Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Somehow I feel this obligation to explain to you what I mean by this blog. I wonder, always, what you mean by it. Can we make it plain?

Explanation comes in four sorts. The ancient Greeks say so, and so does Jesus. (I'm bringing this up because a blogger friend, John Hobbins, has boxed me into one position of only two possible positions on "translation [method]"; and a blogger friend, Henry Neufeld, has now rightly written of his problem with John's "division of the types of translations" and how that too may mis-type him. Henry also notes in passing how he doesn't "claim to completely understand" this blog of mine.)

So back to the four sorts. First, men tend to reduce explaining to proposition. Second, when listeners or readers don't "get it," then men tend to explain by imposition. Third, more clever men tend to explain by transposition. And, lastly, even fewer men will find answers in apposition.

What's that mean? Well, appositions may help us here. In other words, we may have to use other words. We may best paraphrase. We might put one story beside another to see how that helps us interpret better.

Historian Bettany Hughes remembers how one Greek man gave this parable (i.e., one story thrown alongside another), as a joke:

When, in Ancient Greece, the rhetorician Gorgias stood up and delivered his 'Encomium of Helen' (a defence of Helen of Troy's indefensible character) - this was a great joke. How can you laud the most sluttish femme fatale of all time? But the rhetoric also got people thinking - maybe, just maybe the skilled speaker had a point.
Why would this woman ever leave the Greek men to join an enemy, a Trojan? In short, Gorgias said Helen was obedient to a command (i.e., a proposition of the gods), was forced by might (through imposition by Trojan men), or was conned by words (i.e., a kind of transposing "If you go with us, then we'll give you this and that and such"). Or, she might have been in love, her story voluntarily put in position right beside her so-called abductor's story.

Mark's Rabbi told a parable (the parable to explain all parables) that is similar. Actually, Mark "translated" what this Joshua (aka Jesus) spoke into another language -- two languages side by side. Wow, this is hard to claim to understand completely. Joshua said (and Mark said Jesus said) that there are four positions for sown seed to find itself in. First, seed falls along the wayside (like a proposition falls without being understood). Second, seed falls into shallow soil where rocks and sun force it to die (like an imposition forces a reduced understanding of a statement). Third, seed falls among other plants to engage with them (but like Hegel's synthesis of a thesis with an antithesis, the thesis dies). Fourth, seed falls and dies but in good soil without rocks or too much sun or the choking of other plants comes up multiply, after its own kind but different that way too (like a parable or an appositive or Helen's love beside her lover's love).

What I'm wondering is whether the first Jewish translation of their scripture is like this fourth sort of ex-plain-ing. The translators put Hebrew into Hellene, and they put themselves into it. It's very personal. It changes them and their Greek and Jewish readers in exponential ways.

Tomorrow, I'll try to begin with the Jewish story of the Beginning. In Greek, it is a parable, a throwing of one story alongside another. The story dies but comes up something different, something more, something still after its own kind.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sucking the Body right out of Translation

Just so you know, I'm limiting my composing on this blog to 15 minutes a post.

Now, here's the thesis statement today:

We western men suck the personal right out of translating.  

This isn't what women tend to do.  Nor is it how the Jews translating their own scriptures translate.

Let me try to explain the thesis.  We westerners, mostly us men, mostly us non-Jews, have mostly translated "the Bible."  But rather than translate by the methods that the Hebrews used, at least in legend, to translate what we know as the Septuagint and as the New Testament -- we western men (and some women) have chosen Western methodologies.

"Dynamic equivalence," "formal equivalence," "literary equivalence," and "relevance theory" are the King methodologies in the Western world today.  To be sure, missionary Bible translators are exporting these methods as if they're straight from God himself, as "infallible" as the text of the "Word of God" surely must be.  

When a woman such as Karen H. Jobes comes along to suggest that translation really is better conceived as "simultaneous interpretation," then the Western men (and some women) get all excited to consider the "new" idea.  But then they return to what they've always been doing:  using Aristotelian and Platonic (i.e., Greek women-hating male) theories of language and of language translation.  Some time back I read an article about how the translators for the U.S. military in Iraq jeopardize their own person, their own families even, when they are simultaneous translators.  The enemies of America don't take too kindly to such translators.  There's personal risk.  Jobes knows that too.

When a family such as Kenneth L. Pike, Evelyn Pike, and Eunice Pike come along to suggest that translators are outsiders looking in, then the Bible translation establishments that they work for get all excited to consider the "new" idea.  But then they "progress" to "relevance theory" leaving the Pikes behind.  Ken Pike named outsiderness "etics" and insiderness "emics" -- and this got the attention of scholars in twenty-five different academic disciplines because it was so useful.  I say it's pretty humble too.  

Pike used to say to some of us his students that some languages don't have much of a mathematics and no formal Aristotle logic and nothing of Plato's idealism (as in Chomsky's syntactic theory).  Pike also used to do this language translation on the spot -- something he called "monolingual demonstration."  He'd play the "etic" outsider and let another "friendly person" he'd never met nor talked with in her language play the "emic" insider.  The "monolingual" part was her language, not his.  But this outsider, etic role of Pike's was always personal.  He'd ask us, "Aren't etics a kind of emics"?  In other words, "Even if I play the outsider, aren't I coming from my own personal perspectives?  Can I ever be totally objective?  Don't the data observed and the person observed and the person observing all change in the observation?"

Alright, I'm into my 14th minute so just have to end by saying this:

I'm reading along in Genesis this morning that part about God changing his mind about having ever made human beings in the first place.  The Jews translating the original Hebrew into Greek use these loaded terms:  καὶ ἐνεθυμήθη ὁ θεὸς.  Somewhat literally in English that is:  "and the god enthymemed."  

