40 thoughts on “In which I keep it short

  1. J. K. Gayle says:

    Who’s register is more known and most intelligible?

    Jesus’s? אלהי אלהי למא שבקתני ??

    David’s? אֵלִי אֵלִי לָמָה עֲזַבְתָּנִי

    Matthew’s Jesus’s? ηλι ηλι λεμα σαβαχθανι OR Ἠλί, Ἠλί, λιμὰ σαβαχθανί

    The Alexandrian Jews’ David? Ὁ θεὸς ὁ θεός μου, πρόσχες μοι· ἵνα τί ἐγκατέλιπές με;

    Matthew’s own translation of Jesus’s unintelligible words in an unknown register? Θεέ μου, Θεέ μου, ἵνα τί με ἐγκατέλιπες; OR Θεέ μου, Θεέ μου, ἱνατί με ἐγκατέλιπες;

    And why did Jesus obscure his meanings in instruction? And did his Greek translators (i.e., the gospel writers) always use intelligible words when they render his teaching words into Hellene for the reader?

    Does a single English translation reconcile all of the obscurities in what Jesus so loudly and publicly said? Should it?

  2. Mike Sangrey says:

    Many, many times when I’ve thought about the purpose of Bible translation, I’ve thought about the message of 1 Cor. 13-14. I wish a better translation, particularly of γλῶσσα and προφητεύω, were available. The message of the text is obviously about how clear communication of God’s message strengthens people. Paul made that hyperbolically clear–10,000 to 5.

    People are so important.

    So, yeah, I’m with you Dannii.

  3. J. K. Gayle says:

    Mike, Is the message of I Cor. 14:34-35 really clear? What better translations of σιγάτωσαν and of αἰσχρὸν could there be?

  4. Mike Sangrey says:

    First, ‘clarity’ exists on a cline. Also, I’m referring to the entire 2 chapters and not two verses. Though 12-14 is actually the complete section. Once one understands the message of those three chapters, then, yes, those two verses (read in Greek) get quite obvious (IMO). I think there is a huge amount of cloud swirling around the interpretation of those verses; but, I don’t think the fog is in the text–again, once one understands the bigger picture of the 3 chapters.

    Also, I don’t want to see this post go down the pathway of the gender controversy–one of the many thunderheads.

  5. J. K. Gayle says:

    Ok, Mike. I understand the need to tiptoe around certain words, verses, chapters, and sections while calling, ironically, for some bold simplicity in “five intelligible words to instruct others.” You are the one bringing up “clarity” and such “on a cline.” That’s not so clear in what Dannii writes about “intelligible words.”

    So what about a similar section of Romans (around chapter 12)? Paul completely avoids instructions for wives and women in the whole entire letter. (Although the iron rule of law in Rome, where the readers are reading, has much to say that sounds very similar to Paul’s instructions to the others in Corinth right at those two controversial verses we have to tip-toe around. And, again, I don’t disagree with you about the need for keep the conversation here on track and uncontroversial! Thanks!) But in Romans 12:1, what’s the best English translation or some better ones anyway, for Paul’s word, λογικὴ? Is this so intelligible to the Greek readers where Latin is to be the official language? Would Cicero’s engagement with Greek logic and rhetoric have helped make “clear” what Paul’s writing? Do the English in translations today get at how the adjectival use of “logic” in this context makes sense for Paul’s audiences in Rome? Does that have any contemporary relevance for us English readers anywhere in the twenty-first century? What “known register” of English helps us here?

  6. WoundedEgo says:

    I’m of the opinion that 1 Cor 14:34-35 is a marginal note that was later inserted into the text, although it is possible that it was moved from the end of the chapter. It is glaringly out of place in the flow of thought. You can find a lengthy discussion of this matter here:

    http://evangelicaltextualcriticism.blogspot.com/2010/01/is-1-cor-1434-35-interpolation.html

    My own comments appear if you do a search for “WoundedEgo.” The response to my initial question gave me great confidence in my original assessment.

