Friday, January 23, 2009

Mothers of Moses

First, read Suzanne's post. Now you know how what's she's saying there has prompted me to say something more here. (No, I'm not blogging any more; just today).

See how Suzanne gets to the importance of gendered language? The insertion of male-only metaphors closes down a text and the translation of that text. Pay attention to the ironic examples she gives from one text of Creation (aka Sefer Yetsira or ספר יצירה) and from another text of Creation (aka Sefer Ma'aseh Be-Réshit or בְּרֵאשִׁית and Genesis or Γένεσις). The examples are ironic when the "creation" text uses "tongue" only (but not "lips"), so un-creatively, so de-creatively. Allowing men only to translate (in masculinist ways, or by abstract phallogocentric methods alone) kills creation. Suzanne starts by showing the womanly translation of Julia Smith, who (she says in her next post) is one of "the heroes of transparency and word for word translation. . . [with] a sense of the sound and flow of the language. . . not just translating meaning, but metaphor and imagery, alliteration and assonance." (Notice how Smith is not the only one who so heroically translates. Suzanne names two men as such heroic translators as well).

Womanly translation, which is like the "écriture féminine" espoused by Hélène Cixious, is plural. And is inclusive, of not only male but also female genders. Nancy Mairs describes such as "feminine discourse," as "not the language of opposites but a babel of eroticism, attachment, and empathy." Just to be clear, Aristotle, the father of masculinist language (i.e., Greek male-only logic), observed females in nature as the opposite of males. Biologically, the procreative organs and genitals of females are, Aristotle says, both the counterpart to and the inverse of the male procreative genital. He adds that females are inferior to males, are actually opposite and botched mutilations of males. Thus, the very vocalized sounds of females are inferior to male voices. Females in opposition to males, according to Aristotle, are "directly translational." But Mairs shows that one example of feminine discourse (as translational and plural as such can be) actually "blows to smithereens" the dominant male-only example of a "cultural paradigm" in the West (i.e., the Baconian "essay" not the Montaignian "essais"); Mairs's speaks of the richness of Alice Walker's personal, bodily, inclusive translation or reworking of the essay.

I suppose the previous paragraph will run off all readers who have little tolerance for anything feminist. And yet, Suzanne's post moves me forward to talk about what the text we've come to know as Exodus includes.

There are two things I want to discuss here.

One, do you notice how the name Moses comes from a woman, an Egyptian female? How she bends down and pulls the little baby out of the Nile River? And she says, "Let's call him Pulled Out"? And how she's speaking Egyptian, of course!? But how the Hebrew translators of her words put them in, well, in Hebrew, of course!? Or is the ambiguous claim of the "original" Hebrew text that "she" is the "sister" of the one pulled out of the Nile by the Egyptian daughter? Look for yourself! Listen to the wordplay:

וַיִגְדַּל הַיֶּלֶד וַתְּבִאֵהוּ לְבַת־פַּרְעֹה וַיְהִי־לָהּ לְבֵן וַתִּקְרָא שְׁמֹו מֹשֶׁה וַתֹּאמֶר כִּי מִן־הַמַּיִם מְשִׁיתִהוּ׃

משה (Mosheh aka "Moses")
משה (mashah aka "draw out")
מים (mayim aka "[from] water(s)")

There are the bi-labial sounds of אם ('em), the universal cry for "ma" for "ma ma" for "mother." These are the first sounds on the lips of Moses, the baby, as his mother nurses him. Two lips are needed, for the nursing, for the creative, voiced name "Ma" and אם ('--m).

And the Egyptian daughter understands the sounds so well.

Two, I want to look at how Exodus 2 further disrupts the male-only line (i.e., the masculine genealogy, the patriarchy) of these Hebrews. Notice how the mother of Moses, the biological mother, is an unnamed daughter. This is significant. She is only named in reference to the "son" of Israel named Levi, and to one of the "sons" of this "son" named Levi. HE is איש ('iysh). But she is not named as his opposite, as coming from "man" (i.e., she's not called in this text אשה ['ishshah]). And she is not called a womb-man by the Jewish men translating the Hebrew into Greek (i.e., she is not translated as ἡ γυνὴ). Nonetheless, as we keep reading in both Hebrew and in Hellene, she is a mother, the mother who conceives and bears and hides the one to be called Moses [i.e., the One Pulled out by a mother who gives him back to his mother from whom he's pulled out, from whose breasts he nurses, whom he first and also calls אם ('--m, or "ma").

Remember how this same Moses later complains, in Hebrew, not only, "I being heavy of mouth, and heavy of tongue" but also "I of uncircumcised lips"?! (See Exodus 4:10 but then 6:12). Both the tongue and (for this man Moses) the lips are impediments to pulling the people out of slavery under a dominant man (i.e. Pharaoh) in Egypt.

This patriarchy of males cannot do without girls, without daughters, without mothers. And these girls and mothers and daughters are translational. They are equal with boys, with sons, with fathers, in the image of the god (i.e. of God) who created both genders. ("Let us create. . . boy and girl he created them"). I'm using "girl" and "sister" and "mother" as I write in English because they are gendered terms not dependent on some opposite. They are not like "female" which depends on "male" and "woman" which depends on "man." Equality, in originality, in creativity, in the Beginning, does not classify one sex as secondary to or as below the other sex. Don't misunderstand what I'm trying to say: female and woman are good English words--but they are terms that are marked as aberrant forms of their unmarked (i.e., default) male and man counterparts.

The story teller of what we know as Exodus 2 seems to get the disruption of the Hebrew patriarchy by girls, by mothers, by daughters not only of Hebrews but also of Egyptians. The translators translating in Egypt, using Homeric Hellene for their Hebrew, seem to get this too.

So let's focus now on just one "verse" of Exodus 2. We hear in verse 3 some of the most incredible echos of mothers desperate to protect and to preserve their progeny. Look and listen:

Here's the Hebrew.

וְלֹא־יָכְלָה עֹוד הַצְּפִינֹו וַתִּקַּח־לֹו תֵּבַת גֹּמֶא וַתַּחְמְרָה בַחֵמָר וּבַזָּפֶת וַתָּשֶׂם בָּהּ אֶת־הַיֶּלֶד וַתָּשֶׂם בַּסּוּף עַל־שְׂפַת הַיְאֹר׃

Now here's Julia Smith's English.

"And she will not be able any more to hide him, and she will take for him an ark of bulrush, and will pitch it with bitumen and with pitch, and she will put in it the child, and will put in the sedge by the lip of the river."

Do you see and hear? There's the return to Babel (i.e., "pitch it with bitumen and with pitch"), the repetition of "lip" (as is heard in the originally story of Babel). Now in Exodus, the Hebrew and the English, of the original story teller and of the translator, give this to readers. Why? What's so important about the re-collection of "bitumen" and "pitch"? It's what humans used to try to build a city state and a tower to get to the god (i.e., God). Now a mother is using the same materials to try to get her baby away from the man who would kill Hebrew males only. What's so important about the "lip" metaphor, instead of say a "bank" for the river? Some will say that a gendered reading of "lip" here as feminine discourse is "reading into the text." But why not another Hebrew metaphor, why not another English word? Don't these suggest other possibilities for a male only text? Don't they (allow us, boy and girl, to) disrupt the patriarchy? Isn't the disallowing of "lip" more than a "loss in translation"? Isn't the refusal to use "lip" (as an ambiguous, opened-up metaphor) an enactment of masculinist (i.e., phallogocentric) translation, in which the usually-male translator gets on his high horse and decides that "lip" is not "fit" for the nature of his "natural" English? Isn't "field-testing" (again in a "male" dominant select group of "native speakers") just a smoke screen for excluding the possibilities of alternative interpretations?

So let's turn to the Hellene translation by the Hebrews living in Egypt (and immediately then to Lancelot Brenton's and Larry Perkins's respective English "translations" of the Greek).

ἐπεὶ δὲ οὐκ ἠδύναντο αὐτὸ ἔτι κρύπτειν, ἔλαβεν αὐτῷ ἡ μήτηρ αὐτοῦ θῖβιν καὶ κατέχρισεν αὐτὴν ἀσφαλτοπίσσῃ καὶ ἐνέβαλεν τὸ παιδίον εἰς αὐτὴν καὶ ἔθηκεν αὐτὴν εἰς τὸ ἕλος παρὰ τὸν ποταμόν.

"And when they could no longer hide him, his mother took for him an ark, and besmeared it with bitumen, and cast the child into it, and put it in the ooze by the river." - Brenton

"But when they could hide it no longer, its mother took a basket and plastered it with a mixture of pitch and tar, and she put the child in it and placed it in the marsh beside the river." - Perkins

What do you see? Or, rather, what do you neither see nor hear in the Greek? No "lip" of the river where the one (Hebrew) mother of Moses hides him to be delivered out of the river by the other (Egyptian) mother of Moses. This "delivery" by the translators using Greek fails to convey all that it does by the story teller using Hebrew, using "lip."

Suzanne has already noted something similar earlier in the Greek-translated Hebrew text:

"But the Greeks [i.e., the males reading and translating in Greek] would have none of that. The translators of the Septuagint could not write that Moses was of 'uncircumcised lips.' They clearly found this kind of formal equivalence to be impossible and refused to accept such a foreign notion in this case. In Greek the ears could literally be 'uncircumcised' and the heart, as well. This leads me to believe that the Greek translators did, indeed, associate the 'lips' with the female pudenda, and deliberately rejected the possibility that 'lips' could be circumcised."

So the translators are translating in a way that robs the text of feminine gender with respect to the female body in metaphor (i.e., a conception of and a carrying of meanings to full term towards the birth of new meanings, as in the playful name of Moses). The Hebrew senses are lost in translation into Greek.

And yet, there is something found in the Greek that's not in Hebrew. What's found is found in the Hellene feminine again. Did you see it?

I'm talking about the verb, κατέχρισεν (kate-chris-en). Brenton only puts that in English as "besmeared"; and Perkins only as "plastered."

Perhaps the English translators of the Greek (i.e., Brenton and Perkins) are looking not at the Greek but at the Hebrew: חמר (chamar). Most English translators have made this Hebrew something like "daubed" or "covered." Most have, that is, in this context only. In every other context, the English translators of the Hebrew tend translate this Hebrew word negatively. For instance, in Job 16:16, weeping "fouled" [not "covered" or "daubed" or "plastered"] his face; in Lamentations 1:20 and 2:11, bowels are "troubled" [not "covered"]; in Psalms 46:3, it's water that is "troubled" and in Psalms 75:8, it's wine that is made "red" and bad.

