When she was alive, I frequently visited Suzanne McCarthy’s website. I admired her knowledge of the ancient world and of ancient Greek. I learned a lot from her.
She died in 2015 from breast cancer, but not before almost completing her book Valiant or Virtuous?: Gender Bias in Bible Translation. Her book was then edited by her husband who also provides a beautiful introduction. And it was published recently (in July 2019) by Wipf and Stock.
I was honoured to write a recommendation for the book. In fact, I wrote two. The short one is included in the flyer below. Here is the longer one.
Suzanne McCarthy believed that “Women need to see themselves represented fairly in scripture.” To this end, she has used her expertise as a linguist to discover what the original authors of the Bible say about women. Suzanne is faithful to the Hebrew and Greek texts while highlighting shortcomings in translations and interpretations. Valiant or Virtuous? is like no other book I have read and I am happy to recommend it.
Suzanne’s book is on a topic close to my heart. Like her, I am dismayed by some Bible translations and interpretations that discriminate against women—by minimising their actions and attributes, or by obscuring their presence—when the original authors did not.
One way this happens is by translating the same Hebrew or Greek word differently depending on whether the subject is male or female. Suzanne discusses that the Hebrew words that mean “beautiful” and that mean “valour,” as just two examples, are translated differently in most English Bibles depending on whether these words are describing a man or a woman. This difference in translation perpetuates cultural stereotypes and creates a gender bias, rather than accurately conveying what the biblical authors wrote.
The title “Valiant or Virtuous?” comes from the idea that the Hebrew word chayil, which can describe someone who is courageous, strong, capable, and/or wealthy, is often translated as “valour” when referring to a man but “virtuous” (or “excellent”) when referring to a woman (Ruth 3:11; Prov. 31:10).
Even though Suzanne refers to the Hebrew and Greek, the original languages of the Bible, Valiant or Virtuous? is not a technical or academic book, and most readers will readily be able to understand the arguments. And there are personal anecdotes that, overall, give the book a warm, friendly and homey tone.
At times, however, Suzanne is relentless in her critique of interpretations given by certain ministers, especially some prominent Southern Baptist pastors and professors. For example, she shows convincingly that a common interpretation of 1 Timothy 5:8—that men need to be the providers for their families—has no basis in the Greek grammar of this verse; this verse has no masculine markers whatsoever. Yet she is always respectful.
Because Suzanne refers to several North American ministers, this book is especially relevant to North American readers. But as an Australian, I enjoyed Valiant or Virtuous?. It is a unique book and I learned still more from its author.
Here is the flyer provided by Wipf and Stock.