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).

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