Is such negativity what the Greek translators are after in Exodus 2:3 by rendering חמר (chamar) as κατέχρισεν (kate-chris-en)?

Yes, I think these translators in Egypt recognize how troubling the Hebrew word. And so they turn to a troubling context in Greek: the agency of women and their washings and anointings. Four times in Homer's Odus-ssey (the proto Ex-Odus) there are these lines:

τὰρ ἐπεὶ λοῦσέν τε καὶ ἔχρισεν λίπ’ ἐλαίῳ,
ἀμφὶ δέ μιν φᾶρος καλὸν βάλεν ἠδὲ χιτῶνα,

First, beautiful Polycaste, the daughter of Nestor Neleides, is bathing Telemachus. "Then after she bathes him she slathers oil on him; and she wraps him in a well-formed coat and tunic" (in Book 3, lines 466-467). Second, Telemachus (again) and (this time) with Nestor's son get the exact same treatment from the slave women (in Book 10 lines 364). Third, Circe bathes and oils up and clothes the buddies of Odysseus (Book 10 continued).

Fourth, but earlier in the story, Helen herself, "born of Zeus," is the one speaking. She's borrowed helpful potions from an Egyptian woman, Thonus' wife Polydamna. And here she uses them. (See translator-scholar Suzanne Jill Lavine's comment on potions, on the pun of pharmakon.) Yes, here's a Greek heroine getting help from an Egyptian heroine. Helen then tells of bathing Odysseus, the one journeying on the Way, and it is he, this central Greek hero of the story, whom she ἔχρισεν has anointed with oil. (Book 4, lines 252-253)

The translators of Hebrew Ex-Odus into Greek are surely aware of Homer and the Odus-ssey. It seems the story of Moses being pulled out of the Egyptian river by an Egyptian daughter in some ways reminds them of the story of Odysseus and his Wayfaring. In particular, they remember the Greek verb ἔχρισεν (e-chris-en) as they look to translate the consistently troubling Hebrew verb חמר (chamar). No doubt they remember also the logic of female pollution, according to some Greek men; for example, Hesiod warns, "Let a man not clean his skin in water that a woman has washed in. For a hard penalty follows on that for a long time." (Op. 753-55). In Exodus 2:3, there's a group of daughters, Egyptians too, who bathe in the river and gather at it's lip. A daughter of Levi who couples with a son of Levi finds herself putting a circumcised Hebrew male baby down in this ooze (i.e., τὸ ἕλος, or helos).

Notice how ἕλος (or the troubled yucky female-polluted water for the Greek men) ambiguously plays on Hellene, on Helen. Notice how ἔχρισεν (e-chris-en) plays on Homer's women anointing men after their bathing them. Notice how apt this term for the Hebrew men translating their mother tongue without the lip into Hellene.

Notice how χρισ (Chris) is used later for משיח (mashiyach, aka Messiah aka "Christ"). The first "anointed" is the basket of Moses by the Hebrew mother in Egypt (translated in Egypt into Hellene). See and hear how meanings can be found (rather than lost) in translation.


One last little playful note. David creates these "psalms" he calls cyber psalms. Others now have been singing them aloud. Yesterday, I so badly wanted to translate Cyber Psalm 29 from his English into a Zimbabwe woman's Fanagalo. Alas, I only found Brazilian Portuguese available for our play with words. I know my friend studied his Portuguese in Portugal, and uses it even to teach in Mozambique, so I figured the American version was distant enough. There is play I say. "They bilk the bank," sings the psalmist in his original. And he adds, "They snatch the bread," to the same line. So she sings back with added alliteration and idiomatic idiom: "Eles pilhar porquinho de poupança. Eles pegam o pão." She's not a "native speaker" so he does note that her grammar is non-native. No, her lips speak Fanagalo, and perhaps some non-native English and a little Portuguese. Look, listen. (And call me crazy for overhearing all that. Bon voyage, friend. We're glad you're going to be blogging again.)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Some Parting Notes on Genesis & the Way Out

Today, our spring semester began and, after getting everyone in class working away, I'm sitting down to leave my office today. In just a few minutes, the computer tech will arrive to install the latest version of the OS on this machine. I'm looking over the last of my highlights and handwritten notes on the Greek translation of Genesis by the Jews back in Egypt under the Greeks some two hundred and fifty years before the Greek new "covenant" was written. This is likely to be my last post, for several reasons I'll not enumerate. Don't know if I'll blog again. I do hope some of what is here has been in some small way helpful to someone. The comments each one of you has made here, or the encouragement some of you have given me at your own blogs, are profoundly valuable to me! I cherish the interactions, and I'm always amazed by what you see and what you say and how you say it!

Genesis 33
In Greek, the tricky Jacob says to his tricked brother Esau:

Ἵνα εὕρῃ ὁ παῖς σου χάριν ἐναντίον σου, κύριε.

"I [Jacob] your slave-child wanna find χάριν (favor, grace) when in front of ἐναντίον (in-against) you, master."

Notice he calls him "master" and himself "slave-child." Notice how the male translators have called men and the god "master" but only women and certain deprecated men "slave-children."

Notice also the χάρις (favor) thing. Notice how the male Christian bible translators have made this a god-only thing. But here a human, a male sibling, is requesting it be found from his brother.

Now, Dina, the daughter of Leah, in Genesis 34. I think the Hebrews describe her matrilineally because of the different mothers in their patriarchy. But without getting into any of that, we see that Shechem (in Greek translated in Egypt) suggests this "grace" or "favor" thing:

εἶπεν δὲ Συχεμ πρὸς τὸν πατέρα αὐτῆς καὶ πρὸς τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς αὐτῆς Εὕροιμι χάριν ἐναντίον ὑμῶν, καὶ ὃ ἐὰν εἴπητε, δώσομεν.

The reaction? They answer the offer of "grace" with "deception."

The sons of Jacob answer the men of Shechem with δόλου. Now δόλος is exactly what Homer's Odysseus answers the Cyclops with. It's scheming deceit. Odysseus kills the Cyclops with a searing stick in the eye, after he deceives him with word play. (Some English translators and their readers do get it). The sons of Jacob kill Shechem and his men with swords, after they deceive them with word play that gets them agreeing to having their grown goy groins circumcised. (This is before the god says to Jacob: ἔθνη καὶ συναγωγαὶ ἐθνῶν ἔσονται ἐκ σοῦ, καὶ βασιλεῖς ἐκ τῆς ὀσφύος σου ἐξελεύσονται. In Christian biblish, this is something like "for nations [or Gentiles] and gatherings of nations [or Gentiles] shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins.")

ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ, ὅτε ἦσαν ἐν τῷ πόνῳ,
(on the third day, that most significant day, when all pain is pressing), two of the sons of Jacob more than kill Shechem: in addition, they take all the womb-wives -- all the bodies -- and all the other property for themselves: καὶ πάντα τὰ σώματα αὐτῶν καὶ πᾶσαν τὴν ἀποσκευὴν αὐτῶν καὶ τὰς γυναῖκας αὐτῶν ᾐχμαλώτευσαν, καὶ διήρπασαν ὅσα τε ἦν ἐν τῇ πόλει καὶ ὅσα ἦν ἐν ταῖς οἰκίαις. They justified their actions because:

οἱ δὲ εἶπαν Ἀλλ' ὡσεὶ πόρνῃ χρήσωνται τῇ ἀδελφῇ ἡμῶν;
(they said, Will those foreigners treat our sister like a porn prostitute?

I don't have time to go on. But I do want to say that Genesis 35 begins the story of Joseph, who reminds Christian Bible translators (or he ought to remind them anyway) of another Joseph. The Christian Bible translators haven't seemed very reminded of Jacob, or his 12 sons, Ἦσαν δὲ οἱ υἱοὶ Ιακωβ δώδεκα -- especially when they've come to another Jacob. You know: "Jacob - of god and master Joshua salved - a slave, writing to the twelve tribes in the dispersion," or Ἰάκωβος - θεοῦ καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ - δοῦλος, ταῖς δώδεκα φυλαῖς ταῖς ἐν τῇ διασπορᾷ.

In the Hebrew bible, translated into Hellene, the Jews agree that Ιακωβ δὲ ἠγάπα τὸν Ιωσηφ παρὰ πάντας τοὺς υἱοὺς αὐτοῦ, ὅτι υἱὸς γήρους ἦν αὐτῷ· In other words, Jacob loved Joseph (with that Godly Christian Agape Love) more than he loved his other sons, because he was the son of his old age. What hardly anyone stops to say is that there's absolutely no word of love from father Jacob for any daughter, no even one. The brothers are just jealous of the love for the brother for the father, and in Greek they can't say Shalom: ἰδόντες δὲ οἱ ἀδελφοὶ αὐτοῦ ὅτι αὐτὸν ὁ πατὴρ φιλεῖ ἐκ πάντων τῶν υἱῶν αὐτοῦ, ἐμίσησαν αὐτὸν καὶ οὐκ ἐδύναντο λαλεῖν αὐτῷ οὐδὲν εἰρηνικόν.

And translators, then, come to their first Judas: Ιουδας. If he were just in Hebrew, he'd remain Judah. But when Jesus comes along, then because of the tribe of Judah, he's Judah again, and the other Judas comes into play. These are plays on the word, Jew. Or in Martin Luther's and Adolf Hitler's bibles, the name is Judas . . . welcher ihn verriet.

So before they all go to Egypt the first time, this one Ιουδας treats his own daughter Θαμαρ (aka Tamar) as a πόρνην (aka a pornish prostitute), which she although a widow, pretended to be. Some angel of a messenger then comes by to tell him his daughter's been knocked up when playing the prostitute: Ἑγένετο δὲ μετὰ τρίμηνον ἀπηγγέλη τῷ Ιουδα λέγοντες Ἑκπεπόρνευκεν Θαμαρ ἡ νύμφη σου καὶ ἰδοὺ ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχει ἐκ πορνείας. He wants her burned. It's a real life parable. Play acting. Hypocrisy. All turned into facts. The scarlet thread of the prostitute Rahab comes back into the story. This is all before the Jew we call Matthew writes his genealogy of Joseph, that includes this Jacob and this Judas and this Tamar and that Rahab.

