a reproductive act of the female to a male. If this book had been written in another language, we could circumvent the problem by translating the expression so as to have it read "received power to estab- lish a posterity." In so doing, we would capture at least a general sense of the original and at the same time conveniently conceal a troublesome scientific error, but we certainly would not have conveyed the exact meaning of the original, because the poor deluded writer apparently had thought that males ovulate as females are known to do. Here then are the obstacles that Mr. Lockwood must surmount in order to give any kind of credibility to his "solution" to the problem of Sarah's power to have a katabole spermatos: (1) secular writers in biblical times clearly believed that women emitted semen during sexual intercourse, (2) prominent Hebrew rabbis shared this belief, (3) prominent Hebrew rabbis interpreted Leviticus 12:2 to mean that the female emitted semen, and (4) the writer of Hebrews said that Sarah's faith enabled her to have a katabole spermatos, an expression in Greek that meant "deposit of semen" or "laying down of seed." 2 All of these together make a compelling case for believing that the writer of Hebrews made a commonly believed error of his day in the way that he stated Sarah's reproductive role. On related matters, Mr. Lockwood said that he had pulled some ancient Near Eastern texts from his shelves and discovered that the Egyptians had probably learned monotheism from having witnessed the power of "the one true God of the Universe" during the exodus. Perhaps he should pull down some more texts and do additional reading. If he takes that advice, he will learn that the Egyptians had a long tradition in monotheism that antedated by many centuries the time that the Hebrews were allegedly enslaved in Egypt. Sir Wallis Budge, the late Keeper of the Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities at the British Museum, said this in his book Egyptian Religion (Seacaucus, NJ: University Books, 1959): A study of ancient Egyptian religious texts will convince the reader that the Egyptians believed in One God, who was self- existent, immortal, invisible, eternal, omniscient, almighty and inscrutable; the maker of the heavens, earth, and underworld; the creator of the sky and the sea, men and women, animals and birds, fish and creeping things, trees and plants, and the incor- poreal beings who were the messengers that fulfilled his wish and word (p. 17). So when did the Egyptians develop this monotheistic view? Was it after they had witnessed the power of Yahweh in the plagues that afflicted Egypt? Sir Wallis Budge said no, that "there is no evidence whatsoever to guide us in formulating the theory that it was brought into Egypt by immigrants from the East, as some have said.... All that is known is that it existed there at a period so remote that it is useless to attempt to measure by years the interval of time which has elapsed since it grew up and established itself in the minds of men..." (p. 18). He went on to quote Egyptian monotheistic precepts that "were composed as far back as B.C. 3,000" (p. 26). That would be 15 centuries before the time that Lockwood believes Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. On the basis of what this famous Egyptologist claimed about Egyptian religion, if Lockwood could even prove that the exodus from Egypt ever occurred, we would have every reason to assume that the Hebrews had learned monotheism from the Egyptians rather than vice versa. If, however, Lockwood should want to try his luck at proving that the Hebrews had in- stilled monotheism into Egyptian culture, he might while he is at it try to prove that the exodus even happened. Archaeology magazine (March/April 1992) reported that modern archaeologists reject the historicity of the Israelite exodus and conquest of Canaan as they were recorded in the Bible. This, then, is the legacy of Mr. Lockwood's fundamentalist view of the Bible. To maintain it, he must butt heads with practically every branch of biblical scholarship. That is a high price to pay for a religious belief. On the matter of scientific "foreknowledge" in the reference to the seed of woman in Genesis 3:15, Lockwood seemed to miss the point entirely. He referred to that "seed" as "the line of woman" (p. 7), which isn't at all the sense that inerrantists give to it when they claim that "Moses" demonstrated amazing scientific foreknowledge in the statement. They want us to believe that the Genesis writer understood by divine revelation that the female con- tributes a seed or germ in the act of reproduction and that this is a scientific truth that "modern science didn't know until fairly recent times" (Bill Jack- son, Jackson-Till Debate, p. 3). However, the many references that van der Horst cited from both secular and Talmudic writings indicate that this is speculative hogwash. That the female contributes a "seed" in the reproduc- tive process was widely known at the time; it just wasn't known what kind of seed she contributed. So even if inerrantists could unequivocally prove that 3 Genesis 3:15 was