  7. Mike Sangrey says:

    Perhaps Dannii will correct me, but I understand him to say that the short version of the purpose of translation can be seen in that one must make the message intelligible; that is, clear to the mind. When one assesses the value of a communication (eg a translation) one of the more important questions is, “does it communicate its message clearly?” So, ‘clarity’ stands as a key aspect of this post. Five intelligible words beat 10,000 ones which are foreign to the hearer.

    Regarding Rom. 12:1…

    Why do we gravitate toward the difficult as if the difficult will somehow radically change our understanding of the purpose of translation? Speaking honestly and transparently, that question is meant as rhetorical, not poignant, intended to provoke thought in our varied audience. Hopefully, the question moves us out of our “normal” way of working with the data?

    I wish I could get a critical mass of people to think outside the box long enough for a necessary “aah-haa” moment to flash into people’s view.

    For example, you bring up λογικός–a single word. You’ve correctly placed the word in a literary context (lessor people don’t). That is enormously helpful. It’s helpful in that it’s a step in the right direction. An insufficient step, in my opinion, but at least a step pointed correctly. Allow me to push for another step.

    In my view, you’re asking the wrong question. A better question (in my view, a bare minimum question) is how should one translate τὴν λογικὴν λατρείαν ὑμῶν? And yet, even that isn’t the right question. So, I take another step.

    Those types of questions presume one-for-one correspondence between interlingual words. While there is sufficient, translatable correspondence in many text cases, when one is presented with a semantically dense text such as 12:1, using such a model for translation produces poor results . Phil. 1:9-11 is another example since it basically summarizes the entire letter. In the same way, Rom. 12:1 basically summarises the content of 12:3-15:13. It’s semantically dense.

    Now it’s obvious that one has to deal with the words. But, when dealing with a semantically dense stream of words, one must deal at the level of the semantics of the text and not the semantics of the words. It’s the textual analogue to the difference between a lexicon presenting glosses and presenting definitions. When translating, definitions are much more helpful.

    I’m sure you’re quite well aware of the frequent misapplication of the lexicon’s glosses by the normal Bible student. So often they think the glosses comprise the potential, substitutional choices. Instead they need to develop the necessary skill of building the meaning-fabric of the specific text in their mind. Then, only afterwards, instantiating that meaning in their language.

    Fluent speakers do this instantaneously. It can be done by non-fluent speakers, but they must be consciously aware of the fluency process in order to do it well. Oddly (and sadly), given the way Greek is taught in our Seminaries with its inextricable connection to exegesis, the student’s mind becomes pre-packaged with resulting formulaic “texts”. And therefore, it is very difficult for the student to graduate to paragraph level (and larger) meaning. I say ‘oddly’, since some of these students get quite adept at the pre-packaged, formulaic texts and therefore “appear” fluent.

    This is why I come at difficult to understand texts by first asking questions that have a lot more to do with information flow than they do with how someone might gloss a given word.

  8. Dannii Willis says:

    I was suggesting that the short purpose of regular Biblical translations is that they be clear (for example using both a language, dialect and register that the intended audience is familiar with) and that they can teach. Other translations, including “technical” Bible translations, might not necessarily have this purpose.

  9. J. K. Gayle says:

    the short purpose of regular Biblical translations is that they be clear … and that they can teach.

    Ok, Mike and Dannii. We can move away from “words” in translation (whether some small unit of language is either “intelligible” or is “in an unknown register”). You suggest that you’re not interested in gravity “toward the difficult as if the difficult will somehow radically change our understanding of the purpose of translation”; neither am I interested in starting with, or simply focusing on, the difficult.

