Valerie M. Hudson  has co-authored a new article in the April 2013 Ensign arguing for her usual egalitarian take on Mormon patriarchy. I have mixed feelings on Hudson. I think her heart is in the right place in that she seems to genuinely want what she regards as egalitarian relationships within Mormonism. What she says in her article about social science supporting the efficacy and satisfaction of egalitarian relationships over hierarchical ones is spot on; I might have written it myself. However, I also regard her as an impediment to true feminist reform of Mormonism, because she apologizes for patriarchal structures within the church that disenfranchise women, and does so by wrapping those structures in a pretty faux-feminist doily, thus maintaining that said structures are empowering to women and in no need of serious change. For example, her 2010 FAIR presentation essentially came down to arguing that women do not need the priesthood because they can give birth. It was the most poetic and well-written rendition of “women don’t need priesthood because they can have babies” that I have ever heard, but in the end, it was still “women don’t need power/authority XYZ because they can be mothers”—which is one of the oldest and most trite anti-feminist arguments on the books.
The Hafens’ Translation
This blog post is not primarily a critique of Hudson’s “feminist” (if you can even call it that) religious philosophy. Rather, it is about her serial abuse of the Hebrew language. Namely, this:
God also provided that Adam and Eve would rule together, as Elder Bruce C. Hafen, formerly of the Seventy, and his wife, Marie, explained:
“Genesis 3:16 states that Adam is to ‘rule over’ Eve, but this doesn’t make Adam a dictator. … Over in ‘rule over’ uses the Hebrew bet, which means ruling ‘with,’ not ruling ‘over.’ …” 
Except that it doesn’t. When the Hafens published their original Ensign article in 2007, Nitsav of Faith-Promoting Rumor blogged this critical analysis of their claims regarding Hebrew:
The claim is that the preposition bet (the letter b) should be translated as “with” not “over.” This is problematic for several reasons.
First, bet has many translational values in English- “in” “into” “at” “on” “by means of” “when” “among” and also “with.” However, “with” is fairly rare and somewhat indirect. Most often when the Hebrew writers wanted to say “with” or “in the company of” they use ‘et or ‘im (the consonantal inverse of Arabic ma’a, the typical Arabic word for “with”).
Second, as in many other languages, some verbs have a fixed preposition for governing objects. In English, for example, one listens, but one listens to something. When the verb “to listen” has an object, the preposition used between the object and the verb must be to. Similarly, the Hebrew verb “to rule” in the Genesis passage is mashal. When mashal governs an object, the mediating preposition is always bet. It is clear from all other occurrences of this verb that the meaning is one of ruling, governance, authority etc.. A king mashals b- his people. Joseph mashaled b-Egypt in Gen. 45:8. There are lots of other examples establishing this.
Nitsav calls the Hafens’ translation (which Hudson relies on) “indefensible from a scholarly perspective.” He goes on for several more paragraphs about why mashal b- in Genesis 3:16 cannot be translated “rule with” (it’s really worth it to click and read his article in full). And note that the Hafens do not teach that “rule with” is one possible alternate translation; they teach that “rule over” is completely wrong and that “rule with” is the only correct translation (!).
I have but a paltry undergraduate minor in Hebrew myself, but I have done a little bit of legwork on this. I would add to what Nitsav writes that “rule with” makes little sense thematically. In Gen. 3:14-19, YHWH lays out a series of negative consequences for the serpent, the woman, and the man (respectively) on account of what the three of them have done. The consequences are as follows:
- The serpent is cursed above all other livestock, will crawl on its belly and eat dust, and will experience conflict with the woman, its offspring in turn experiencing conflict with her offspring.
- The woman will experience severe toil in labor and childbirth, her desire will be for her husband, and he will rule over her.
- The man will only be able to draw food from the ground via severe toil and will experience a return to the dust from which he was formed, i. e. death.