By Genesis 39, that Joseph is in Egypt, where the translators of his story into Greek are now. His master is an Egyptian, a man of course: κυρίῳ τῷ Αἰγυπτίῳ. But there's his master's womb-wife woman too: ἡ γυνὴ τοῦ κυρίου αὐτοῦ. He hangs out with her long enough that she starts saying, εἰσήγαγεν ἡμῖν παῖδα Εβραῖον ἐμπαίζειν ἡμῖν. Notice, for the very very first time, the Hellene bible has a Hebrew. Abram was a just a passer, Αβραμ τῷ περάτῃ, remember? Well, this Joseph is here to stay in Egypt, and the Jews in Egypt translating let him stay a Hebrew child-slave. Notice the other thing, what they say she says he does: ἐμπαίζειν. He's a sporter, an erotic player, she says (at least they say in Greek that that's what she says). And who would trust her, speaking Greek in Egypt, a woman no less?

The story plays on until the family comes together again and the father (Jacob) tells the story again at the end. At one point, he's sure to note:

παρὰ θεοῦ τοῦ πατρός σου,
καὶ ἐβοήθησέν σοι ὁ θεὸς ὁ ἐμὸς
καὶ εὐλόγησέν σε εὐλογίαν οὐρανοῦ ἄνωθεν
καὶ εὐλογίαν γῆς ἐχούσης πάντα·
ἕνεκεν εὐλογίας μαστῶν καὶ μήτρας,

from your god of fathers of your patrilineage,
the god's a woman-like help-meet to you, that one of mine,
he's stated a blessed statement on you from the sky above (where Jesus tells Nicodemus he had to be born from),
a blessed statement also from the birthing ground having all--
because of a blessed statement of breasts and also of mother.
(Genesis 49:25)

So I'm overtranslating the Greek into English as they overtranslated their Hebrew into their Greek, in Egypt all over again. The last chapter closes ἐν τῇ σορῷ ἐν Αἰγύπτῳ (in the coffin in Egypt).

But they waste no time. Just as the Jew named Luke translates the story of that later Joshua being translated on his way out, so these Jews in Alexandria Egypt translate the story of The Way Out.

Luke writes of Jesus's transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36), and he says (Luke 9:31) the Moses out of Egypt shows up to talk with Jesus about his "departure" from Jerusalem: οἳ ὀφθέντες ἐν δόξῃ ἔλεγον τὴν ἔξοδον αὐτοῦ ἣν ἤμελλεν πληροῦν ἐν Ἰερουσαλήμ. Of course, the Christian departure in Greek is The Way Out (ἔξοδος), as if Moses knows something about that.

Homer, and the Jews translating their own stories into Greek in the Homeric Tradition, also know something about The Way Out, or at least the Way-farer Odysseus's Ex-Odus-sey. I think the translators had no problem reading the Greek Odyssey side by side with the Hebrew Ex-Odys. And Luke has no problem writing of Joshua's and of Moses's and of Elijah's Jewish conversation in Greek. To read the one is to help translate the other. There is no Christian irony in it of opening the story up to the whole world but closing down the words to the world of Christians.

My own memory of Exodus is after my mother helped me read Odyssey. We read the Odyssey quite mutually when I was a little boy living in a war zone where father tended to be absent or worse abusive. But by the time the war was over, I was in puberty and into atheism and hedonism. Mother at the time made me read Exodus in RSV after Cecil B. DeMille's Ten Commandments, a filmy transposition. I had no idea this story of Exodus, with its God and gods, was anything connected to the Greek of the Jews. And I thought men should be over women. It's taken a little more reading, in English, in Greek, and in Hebrew, to see how that all has needed translating.

Messengers of Wordplay

The Jews translating Genesis 32 keep in the Hellene the intertextuality of the Hebrew. For example, in the first sentence and in a subsequent one, there's noun מלאך (mal'ak) repeated. In all of the "best" English translations, the repeated noun changes meaning because it seems English translators think the first applies to "God" while the second applies to "Jacob." Thus, we get this oddity in English:

"God's angels" or "the angels of God"
and then "Jacob sent messengers"

But Jewish translators make it as follows:

οἱ ἄγγελοι τοῦ θεοῦ
and then Ἀπέστειλεν δὲ Ιακωβ ἀγγέλους

Notice that all the English translators (whether the translators of KJV, the ESV, the NASB, the HCSV, the TNIV, the NLT, the Message) do not really translate the first מלאך (mal'ak) into English at all! Rather, these Christian bible translators "transliterate" the Jewish translators' Greek ἄγγελοι as "angels." This is something Aristotle would insist on. Do not translate from the Greek. No. Transliterate if you have to. Keep it in pure Hellene, even if only you must keep just the sounds. Let the word NOT be other than what it is in itself. Allow no inter-subjectivity, absolute no variance because of context. When it is τοῦ θεοῦ (i.e. of the god or Rather "of God"), then the Christian translators get as Aristotelian as they can. "Everyone knows," they rationalize, "that 'angels of God' cannot be by nature the same thing as 'angels of Jacob'!"

The Christian bible translators never stop to recognize that the Jews, translating their own Scriptures into Greek, have not parsed up the lexicon. They have not worried about "concordance," about "formal equivalence," or "dynamic equivalence" or such platonic and aristotelian notions of certain women-fearing, female-hating Greek men (and namely Plato and Aristotle).

If the Jews translating into Greek (in Alexandria in the shadow of Aristotle's student Alexander the Great) were to translate into German the same ways (in say Vienna in the shadow of Adolf Hitler), then how would they translate? Would they have followed the Christian Martin Luther who hates Aristotle's misogyny but practices his sexism and his logic in translation anyway? Luther has this:

Engel Gottes

Jakob aber schickte Boten

I think the Jews would make them "Boten Gottes." And in their English (in the shadow of the Church of England and the myriad churchs of America), the Jews would open up the translating. (They'd never need to make Ἀπέστειλεν "Apostle" even if it was something "God" does in the "New Testament" in Greek only with now no שלח [shalach] in sight.) And they would have something like "messengers of the god."

And even when Jacob is expressing his fear aloud, especially as they put the Hellene mother tongue in his mouth, they understand from their own history of body enslavement and of physical torture and slaughter the suffering and pain and utter grief of his sentence:

μήποτε ἐλθὼν πατάξῃ με καὶ μητέρα ἐπὶ τέκνοις

(it's a very subjective, intensely personal "lest he comes to strike me -- mother on children." Where then is father? Where then is the patriarchy giving its blessing of perpetuation for ever?)

Notice that Jacob finds himself alone (μόνος) even though it is not good for a human to be left alone says the god at the beginning of Genesis. The Jewish Jacob then wrestles in Greek with an ἄνθρωπος, a mortal who may or may not be male and may or may not be circumcised, whose own hip will stay in tact though Jacob's will not so that he will become Israel of οἱ υἱοὶ Ισραηλ (the sons of Israel with eating restrictions in Egypt). The point in Hellene is that this wrestler who breaks Jacob's loneliness (or aloneness) is a human and is not clearly the god though is likely one of the messengers of this god. The mortal human asks this Jacob (i.e., this circumcised male patriarch of the twelve eventually) to Ἀπόστειλόν με ("send me away" like a Christian English translator's Apostle). But this one with the curious name says to the human: Οὐ μή σε ἀποστείλω, ἐὰν μή με εὐλογήσῃς.

The Jewish translators (against the Greek Aristotle and much more like the Greek Homer) know how important names and wordplay must be. They keep open the translating.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

N. T. Wrong Targets Biblical Feminism

I almost entitled this post, "N. T. Wrong Is a biblical feminist (because Anne Carson is also one of his 'Favourite' poets)." But I realized we might get into discussions about the proper spelling of favorite and whether eats shoots & leaves is really on target at all for the conversation. That realization (which my British English teacher in high school insists is a "realisation") is not too far from what N. T. is asking. Who gets to define these things? Are we stuck with Illinois Republican Representative Henry Hyde's decade-plus-old statement as he sought to target President Bill Clinton for impeachment? I guess you have to list and litanize and catalogue every possible circumstance to have standards for due process. It's like pornography. You know it when you see it.

N. T., Thank you for asking me in such kind and thoughtful ways:

" 'the reclaim-the-Bible type of feminist criticism' . . . feminist

What do you mean by this?"

How can I give you a rigid, straightforward answer? What if instead I replied, "What do you mean by sexism?" Or by Aristotle's phallogocentric binary? Or by what a feminist biblical scholar has called "perpetrators of androcentric patriarchy [which certainly] applies to feminists as well, especially to those who by race and class are caught in the double web of being both oppressed and oppressor"?

If I only replied to you that way, then I might only be playing the postmodernism game of winning against modernism. (The death of postmodernism comes when modernism dies. Pomo depends on modernism. The leech cannot survive except as a parasite. Why would it?)

But feminisms tend not to be dependent (entirely) on bad men or on oppression by the world of men. Translation, by analogy, does not entirely depend on what the "original" text says or on what the "author" intended once upon a time. So we're closing in on the "target" as if stalking and hunting something wild. I'm playing with you.

"Simply put," bell hooks defines feminism in contrast to sexism. Black men, likewise, can and do define themselves in relation to sexism too. Nancy Mairs says best why feminisms are not a binary, with her ironic feminist binary; notice her NOT: Aristotle's binary "is not women’s language, since women, for a variety of reasons, live in a polymorphic rather than a dimorphic world, a world in which the differentiation of self from other may never completely take place, in which multiple selves may engage multiply with the multiple desires of the creatures in it." I've complained that (we) feminists have to "undefine definition as something more than mere opposition and binary." This has implications for blogging and essaying and publication in biblical journals, suggests Alice Walker. And biblical scholar Carolyn Osiek has outlined biblical feminismS, at least five of them, punctuating her whole list with her own subjective perspective, another alternative(?).

Maybe an initial analogy is simpler. Sometimes I ask the ESL teachers I work with to define the "letter A" in English. They protest further, "What do you mean by..." So I try to put a bulls-eye on the target: "Okay, how do you describe the 'shape' of the 'letter a'." I'm trying to get them to essentialize (or essentialise) something that they are long-time insiders to. Something that many of their students, even adults who have never had the 'English letter A' in language, may struggle with when trying to write with a pen by hand. The teachers begin listing features of the shape. They try contrasting it with the shapes of the other 4 vowel letters or all of the other 25 letters. They admit to uppercase and to lower case, saying those two cases are "different" shapes for the very "same" letter. Somehow they see "A" and "a" as the same shape. And when an indefinite article in English, the the sonic shape has to include nasalization (or nasalisation): "an". But when we bring in the cursive hand writing, and then the type print, we have to talk of fonts and various shapes. Infinity creeps in on our defining. When does the difference stop? "And what if," I ask, "the keyboard has a broken key -- the letter A is missing or sticking or something? Could you use a substitute, say a "*" or a "^" or an "@"? Don't young native English speakers text the letter A this way?"