    What is more important to me is this:

    The Hebrew Bible, and the biblical Greek texts written after it, are not all didactic texts. As often as not, they are poetic and narrative passages. Invariably, they are literary, even the epistolary and legal texts. What’s more, much of the Bible, the “regular” Bible, already is translation, translation that is literary and rhetorical. Because there is much much translation already in the Bible that we, in conversations at this blog, tend to call “original” – because of the translation comprising the original Bible – we find that biblical translation is literary (whether poetry, history, prophecy, parable, myth, letters, or law). Moreover, and furthermore, the teaching done in the Bible is not consistently clear. In fact, God himself obscures in much of the prophecy; Jesus uses hyperbole, parable, Socratic dialectic, and Hebraic riddling – on purpose, as his purpose; and the translators using Greek tend also to play with words (and by wordplay I’m not just focusing on the units we call “words”).

    Thus, an English translation of the regular Bible that only has its purpose to be clear teaching is very different from the regular Bible it purports to translate. Such translation methodology is not the translation methodology of the gospel writers or the epistles translators or the prophecy and history and parable and poetry and proverbs translators. The Hebrew is much richer than clear and didactic English of today is. And the Greek of the Bible is more literary (than plainspeak teaching English) in that the Hellene, often the L2 of the Jewish writer, invokes the backdrop of the non-Jewish empires (and their epistemological Greek-language wars).

    I would argue that your proposal for a straightforward English bible translation for teaching sounds much more like Aristotle’s proposals for good Greek than it does like the Bible. (And Aristotle, I would say, did have subjects he wanted to teach by his method of ostensibly clear logic. This is the main reason for interest in Paul’s use of λογική – which is rhetorically much different from λογικός. Sometimes Paul, more than any other Greek writer and translator of the Bible, sounds very much like Aristotle, even in the subjects that he teaches, including those controversial subjects that threaten to sidetrack our conversation here.) In contrast to simple objectivity, there is the kind of teaching that Jesus seemed to be after. It was not very straightforward at all.

    Jewish Bible reader and literary critic, George Steiner, observes what teaching in the New Testament is like. I hope you won’t mind my quoting his very difficult English. But I do think it teaches well enough. Here’s from page 75 of Steiner’s Grammars of Creation:

    “Jesus’ discourse in parables, his statements of withdrawal from statement–of which the episode in which he writes in the dust and effaces his writing is the emblematic instance–give to linguistic verticality, to the containment of silence in language, a particular impetus. As do the constantly polysemic, stratified techniques of semantic motions in the Pauline Epistles. It is these parables and indirect communications, at once more internalized and open-ended than are the codes of classical rhetoric, which beget the seeming contradiction of enigmatic clarity, the “comprehendit imcomprehensible esse” celebrated in Anselm’s Proslogion. In turn, from these dramatizations of manifold sense, evolve the instruments of allegory, of analogy, of simile, of tropes and concealments in Western literature (though here also there are obvious and indispensible classical sources).”

    Christian literary critic and apologist, C. S. Lewis (who also read the Hebrew Bible), made a statement very similar to Steiner’s. I’m mentioning that just because more readers of this blog are likely familiar with and more trusting of Lewis.

    And it may be that what Lewis called “transpositions” (in his sermon and essay by the title “Transposition”) is more like what you two are proposing. In other words, what you two seem to be after is a changing of the “original” languages of the Bible into a simpler, clearer English for straightforward teaching. And I’m assuming the teaching is primarily and specifically Christian theological, no?

  10. Tapani says:

    Here’s a thought, somewhere along the lines of J.K.’s questions. I’ve just started reading Kierkegaard’s Concluding Unscientific Postscript, in Finnish translation. In his lengthy foreword, the translator gives an extended description of just how tricky Kierkegaard’s Danish is to understand, let alone translate. Nevertheless, he has opted for a translation, as far as he was able, of Kierkegaard’s language into Finnish. Where the Danish is obscure, the Finnish is obscure; where the Danish is convoluted, the Finnish is convoluted. The sense is in the language, and the reader must therefore wrestle with the language.

