The Nursing Kings of Israel

Rabbi Mark Sameth responds to frequently asked questions about some gender-bending translations of Torah texts he has proposed in a few articles since 2008, and in his New York Times’ op-ed, “Is God Transgender?”

So far, we have looked at Eve as “he”, Noah repairing to “her” tent, Rebecca, who is called a “young man,” and Adam, a hermaphrodite.

Frequently asked question: As supposed evidence of gender-fluidity in the Hebrew Bible, you claim that Mordecai “nursed” Esther; and that Isaiah prophesied that the future kings of Israel would be “nursing” kings. But the word which you translate as “nurse” (ohmen) would be better translated as “foster father,” or “supporter.” There is another word in Hebrew which means “wet nurse” – meneqet.

Response: In English, it is more common to say that a mother is “nursing” than to say that she is “suckling,” even though the latter is more specific. So too, Hebrew has the words ohmenet (“nurse”) and meneqet (“one who suckles”). In English, one can “nurse” a baby or “nurse” a wound. So too in the Hebrew Bible, the Hebrew word for “nurse” is found in reference to babies (Ruth 4:16) and wounds (Proverbs 27:6). x The grammatically masculine form of the word ohmen is admittedly strange. But the Septuagint (the earliest translation of the Five Books of Moses) renders it as tithenos (τιθηνὸς) – Greek for “nurse” (See Peter W. Flint, “Numbers,” in The New English Translation of the Septuagint, edited by Albert Pietersma, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

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