In response to my previous post on dynamic equivalence, Mike Grondin asked some questions about my approach to inclusive language on the Gospel of Thomas email list. In particular he asked
- why I think that “kingdom” excludes women since women can be both subjects and rulers?
- why worry about the word “kingdom” when Coptic Thomas talks about the “kingdom of the Father”?
Seeing I am sure that not all readers of this blog also belong to the email list and I thought these were very good questions that made me think further about the issue, here are my responses in a somewhat more considered form than my response on-list:
Re Question 1:
I don’t think that the notion of kingdom actually excludes women. It simply makes them into second class citizens. Growing up as a woman in a British Commonwealth country, I have known ever since I was quite small that a kingdom is a place where men are privileged above women in the leadership stakes. We’ve had a queen for as long as I have been alive, but only because Elizabeth had no brothers. Although Princess Anne was her second child, as soon as her younger brothers were born, she was moved down the list of those in line to the throne to third and then fourth. While the wife of a king is a queen, the husband of a queen who is ruling in her own right is only a prince. A king or queen can have twenty daughters and their succession to the throne is in birth order, but as soon as a son is born, he gets shunted straight to the top of the line. This is why England has only had six queens in modern history – two Elizabeths, two Marys, an Ann and a Victoria. To give you some sense of how few this is, Elizabeth II’s father was George VI and his father was Edward VIII, then there were at least 8 Henrys, 4 Williams and quite a few James and Charles.
Because Commonwealth countries are constitutional monarchies, we all learn this stuff at school. It is quite clear to us that a kingdom is a place where a male is in charge unless there is no male available. A woman in charge is always the last resort and the choice is based on chromosomes, not ability. Of course, it doesn’t work like this in all countries and in the US, I suspect that this kind of gendered hierarchy is not so deeply engrained and obvious.
In addition, if Crum is to be believed, Coptic speakers didn’t have the option of an alternative to MeNTERO to talk about the concept that we name “kingdom”, so the writer of Gos Thom didn’t deliberately choose a term which has masculine overtones – that was the only option available to express the desired concept.
Re Question 2
The term “Father” is the title, or one of the titles, of the current ruler. It doesn’t say anything about who’s allowed to be ruler, just who is currently in charge. The fact that the author of Gos Thom has chosen to use “Father” rather than “God” is at least as likely to be because the term “Father” emphasises the relational aspect of the divine as that the divine is conceptualised in masculine terms. I think the use of Father lines up with the notion that we are reading the secret sayings of Jesus that only those “in the know” get to hear. Surely the readers of this kind of thing would be encouraged to think about the divine in the closer “Father” terms rather than the more distant “God” terms?