Teshuqa Turnings – Rabbinical Roots of Desire

Teshuqa Turnings – Rabbinical Roots of Desire

In all English translations, Genesis 3:16 says that “…Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” The word that is  translated as “desire” in today’s English Bible is the Hebrew noun teshuqa. It’s meaning underwent a transformation over the centuries from “turning” in the Greek Septuagint to “desire” in today’s English translations. (Read more) This change of teshuqa can be traced to the Jewish Talmud by following the influence of Jewish scholars on Bible translators, notably Jerome.

From Rabbi to Latin (app. 4th century CE)

The Rabbinical teaching  found in the Talmud and other Midrash was being formed and compiled only after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. Originally, the Rabbis passed their teaching along orally . This oral tradition became the foundation of Jewish religious law, called the Mishnah. Rabbis continued to debate and make legal judgement from the Mishnah, and this commentary formed the Gemara. Together, the Mishnah and the Gemara form a Talmud. The most influential Talmud was the Babylonian Talmud. Scholars point to 200 CE as being the earliest  date for the first completed Talmud, but most point to a later date in the 4th century.

Many of our Christian “traditions” regarding the creation of humans are first found in the Talmud or the extended teachings on the Talmud (Midrash). It is in the Talmud that we first hear of Adam’s “rib” as opposed to his “side,” and we are taught that Eve was a temptress. Here we find much imaginative and explicit exposition about the sexuality between Adam and Eve…and yes, even the serpent. It is also here that we find that teshuqa has been re-defined as “urge,” and the battle of the sexes is born. The all-male Jewish rabbis filled volumes with their ideas about women and women’s behavior.

The depiction of the woman’s creation leads the Rabbis to inquire into gender differences and the nature of the female sex, all through the eyes of the male Rabbis. They discuss woman’s different temperament, her mental maturity, her habits, the physical shape of her body, her behavior, and other aspects of female existence. Tamar Kadari

It is only after the compilation of the Talmud that we see a different definition for teshuqa than “turning” in translations from the Hebrew. Jerome, arguably the most influential Bible translator on early English translators, spent 35 years studying alongside Jewish scholars, and his Bible , the Latin Vulgate, is known to display rabbinical influence in its translation. And we see it pop up in his translation of Genesis 3:16. “Thou shalt be under the power of a husband.” Centuries later, English translators followed course and the original meaning of teshuqa was lost.

From Hebrew to Greek (app. 2nd century BCE)

Let’s back up a bit further.

During the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE, seventy-two Jewish scholars convened in Alexandria to translate the Hebrew Scriptures into Koine Greek for the Alexandrian library. They translated teshuqa as “turning.” Jesus, his disciples, 1st century Rabbis, even Paul, all used the Septuagint as evidenced by its quotations throughout the New Testament. Genesis 3:16 said that “Eve’s turning was to her husband” in every Greek Scriptures, and other notable translations from that time.

Now understand, the Rabbis, called Sages at that time, were teaching all during the five hundred years from the translation of the Septuagint (132 BCE) until the Talmud was compiled in approximately the 3rd century CE. So, I’m sure their ideas of Eve’s teshuqa as desire was commonly taught in synagogues and academies. When they pulled out their Hebrew Torah, they could have expounded on teshuqa as desire. But, if they pulled out the most widely accepted Greek Scriptures, they would have read “turning.”

teshuqa-illustration Where did the substitution with desire occur?

The Ten Curses of Eve

The Talmud tells us of Eve’s Ten Curses. (Babylonian Talmud, p 2684,  Eiruvin, 100b)

“R. Yitzchak bar Avodimi [Rabbi Isaac Abdimi] taught that Chavah [Eve] received 10 curses.”

  1. “Greatly multiply” (blood of mensuration and virginity)
  2. “thy sorrow/pangs” (pain in child rearing)
  3. “thy conception” (pain of impregnation)
  4. “in sorrow shalt thous bring forth children” (childbirth pain)
  5. “thy desire/urge shall be unto thy husband” (the heartache felt by a woman when her husband sets out on a journey)
  6. “and he shall rule over you” (the distress of woman, who desires intercourse only in her heart, while the man can explicitly demand it )
    [In Eruvin ,there is a break here as the student declares: “But that’s only seven!” I guess ancient Jewish disciples can’t count. I can’t seem to make sense of the numbering. This is my best guess.]
  7. “the woman is garbed like a mourner”
  8. “she must cover her head”
  9. “she is banished from the company of all men” (She may not be married to two men. She is forbidden to all men other than her husband, whereas a man can have two wives.)
  10. “and she is imprisoned” (since she is always at home)

Additional points: “She grows hair like a Shed [Lilith]. She sits while urinating, like a mule. She is a pillow to her husband [she is underneath during relations].”

Adapted from PROPER CONDUCT REGARDING RELATIONS, ERUVIN 100, prepared by Rabbi Pesach Feldman

Inbar Raveh, in  Feminist Rereading of Rabbinic Literature (p 42-46), explains this midrash-teaching on the punishment of Eve as having two parts: biological and social. The social curses were designed to do the very thing God prophesied in Genesis 3:16: control  women. Eve’s teshuqa was recast as sexual desire and then harnessed with the words of Curse #6: “and he shall rule over you.” A woman will feel desire, but may not act on it. She is cursed to repressing her sexual desire to the man’s. To a man’s mind, there is nothing so punishing as resisting a sexual urge, right? The Curses of Eve were designed to control the most important aspect of women from a man’s point of view: her sexuality. And since Rabbis were all men, they had no correcting female voice to balance the veracity of their ideas of what Eve’s teshuqa really was.

