In regards to Genesis 3:15, what are we to think of Catholics who believe that it is Jesus – not Mary – who will crush the head of the serpent?
(from Shawn McElhinney)
hey have the right to their opinion, but from a scholastic as well as textual standpoint their position has difficulties.
As Catholics we recognize as the foundation of our faith the understanding that God works through His creation. The Incarnation of the God-Man is the premier example of note and the principle that it contains (God working through His Created order) is the foundation of all Catholic Church teaching. Every subject from the Magisterium to the priesthood to the Eucharist and other sacraments, etc all is grounded in this principle. The same is the case with Mary: she is the chosen instrument through which God crushes the serpent's head. Obviously it is the merits of Christ that make this possible. So directly or indirectly either translation conveys the truth.
However, the "he" translation ruins the synonymous parallelism of the passage. Further, the climate of the LXX's translation should also be considered. It is quite possible that the neuter noun was used specifically to not appear to lend credence to the pagan notions of "goddesses" – a concept which the "she" translation can imply. (See the ramblings of paranoid Fundamentalists for a case study in this.) Remember, we are dealing with Hebrew textual stylings here. Look at the rhythm of the phrasing here:
Your seed/her seed
To follow the rhythm of the text in threefold idiom it would read as follows:
Your seed/her seed
She shall crush your head/you lay in wait for her heel
This pattern disrupts the rhythm of the passages by making an abrupt switch of focus. The rabbis translated it as follows:
Your seed/her seed
It shall crush your head/you lay in wait for its heel
There is an obvious ambiguity here. Again doctrinally either translation is acceptable. Jerome was certainly not immune from interpolating texts in a few areas (witness what he did to Tobit).
However, we need to be careful not to either imply or actually dogmatize areas that the Church permits free speculation in. This is a problem that I used to think affected only neophyte Catholics but I have seen it occur at times amongst not only Catholic writers but also some of the more influential Catholic web personalities as well.
In brief: either translation is doctrinally acceptable but the "he" translation would be the lesser correct translation. And yes tradition can aid in making these kinds of determinations. But as Art has pointed out, we need not argue from tradition on this point to present a reputable case.
(from Mark Bonocore)
f anyone is interested, here's my take on the He/she problem in Genesis 3:15. In the piece below, I'm responding to an Eastern Orthodox convert from Protestantism who is criticizing St. Jerome for "
interpreting the pronoun as "
in his Vulgate translation:
The EO writes:
But as it turns out, "Mary" or "the woman" is not crushing anything; the whole argument used by Pope Pius IX is based upon a simple mistranslation on the part of Jerome. And to this day, Catholic representations of Mary still depict her standing on the head of a serpent. Once the translation is corrected to refer to "he" instead of "she", Genesis 3:15 is seen as saying absolutely nothing about the conception of Mary. The Catholics who attempt to use scripture to demonstrate that the apostolic church believed in the Immaculate Conception can only do so by twisting and mistranslating the texts.
First of all, let's admit that St. Jerome did translated the verse in question as "SHE shall strike at your head". So, does this mean that the Catholic Church teaches that Mary **alone** will crush the head of Satan? Well, … as I've already mentioned above, the Catholic Church teaches that Genesis 3:15 is the Proto-Evangelium – the first prophecy of the Messiah; and thus the actual Person Who crushes the head of the serpent is Christ Himself. So, it's silly to claim that the Catholic Church teaches otherwise.
Yet, what of the St. Jerome's translation of that verse? Isn't the Catholic Church contradicting itself by translating Genesis 3:15 as "she shall crush thy head"? Not at all. Rather, it's all a matter of emphasis; especially given the fact that the Hebrew pronoun in question can be translated as either "he" or "she" or "it". In fact, most Bibles mistakenly translate it as "they", even though the Hebrew pronoun is in the singular. So, the Hebrew text is intentionally ambiguous, and St. Jerome knew this.
Therefore, depending on what one wishes to emphasize, either "the woman" or "the seed" can be said to crush the head of the serpent. Yet, truth be told, this isn't an "either-or" proposition. Rather, it's a "both-and" proposition. So, depending on emphasis, Genesis 3:15 can be translated to say:
The Seed of the woman will crush the serpent's head
The woman will crush the serpent's head BECAUSE she will bring the Messiah (the Seed) into the world
Both are true; and neither takes away from Jesus being the actual cause of Satan's destruction. If it is the woman who crushes the serpent's head, it is only because of her bearing the Seed. So, either way, Jesus is the one Who actually does it. Mary is merely the means by which He does it (i.e., by means of the humanity which He gets from her: the Incarnation).
And this is what St. Jerome intended when he translated the Vulgate version of Genesis 3:15 to read "she shall crush thy head". And with good reason, since St. Jerome was seeking to draw a parallel between all the other biblical images in which a "blessed woman" stands in opposition to "the enemy," and thus "crushes his head".
For example, there is the story of Jael in Judges 5, which reads:
Blessed among women be Jael, blessed among tent-dwelling women. He asked for water, she gave him milk; in a princely bowl she offered curds. With her left hand she reached for the peg, with her right, for the workman's mallet. She hammered Sisera, crushed his head… (Judges 5:24-26)
Sound familiar? :-) After all, for someone who so loves to see parallels between Mary and Old Testament women (e.g. Hannah), our Orthodox brother should LOVE this one. :-)
Here we see a "blessed woman" who "crushed the head" of the enemy (in this case, the Cannanite general, Sisera). And the early Church saw in this a prefigurement of the role of Mary – the role laid out in Gen 3:15. It was through Mary that we get the Incarnation (i.e., through her "yes" to God), and it is through the Incarnation that Satan's head (i.e., his power) is crushed.
