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.


  1. How can you leave us cold turkey? Thanks for your insights. I will be looking forward to your repentance.

  2. I have understood very little of what you've written here, since I don't understand Greek at all, and Hebrew even less. Still, I've enjoyed the things you did with the language, revealing the word games I know are hiding in there.

    Thank you. May whoever gets to hear you be blessed.

  3. >Jay,
    How can I leave you cold turkey? It's in the fridge! Try it in one of those croissants with spicy mustard, and I think you might like it too. :) Will you join us at the 12 steps meeting to watch my repentance? And thank you very much for reading and for your comment here from Thailand!

    How much of our English is their Greek! That's not a question is it? Much of what we write and say in English is from the Hellene mother tongue as lexicon (i.e., as new vocabulary, as loan words). I should have been transliterating the Greek letters into English more to demonstrate more of what we all (in English) have overheard.

    But the wordplay (i.e., in English as word-wiggle room and as word playfulness) is as much a part of what is Greek. In other words, the Greeks (up until Plato and Aristotle) enjoyed that language is not always locked down by one writer's or one speaker's intentions. The whole arena of "plays" (i.e., musical dramas) among Greeks allowed the audience (and readers and singers and listeners of the epics and poetry and hymns) to participate. They together participated in meaning making.

    The Jews in Alexandria Egypt got that. Their translation of their own scriptures into Greek is playful. It opens up participation. It lets the outsiders in, not by lecturing to the Greek reader by saying "this is absolutely and only what the Hebrew means." Rather by saying, "These are things any of us might overhear in the text, as the speaker speaks it and as the writers wrote it and as we the translators translate it."

    Christian bible translators have been more a part of the culture of Plato and Aristotle than of the Jews in the Homeric tradition. Plato sees language as masking reality, and Aristotle sees it as a window into nature. The Christian bible translators use platonic and aristotelian notions of language as "code" that can and, in the case of the Bible, must be deciphered. The text cannot mean anything more than what it means. And what it means is what the author intended it to mean. The role of the scientific linguist, for the translator, is to de-code the meaning. The translator, then, can look for dynamically or literally the singular equivalent meaning in the target language.

    In contrast is the view of language as very personal, as dependent on people (not dependent on nature or logic or the text or the idealized author's idealized intent). Persons and people are growing, are insiders and outsiders with various perspectives and relationships to the language spoken and written and translated. They make meanings by language, and language does not impose its one meaning on them because language cannot do that.

    (If you try to track down, and then to narrow down, for example, the meaning of "cold turkey," then you have to listen to stories of people. Of American Indians, of winos, of dictionary makers, of addicts, of people eating food. Now, try to translate "cold turkey" into Cherokee. If you don't know anyone real and living who speaks the language, then the "meaning" becomes rather Idealized, i.e., rather platonic. But if you do know a human speaking Cherokee, then does she or he presume to know the one and only meaning, i.e., the aristotelian nature of what "cold turkey" is and must be and what it, therefore, cannot also be?)

    I think your moniker "codepoke" is rather playful, Kevin! You understand more (of Hebrew and Greek) than you can admit to.

    The playfulness (although suffering and painful sometimes too) is Jewish. Hebrew (and Homeric Hellene, i.e., poetic songful Greek) is in flux-- ironically the tradition (which would be fixed) depends on personal change. Take Jacob converting to Israel. It's more than just a name change. Here's a guy who struggles with another man without a name -- an angel or god perhaps -- and he gets "translated." Israel (the whole hip socket perpetual limp and now can't eat rump meat thing) is a parable for personal translation.

    On that note, here's a bit I read this morning from Jewish language scholar Willis Barnstone (in his "Afterword: Translation History, Anti-Judaism, Authors and Sources, Yeshua to Jesus, Passover Death and Rome, and Yeshua the Voice of Spirit," his closing notes on his translation of some of the New Testament or, as he calls it, the New Covenant, p. 436):

    "The translator in service of the source author becomes more invisible as the art intensifies, permitting the reader to see Homer or Dante or the Bible and. . . to hear them have their say. By contrast, in the inevitable collaboration between author and translator, as we move form re-creation to imitation, the earlier author tends to disappear, overcome by the voice of the translating author.

    It is hard to hold that middle ground [when translating a text], to be both literal and literary. The literal tends to move one toward information transfer, the literary toward imitation. But these difficulties of balance also liberate. With the imperative to preserve fidelity to both raw content and artistic form, the translator is saved from first-glance easy solutions. To overcome obstacles, one must leap up or track through the mind to come upon many possibilities until the right, or almost right, one surprisingly appears. Is such translation truly possible? Of course not, in an absolute sense, since a is not b. But the fact of impossibility makes the translation richer and more desirable, and differences in languages are a plus to all sides. It is good to wrestle with the words, as Jacob wrestled with God until daybreak, for the child of that struggle will come up intact, imperfect, and handsome.

  4. Yes, I could listen to you riff on this stuff for a long, long time. I sit, another blind man, forced to listen to the explanations of the elephant. And I don't doubt it's like a wall, or a tree, or a snake. Sure. But you make me believe that elephant moves.

    And in my heart, I know the Greek and Hebrew move.

    Thank you for carrying my faith a little further.

  5. It seems I blink, and you're gone.

    When you said recently, "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!)" I did wonder what might happen. Of course "discipline" is good, but only if it helps you to achieve something worthwhile. (Otherwise it's just a way of trying to make you feel good about feeling bad about doing something you don't want to.) So if you think your intended objective isn't achievable or worth the effort, then you're right to move on. Life's too short: keep the dreams; jettison the dead wood.

    However, I think the problem may be that you are labouring under the misapprehension that you were put on this earth to do a day job, be a husband and father, and other stuff like that. We readers know differently: it's clear that you were "born to blog". Well at least now your readers will be able to free up the time taken checking out what you've got to say today, and wondering whether we'll understand any of it.

    As far as understanding things goes, I've heard some people suggest that in "the age to come" we humans will know it all: linguistics; theology; physics; you name it. I do hope not. I'm looking forward to literally* having eternity to find out all about that stuff. I certainly don't want an "eternal state" that's going nowhere. An eternity just spent reminiscing and not learning anything new? I don't think so.

    *(Don't you just hate people who say "literally" when they don't mean "literally": "When we left the building there were literally millions of people waiting outside." No. There were literally 67 people and a couple of rather bored dogs. And, No, I don't literally "hate" such people: it's just that the things they say really annoy me.)

    Anyway, enjoy a blog-free 2009 (or not, as the case may be).

    Kind regards, John

  6. Oh no! I stop reading for 4 days and then come back to bad news that thou wilt blog no more

    Thanks it's been utterly wonderful and such a great idea - maybe someone else will take up the baton?
    Take care out there!

  7. >John, It's literal(ly) people like you who make me want to blog! Thanks for your kind and always thought provoking dialogue!!

    Would you like the baton? Thank you for your friendship in blogging! I hope you keep your great blog going for a long time.

  8. Suzanne is definitely more able to do this. Can't say too much yet about what awaits me this year but change very certainly ...


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