Most of those things are overwhelmingly and obviously negative. There may be a ray of light for the serpent in that it will “strike the heel” of the woman’s offspring (v. 15), and some would argue that for the woman to desire her husband isn’t a bad thing (v. 16). (I’ll come back to that in a second.) Still, why would YHWH stop in the midst of all that foreboding news to declare glorious egalitarian partnership between husband and wife? And if egalitarianism is the result of the Fall, what was the pre-Fall order between husband and wife? Patriarchy? If so, shouldn’t that be what Christian men and women should seek to emulate? It should be clear by now that superimposing a positive prescription for egalitarian marriage in the middle of all that does violence to the narrative.
Let’s go back to “desire” in v. 16 though, because I think Nitsav fails to mention a very important occurrence of mashal b-. The Hebrew word for “desire” in v. 16, tĕshuwqah, is uncommon, appearing only 3 times in the entire Hebrew Bible (Gen. 3:16, Gen. 4:7, and SoS 7:10). Its proximity to Gen. 4:7 is not accidental. Let’s compare the two:
Gen. 3:16 To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire (tĕshuwqah) shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you (mashal b-).” (NRSV)
Gen. 4:7 “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire (tĕshuwqah) is for you, but you must master it (mashal b-).” (NRSV)
The two verses are intentionally parallel, similar in meaning. So if Gen. 3:16 means that Adam and Eve are supposed to rule jointly in egalitarian partnership, what does Gen. 4:7 mean? That Cain is supposed to have egalitarian partnership with his sin? The only thing that makes any sense for either of these verses is “rule over,” not “rule with.” The verses predict a struggle for power between the two parties in question (woman and man, sin and Cain).
As a final note, I consulted 26 English translations of the Bible prior to publishing this article (ASV, BBE, CEB, CJB, Darby, DR, ESV, GNT, GWT, HCS, HNV, KJV, NASB, NCV, NIV, NIrV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, RSV, TNIV, TMB, WEB, Webster, Wycliffe, YLT). I also consulted the Joseph Smith Translation, which had this verse at 3:22. Number of Bibles that translated Gen. 3:16 with a hierarchical clause (rule over, be lord of, have dominion over, master, be subject to, etc.):
Number of translations that translated Gen. 3:16 with an egalitarian clause (rule with, etc.):
Number of translations that listed an egalitarian clause in the footnotes as an alternative translation:
There is only one correct way to translate Gen. 3:16, and that is with a hierarchical clause. It does not mean “rule with” in any way, shape or form. It is not even a minority variant translation of the text.
The Hafens are not Hebrew scholars. As far as I’m aware, they are not scholars or academics of any sort (UPDATE 3-25-2013: this is not accurate. See footnote #3).  Bruce has a BA in political science from BYU and a law degree from the University of Utah, and I can’t find any biographical information or academic publications for Marie. Their 2007 article claims that “Donald W. Parry, Brigham Young University professor, helped with the Hebrew translations.” Dr. Parry was one of my Hebrew professors at BYU, and I do not know the specifics of what his “help” consisted of in this case. I only know that the Hafens’ Hebrew is very wrong. I also know that I can forgive a few well-meaning ecclesiastical leaders for fudging their Hebrew in one publication.
Valerie Hudson is another story, because Hudson is a respected scholar and academic—albeit in political science and not Hebrew. Regardless, she should know better than to cite ecclesiastical leaders with no training in Hebrew to contest a point of Hebrew grammar. I would not let a freshman undergraduate get away with that sort of authority fallacy in his or her term paper, let alone a woman with a doctorate and accolades for her work in another scholarly field.
On top of this, Hudson has been made aware of the severe problems with the Hafens’ claims, and yet she continues to cite the Hafens as authoritative on the subject completely absent of qualification. On April 15, 2009, she left the following comment on Nitsav’s FPR post:
Hi, Nitsav, Elder Bruce C. Hafen obtained his translation from Professor Don Parry of BYU, renowned Hebrew scholar who is working on the Dead Sea Scroll translation. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org . I have a feeling he has very good reasons for his translation.