    What this doesn’t give the reader is a straightforward and readily intelligible text — except of course where Kierkegaard is being straightforward and readily intelligible.

    It seems to me that this is what the job of translation per se is about. Translating the text so that the translator gives the reader the nearest possible thing to what the writer gave his reader. Except in Bible translation, which sometimes seems to have developed into a species of its own, with its own rules.

    And, sure, Biblish can get in the way of that. But so can efforts to be more approachable and intelligible than the text. I’m pretty sure many of Paul’s, or Ezekiel’s, or John the Divine’s original hearers/readers scratched their heads on a regular basis. No doubt many were unimpressed by Mark’s rhetorical style or the grammar of Revelation or Paul’s endless anacoluthons (anacolutha?).

    Shouldn’t our translations attempt preserve and transmit the text, warts and all, intelligible and unintelligible, as it stands?

    [Yes, I know I’m skipping over all sorts of questions of the extent to which that is possible — but presume that we all agree that it is possible to a lesser and greater extent.]

  11. Mike Sangrey says:

    I too am bothered by propostionalizing the Bible. Forgive the new word, yet again. I thought of saying “text-bookifying” which would have been worse, though perhaps the ugliness of the word reflects a certain level of onomatopoeia. I’m referring to reducing the text to a didactic clarity.

    However, I don’t think ‘clarity’ refers only to the presentation of propositions. “The moon was a ghostly galleon, tossed on stormy seas” is beautifully clear and yet semantically rich.

    So, my desire for clarity is not to set aside poetry or narrative or any other genre. It’s not even to resist the use of clever wordplay. Frankly, I think we could stand some of that in our Bibles (it’s there in the original, though exposing (wordplay intended) the wordplay in Solomon’s Song would take very careful marketing to say the least.)

    I find that kind of ambiguity clarifying (wordplay, not innuendo), if you know what I mean. From the little study I’ve done in John, I think he is quite good at presenting a single point from two perspectives simultaneously. That’s enormously clever and rather enjoyable to find when one sees it. And the different perspectives hone the edge of interpretation. Sometimes wordplay is simply entertaining; however, sometimes it’s triangulation. Reproducing that in translation would be at least as clever. It certainly would be impressive and quite helpful.

    I resist the thought that we should present the translated text to the reader in such a way that the reader’s method is to make up their own mind using the fodder of the text. The text loses its rightful power if we do that. We already too readily justify our own beliefs with alleged proof-texts. The text must remain authoritative.

    I also resist the assumption that the original is obscure. I think a better way forward is to assume clarity and therefore pursue the discovery of it. I’m thinking of more recent research that has shown that some of Paul’s (and other’s) anacoluthons are actually intended as indicators of information flow. Longenecker’s Rhetoric at the boundaries offers elegant and simple insight here. I think we could use a lot more of that sort of discovery. There’s no loss if we’re wrong about presumed clarity which we don’t see. There is loss if we assume the lack thereof and therefore don’t seek it.

    However, it certainly is important to recognize the “elephant in the room”. Collin’s book, “Good to Great…” makes the point that successful leadership “faces the brutal facts.” Tapani, above, pointed out several warts we have to put on the table and recognize as reality. “What about Revelation?,” he, in effect, asks. Good question. I have ideas, but linguistically informed analysis would be quite helpful. Ezekiel almost totally escapes me. To me, that’s a brutal fact. I’m suppose to know this stuff. But, I’m not tossing in the towel and giving up hope. I assume it’s knowable and move forward.

    Also, let me quickly add (perhaps risking redundancy) that obscurity and clarity exist along a cline. And so, in the speech act, the author walks the reader along a pathway toward clarity. I often wonder that during specific instances of dialog about obscurity and clarity (and ambiguity) that we’re placing too strict a measure on too small a text. I think recognizing this wrongly placed, overly strict assessment has to come into play, too. For example, what does it mean to intentionally and deliberatively pursue a paragraph level clarity? How does one “see” that in the original? How does one reproduce that in the destination? Do different languages produce this level of clarity differently? I think these are important questions.

