Panel 20: Translating the bible: theology, gender and inclusive language (Sabina Matter-Seibel)

Nowhere in translation studies is the center-periphery dichotomy with all its complexities and paradoxes as apparent as in studies on a gender oriented translation of the Bible. The Bible as the most interpreted book of the world, translated into almost all existing and many by now extinct languages, has been at the very center of questions pertaining to translation since its writing, but is nevertheless a topic that is rarely discussed in recent translation studies. Gender is a category that influences translation – covertly or overtly – most of the time, given the different gender markers in various languages and the world views and attitudes towards the proper spheres of men and women that are always transported in translations. Although gender in translation has gained considerable attention since the 1970s, it is often a marginal topic relegated to its own conference venues. Combing Biblical translation and gender issues therefore brings together two areas that are both! marginal and at the same time central to the field of translation studies.

As one of the most important foundational texts of Western culture, the Bible remains a major point of reference, but is also open to challenges of reinterpretation and new translations. Religious authorities have always recognized the fact that translating is an act of interpretation, of exegesis. Each major religious denomination therefore has its own approved translation of the Bible. Even if the translator claims to be faithful to the original word, each new translation is necessarily a confirmation of or a confrontation with a pre-existing version. Each new translation of the text declares its ideological affiliation, its dogma.

Incepted in a patriarchal culture, the Bible abounds in male imagery and language. For centuries translators and exegetes have exploited this male language to articulate theological tenets, to shape the contours of the church, synagogue and academy and to instruct human beings, both female and male, in who they are, what roles they should play, and how they should behave. The deep suspicion with which many feminist scholars continue to view the Bible is reflected in the ongoing debate over inclusive or gender-neutral language and the patriarchal values and male centered world view that is transported by it.

When Elizabeth Cady Stanton published The Woman’s Bible in 1895 it caused an outcry. Today\'s New International Version, an inclusive language version published in 2005, has led to fierce polemical debates not only between theologians and feminist scholars, but also on blogs and in social networks. Feminist exegesis and gender neutral translation play an essential role in preventing new dogmas from taking shape and promoting sharpened attention to the overlays of meaning which have been transmitted by tradition. The goal of scholars like Peggy Hutaff, Elizabeth Castelli, Letty M. Russell, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Athalya Brenner and Siegfried Meurer, is not so much to rectify the biblical text as to call awareness to the profoundly ideological nature of interpretation and translation.

We invite contributions on:

  • the possibilities and limitations of gender sensitive Biblical translation
  • the deconstruction of dominant paradigms in Biblical exegesis with the help of feminist translation studies
  • the reconstruction of the emancipatory potential of Biblical texts through translation
  • new discourses of translation studies relevant to gendered Biblical translation projects