"Enthymemed?"  Yep, that's English in our western academics we call "Rhetoric."   It's a loaded, personal term for the Greeks, even for Aristotle and Plato -- both of whom theorized "rhetoric" as something changy and slimy and womany and what the "sophistas" did with language.  Aristotle goes on right at the start of his book Around Rhetoric to say that the "enthymeme" is the "body" of "beliefs" or of "proofs," as in mathematical proofs.  Now, that notion of the "body" is a feminist one.  "Beliefs" and "change" really are things that our mothers do, when they conceive us and carry us to full term and then nurture us through life.  Sort of like translating.  (Which reminds me too of reading something the Jew named Mark said the Rabbi Joshua aka "Jesus" would teach:  μετανοεῖτε καὶ πιστεύετε, quite literally "change your minds and believe." Kinda personal stuff, huh? Which makes me wonder whether Mark changed and believed any? Whether most western men translating the bible by their Western methods do at all. Whether instead they tend to suck the incarnation, the personal, right out of their translations.)

Monday, December 29, 2008

this blog: the womBman's Bible

This blog is to be my ongoing commentary on the Bible. I'm trying to encourage myself and my family members to read it again this year. My daughters and my son and my wife are going to help me translate it into English. They're mainly going to read it in English. I'm mainly making it into English from Greek.

We're outsiders to this Jewish text. None of us is a Jew (or speaks Hebrew, Aramaic, or Yiddish although I "read" some of the ancient stuff). And my daughters and my wife are even more "etic" (or more "outsider") than my son and I are because the text is written and canonized exclusively by men, to men, and for men.

I'm focusing on the woman's perspective of the Greek versions of the Bible. That's my focus (or those are my focuses) for at least two reasons: 1) translating opens up the text to outsiders, and 2) translations into the Hellene mother tongue have helped highlight the inherent male sexism of, in, and through the Bible.

My blog title is a play on the title of an earlier commentary of the Hebrew (and Christian) scriptures in America: The Woman's Bible: A Classic Feminist Perspective by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and several of her colleagues from around the world.

My "womBman" is a play on our English language word woman. Sheldon Vanauken, one of the first English speakers to coin the word sexism, also said:

A man defines himself primarily in terms of brain, a thinking--creature. Hand and brain, hence overlordship of earth. But he defines woman, despite her equal brain and deft hands, primarily as a biological creature - a vagina and a womb. -He does not expect or want from her anything much more. Consider for a moment the connotations of the word 'woman' with its sound of 'womb' combined with 'man'. Or the word 'female'. Compare the ring of "Here is a man" to "Here is a woman". The former suggests all that a man is: the proud thinker, the brave warrior, the creative artist, the builder, and, of course, the lover. But 'woman' and 'female' alike suggest no more than the biological roles - the wife or mistress or mother of man. Somehow the word 'girl' seems a bit freer of exclusively biological connotations, partly perhaps because it's an independent word, not a feminine variant on the masculine stem, but most!" because of what a girl is -free. Comparatively free, anyway. But regardless of words, to define woman as a biological creature is to err. If all men were stricken by some incapacitating disease, she could take over and run the world. It might even be a more peaceful world. She, too, is homo sapiens with the brain that will take man to the stars. What has happened here?

It is men who over the centuries have defined her as vagina and womb, Because of greater physical strength, and by means of that strength, men reduced her and limited her to her secondary and biological role, just as they also enslaved other men. But physical strength is of virtually no importance, in a world of machinery and brain power is all-important. It is time for a change. It is time to stop wasting half the brain power of the world in kitchen and nursery and secondary jobs -secretaries but never bosses with half the average income of men.

"Oh, but listen" -the cries go up- "this is what girls want. They could change it if they really wanted to; they have the vote. They want to be secondary, they want to lean on men, they want kids. Consider the material instinct! The nesting instinct! It's basic, man! Ask the chicks. Anyway, what about the sacred American home? Wow, we can't break up the home' Men need somebody to take care of them and build them up. That's what a woman is made for, that and kids. Sure the blacks and the Vietnamese (males, of course) have got to be free, but women are already as free as they want to be. They may have brains, but with them instinct is stronger, a whole lot stronger. They've got to have a home and kids or they're not fulfilled. Unmarried women aren't real women."

A myth. A myth like the racist myths we're all too familiar with, designed to explain and perpetuate the superiority of one race and the inferiority of another. But the sexist myth is the greatest and most pervasive myth the world has ever told itself- at once explaining, condoning, and perpetuating male superiority and female inferiority, meanwhile denying -craftiest touch of all! - that to be secondary in everything is at all inferior.
Cady Stanton published her comments on the Bible starting in around 1895 AD.

Vanauken published his comments (those comments above) in 1968 AD.

Jewish men began translating their Hebrew text into the Hellene mother tongue in Alexander the Great's Alexandria, Egypt in around 246BCE.

In many fascinating ways, this act of translating into Hellene opens up the text. It opens the text up into the debates over how Greek males (such as Alexander's teacher Aristotle) may control the Greek language for elite educated men of the Academy. The language control was to exclude not only women but also sophists, rhetoricians, ancient epic poets, more contemporary poets, colonists such as those in Soli who committed "solecisms" in writing, and BarBarians who spoke in foreign barbarisms.

The intended or unintended wordplay in the newly-translated Greek Jewish Bible (or ἡ βίβλος), and how such translatings allow women, or wombmen, to overhear the text as outsiders, are some of the focuses of this blog. In this blog, I'm also going to look at the New Testament (or new covenant) written by Jewish men using the Hellene mother tongue as their male text.

So it's "The womBman's Bible: an outsider's perspective on the Hebrew male's Hellene book."