    Some translations seek to make too small a text too clear when the better way would be to strengthen the information flow (perhaps by using discourse connections). Smoothing the “flow” would increase the clarity without succumbing to the temptation to make a sentence didactic and propositional. The reverse of this is also true. We analyse too small a text looking for “closed system” clarity. Not finding it, we translate poorly.

    I’ve got to run. I need to get the place ready for my son’s highschool graduation picnic this Saturday.

  12. Dannii Willis says:

    In other words, what you two seem to be after is a changing of the “original” languages of the Bible into a simpler, clearer English for straightforward teaching. And I’m assuming the teaching is primarily and specifically Christian theological, no?

    While I think I understand your concerns, I want to approach this from another perspective.

    Like it or not, the Hebrew and Christian Bibles primary audiences are members of a religious confessional community, which take it to be their authoritative source text. In these communities a very major, if not the primary, purpose of these texts is for teaching and instruction. This will include teaching from passages which might not seem particularly didactic (though the purposes of many passages is not clear to us now…)

    Working back from this I believe it is entirely appropriate to translate the texts in a way that communicates and serves this teaching purpose most effectively to those in the community, and depending on how these communities feel about proselytisation, those in the society but not in the confessional community. This will include translating into a language, dialect and register(s) which the audience is familiar with. It won’t try to flatten hyperbole or remove ambiguities (although in some cases others have made ambiguous what really should not be.)

    There is a place for translations not intended for teaching from. There’s a place for translations which leave us unimpressed with the grammar of Mark or Revelation (maybe this too is the translation for the community I speak of.) There is a place for a limitless number of translation philosophies. But not all of them are important, to me.

  13. Tapani says:

    Dannii,

    You make a fair point. I suppose my question would be: is it the task of the translation to teach in confessional communities? Or is it the task of teaching and instruction in confessional communities teach and to instruct, on the basis of a text that is what it is? To paraphrase Antony Thiselton out of context, isn’t it about fusing the horizon of the text with the horizon of the audience? And if it is, it will be easier with some texts than with others.

    Which is not to say that anything in the text that is a peculiar feature of the translation, rather than of the original, should be unobtrusive at worst, absent at best.

    (One of my main objections to the Authorised Version is the very thing that makes it so widely admired: its uniform linguistic beauty. It’s just too beautiful to be faithful.)

  14. Mike Sangrey says:

    Tapani wrote:
    is it the task of teaching and instruction in confessional communities [to] teach and to instruct, on the basis of a text that is what it is?

    Yes. And I believe of equal importance, it is the task of the translation to enable the confessional community to hold those teaching accountable to the text. So, the more ambiguous a translated text, the more difficult this is to achieve.

    Practically speaking, this dialectic keeps everyone honest. It also presupposes it’s the text that is authoritative. (Perhaps I’m showing my protestantism.)

    I agree with you that if it really is peculiar in the original, then there’s a reason for that which should be modelled in the destination. I’ve wondered if Revelation is peculiar because the author attempted to span two languages (Greekew or Hebreek). So, perhaps an argument could be made that a good translation of Revelation would seek the same (Englew or Hebrish)? At this point in my understanding, I have no idea.

  15. Michael Nicholls says:

    Dannii wrote:
    I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in an unknown register.

    Who’s with me?

    Me.

    J.K. wrote:
    Is the message of I Cor. 14:34-35 really clear?

    Yes.

    🙂

  16. J. K. Gayle says:

    Where the Danish is obscure, the Finnish is obscure; where the Danish is convoluted, the Finnish is convoluted. The sense is in the language, and the reader must therefore wrestle with the language.

    Tapani,
    This does seem to get at faithfulness to Kierkegaard.

    Dannii,
    Would a Finnish community studying Kierkegaard do better with the sort of translation Tapani is reading here?

