In a thought-provoking comment to a previous post on gender-sensitive translation of the Bible, David Stein, in reference to Deuteronomy 1:31, claims the following:
For both ish and ben in this verse, the maleness of their referents goes without saying.
I agree with David’s observations, that:
[Deut 1:31’s] ancient audience had good reason anyway to mentally cast both the carrier and the child as male. For the imagery would have evoked a paradigmatic situation, one that was natural and familiar to the Israelite audience, whose members lived and worked in patrimonially organized corporate households. (On household-kinship imagery as the root metaphor for ancient Near Eastern society at all levels, see David J. Schloen, The House of the Father as Fact and Symbol, 2001.)
But I’m not sure that ish and ben in Deut 1:31 are gender-neutral. I would argue that the collocation of ish and ben, together with the evocation of a paradigmatic situation, activates the potential male genderedness of both terms. It is also possible that the collocation of the two terms allows ish to be an “understated” or “underdetermined” reference to a father. Note this comment by Jeffrey Tigay (Deuteronomy [JPSTC; Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1996] 17-18, 347).
The Lord carried you, as a man carries his son This refers to God’s protection of Israel from danger (cf. Isa. 46:3-4; Ps. 91:11-12). Other passages, such as Exodus 19:4 and Deuteronomy 32:11, compare God’s protection to the way an eagle carries its young. The comparison to a father adds a note of reassurance, since the compassion of a father was proverbial (see Ps. 103:13 and elsewhere).105
105 See also Jer. 31:19; Job 29:16; 31:18. For the compassion of a father in Akk. texts, see CAD A1, 69d.
Tigay takes the reference to “father” to be self-evident. Alternative construals are not discussed.
To be continued.