referring to seed in the sense of germ cells, there would be no reason to assume that this showed amazing scientific foreknowledge unless they could prove that "seed" referred to the exact kind of seed that the female ovulates rather than to the semen that the ancients thought women emitted during sexual intercourse. I doubt if Lockwood or any inerrantist could prove that. As for Lockwood's effort to prove that Genesis was written before the Egyptian hymn that referred to "the germ of woman," two counterpoints are in order. (1) Lockwood's dating of Genesis runs completely contrary to bibli- cal scholarship. Only hopelessly naive fundamentalists believe that Moses wrote this book or any of the other four in the Pentateuch. Traditionally, authorship of the Pentateuch has been credited to Moses, but critical analyses of the books have identified many problems (too numerous to detail at this time) that are incompatible with the tradition of a Mosaic authorship. Lock- wood wants us to believe that Moses wrote the book in the 15th Century B.C. Responsible scholarship, however, affixes a much later date to the final form of the book. (2) Even if Lockwood could prove that the reference to the "germ of woman" in the Egyptian hymn to the Sun-God was (contrary to all responsible scholarship) written after the book of Genesis, this would in no way prove that the idea of a "germ of woman" had come from the seed-of- woman statement in Genesis 3:15. Neither would it prove that the seed-of- woman statement was an unequivocable reference to the biological fact of ovulation as the female's role in reproduction. This, however, is the claim that is made in the scientific-foreknowledge argument based on Genesis 3:15, so this is what Lockwood would have to prove to salvage the argument. Needless to say, he didn't do that. Finally, Mr. Lockwood tried to convince us that there is no inconsistency between the Hebrew writer's statement that Sarah had "judged him faithful who had promised" that she would make a deposit of semen or conceive or whatever and the story in Genesis 18:9-15, which presented Sarah as a woman so skeptical that she could have a child at her age that she laughed when Yahweh made the promise. Why, there was no inconsistency, Lockwood assured us. Sarah just changed her mind; that's all. Well, I'd like to know just when this change of mind occurred. When the promise was first made, even Abraham "fell upon his face and laughed" (Gen. 17:17). "Shall a child be born unto him that is a hundred years old?" he wondered. "And shall Sarah that is ninety years old bear?" So the promise made to these near centenarians that they would have a son was viewed with a great deal of skepticism, not just by Sarah but Abraham too. So if Mr. Lockwood wants to see skepticism this profound as an indication of great faith, he may of course do so. His faith in Bible inerrancy requires him to believe things even sillier than this. What I want to know, however, is why the remarkable change of mind that Lockwood sees as a solution to this prob- lem was not recorded in the Bible. If the omniscient one saw fit to put Sarah's skepticism into his holy word, why didn't he tell us about her change of heart, especially if he was going to have one of his inspired writers make a big point about Sarah's exceptional faith? Maybe Mr. Lockwood has an answer to that question too. What always amuses me about off-the-wall solutions like this to textual inconsistencies in the Bible, when they come from Church-of-Christ sources, is that they run completely contrary to a cardinal principle that this church stands for. That principle is that one should speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent. From having read some of Mr. Lock- wood's writings, I suspect his fundamentalism would make him a subscriber to that principle. So is offering a completely theoretical explanation for which he has no biblical support whatsoever his idea of speaking where the Bible speaks? Apparently so, because he, like Mr. Miller, whose article I reviewed on pages 4-8, belongs to the any-interpretation-will-do school of hermeneu- tics. Lockwood really doesn't care how theoretical, speculative, or unlikely 4 his resolution to the problem of Sarah's apparent lack of faith is. It provides at least a semblance of "explanation," so as far as he is concerned, it will do. Bibliolaters who use this approach to defending Bible inerrancy have yet to learn a fundamental truth: the mere existence of a how-it-could-have-been is no proof that it actually happened that way. So as far as the Bible record is concerned, Hebrews 11:11 contradicts Genesis 18:9-15. The one says that Sarah counted God faithful when he promised that she would "conceive"; the other says that she found the promise downright laughable. Without a direct statement in the Bible that says Sarah "changed her mind," Mr. Lockwood has no solution to offer, only speculation. ******************************** FREE SUBSCRIPTION: A free one-year subscription to The Skeptical Review can be obtained by writing to P. O. Box 617, Canton, IL 61520-0617. 5


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