The principles from the analogy of the shape(S) of the letter A include these:

Those who are unfortunate insiders to the experiences of sexism, and Western Aristotelian binarying, and phallogocentric patriarchy begin to get not only the shapes but also the value(S) of feminisms. One of the values is this kind of dialectic (a back-and-forth method too often only attributed to father Socrates by father Plato though disparaged by father Aristotle who would supplant dialectic with pure 'logic'; shhh: the secret is that probably dialectic is invented by the woman Aspasia -- a prostitute or a cultured non-Greek concubine or some other such creature with the scent of a woman taught both -- who taught the method to Pericles her lover and Socrates too). Dialectic opens up convers-ation into things very personal. The personal recognizes insiderness and outsiderness, where one has come from and where you are going too. It's hard to say you and you and nothing more. That a thing is a thing in itself. That you or that thing (i.e., "biblical feminism" or "sexism in the bible") cannot or will never ever change.

So I end with a complicated quotation of Nancy Mairs. She's published a paragraph on publication. I think the "shapeS" of "publication" are analogous to the "shapeS" of "biblical feminisms" and "lexiconS". Aristotle, and many men (and some phallogocentric women), resist these kinds of insider-outsider very-PERSONally dependent transformations:

"Publication of any sort is an intrinsically social act, 'I' having no reason to speak aloud unless I posit 'you' there listening; but your presence is especially vital if I am seeking not to disclose the economic benefits of fish farming in Zäire, or to recount the imaginary tribulations of an adulterous doctor's wife in nineteenth-century France, but to reconnect myself—now so utterly transformed by events unlike any I've experienced before as to seem a stranger even to myself—to the human community....lending materiality to my readerly ideal, transform monologue into intercourse."
--Nancy Mairs, Voice Lessons: On Becoming a (Woman) Writer

Friday, January 9, 2009

Generation of Animals & Alexandrian Idol

Genesis 30 as translated into Greek (by the Hebrews of Alexander's Great City in Egypt) is reminiscent of another text: Aristotle's Generation of Animals. You know, it's the text in which he writes with scientific certainty:

Ἔοικε δὲ καὶ τὴν μορφὴν γυναικὶ παῖς, καὶ ἔστιν ἡ γυνὴ ὥσπερ ἄρρεν ἄγονον· ἀδυναμίᾳ γάρ τινι τὸ θῆλύ ἐστι τῷ μὴ δύνασθαι πέττειν ἐκ τῆς τροφῆς σπέρμα τῆς ὑστάτης

(Now a boy is like a woman or wife in form, and the woman or wife is, as it were, a childless impotent male; for it is through a certain lack of ability that the female is female, being unable to concoct the nourishment in its last stage into seed or semen.)

ὥσπερ γὰρ καὶ ἐκ πεπηρωμένων ὁτὲ μὲν γίγνεται πεπηρωμένα ὁτὲ δ’ οὔ, οὕτω καὶ ἐκθήλεος ὁτὲ μὲν θῆλυ ὁτὲ δ’ οὒ ἀλλ’ ἄρρεν. τὸ γὰρ θῆλυ ὥσπερ ἄρρεν ἐστὶ πεπηρωμένον·

(Just as the young of mutilated parents are sometimes born mutilated and sometimes not, so also the young born of a female are sometimes female and sometimes male instead. The female is, in fact, a mutilated male.)

τὰ δὲ καὶ δύο ἔχοντα αἰδοῖα, τὸ μὲν ἄρρενος τὸ δὲ θήλεος, καὶ ἐν ἀνθρώποις καὶ μάλιστα περὶ τὰς αἶγας. γίγνονται γὰρ ἃς καλοῦσι τραγαίνας διὰ τὸ θήλεος καὶ ἄρρενος ἔχειν αἰδοῖον—ἤδη δὲ καὶ κέρας αἲξ ἔχουσα ἐγένετο πρὸς τῷ σκέλει

(Again, they may have the body parts doubled, both male and female; this is known in humans and especially in she-goats. For birthed babies called ‘billy goats’ are such because they have both male and female procreative birth parts; there is even a case of a she-goat being born with a horn upon its leg.)

Listen now to Genesis 30:41:

ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν τῷ καιρῷ, ᾧ ἐνεκίσσησεν τὰ πρόβατα ἐν γαστρὶ λαμβάνοντα, ἔθηκεν Ιακωβ τὰς ῥάβδους ἐναντίον τῶν προβάτων ἐν ταῖς ληνοῖς τοῦ ἐγκισσῆσαι αὐτὰ κατὰ τὰς ῥάβδους·

(And in time, here's what was birthed: the sheep received in the belly a craved conception, and when they did Jacob put the rods in front of the sheep in the troughs -- the cravings for their conceptions according to the rods.)

And listen more:


καὶ ἔδωκεν αὐτῷ Βαλλαν τὴν παιδίσκην αὐτῆς αὐτῷ γυναῖκα· εἰσῆλθεν δὲ πρὸς αὐτὴν Ιακωβ. καὶ συνέλαβεν Βαλλα ἡ παιδίσκη Ραχηλ καὶ ἔτεκεν τῷ Ιακωβ υἱόν.

(She gave him Balla her female-child-slave, his wife-womb-woman. Entering into her is Jacob himself. Together, Balla the female-child-slave of Rachel, takes him in and conceives, birthing a babe to Jacob, a son to him.)

And this goes on and on. Female after female, bearing male after male. The Greek adding verbs of conception where in Hebrew they aren't always needed. And the sons are named. Once, a translation is added (in Genesis 30:18):

καὶ ἐκάλεσεν τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ισσαχαρ, ὅ ἐστιν Μισθός.
(She calls his name Is'sachar -- pssst, it means "Reward.")

So in Greek, the possessions, the wages, females, child-slaves and sheep and goats and the like, are claimed as μισθός. And one of the boys of the sperm-father has "mandrakes": τῶν μανδραγορῶν τοῦ υἱοῦ σου, which buy an evening, for the generation of more than animals.


For Genesis 31, I'm running out of time for this post. Maybe I'll come back to it. Maybe not. There's the interesting thing of the idol, the gods. τὰ εἴδωλα, τοὺς θεούς. And of Rachel sitting on them after the manner of womb-women, and saying publicly that she can't be strip searched. τὸ κατ' ἐθισμὸν τῶν γυναικῶν.

So Laban just wishes he could have sent them off singing songs and such, sort of like American Idol in Alexandria, Egypt (Genesis 31:27) :

καὶ εἰ ἀνήγγειλάς μοι, ἐξαπέστειλα ἄν σε μετ' εὐφροσύνης καὶ μετὰ μουσικῶν, τυμπάνων καὶ κιθάρας.

(If you'd just been more angelic to me and told me first, then I'd have sent you away with blessed, joyful music, strings, drums, a big bang, and the whole she-bang.)

Who is Judas? Who can say?

In Genesis 27 to 29, we outsiders read of the family that has become known by the name of the son יהודה (Yĕhuwdah). They tell us that means "Praised." Late translators in this same family of his call him Ιουδα, in Greek, when living in Egypt again, after Egypt had been conquered by the ethnics called Greeks. In English, the name has variations, especially for Christian Bible translators for whom the Aristotelian distinctions are most important: Jew, Judean, Jude, Judas, and Judah.

I could digress a bit to say that Christian Bible translators seem to distinguish these names as if there are (a) theological reasons to keep them separate; or (b) "natural English" equivalents (field tested ones of course) for each different person (as similar names really don't matter); or (c) presumptions by the translators about "what was [surely] meant" so as now in English translation to force on readers precisely and only now "what is said." But if I did so digress, then I might end up suggesting that (a) theo-logic is often dogma; that (b) dynamic (or even formal) equivalence is often propaganda; and that (c) the main relevance is the message of the translator himself. One self-proclaimed Christian once proclaimed that "“Es ist immer der gleiche Jude. . . ist freilich auch selbstverständlich.” And his American DE translator said, only focusing on the text, that that's equal to “He is always the same Jew. . . is also a self-evident and natural fact.” We shouldn't digress. On to the text. . .

Instead of making my pronouncements, don't I have to ask questions?

Why does Jacob love Esau? Why does he love Rachel and not Leah? Why does Leah think that having Judah (and her other boys) will make Jacob love Leah?
Why does Jacob love hunted-game meat?

Why do the Jewish translators using Hellene use
ἠγάπησεν (AGAPE verb) and then φιλεῖ (PHILEO verb) so differently? Or do they use them in the same ways interchangeably?

(See 27:4, 9, 14 and 29:32 and so forth for the "contrasts").

Why do the Jewish translators use φίλησό* for loving "kiss"?

Why do the Jewish translators use different Greek words for the family sons, words with no Hebrew dynamic or formal equivalents? Words like υἱοῦ but τέκνον, and different discriptive words like τὸν ἐλάσσω but τὸν νεώτερον, but self-proclaiming notions like ὁ πρωτότοκος for something lost (as if in translation) like πρωτοτόκιά?

Such dys-function in this family. Such dys-function in this translation. Shall we (outsiders) make it our own (as if we can "fix" it in a "loving" Christian way, and thereby make it our own)?

The Greeks want villians to make the play work, to show the epic conflict between gods and humans. Aristotle says it's mere rhetoric, trickery. And with Rebekka and Jakob and Laban and Rachel (speaking Greek) is there that? What are the translators avoiding, as if to keep us ethnics, especially Greeks like Plato, his Socrates, his student Aristotle, and Aristotle's student Alexander out of this story?

Dare we push our way in, we Westerners with German or with English? with a cross in our hands? and a villian in our story? Our contemporary Jewish translator Willis Barnstone asks "But which of Jesus' associates should retain his association with the Jews?" And he answers what he overhears as our answer: "The traitor Judas Iscariot, of course."


