Regular readers will recall a post of mine entitled Head Coverings in Worship: Why Female Hair Is a Testicle in which I discuss the work of NT scholar Troy Martin regarding his translation of 1 Corinthians 11.15. Some readers of that post pointed to Mark Goodacre's rebuttal of Martin's translation "testicle" in 1 Cor. 11.15.
I wanted to make interested readers aware that Martin's response to Goodacre appeared last week (Journal of Biblical Literature 132, 2013, 453–465): Περιβόλαιον as “Testicle” in 1 Corinthians 11:15: A Response to Mark Goodacre.
(H/T to my colleague Trevor Thompson for the head's up.)
Reviewing from the previous post, one of Martin's areas of expertise is in using ancient medical texts to illuminate NT passages, particularly passages that seem confusing to us. Given the fact that we don't share the same medical understandings as the NT writers and their audiences when ancient medical terms or ideas are used we can often miss the meaning.
And a good example of this, according to Martin (see: JBL 123, 2004, 75–84), comes from 1 Corinthians 11.2-16.
This passage has caused a lot of head scratching. In this text Paul makes an argument about women needing a head covering during worship. But what is strange about this is that after making this argument Paul seems to undercut and contradict himself.
The passage starts off in vv. 5-6 where Paul makes the argument that a woman should wear a covering to cover her hair during worship because not doing so would be a "disgrace" (NIV).
So far so good. But a few verses later Paul goes on to make an argument from nature that seems to contradict what he has just argued, that a woman's hair is a "disgrace" if uncovered. The perplexing text is v. 15:
...but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.You can see the problem. In vv. 5-6 the woman's hair needs a covering to avoid disgrace. But in v. 15 a woman's hair is its own covering and her glory.
So what's the deal? Is a woman's exposed hair disgraceful or a glory? Does a woman need to cover her hair or is her hair its own covering?
This is one of those passages where Martin argues that a proper understanding of ancient medicine, in this case reproductive medicine, can help resolve the apparent paradox. Specifically, Martin argues that the root of the interpretive paradox has to do with the proper interpretation of the word "covering" in v. 15.
The word rendered "covering" in v. 15 is peribolaiou. Peribolaiou can refer to an outer garment and given the discussions about covering up in this text most translators have gone with this meaning. However, Martin points out that in the ancient world peribolaiou had a wider range of meanings.
Specifically, peribolaiou could refer to testicles. Which raises a question about the connection in the text with women's hair. Why is Paul talking about reproductive anatomy in a discussion about hair?
According to Martin, it has to do with how the ancients understood where sperm was stored and how hair aided the movement of sperm through the body.
Two ideas are important here. First, the ancients saw the head as the place where sperm was stored. Second, the ancients saw hair as functioning like a straw, exerting a sucking force on the sperm. That is, where more hair was located more suction was exerted.
The idea is roughly as follows. A woman has a lot of hair on her head so that, when sperm enters her body during intercourse, the hair can suck the sperm upward and into her body. By contrast, for the man the goal is to pull the sperm downward and out of the body. The testicles were believed to be "weights" that helped exert this downward pull.
What all this means is that, according to the ancients, the hair was a part of reproductive anatomy, with the female's hair functioning as the analog of the male's testicles. The testicles in the male pull semen down and out and the hair of the female pulls the semen up and in.
This is one reason why Paul considers long hair on a man to be problematic. If a man grows his hair long he'll be unable to eject semen as his long hair will exert too much suction upward. A similar line of argument goes for females with short hair.
And all this explains what Paul is saying in 1 Cor. 11.15. Paul's argument is that a woman's long hair is proper to her nature. Why? Well, just as a man has testicles so a woman has long hair. The proper reading of v. 15b is this: "For long hair is given to her as a testicle."
And if a woman's long hair is sort of like a testicle then of course you'd want to keep that covered up during the worship service.
That's a popular-level summary of Martin's work with 1 Cor. 11.15.
But as noted above, readers alerted me to Mark Goodacre's work (JBL 130, 2011, 391–96) contesting Martin's interpreting peribolaiou as "testicle," to which Martin has just recently responded.
Much of their debate swirls around their respective translations of an occurrence of peribolaiou in Euripides’ play Hercules (line 1269). Goodacre argues that if the translation of peribolaiou in this text can't be rendered as "testicle," as Martin argues, then much of Martin's case falters has Martin uses this passage in Euripides as an external and critical bit of evidence for his translation of 1 Cor. 11.15.
Martin responds in two ways. First, Martin defends his interpretation of Euripides. Second, and more importantly in his estimation, Martin argues that the meaning of peribolaiou in 1 Cor. 11.15 has more to do with the immediate context and meaning of that passage than with any external comparison one might make (like the one in Euripides). For Martin, meaning within the immediate context is determinative. Thus he challenges Goodacre to come up with a better translation of 1 Cor. 11.15, one that doesn't make Paul look confused or contradictory. Given that Goodacre doesn't provide an alternative translation that resolves the contradiction in Paul, Martin concludes his paper with this:
After carefully considering Goodacre’s evaluation and article, I conclude that my reading of περιβόλαιον as “testicle” in 1 Cor 11:15 makes better sense of this passage than any other reading proposed thus far. If Goodacre or anyone else can suggest a more cogent reading, I am happy to consider it. Until then, however, I shall continue to read this passage in the only way that makes sense by translating περιβόλαιον in the context of 1 Cor 11:15 as “testicle.”To conclude, given that all this discussion about translations and testicles might seem a bit irrelevant, let's end with this question, as I did my previous post: what if Martin is right with this translation?
That is, if Martin is right should women today continue to follow Paul's advice to keep their hair/testicles covered in Christian worship? At the end of his 2004 paper Martin concludes:
Informed by this tradition, Paul appropriately instructs women in the service of God to cover their hair since it is part of the female genitalia. According to Paul’s argument, women may pray or prophesy in public worship along with men but only when both are decently attired. Even though no contemporary person would agree with the physiological conceptions informing Paul’s argument from nature for the veiling of women, everyone would agree with his conclusion prohibiting the display of genitalia in public worship. Since the physiological conceptions of the body have changed, however, no physiological reason remains for continuing the practice of covering women’s heads in public worship, and many Christian communities reasonably abandon this practice.