Does Hudson truly not understand that the private and unpublished theory of single scholar at a single university does not undo the entire corpus of Hebrew grammar that applies to this verse? Or the extensive translation work that has been done on it? Until her favored translation is published in a peer-reviewed journal and gains widespread acceptance among Hebrew scholars, Hudson has no business telling unsuspecting Mormons that “rule over” translations of Gen. 3:16 are incorrect. These people are putting their trust in her academic expertise, and she is disingenuously misleading them.
Hudson has not merely done this once or twice though; she seems to do it in every article that she writes or presentation that she does arguing for her egalitarian take on Mormon doctrine. For example:
- “The Men Have Muffed It: How Men’s Misunderstanding of the Telos of Marriage Imperils Its Future” — SquareTwo article, April 2009
- The Two Trees — August 2010 FAIR Presentation
- I am a Mormon because I am a Feminist — September 2010 Mormon Scholars Testify Testimony
The list goes on. Always the same citation of Hafen or the Hafens, always without any kind of qualification. And now, Hudson has perpetuated this mistranslation of Gen. 3:16 into the Ensign for the entire LDS church to consume (again).
I need to be clear that I am a member of and have published some articles with Christians for Biblical Equality. I believe in the ordination of women and advocate for them to be able to exercise their full range of spiritual gifts in the Body of Christ. Since we see the Bible as our ultimate authority on matters of faith, we often write essays arguing for egalitarian understandings of passages that seem to limit women’s roles in the church or subject them to men. We’re the people who argue things like “‘head’ in 1 Cor. 11 can carry the sense of ‘source’” and “1 Tim 2:12 can mean ‘to usurp authority’ or ‘to assume authority,’ not just ‘to hold authority.’” If there were any legs at all to this theory—if it were at all a valid minority translation of this verse—you would have found avid supporters in our ranks decades ago.
But we are also in a constant sparring match with other evangelical scholars, i. e. the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. If we published such an irresponsible argument concerning the translation of Gen. 3:16, it would be Christmas come early for CBMW. We would hear no end of how we’re manipulating the biblical text to support our own agenda, and they would have a slam-dunk case against us. I’ve discussed this Hafen/Hudson/Parry translation with several scholars affiliated with CBE, and they agree. There is just no merit to it whatsoever.
The 8th Article of Faith states that Mormons believe the Bible to be the word of God “as far as it is translated correctly.” Does Valerie Hudson believe in the 8th Article of Faith?
 Some articles and blog posts refer to Valerie Hudson as “Valerie M. Hudson,” “Valerie Hudson,” or “Valerie Hudson Cassler.” I do not know which she prefers. I’ve chosen to refer to her here as “Valerie Hudson” since it’s easiest and “Cassler” is absent from the byline of her most recent Ensign article. Though the Ensign article is co-authored by Richard B. Miller along with Hudson, and he certainly bears some of the blame in this case for not checking his co-author’s sources or questioning her authority fallacy, I am treating this argument as exclusively Hudson’s because I know it to be one of her staples.
 Hudson is citing Bruce C. and Marie K. Hafen, “Crossing Thresholds and Becoming Equal Partners,” Ensign, Aug. 2007, 27.
 It’s come to my attention that this is not accurate. A commentator at another message board pointed out, “Bruce Hafen was a legal academic earlier in his life, having taught at BYU Law School and having served as dean of the same school. He published several law review articles in the areas of family law and education law. Marie Hafen earned a master’s degree in English and was an English instructor at Ricks and BYU.” (Source) My apologies to the Hafens for failing to locate this information before running this post. I certainly hope that if they are aware of Nitsav’s critique of their Hebrew, that they are no longer spreading this mistranslation of Gen. 3:16. H/T: Tom