Some time back, Suzanne asked what the Jewish writer John was doing in translating a dialogue between two Jews (i.e., Yeshua or Joshua, and the one he named Rock); was it his different words, or was it the conversants two words? I think we then looked at Homer's Odyssey and Richmond Lattimore's fine translation:

τίπτε δέ τοι, φίλε τέκνον, ἐνὶ φρεσὶ τοῦτο νόημα
ἔπλετο; πῇ δ' ἐθέλεις ἰέναι πολλὴν ἐπὶ γαῖαν
μοῦνος ἐὼν ἀγαπητός;

Why, my beloved child, has this intention come into
your mind? Why do you wish to wander over much country,
you, an only and loved son?

Now, in John 21, neither Lattimore nor Barnstone have a difference between AGAPEO and PHILEO in their English translations. Nor does literal translator Julia E. Smith. But Ann Nyland, J. B. Phillips, David H. Stern, and Michael Paul Johnson show differences. Why? How? What do you say?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Rebekah Speaks (Greek): Playful Words of Love

Looks like I have 2 things to do in this post on the Greek translation called Genesis 24:28 - 26.

First, there's much to say about Rebekah speaking Greek.  The Jewish translators add Greek phrases (why?).  They are playful with the Hellene.  Second, after writing what I did about Eugene Nida's translation theory as Aristotelian yesterday, I needed to fact check. 


1.  Rebekah has voice and agency in translation, in Hellene.  First, however, she is anticipated rather objectively by men, as an object by Abraham and by his unnamed ὁ παῖς (lowly servant, seen at the level of a child, in this case a male):  they are looking for Abraham's son Isaac a γυνὴ (a wife, a womb-woman, once in Hebrew אשה ['ishshah]). When the lowly servant addresses the deity for help, the translators have him say κύριε ὁ θεὸς τοῦ κυρίου μου Αβρααμ (Master, the god of my master Abraham). The hierarchy is very determined in Greek: the lowly servant is under his master who is under his own master, the god. The lowly servant is looking at αἱ θυγατέρες (the daughters, which the Jewish translators welcomed from the Hebrew בת [bath]). And the lowly servant is asking the god to direct him exactly to ἡ παρθένος (the right virgin, which in Hebrew is more like maiden: נערה [na`arah]).

The narrator, now translator, interjects as the lowly servant sees her:

ἡ δὲ παρθένος ἦν καλὴ τῇ ὄψει σφόδρα· παρθένος ἦν, ἀνὴρ οὐκ ἔγνω αὐτήν. (The virgin has a very eye-catchingly good form. A man hasn't "known" her. -- which was וְהַנַּעֲרָ טֹבַת מַרְאֶה מְאֹד בְּתוּלָה וְאִישׁ לֹא יְדָעָהּ ). The narrator-translator has already named her Ρεβεκκα Rebekah and has explained that she's been birthed the child of Bethu'el, who's the son of Milcah, who's the womb-wife of Nahor, who's Abraham's brother.

The lowly servant asks for water that she's drawn from the well.

And she speaks (Greek):

Πίε, κύριε.
Καὶ ταῖς καμήλοις σου ὑδρεύσομαι, ἕως ἂν πᾶσαι πίωσιν.

She calls this lowly male servant what he calls Abraham, which is what Abraham calls the god, in Greek: κύριε (master, which was אדון ['adown]). Yes, she says, and offers to slake the thirst of his camels too.

In the Greek especially, there's hierarchy. The would-be γυνὴ is to be ἀνὴρ ἔγνω (i.e., the womb-wife is to be man-known). She is a θυγάτηρ (a daughter) of a man, a father, but she's ἡ παρθένος (the virgin) to be ἀνὴρ ἔγνω by another man, and if καλὴ τῇ ὄψει σφόδρα (a real good looker in terms of "figure," then all the better for the man over her, who will know her).

She tells the male servant her father's name first, then his mother's name. The lowly servant, now identified as ὁ ἄνθρωπος (the human) does not answer her but προσεκύνησεν κυρίῳ ("bows to master," i.e., the god).

But I want to interject here for a second. I want to say that Rebekah gets her voices (even her Hebrew and her Hellene voices). The narrator speaking Hebrew, and the translator writing Greek, give voices. The male narrator and translator are insiders to this male story. But they then come into the story as outsider, letting this girl express agency.

I'm reminded of how Willis Barnstone, a Jew, a male, a translator, comes to a similar story, the story of the male Jew writer-translator John that becomes the story of a woman, a woman speaking. Barnstone says:

"The poems in John [i.e., the gospel writer-translator] stand alone, or connect in strings, sometimes in strings of three- and four-line-related but separate poems (like strings of Japanese tankas), or they inform dramatic dialogue. In John 4.21-26, Yeshua tells the Samaritan woman [you know, that woman at the well, like Rebekah] that salvation is from the Jews and the hour is coming. Now we can hear Yeshua and the woman as poets, and so distinguish between the opening authorial voice of John and the recorded voice of Yeshua. Because we know no one's name for certain, we have the absolute problem, an impossible but pleasant problem of distinguishing between the unnamed authorial voice and his created or recorded lines of the poet Yeshua [and, I say also, of this woman]. Where one starts and the other ends is the instant where a drop joins the sea."

Whose voice equals whose? Narration, and narration translated, opens up meanings, and the making of meanings. Careful listening is required. For her or him who has ears to hear. Interpretation. Parable. Someone else's story overheard by me, the listener, who hears also my own story. We're changed.

Now on to Rebekah (whose voice is the translator's, is the narrator's, is yours and mine too, if we listen, from outside, overhearing):

Καὶ δραμοῦσα ἡ παῖς
εἰς τὸν οἶκον τῆς μητρὸς αὐτῆς
κατὰ τὰ ῥήματα ταῦτα.

And running, the child [now equal to the lowly servant by the pen of the translator]
speaks [like an angel, a messenger]
to her mother's household [we're not surprised a girl speaks in the matriarchy, but it IS the matriarchy inserting itself here in this patriarchal tale]
these words [and notice how intentional - these words chosen τὰ ῥήματα ταῦτα are not slimy rhetor-ic]

One language in this household politely hosts its guest, the other language:

וַתָּרָץ הַנַּעֲרָ וַתַּגֵּד לְבֵית אִמָּהּ כַּדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה׃

Then, when the Hebrew narrator has Rebekah as only a maiden in this family ( נערה [na`arah]), the Jewish translator has her with other voices:

εἶπαν δὲ οἱ ἀδελφοὶ αὐτῆς καὶ ἡ μήτηρ Μεινάτω ἡ παρθένος μεθ' ἡμῶν ἡμέρας ὡσεὶ δέκα, καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα ἀπελεύσεται.

(Her brothers, those siblings of hers, and her mother are saying, "The virgin should stay with us for about ten days, and then she can go away with you.")

οἱ δὲ εἶπαν Καλέσωμεν τὴν παῖδα καὶ ἐρωτήσωμεν τὸ στόμα αὐτῆς.

(And they are saying, "Call the lowly servant child, and ask to hear it from her mouth.")

καὶ ἐκάλεσαν Ρεβεκκαν καὶ εἶπαν αὐτῇ Πορεύσῃ μετὰ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου τούτου;

(And they're calling Rebekah and saying to her, "Are you going to go with this human?")

ἡ δὲ εἶπεν Πορεύσομαι.

She, indeed, says, "I am going to go."

.... Now let's fast forward:

εἶδεν τὸν Ισαακ παίζοντα μετὰ Ρεβεκκας τῆς γυναικὸς αὐτοῦ.

Isaak is seen playing ("sporting") with Rebekka, his womb-woman. She is not his sister as they had lied that she was--A sister and a brother would never do that?

How'd that kind of playful relationship get started?

εἰσῆλθεν δὲ Ισαακ εἰς τὸν οἶκον τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ
καὶ ἔλαβεν τὴν Ρεβεκκαν,
καὶ ἐγένετο αὐτοῦ γυνή,
καὶ ἠγάπησεν αὐτήν·
καὶ παρεκλήθη Ισαακ περὶ Σαρρας τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ.

Isaak goes into the household of his mother,
takes Rebekka,
knows her his womb-wife,
loves her.
Isaak is comforted around [the loss] of Sarra his mother.

Right in the middle of Isaac's mother issue, this whole ἀγαπή (love) thing comes into play -- Is it really equal dynamically or formally to אהב ('ahab)? The Jewish translators don't like explicit erotic (love) at least not in their Greek. Does it remind them of Eros, Sappho's bitter sweet, the one always at his mother's side, a mama's boy like Isaac, and then like Rebekah's Jacob?

ἠγάπησεν δὲ Ισαακ τὸν Ησαυ,
Ρεβεκκα δὲ ἠγάπα τὸν Ιακωβ.

Isaak really loved Esau. . .
Rebekka loved Jacob.

Now, this is Christian agape love we're talking about, in Christian-English bible translation anyway, where there is to be modern dynamic equivalence to the original languages. Where the translator inserts himself as the insider. Where the man is over the woman like a master is over a slave--except he is to "love" her (not erotically, not sporting with her like an equal, and not like a mama loves her mama's boy either). (Oh, and in the New Testament, Jacob becomes James that name equal to the King who commissions the famous English translation in his own name).

If we had time, we'd look together at how the Jewish translator feel free to play with the Hebrew text hosting its Hellene guest (not trying to make the one dynamically or formally equal to the other). They're giving voice, with the narrator, with the people in the narrative, to what it is to be-come part of this Jewish patriarchy (sometime matriarchy).

With personal purpose they add σήμερον [this day], which is not in the Hebrew (Genesis 25:31, 33) -- Jacob speaking to his unequal twin (in emphatic Hellene). The translator of Joshua, named Matthew, has the famous prayer use the same word. What did Jesus not say in his Hebrew Aramaic prayer?

With personal purpose they add the particular detail τὸ σπήλαιον [the cave], which is not in the Hebrew (Genesis 25:10). They let Isaac play with Hellene words in different ways from how he plays with Hebrew words, for instance in naming the wells Ἀδικία· ἠδίκησαν γὰρ αὐτόν and Ὅρκος· διὰ τοῦτο ὄνομα τῇ πόλει Φρέαρ ὅρκου. But they (and he) aren't bound always, invariably, to be as playful: as in the wells named Ἑχθρία and Εὐρυχωρία in Greek. Why? Is the translator just a bad translator? By whose standards? By the standards of Western translation-studies experts who are the Insiders to such logic?


