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."


  1. Hi JK

    Just a brief comment as an excuse to say that I hope the Christmas festivities went well, and to wish you a successful and prosperous new year (and I don't necessarily mean academically or financially).

    I was wondering what would happen blogging-wise after the doctorate box was successfully ticked. Now if asked (which I wasn't) I'd have to say that I neither particularly like nor "get" the blog title, but that's just me; you are of course free to call it whatever you like. Nor am I surprised to find that a lot of what you say still leaves clear airspace between it and the top of my head. No criticism there: just me being honest.

    I think I agree with at least some of what you say. (If I understood more I could be more definite.) How I'd love a good, Biblish-free, "neutral" translation! But then I still find it amazing that even I can grasp the distinction between a word's meaning and its referent, but loads of people who should know better apparently can't. So I continue to hear people saying things like "agape love isn't like the English word for love, it's self-sacrificial, like that of God's love for us as seen in Jesus." (Then what about 1John 2:15, I ask: aren't we supposed to "love the world" in that way?) Then there's "faith" that is really trust, and not mere belief. (Then what about James and his demons?) And to cap it all, what about those cases where anthropos refers to a male human being: doesn't that show it has "a male meaning component" after all? (Whisper it: that perhaps the "default" human being is male?) However, if someone said, "I met an American tourist yesterday who was on holiday with his wife", would that imply that "American" also has "a male meaning component"? (Anyone who think it does should reflect on the alternative statement, "I met an American tourist yesterday who was on holiday with her husband".)

    I followed your link to Melissa's blog. I'd have to admit that I used to be one of those people who'd say, "Does it really matter? People know what is meant whatever terms are used." Of course the answer to that one is: Yes, words do really matter. Despite what children may chant in response to name-calling, I think the truth is that while sticks and stones *may* break my bones, words will *always* hurt me.

    Of course, despite my paradigm shift, I'm afraid that sometimes I still "get it wrong" and slip back into male-default language, such as by using "actress" to mean a female actor. But why use the term? I'm seldom drawing a distinction with male actors, but, if I am, what do I call the latter if I want to be able to use the term "actors" to refer to those of either sex? However, if male language is bad enough, some of the male superiority stuff that is still being churned out leaves me next to speechless. That the church might be the final bastion of such ideas is, I think, nothing short of scandalous. Can't these people see that Christians only "need to be different" where the non-Christian world has got something wrong? Where the world is in fact getting it right, we should jump right in there with them (in this case to loud shouts of "And not before time").

    So I'm glad to see you keeping on keeping on. I just hope someone out there understand what the @*#% you're talking about. (If they do, perhaps they could explain it to me, because it sure *looks* interesting.)

    (Oh, and I'm sure this took me more than 15 minutes to write. Sometimes these intellectually superior types just get up my nose: it's bad enough being a smarty-pants without boasting about it!)

    Kind regards for 2009


  2. John,
    What a delightful comment from you! I have to say (no offense to anyone, especially not to you intended) that I'm not really wanting to take time to be clear. This has (I know) many resulting difficulties. Sometimes I go back to reread what I write in such a rush, and I wonder who wrote it! What'd that mean?

    I am trying to translate clearly the Greek translation of the Jews into my English. This blog serves some as my quick notes on large passages of text. I'm reading the Hebrew, English translations of that, the Greek, English translations of that, and inter-related Greek texts (from the classics and from the NT and from other places in the LXX). I'm trying to go daily so as to finish the whole thing in 365 days. (I am getting very tired of the discipline already!)

    Does that help you? I'm sorry not to be clearer! Really. I so enjoy your comments and the interaction around the translations.

    You mention "agape love" and so today's post on Rebekah tries to get at some of that. You mention James and his demons (which in Greeky Hebrew is Jacob's deities that believe)--I wish we had the time... You mention "anthropos" and the male default of our language(s)! Oh, again. So much to work out.

    The ranting I'm doing about Christian bible translation is mostly that it tends to try to close down language meaning. And sometimes to the default meaning. The translators want to ossify and to fossilize the facts of language meaning.

