The Bible is a sexist book, a panel of scholars agreed today, but a sizable portion of their audience was disappointed to hear that the forthcoming edition of the Revised Standard Version will contain no reference to God as Her.
William Holladay, one of the 24 scholars who are working on the new edition, said there would be no "Hers" or "Shes" because translators must be faithful to the gender of pronouns in the original Greek and Hebrew.
Speaking to an audience of men and women whose questions made clear their concern over sexism in the Bible, Phyllis Trible said that feminism had enabled people to scrutinize the male dominance of Scripture.
It would be "impossible and dishonest" to purge the Bible of all pro-male bias, she said, but one should "sweep diligently through Scripture to discover female imagery for God."
Trible and Holladay cited Deuteronomy 32:18 as an example of female imagery that had been distored by sexism in translations, not in the original.
"You were unmindful of the rock that begot you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth," reads the Revised Standard Version, but it adds a footnote that "begot" could be "bore."
In fact, the scholars said, the Hebrew original can only refer to the pains of labor and the only correct translation gives the verse a female image.
Sister Ann Patrick Ware told the Forum on Sexism in the Bible at the headquarters of the National Council of Churches that sexism in the Bible is not surprising, since the Bible is the Church's book and it is a manifestly sexist church.
The problem is much deeper than simply one of translation, she said, and she challenged the idea that fidelity to the original documents is paramount.
Speaking of the anti-semitic nature of passages in the narratives of the passion, she said: "If we have a 2,000-year-old history of fostering contempt for Jews, then it becomes horrendous to talk of fidelity to the text."
Trible argued that the Scripture is not wholly anti-female and that the female images of God that can be found make it a dynamic, changing text.
Ware countered that appeals to Scripture have been used to support anti-female attitudes and that the non-sexist parts of the Bible are not given similar prominance.
What is the task of Christians, Ware asked, in confronting this ideology of the church and its Bible?
It was a question that made the participants in the panel and their audience uncomfortable and that would most likely bring cries of dismay from more conservative quarters of the Christian churches.
Holladay, who, like Trible, teaches at the Andovr-Newton Theological School in Newton, Mass., said that all secondary sexism introduced by translators was being removed for the new edition of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible expected to be published in the mid-1980s. He opposed removing pronouns used for the Lord altogether because that results in excessive repetition of the word "God."
The Bible, Holladay and Schuyler Brown of the American Bible Society argued, must be read in its historical context, and when the Lord's Prayer begins "Our Father . . ." that is representative of Jesus mentality and that of a near-Eastern male-dominated family of his age.
Holladay said that the debate over sexism in the Bible today is reminiscent of the mid-19th-century controversy over references to slavery in the Bible.
Apul's Epistles contain repeated injunctions to women to obey their husbands and to slaves to obey their masters.