2.  Eugene Nida makes clear that he understands and doesn't wholesale embrace either Aristotle's use of logic in particular or a Western culture worldview in general. But Nida's translation theory called "dynamic equivalence" (unwittingly) operates by the assumptions and principles of Aristotle. DE presumes "meaning" in language just as Aristotle's logic presumes "Nature" (or physics). The force of this goes beyond Western "idealism" to Western "realism," which allows Nida to go beyond Chomsky just as Aristotle went beyond Plato. Hence, DE is very "modern" in its construct. Just as soon as somebody like Kenneth Pike introduces etics and emics and the idea that the observer and the observed all change in the observing, then the construct begins to deconstruct. And when non-Western women (such as Lydia Liu and Jacqueline Jones Royster) suggest that translation need not be metaphorically imagined in terms of "equivalence" and that there's insider-outsider politeness (i.e., subjectivity vs. objectivity) to consider, well . . . you get the idea.  Royster has entitled one of her essays, "When the First Voice You Hear is Not Your Own," to suggest that appropriations of one's own insider tradition by outsiders do not make it "equal," dynamically or formally or in any way.  Likewise, to Jewish translator Willis Barnstone, "Every page of the annotated Hebrew Bible in translation [by outsider Christian translators] carried explanations to make it into a Christian document. . . .  Thus, the Hebrew Bible became a preface to the [Christian tradition] in which the true God appeared" hardly equal dynamically or formally to the God of the Jews.  The emic metaphors, the insider imagery, gets stripped by such a Western vehicle called dynamic (or formal) "equivalence."

The Jews translating their own scriptures use "radical relativism within rigid restraints" (to quote Pike paraphrasing Nelson Goodman).  They will have none of Aristotle.  They radically allow to women agency and insiderness and voice and generative meaning makings in ways that the Greek men would not.  And they rather rigidly resist the impersonal abstraction of Aristotle's reductive language of logic (only slipping a couple of times perhaps intentionally).

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Defined Differently for Christian translators and for Jews

"The celebrated Greek virtue of self-control (sophrosyne) has to be defined differently for men and for women, Aristotle maintains. Masculine sophrosyne is rational self-control and resistance to excess, but for the woman sophrosyne means obedience and consists in submitting herself to the control of others."
--Anne Carson

There are celebrated Greek phrases that have had to be defined differently for the New Testament and for the old scriptures of the Jews (as they themselves have translated their scriptures into Greek), . . . so maintain many (mostly-male) Christian Bible translators. 

Let's look first at the Christianizing translations as if Christian readers of English are the insiders to the phrases (and pardon my quick transliterations). If you keep scrolling down, then, you'll get back to this same Hellene rendered by Jewish translators and how the Christians say their definitions must be different (i.e., less special):

1) καὶ ἀνέῳξεν ὁ θεὸς τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς αὐτῆς
kai aneozen ho theo tous ophthalmous autes
And God helped her see

2)ὕδατος ζῶντος
hydatos zontos
Living water

3) διαθήκην
testament (as in "New Testament")

4) τὸν υἱόν σου τὸν ἀγαπητόν, ὃν ἠγάπησας
ton hion sou ton agapeton, hon egapesas
Your beloved Son, Whom You love

5) ἀναστὰς

6) ξύλα εἰς ὁλοκάρπωσιν ἀναστὰς ἐπορεύθη καὶ ἦλθεν
skyla eis holokarposin anastas eporeuthe kai helthen
wood for the Whole Sacrifice. Resurrection. Goes away to come again.

7) τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ
te hemera te trite
on the Third Day

8) τὴν μάχαιραν
ten machairan
the Sword

9) Ὁ θεὸς ὄψεται ἑαυτῷ πρόβατον
ho theos opsetai heauto probaton
the Lamb of God

10) καὶ οὐκ ἐφείσω τοῦ υἱοῦ σου τοῦ ἀγαπητοῦ
kai ouk epheiso tou hiou sou tou agapetou
and You have not spared Your Beloved Son

11) πρωτότοκον
First-born Son

12) καὶ ἀνέστη . . . ἀπὸ τοῦ νεκροῦ αὐτοῦ
kai aneste . . . apo tou nekrou autou
and [He . . .] Resurrected from the Dead

13) πάροικος καὶ παρεπίδημος ἐγώ εἰμι μεθ' ὑμῶν
paroikos kai parepidemos ego eimi meth' humon
The Son of Man has no place to lay His head

14) κτῆσιν τάφου . . . καὶ θάψω τὸν νεκρόν
ktesin taphou . . . kai thapso ton nekron
ἐν τοῖς ἐκλεκτοῖς μνημείοις ἡμῶν θάψον τὸν νεκρόν σου
en tois eklektois mnemeiois hmon thapson ton nekron sou
there's a Sepulcher for Your Dead

15) τοῦ ἀγροῦ αὐτοῦ· ἀργυρίου τοῦ ἀξίου δότω
tou agrou autou arguriou tou aksiou doto
γῆ . . . διδράχμων ἀργυρίου
ye. . . didrachmon arguriou
his field for the worth of silver pieces given
the land . . . [is worth several] Drachmas of silver

16) παρθένος ἦν, ἀνὴρ οὐκ ἔγνω αὐτήν.
parthenos en, aner ouk egno auten.
She was a Virgin, with whom no man had had sexual relations.

Now doesn't this sound like you're reading right out of one of the "gospels" of "Jesus"?   Note how specialized some of the Christian Bible translating is: Sepulcher, Resurrection, and capital letters on Son and Lamb and Living and the like. 

But, in fact, these phrases come right out of the Hellene translation of Genesis (21:19 to 24:27). It's the Greek version of these stories by the first Jews themselves:

1) & 2) "Hagar and Ishmael Sent Away [after God opens her eyes and shows her a well of water that's alive]," 

3) "Abraham's Covenant [not New Testament] with Abimelech," 

4), 5), 6), 7), 8), 9), & 10) "The Sacrifice of Isaac [and check out an English translator's version of this story from a woman's vantage: Rachel Barenblat's poem 'SILENCE (VAYERA)'],"

11) "Rebekah's family"

12), 13), 14), & 15) "Sarah's burial"

16) "A wife [womb-woman] for Isaac"

Note how specialized some of the Christian Bible translating is: Sepulcher, Resurrection, and capital letters on Son and Lamb and Living and the like.

Like Aristotle, many Christian Bible translators find special, elite, abstract meanings for the Greek words and phrases. They define the words differently because they think they know what the proto-typical meaning must be. And that proto-typical meaning applies to them as insiders of the language. Never mind the second meanings. Never mind that the stories of others are just as special to those others.

The Christian Bible translators, like the man Aristotle wanting a male definition for him-self, want the definitions all to themselves. I'm not saying they want to be bound by theo-logic or by biblish. I am saying they want their "natural English" to define the metaphors of the Hebrew bible (even when its translated into Hellene). I'm saying that they follow Eugene Nida religiously, which is to follow Aristotle's logic: there's dynamic equivalence or there's formal equivalence, and the former in their own field tested language is to reign supreme. I'm saying they follow Ernst-August Gutt, which is to follow Aristotle's logic again: "relevance theory" is the vogue but is a bit of a misnomer; it's not about what's relevant to insiders or to outsiders at all. It's about how anyone (in the platonic abstract, which means the linguist himself) gets "what is meant" from "what is said." It is not, at first, a translation theory at all; but rather a kind of "communications" theory aka a "pragmatics" theory. Most Christian Bible translators today have rejected the emic-etic perspectives of the Pikes (i.e., Kenneth, Evelyn, and Eunice), who did not have to reject Heraclitus (as Plato and Aristotle and Noam Chomsky had to). I don't think the Septuagint translators rejected Heraclitus either, or Aspasia or Sappho or any of the poets who allowed for what may be seen now, differently, as womanly word play (and do note that if a man plays with words then wordplay must be defined differently, Aristotle maintains).

Thankfully, natural English language is changing to be nothing special for any one group, nothing different for the authorities:  males or Christian bible translators.  Here's a report from blogger Melissa McEwan, "Change I Can Believe In."

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Judging (Gay) Men & the Manner of Women

I'm reading a big swath of text (especially in Hebrew, then Greek, then Englishes).  There's much I can't say in just 15 minutes (on the Greek only).

So here's an overview of that big swath:  the section headers of the HCSB English translation, because I like those headers, more or less.  Where I think the Greek emphasizes something else, I strike the HCSB header and offer my own:

Genesis 18:9 - 21:21  
--Sarah Laughs, 
--Abraham's Plea for Sodom, 
--The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah 
Lot Offers his unnamed Daughters to the Sodomite Men, who'd rather have the Visiting Men, 
--The Origin of Moab and Ammon 
Lot's unnamed Daughters "Sleep" with Him to get "Sperm-Seed", 
--Sarah Rescued from Abimelech 
Abraham Lies Again About Sarah Being His Sister not His Womb-Wife which Closes Up -- Really Closes Up -- all of the wombs of the women of Abimelech, 
--The Birth of Isaac 
Sarah Laughs Again and this time she gets to ask the rhetorical question, 
--Hagar and Ishmael Sent Away)


By the homophobic and the homophilic alike, this passage may be one of the most commented on texts of the bible.  The former use it as a prooftext against gays in Judaism and in Christianity.  The later use the text to respond.  

If you're looking at the Greek text of Genesis 18:9 - 21:21 for prohibitions against or for permissions to engage in certain sexual behaviors, then I'd say several things.  First, there are lots of different sorts of sexual relations described in this particular passage that do and do not typify the varieties of sexual mores of the Greeks in their literatures.  Second, since some readers are insistent on regulating sex in marriage between one heterosexual man and one heterosexual woman by Sarah's and Abraham's example in this Bible, then this couple's dysfunctions sometimes do seem fairly aberrant even compared to Greek behaviors.  Third, if you're looking for some definitive gay or anti-gay prooftext of some sort in the Greek bible, then I'd recommend looking at Ann Nyland's translation work and commentary. What Nyland does, that few other English bible translators have done, is to consider the Greek words in the New Testament in light of their uses in many other extra-biblical contexts. On page 22 of her NT translation, for example, Nyland mentions that she's looked through "all Greek literature, as well as the Septuagint" for a particular use of a particular Hellene word.  Fourth, when you get the time, you might look at the various Greek verbs in this big section of Genesis to see how the men and the women and the narrator(s) who are the translators describe the sexual behaviors.  Fifth, among the horrors of Sodom and Gomorra and of its destruction and of incestuous relations and the like, there's some very funny stuff, laughable (such as the different ways the text views the unbelieving laughter of Abraham and of Sarah, who gets the last laugh in her son, whom she names). This is the women who in Greek calls Abraham what he calls the god: "Master" (i.e., κύριος). What's funny about that is the New Testament writers, using Greek, notice.