    Jewish and feminist translating tends to open up meanings. To make meanings between the translator and the narrator and the reader and those who are inside the text, "insiders." Text is not the default king. Rather, the person observing and being observed, observing as an outsider or an insider and knowing the difference, makes all the difference. I'm working, John, on saying that more clearly. If you and I were women, were women enslaved by men, then I think I'd have better words for you.

    In contrast to the smarty-pants position, there is the lowly the outsider position. It's better I imagine. Maybe not clearer but better.

    PS: Was Jesus or was Paul clear? I don't think either was a smarty-pants about it either.

  3. Perversely, I thought of diakonia in Luke 8.3, 10.40, etc, during your discussion. And it wasn't because the immediate ambit of your discussion wasn't interesting enough! No, no.

    In these passages do some (not all, I'm thinking of the more 'reclaim the Bible'-interested scholars) feminist interpretive methods of 'reclaiming' equal male and female discipleship involve a false homogenizing of distinct female and male meanings? The women are differentiated from the Twelve in Luke 8.1-3. Martha's diakonia is distinguished as the worse option, in comparison to Mary's sitting at Jesus' feet (cf. John 12.2). Do some feminist interpretations close down the distinct meanings?

    Further, is a woman who is a 'sinner' probably an adultress, when a man who is a 'sinner' need not be? ('a woman': Luke 7.37-39; 'Mary': John 11.2, 12.3). There is a kneejerk reaction from some if this Mary The Sinner/Prostitute is associated with that Mary (from Magdala). But the presence of demons in women (Luke 8.2; Mark 16.19: Mary Magdalene) or even in other humans (men) are frequently connected with sexual transgression or idolatry - the latter in turn connected with sexual transgression. The ointment applied by the woman moves from feet to head in Matthew, with a connection with burial (26.12; John 12.7; cf. Mark 16.1 - Mary Magdalene) and another connection with the story's later remembrance and retelling (26.13; Luke 10.42 - Mary sister of Martha). Some feminist interpretation attempts to smooth over the distinctive female meaning of 'sinner' (the reclaiming interpretation, again).

    The traditions about the three women -- Mary sister of Martha, Mary Magdalene -- are clearly already closely interwoven, confused within the four canonical Gospels. The degree of their confusion is 'about' equal to the degree of vehemence with which some commentators today try to deny that they are related (blaming 'subsequent' tradition!). Just one example, as you've probably already encountered the tone of these explanations before:

    "There is no scriptural authority which links all these women, and in fact, even a cursory reading of the Bible shows that these were separate women."
    - from Encyclopedia of Women in the Ancient World By Joyce E. Salisbury

    'It's common sense! Only a 'cursory reading' is required, you nincompoops!!'

    Why the overinterpretation? There's a great desire to *separate*. (And so separate Jesus's foot - or is that a head - or is that a **** - from intimate association with a whore.) It's almost as great as the desire to join male and female meanings by some feminist interpreters.

    But is there a distinct lexicon about women (a male lexicon, of course) in the New Testament? Most languages have them, and some more than others.

  4. Why the overinterpretation? There's a great desire to *separate*. (And so separate Jesus's foot - or is that a head - or is that a **** - from intimate association with a whore.) It's almost as great as the desire to join male and female meanings by some feminist interpreters.

    Do some feminist interpretations close down the distinct meanings?

    Thanks very much for coming by here, Bishop Wrong. (I also appreciated very much your last post and the rumors it's generated, that Jim West is perpetuating, that it is not only your former post but indeed and alas your last.)

    Yep. I think some feminist readings close down the distinctions. Some seek blur the distinctions between male and female and Mary and Martha around διακονέω. Although she may not call herself a feminist, Carolyn Custis James, for example, has written When Life and Beliefs Collide, saying "These two beloved sisters [M & M] have unwittingly become a vehicle for categorizing ourselves as either 'women who think' or 'women who serve'." Jane Shaberg, you may know, gets into the issues of "diakineo" in her commentary on Luke (in The Women's Bible Commentary, edited by Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe. One of the most direct comments is from Myra Blyth and Wendy S. Robins in their No Boundaries to Compassion? An Exploration of
    Women, Gender and Diakonia
    : "One of the first hurdles in trying to come to a definition of diakonia is the obvious one of overcoming the word itself. To some, in some contexts, it means a lot. But, it clearly does not mean the same thing to everyone, and to some the word means almost nothing at all, although the concept itself is real." Doesn't that statement get at what we all know, that there's no universal feminism (if sexism is/has been fairly ubiquitous)?