A similar pre-figurement is seen in the Book of Judith, Chapter 13, where Judith, a beautiful Jewish widow, delivers Israel from the Assyrians by gaining access to the enemy's camp and beheading the Assyrian commander, Holofernes (Judith 13:8).
So, this recurring Biblical theme is the reason why St. Jerome preferred to translate Genesis 3:15 as "she will crush thy head". And again, … It was merely a matter of emphasis. However, this was always with the clear understanding that it was the Seed of this woman Who was actually the cause of the enemy's destruction.
So, St. Jerome didn't "mistranslate" anything at all.
As for Western statues (and other icons) depicting Mary crushing the serpent's head beneath her feet, … Tell me, … Doesn't Sacred Tradition recognize Mary as an image of the Church itself? It sure does, right: Revelation 12:1-3, etc. So, if you have a problem with Mary being depicted crushing the serpent's head, please explain Romans 16:20, which reads:
…then the God of peace will quickly crush Satan UNDER YOUR FEET.
…That is, the "feet" of the Church. So, if not only the Messiah Himself (Genesis 3:15) crushes the head of Satan, but ALSO His Church, why do you have a problem with His mother (i.e., the first member of this Church and the very image of it) crushing the head of Satan? Clearly, if you wish to agree with Scripture, you must accept the Catholic (and Eastern Orthodox) "both-and" understanding of Genesis 3:15, as opposed to this non-Traditional, Protestant "either-or" mentality which you've acquired.
(from Art Sippo)
t. Jerome worked with the manuscripts he had at hand. His "
translation may be the product of textual variations. Also he got quite a few things right. For example, we now know that the doxology the Protestants put on the end of the Our Father is a later gloss in the Greek Textus Receptus and not original to Matthew's Gospel. St. Jerome did not have this in the Vulgate and the Protestants used this to claim that he was inaccurate. Then along came the 4th Century Codex Siniaticus (and subsequently the Codices of Alexandrinus and Vaticanus from the same period) which confirmed St. Jerome's rendering of the text. There are other examples of this, too.
While I agree that we should be very careful about using the Vulgate for textual criticism, it is the only official Catholic translation and so it has great authority for the INTREPRETATION of the text. For this reason, the use of "ipsum" in Genesis 3:15 is very significant and cannot be ignored. It allows both interpretations (he or she) as being acceptable by Catholics. But IMHO, "she" is still the only logical choice.
Re: the JPS (Jewish Publications Society) has it in verse form as follows:
I will put enmity
Between you and the woman
And between your offspring and hers;
They shall strike at your head
And you shall strike at their heel.
See what JPS does here? To make this work they are ignoring the SINGULAR number of the verb "she shall strike" and the noun "her heel" in bar 3. They recognize (I have pointed out) that the respective "seeds" in bar two represent collective nouns, not individual persons. Despite the obvious grammar of the 3rd bar, they make the same mistake that everyone modern exegete makes: they CHANGE the enmity in bar 3 to enmity between the serpent and the seed of the woman even though in bar 2 it is CLEARLY enmity between their respective seeds.
I looked at this at this in depth about 15 years ago and I realized that most people are swayed on it by their prejudices and by the Masorete marks. I am not surprised the "expert" sides with the Protestant interpretation because to him he is following the literal text. But I submit that a more dynamic interpretation is necessary based on literary form, not on the text itself which IMHO is either corrupted (i.e., LXX & Masoretic Text) or unclear (Hebrew sans nikud).
Look, this is what the Protestants want the verse to read like:
I will put enmity
between you (A) and the woman (B)
between your (A') seed (C) and her (B') seed (D)
he (E) will strike at your (A') head
and you (A) will strike at his (E') heel.
(E) is a singular masculine pronoun in the 3rd bar which comes out of nowhere and has no referent in the earlier text. It cannot refer to the woman's seed (D) because (as the JPS Version and Revelation 12:17 clearly show) that is a "they" not a "he". The only single person mentioned in the first 2 bars who is opposed to the serpent is the woman.
If the author of Genesis intended there to be a "he" in the third bar who was the enemy of the serpent, this is what he should have written:
I will put enmity
between you and the woman
between YOU and her seed
he will crush your head
and you will lie in wait for his heel.
In this version, "seed" could represent a single individual and it would make sense to have bar 3 as you prefer it. In this version, bar 2 bridges into bar 3 and justifies the currently preferred reading by switching the enmity to one between the serpent and the woman's seed. If that were the text in Hebrew, I would support to the currently preferred interpretation of the "experts". BUT THAT IS NOT WHAT THE TEXT OF BAR 2 SAYS!
The critical point is that bar 2 does not allow us to infer a direct enmity between the serpent and the seed of the woman. Bar 2 only re-states the enmity between the serpent and the woman. It does not introduce a new protagonist against the serpent. As such there is no justification for introducing a new antagonism in bar 3. Bar 3 is merely reiterating the same antagonism between the serpent and the woman from bars 1 & 2.
Frankly, this is so obvious to me that I fail to understand how anyone can possibly justify another interpretation. St. Jerome and I are agreed on this and I am satisfied that we will be vindicated on THAT DAY when God will reveal everything to us.
November 13, 2001