Monday, January 12, 2009

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.

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