Today, I'm only going to look at how the Jews translating Genesis into Greek decided to duplicate barbarous wordplay. I'm interested in this here for a couple of reasons. First, there are three repeated words in this relatively tight context. Aristotle would accuse the Hebrews of duplicating their Bar-Bar-isms into Hellene. (He didn't care much for those who sounding to him like they were saying bar bar bar, and he followed the Greek practice of disparaging foreigners by calling them barbarians (οἱ βάρβαροι).

Second, Hebrew and Arabic poetry seems to key in on the repetitive, to play off of it, even in Greek translation.  These non-Greeks may sound to the ancient Greeks as if they've stammered.  Moses stammer twice when complaining about having to speak in Egypt. 

"Perhaps the repetition [in the complaint of Moses that he had 'uncircumcised lips'] signifies that the phrase has more than one meaning," suggests Dan Judson. In addition, Suzanne gives some compelling reasons why "The translators of the Septuagint could not write that Moses was of 'uncircumcised lips'." Perhaps they didn't want their translation, as barbaric as it sounds in Genesis, also to sound so weirdly feminine in their Greek Exodus (i.e., where Moses in translation speaks Hellene). Repetition, especially around a man claiming to have uncircumcised lips, signifies many suggestive meanings.

The men of sodom repeat a phrase. So the Jewish (heterosexual male?) translators have them repeating the phrase in Greek too.  

The narrator repeats a phrase to show a problem for the women of Abimelech.  So the Jewish men translation repeat the phrase in Greek too.

And when the translating men want to describe Sarah's menopause, they repeat a Greek phrase for women.  This they do without much help from the original Hebrew narrator of the story.

Here's the barbarous stammering, the doubling of words for doubling of meanings:

וַיִּשְׁפֹּט שָׁפֹוט

κρίσιν κρίνειν

Is this man (Lot) here to judge to judge us? ask the men of sodom (19:9)

עָצֹר עָצַר

συγκλείων συνέκλεισεν

God shut up, he shut up the wombs of the women of Abimelech (20:18)

Αβρααμ δὲ καὶ Σαρρα πρεσβύτεροι προβεβηκότες ἡμερῶν,
ἐξέλιπεν δὲ Σαρρα γίνεσθαι τὰ γυναικεῖα.

Abraham and Sarah were old, old, in days,
Gone out of Sarah birthed her wombly-womanly-ness

וְאַבְרָהָם וְשָׂרָה זְקֵנִים בָּאִים בַּיָּמִים חָדַל לִהְיֹות לְשָׂרָה אֹרַח כַּנָּשִׁים׃


Monday, January 5, 2009

A Circumcised Pen is Translation of Men

Please pardon my pun. I'm not asking you to pardon the fact that the title of this post is an intentional punning.  Rather, I want you to forgive me for having to talk about the male body part as the Bible does. :)

As if the tower of Babel (with it's tongues and lips) is not full enough of phallic symbolism, the story of Genesis moves on to male circumcision to establish the Jewish patriarchy. I'll look at that with you, right after this paragraph and its three related bullet points below. My interest is in how the Jews first translated their own Hebrew stories into Hellene--and what that means to us outsiders. But other bloggers have some broader if also very related posts:
  • Suzanne McCarthy has begun an incredibly intelligent series on Genesis 11, looking at not only gender issues and not only at Greek translation features but also at the choices of Pagnini and Jerome for their Latin translations.  In addition, Suzanne brings in the works of Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles, of Rabbi Leslie Bergson and Mary Baron, of David Stein, of Robert Alter, of the old Sefer Yetsira, and of the brand new translating of Martin Shields. Her series is the "babble from Babel" with part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4 so far.
  • Martin Shields is going beyond the modern translation debate between Dynamic Equivalence / Literal [Functional] Equivalence to "a foreignising translation of genesis 1." He explains, "With the growing awareness of the distance between modern western readers of the Bible and the original context of the text’s composition comes a growing awareness of the manner in which most translations of either type allow the reader to domesticate the text by permitting the reader to impose upon the text their own cultural ideals and norms simply because the translations employ concepts sufficiently vague to allow them such freedom." Martin has a theoretical discussion in Part I and begins his translating in part II.  (HT John Hobbins)
  • Rich Rhodes has another post in which he argues, among other things, that "Taking figurative language literally is a problem in thinking about translation." As an example, he reviews a "theologically loaded term, like ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ ‘the word of God’" to try to begin to show in English what's "Lost in translation."  Rich argues pointedly (as he has in the past, with his first-order "ouch,") in favor of Dynamic Equivalence translation of the Bible.  He slams alternative approaches (i.e., both Functional Equivalence and the sort of Foreignness translation that Martin is beginning and that Suzanne is discussing in various ways).

My interest is in how the Jews first translated their own Hebrew stories into foreign Hellene--and what that means to us outsiders.   Their translation methods are extremely important to me as I reflect on them at this blog (and translate their Greek into my English elsewhere). 

Curiously, from Genesis 14:13 to 18:8, the Hebrew translators do exactly what Rich Rhodes says a better bible translator ought not to do.  They make foreign their language that is familiar. Or they render as literal their language that is figural.

There are three notable examples.  Again, I'm just looking at Genesis 14:13 to 18:8.


First, the Jewish translators into Greek make the very first mention of the proper noun "Hebrew" a common noun. It's from Genesis 14:13.

Here's their original language, penned by some author as passed down presumably through the oral tradition:

לְאַבְרָם הָעִבְרִי

Now, our usual English translation of their Hebrew is "Abram the Hebrew." But here's their own Greek translation:

Αβραμ τῷ περάτῃ

This is very odd translating indeed. To call it Dynamic Equivalence is to speculate that the Jewish translators want to take the literal meaning of their identifying proper-noun name "Hebrew" and to put that into Greek as a dynamically equivalent common noun, which means something like "the passer through." Or would that be Functional Equivalence? No, it's neither.

Rather, the Jewish translators (living under the Greek empire under the Egyptian kingdom there in Alexandria) are doing something very personal. They are foreignizing their own text. They are turning emics into etics. They are distancing outsiders from their own text by translating the name "Hebrew" for their patriarch Abram rather descriptively as an outsider.

They know that περάτῃ is a very uncommon Hellene word. It is used exclusively of one particularly tough evening for the goddess Athena, the virgin patron of Athens. Homer's Odyssey (at 23.243) says this of her:

νύκτα μὲν ἐν περάτῃ δολιχὴν σχέθεν

She checked the long night in its passage
(which is James Huddleston's English).

Why περάτῃ? What doesn't help at all is that neither the Septuagint translators nor Homer or the other Greek poets ever use that word again. Elsewhere, starting in Genesis 39, the Jewish translators will transliterate the word we know as "Hebrew" as the Greek "Εβραῖος." The transliteration practice is something the letter-writing Jew named "Saul" then "Paul" will use. He writes in Greek to Greek readers to call himself a Ἑβραῖος ἐξ Ἑβραίων (a Hebrew born of Hebrews).

All the NET Bible commentary can add is that "The meaning of the word 'Hebrew' has proved elusive. It may be related to the verb 'to cross over,' perhaps meaning 'immigrant.' Or it might be derived from the name of Abram’s ancestor Eber."

What this commentary shows is none of the word play. The context of the story here shows that Abram is failing as a father. He's just "passing" on God's promise, if I may pun further. He needs an extreme makeover. He needs a significant name change. He needs a very personal, very painful change in his generative abilities, indeed, in his genitals. It's like that long passing night of the goddess Athena, nothing comfortable at all, something extremely memorable for this Hebrew-patriarchal-passer.


So we come to that second example of foreignizing translation in this passage from the pen of Hebrew men. Abram is complaining to God (calling him Δέσποτα, or in Greek a "master who's a despot"), saying that a foreign-born slave-woman's son (υἱὸς . . . τῆς οἰκογενοῦς) is going to outdo him in the fathering business. This is after the "word of the LORD" (or Master's speech, as ῥῆμα κυρίου) comes to him. So God has to speak another word (φωνὴ κυρίου, or Master's voice speaks). Abram listens (and this is well before his mistake, ha, of listening obediently to the voice of his wife-wombman Sara, whom he'd failed to get pregnant: ὑπήκουσεν δὲ Αβραμ τῆς φωνῆς Σαρας, Genesis 16:2). So then, there's the famous line that Christians, including the Jewish Paul, have quoted so much (Genesis 15:6):

καὶ ἐπίστευσεν Αβραμ τῷ θεῷ,
καὶ ἐλογίσθη αὐτῷ εἰς δικαιοσύνην.
(and Abram by this rhetorical proof believed the god,
and it was stated in legal terms to him as Justice.)

My Englishing of the Greek is to get at some of the legalese here, at much of Aristotle's judicial-rhetorical theorizing. But I'm also getting at the unintended Hellene theo-logic, in the result: δικαιοσύνην. So much has already been said about this particular Jew-to-Christian passage that I won't say anything more than just to suggest again that English "righteousness" - which may be more the Hebrew sense - hardly gets at the goddess Dike (i.e., Δίκας or Justice), whom the Jewish translators' Greek invokes.  

So many more different Greek words could have been chosen.  (Paul uses many Greek synonyms in what's now the New Testament).  But this foreign Hellene goddess word was the one the Hebrew translators chose:  they chose it to highlight the "belief/ faith" reward of the god of the passer-father named Abram.


Finally, in this passage, there is the foreign-literal translation of a third Hebrew phrase.  Well, here's a complete sentence with the whole thing pretty well summarized (Genesis 17:23):

וַיִּקַּח אַבְרָהָם אֶת־יִשְׁמָעֵאל בְּנֹו וְאֵת כָּל־יְלִידֵי בֵיתֹו וְאֵת כָּל־מִקְנַת כַּסְפֹּו כָּל־זָכָר בְּאַנְשֵׁי בֵּית אַבְרָהָם וַיָּמָל אֶת־בְּשַׂר עָרְלָתָם בְּעֶצֶם הַיֹּום הַזֶּה כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר אִתֹּו אֱלֹהִים׃

The translators of King James rendered that this way:

Then Abraham took Ish'mael his son and all the slaves born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham's house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day, as God had said to him.