Ironically, Raveh points out that there are many cracks in the Rabbi’s reasoning which might reveal the true motive behind the redefining of teshuqa to sexual lust; mainly, that “a woman’s desire for her husband is not, in fact, self-evident…Thus, in between the cracks of the midrash there seeps a pervasive anxiety concerning feminine ambivalence toward the heterosexual monogamous institution of marriage whose ultimate aim is childbirth.”(p. 46)  Could the transformation of teshuqa from “turning” to “desire” be nothing more than wishful thinking on the part of the all-male Jewish Rabbis?

Perhaps the Rabbis connected the dots back from childbirth to intercourse, and then assumed this was the intent of the word teshuqa? We get that impression from another midrash found in Genesis Rabbah, which is a verse by verse Jewish commentary on Genesis. In this portion on Genesis 3:16, a glimpse at teshuqa‘s original meaning is seen, indicating the original meaning of “turning” was not lost on the Jewish Rabbis. Notice too, the connection the woman in labor makes with the act that put her in such agony, and the Rabbi’s commentary taking the authority of God’s Voice in insisting her “desire” will “return.”

Another interpretation of “And thy desire shall be to thy husband”:

When a woman sits on the birthstool, she declares, ‘I will henceforth never fulfil my marital duties/ whereupon the Holy One, blessed be He, says to her : ‘ Thou wilt return to thy desire, thou wilt return to the desire for thy husband.’

Genesis Rabbah 20, 7-8 (p 166) [emphasis mine]

Who knows? This might be the passage that teshuqa‘s meaning crossed over once and for all into the land of desire?

Rabbi says!

The rabbinical understanding of women and the role of women is disturbing in parts of the Talmud. Their attitude is summed up in the notorious prayer of Jewish men thanking God for not making them a woman. Equally so, is Jerome’s outright scorn of anything female, which highly influenced the medieval church’s position on women. How heartbreaking that these men have defiled Eve’s teshuqa, transforming women into sexual effigies and creating centuries of misunderstanding and stigma and justification for male domination.

We cannot allow them the last word on Eve and her daughters. Instead, let us turn to the Great Rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth. When faced with the chance to scorn and judge woman’s sin, to exaggerate or berate her wrong choices, to expound upon the weakness of women and justify male dominance…  he simply says,

“I do not condemn you.”

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Teshuqa Turnings (Genesis 3:16)

Teshuqa Turnings (Genesis 3:16)

In Genesis 3:16, the word that is most often translated as “desire” in today’s English Bible is the Hebrew noun teshuqa. It’s meaning underwent a transformation over the centuries from “turning” in the Greek Septuagint (and other early non-Hebrew translations) to “desire” in today’s English translations. Why this happened is a bit of an enigma and fodder for another post. (Read the history of this change.)

Teshuqa Turnings is an exploration of the original definition of the word. Through a series of posts, we’ll explore what could teshuqa  have meant for the story of the fall? What could it teach us about women and men? Where did the definition of desire come from? What is important about the ESV changes to this word? How has the altered definitions affected women through the centuries?

The etymology of teshuqa from Katharine C. Bushnell

The noun teshuqa is derived from the verb shuq  which means in its primitive form “to run.” It is prefaced with te which is an abstracting device, like adding “ness” to “good” to make “goodness.” The ending is a, which is a normal feminine ending for Hebrew. “If this word is taken from the intensive form of the verb, it would bear the sense ‘to run repeatedly,’ that is ‘to run back and forth.'” The back and forth motion necessitates turning which is where teshuqa might have found its source meaning. It is an abstract noun, not literal in meaning. It describes a quality of character. (This information was paraphrased or quoted from God’s Word to Women, para. 129)

Eve’s Curse?

Genesis 3:16 has traditionally been called “the curse of Eve.” This misapplied title must be rejected, for this verse holds no curse words. The curse on the serpent begins with the words, “because you have done this…cursed are you.” The curse on the ground because of Adam begins with the words, “because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you…cursed is the ground.” But there is no curse for Eve, no words of culpability. Even the notorious, “I will greatly increase your pain” is not so intentional in the Hebrew, lending a passive tone to Eve’s oncoming sorrows. This pain of children could be called a curse, but it is not inflicted by the hand of God as such. At least, He does not name it so. Eve was His friend.

Eve’s teshuqa or “turning”

Eve’s turning is to follow Adam away from God. Her pain begins when she leaves the Garden and God’s intimate friendship to follow Adam. Some points to consider:

Satan tempted Eve because Adam was already on or leaning toward his side. Adam didn’t need to be tempted. (Gen 2:15-18)

In her innocence, Eve was completely deceived by the serpent’s guile. Adam was not. (Gen 3:6, 13, 1 Tim 2:14, 2 Cor 11:3, Job 31:33, Hosea 6:7, Romans 5:12-21)

Adam continues in his rebellion and joins Satan in blaming God for the evil that was now present inside him. (Gen 3:12)

When queried, Eve accuses the true adversary. She tells the truth about her deception and that Satan was to blame. (Gen 3:13)

Because she named the enemy, Satan would war with woman. But God prophesied that woman would be victorious. Her heir would defeat him. (Gen 3:15)

Adam would toil for the things that God freely provided for him in the loving commune of the Garden. Adam would struggle in his new role of provider because that was not a role he was meant to play. (Gen 3:17-19)

Adam would physically die. (Gen 3:19)

Life was found in Eve. She is titled “the source of life” in hopeful anguish by her husband who had just received his death sentence. (Gen 3:20)

Adam, the man, was banished from the garden so that he would not eat of the Tree of Life and live forever separated from God’s goodness. (Gen 3:22-24)

Then, Eve turned and followed Adam.

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