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.


  1. OK, there are innumerable things I don't understand, a few of them in your posts thus far on this blog.

    But this post is quite helpful. I am drawn in, engaged, and entertained, and even sense the possibility of enlightenment.

    I shall continue to read with interest. Since I love to read the LXX alongside the Hebrew text, I am very interested in your study and your thoughts.

  2. Thanks for reading. I notice at your blog you've made some pretty helpful notes on the LXX, including this one: "that few Christians outside of the Orthodox tradition will realize just how many differences there are in the LXX text and the Hebrew." I hope to learn more from what you see and write!


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