    You ask, "Why the overinterpretation?" And I agree: Yes. Why!? The dogma is downright insulting.

    There cannot be a distinct lexicon (despite Aristotle's attempts, and other masculinists' attempts, and bad feminists' attempts). Well, there can be just as Hitler can have his distinct anti-Semitic Deutsch dictionary.

    In contrast to overinterpretation is "overhearing." Good feminisms listen and listen in and listen in on. They flaunt the "reasons" to "separate" and expose the resistance to parable, where one story interprets the next. Sometimes, when eavesdropping or when reading someone else's mail (because it's...well, it is meant to exclude the listener or reader), the listener- reader still blushes. In those instances, a re-view, a re-direction back to the speaker or writer is fairly effective. Sounds like deconstructionism of some postmodernisms. Except good feminisms always insist on bodily subjectivities [and the absolutely abstracted and objectified is viewed with great suspicion, from the margins, from the incarnate outside]. Wow. that sounds pretty abstract to me. Which is why narratives, little ones with real people and fictional persons too, mean so much! The blurring of categories is to open up meanings by collaborative meaning making. Hope that makes sense. Hope that doesn't sound like dogma. Can't you see I'm asking you questions?

  5. there's no universal feminism

    Och aye, ain't that the truth. I kept qualifying my target as "some" feminist criticism, and - to wit - as the reclaim-the-Bible type of feminist criticism. I mean, don't you just hate it when you raise a legitimate criticism about something, and then someone says, 'Ah, but that was the 114th-wave. We're in the 115th wave now."

    But let's go back a step...


    What do you mean by this?

    I might have got you wrong, but when it comes to criticism, aren't you opposing the Aristotle (Western) trajectory with something you're labelling feminist, that trajectory being something involving establishing oppositions and hierarchies... and you're replacing it with a regimental, hierarchical and oppositional set of binaries of your own?

    Masculanist Feminist
    Male Female
    Greek Hebrew
    Aristotle Scholem
    closed open
    abstract bodily
    etc etc

    And (if so) isn't the overcoming of this (the deconstruction) instead in the suggestion that the oppositions never worked, male logic was always female logic was always open and closed...etc etc?

    There cannot be a distinct lexicon

    There must be a distinct lexicon for women within any one language (if there are 'women' in the culture which speaks the language). In fact, there is no lexicon singular. There are only more or less overlapping mutiplicities of lexicons. Every man and woman has their own, slightly different. The imposition of a single lexicon is an ideal; the multiplicity of lexicons is reality. Identifiable subcultures (including the community of 'women') have lexicons which converge differently to others.

    Translation should be different for men and women; for Jews and Goyim.

  6. Incidentally, Anne Carson is one of favourite poets.

  7. What thoughtful observations and questions, N.T.! You've encouraged me to take an entire post to dialogue with you.

    But maybe we share as favo(u)rites the lines of poetry that open Carson's "So The Hall Door Shuts Again And All Noise Is Gone":

    In the effort to find one's way among the contents of memory
    (Aristotle emphasizes)
    a principal of association is helpful—
    "passing rapidly from one step to the next.
    For instance from milk to white,
    from white to air,
    from air to damp,
    after which one recollectes autumn supposing one is trying to
    recollect that season."
    Or supposing,
    fair reader,
    you are trying to recollect not autumn but freedom,
    a principal of freedom
    the existed between two people, small and savage
    as principals go—but what are the rules for this?
    As he says,
    folly may come into fashion.
    Pass then rapidly
    from one step to the next,
    for instance from nipple to hard,
    from hard to hotel room,
    from hotel room


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