The translators of "Today's New International Version" (TNIV) put that this way:

On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him.

The Hebrews of Alexandria Egypt put their own language into Greek this way:

Καὶ ἔλαβεν Αβρααμ Ισμαηλ τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ πάντας τοὺς οἰκογενεῖς αὐτοῦ καὶ πάντας τοὺς ἀργυρωνήτους καὶ πᾶν ἄρσεν τῶν ἀνδρῶν τῶν ἐν τῷ οἴκῳ Αβρααμ καὶ περιέτεμεν τὰς ἀκροβυστίας αὐτῶν ἐν τῷ καιρῷ τῆς ἡμέρας ἐκείνης, καθὰ ἐλάλησεν αὐτῷ ὁ θεός.

What is most interesting here are the translation decisions. The KJV uses the FE method, offering latinized and middle english phases to make a literal translation. The TNIV uses the DE approach, which assumes that natural international English of readers is best the excised phrase "circumcised" (i.e., without any redundant references to "flesh" or to "foreskin" as per the full ancient Hebrew phrase).

But the Jews in Alexandria, Egypt do something completely different.  They do use a literal translating into Hellene, but they also truncate the literal phrase.  In other words, περι-έτεμεν literally mirrors the first word of the Hebrew and ἀκρο-βυστίας mirrors the last word of the phrase. But the middle word (e.g., literally σάρκα, as in Genesis 17:11) is cut out.

And the two literal Greek words (meaning respectively "cut-around" and "full-tip") are fairly uncommon, to say the least. For the exact common words, there's a relatively recent collection of them in Frederick M. Hodges' article, "The Ideal Prepuce in Ancient Greece and Rome: Male Genital Aesthetics and Their Relation to Lipodermos, Circumcision, Foreskin Restoration, and the Kynodesme." The literal then sounds fairly foreign when used this way.

It's almost as if the Hebrew translators using Hellene are flaunting their own circumcisions. They knew the Greek and Egyptian attitudes towards circumcision. (Read 1 Maccabees for the ongoing and later resentments between the various groups, on this very topic. And Gerald A. Larue's lecture, "Religious Traditions and Circumcision," gives an overview of some of the history.) Were they personally trying to sound foreign here by being literal? Were they ignorant, or were they playing with words in translation to add meanings? To suggest that their Abram passing through foreign lands as now passing-father Abraham became "cut-around the bulk of his tip"? Did you picture that literally? Now, I'm trying to sound like an ESL student with my English, on purpose.

A native speaker of Greek, an eloquent one, would use the words differently, maybe not so painfully anatomically but rather metaphorically. Plato, for example, in his Hippias Major (304a.5), uses the Greek word "cut-around" (i.e., the word the Jewish translators use) in a much different context. The writer has his character Hippias saying the following:

ἀλλὰ δή γ’, ὦ Σώκρατες, τί οἴει ταῦτα εἶναι συνάπαντα; κνήσματά τοί ἐστι καὶ περιτμήματα τῶν λόγων, ὅπερ ἄρτι ἔλεγον, κατὰ βραχὺ διῃρημένα

(But now, Socrates, what do you think all this amounts to? It is mere scrapings and circumcisions [lit. cut-arounds] of the statement, as I stated a while ago, divided into bits.)

As mentioned, the Maccabees Jewish translation into Greek addresses the Hebrew resentments of Alexander's conquest and the Hellene male resentments of the Hebrew male circumcisions. The Maccabean translators use the same words as the Genesis translators: the literal, foreign-sounding words. This practice continues with the Jew Saul-Paul, who begins to distance himself in new ways from his "pharisee" tradition. He talks of his own heritage (writing to those in Macedonia, Greece - the fatherland of Alexander):

περιτομῇ ὀκταήμερος ἐκ γένους Ἰσραήλ φυλῆς Βενιαμίν Ἑβραῖος ἐξ Ἑβραίων κατὰ νόμον Φαρισαῖος
(I'm a "cut-around" born of Israel's tribe of Benyamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews, according to Law a Pharisee).

And writing, Paul plays with words. He calls the Legalist proponents of male circumcision (or "cut-around") those who "cut-off" or κατατομή. When writing to Greeks in Galatia (Galatians 6:15), he says: 

οὔτε γὰρ περιτομή τί ἐστιν οὔτε ἀκροβυστία ἀλλὰ καινὴ κτίσις.
 (There are, in fact, neither "cut-arounds" nor "spongy-tips" but rather there are new makings)


It's rather funny to think of male circumcision in the context of the Bible.  Suzanne wrote a funny visual post on this not long ago, and some time back I found the Greek word περι-τομή to be a particularly playful one.

And I think Martin is on to something in translating as a foreigner, something we can learn from the Jews who translated as insider-outsiders of Greek in Egypt.   A DE translation of Genesis, such as the TNIV, can miss more than Rich thinks it does.  For example, there's much lost by the "dynamically equivalent" TNIV even in its reduction of the phrase of 17:23:  "every male in his household," which the FE KJV makes "every male among the men of Abraham's house" and the first translators literally kept the Hebrew redundancies "πᾶν ἄρσεν τῶν ἀνδρῶν τῶν ἐν τῷ οἴκῳ Αβρααμ."  When the foreigners come visiting Abraham's house (in 18:1,2), it becomes clear (in both Hebrew and in Greek and in the English KJV -- because of those redundancies (i.e., "every male among the men") that the outsiders are "male" because they are "men" (i.e., ἄνδρες). 

This raises the question, doesn't it, whether these three outsider men have had their "male" "spongy-tips" "cut-around"? Otherwise, writers of commentaries make these "men" less physical, more like angels, which perhaps they are. And yet, the Jewish male translator's personal pen is painfully more akin to the sharpened-father Abraham's passing Hebrew. (Huh? that's what I say. To pretend to know all that the Hebrew text must mean, or only what it means, is not to allow translators and translation to be foreign.)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Sister-Sibling Sara // the exceedingly well-figured womb-wife

My comments today are on the Greek translation of the text of Hebrew scripture from Genesis 11:10 to 14:13. Seems to me, the translating is fairly concordant here.

The translators living in Alexandria, Egypt do seem to want the Greek rendering to punctuate the death of the fathers who fathered sons and daughters. The translators tend to say καὶ ἐγέννησεν υἱοὺς καὶ θυγατέρας (and he birthed sons and daughters); then the translators add something not explicit in the Hebrew: καὶ ἀπέθανεν (and he died). If the Hellene word order is anything, there's this syntactic sequential joke (of course not likely intended): "he fathered sons . . . then daughters and died" as if having girls, for the patriarchy, somehow leads to mortality.

Anyways, when "women" are mentioned again as "womb-men" and as wives, the Greek emphasizes what the Hebrew does: Abram's woman-wife was barren, as if bearing children is her worth.

In the Hellene mother tongue, nonetheless, there are some interesting connotations and contrasts around Sara, the wombman-wedded to Abram. In 12:11, the would-be father "knows" his wife-woman-womb in a different way than the sexual, procreative way: "εἶπεν Αβραμ Σαρα τῇ γυναικὶ αὐτοῦ Γινώσκω ἐγὼ ὅτι γυνὴ εὐπρόσωπος εἶ·" ("Abram said to Sara, 'I've given birth to the knowledge that a blessed-faced wombman you are'.") So Abram, in Egypt, wants Sara to tell the men, the princes, of Egypt that she is not his wife-woman-birther but rather that she is something else to him.

Sara is Abram's Ἀδελφὴ, his sister. He doesn't want other men thinking he can't "know" his own woman and can't father children. She's not to be seen as his womb-woman but as his female sibling. Besides, this wife of Abram's is seen this way: καλὴ ἦν σφόδρα (she has exceedingly-dangerously good form).

The story has many dimensions and turns at this point. But I want to fast forward a bit to a contrast.

Lot (who is properly Abram's nephew) is by the Greek text something else to Abram. As Abram puts it (in the Hellene mother tongue): "ἄνθρωποι ἀδελφοὶ ἡμεῖς ἐσμεν" ("We are human brothers.") Of course, this Greek word ἀδελφοὶ is ambiguous, meaning both "siblings" and possibly "brothers" (in contrast to "sisters.") Other than pointing out the ambiguity, I want to highlight the fact that the masculine Greek noun here serves as the unmarked "siblings." When Abram asks his woman-wife Sara to lie for him, then the marked feminine "sister" or Ἀδελφὴ is used.

In a similar way, ἄνθρωποι or "mortal humans" is the unmarked masculine word that may also ambiguously refer to "men" (in contrast to "women").

So just after the text tells a bit of the story of Abram and his "brothers" (i.e., Lot and his men), the narrative describes other men. Here the Hebrew translators render some of that into Hellene as follows: "οἱ δὲ ἄνθρωποι οἱ ἐν Σοδομοις πονηροὶ καὶ ἁμαρτωλοὶ ἐναντίον τοῦ θεοῦ σφόδρα." ("The humans - those in Sodom - were exceedingly-dangerously wicked and transgressive in reference to the god.")

The contrasts in Greek are fairly stark. Abram's wife-wombman is to be seen as his sister because of her exceedingly-dangerously good form. Abram's nephew - a man-human - is seen as his brother-sibling, but the man-humans in Sodom are the god's exceedingly-dangerously awful ones, wicked and transgressive. Greeks reading the Hellene version without any knowledge of the Hebrew would likely find the differences sharp between Abram's womb-wife and his fellow human-men. How Greek marks the females and the feminine (but leaves unmarked the males and the masculine) accounts for these differences.

I'm not trying to suggest that Hellene writers were forced by the language to mark wo-men and fe-males. There are these famous lines that betray no default to the male:

Στᾶθι κἄντα φίλος,....
καὶ τὰν ἔπ᾽ ὄσσοις ἀμπέτασον χάριν.

You may recognize them as written by a woman, by Sappho. And Athenaeus writes to suggest that this fragment of her poem is written to a man, perhaps to her brother. But except for Athenaeus's comment, how would we ever know that?

Face me, my dear one...
and unveil in your eyes your favor.

Couldn't the translators of Genesis have allowed Sara more of her own agency, not marked always in relation to a would-be fathering man, as one who speaks as Sappho does?