    Isn’t it the case that many of the first Bible translators (i.e., the LXX translators and the gospel writers and the NT epistles writers) used Greek that challenges their readers? As simple and as clear and as perhaps known the register, for example, of Paul’s letter to Philemon, the Greek is not just straightforward stuff. There are plays on the names, plays on the verbs, on the different Greek notions of “love,” of “freedom,” of “brotherhood,” of “servitude,” not to mention the complex crisscrossing chiasmuses and the clever topic postponements and the wonderful rhetorical tensions that are almost plotlike. What if Paul had written just “five intelligible words to instruct” Philemon instead of using the some seven (or more) hapax legomena and the some few hundred difficult words with difficult grammar and difficult rhetoric none so easily understood?

  17. Michael Nicholls says:

    J.K. wrote:
    There are plays on the names, plays on the verbs, on the different Greek notions of “love,” of “freedom,” of “brotherhood,” of “servitude,” not to mention the complex crisscrossing chiasmuses and the clever topic postponements and the wonderful rhetorical tensions that are almost plotlike.

    All the more reason not to translate literally.

  18. J. K. Gayle says:

    All the more reason not to translate literally.

    Michael,
    What problems do a “literal” English translation of Philemon cause most? Which English translation of Philemon do you like best? Why do you like it? Do you think the best English translation by your standards would work well for readers in the USA, such as Lloyd A. Lewis, who declares in this post-slavery nation that “Among the letter of Paul, Philemon, the shortest of Paul’s unquestioned letters, is highly problematic, especially for African Americans”? (source: True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary) Is your favorite English translation clearer to you than Paul’s Greek was to, say, Peter or even to Philemon?

  19. Michael Nicholls says:

    J.K. wrote:
    What problems do a “literal” English translation of Philemon cause most?

    When translating from Greek to English, a “literal” translation accurately represents the original grammar, syntax, lexical consistency/diversity, and a few other features of language. But a literal translation also necessarily changes various elements of discourse, because Greek discourse and English discourse don’t line up interlinearly.

    Also, Greek and English use words in slightly different ways, so that although the root meaning of a word might be the same, it might be restricted to certain genres, registers, collocations, or focus, etc. A good example of this is in Philemon v4.

    NIV: I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers
    RSV: I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers
    NLT2: I always thank my God when I pray for you, Philemon
    NET: I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers
    KJV: I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers
    ESV: I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers

    All of these translations have translated literally the Greek phrase ‘τῷ θεῷ μου’ as ‘my God’. In English, first personal singular possessive ‘my’ is almost always used restrictively. Unless Paul is actually intending to say, “I thank my God, who is not your God,” then this is a mistranslation.

    For example, if in English I say to my sister, “My dad will be late tonight,” she would probably say, “Uh… newsflash: he’s my dad too…”

    Compare: “Hey man, my boss wants to see you.” “What does your boss want with me?”
    with: “Hey man, the boss wants to see you.” “Uh oh… did he see me leave early yesterday?”

    In English there is a strong association of first singular possessive with exclusiveness. I admit that someone might be able to come up with a creative example of when this isn’t the case, but that would be the exception to the rule. I don’t think Paul is making a play on words or creatively making an exception to the rule, and a literal English translation of Paul’s normal use of ‘my’ has a different implicated meaning in English.

    ‘Restrictiveness’ in pronouns is a valid aspect of meaning, as is ‘number’, but people often only catch the overt meaning, i.e., ‘number’. We have to judge whether or not it’s more important to maintain the singularness of Paul’s pronoun, or the restrictiveness. Personally, I don’t think he intended to exclude Philemon from having a relationship with Paul’s God (that wouldn’t fit with the rest of the letter), so we can’t translate this as ‘my’ in English.

    Now compare v4 to the CEV:
    Philemon, each time I mention you in my prayers, I thank God.

    Either “I thank God” or “I thank our God” would be acceptable, non-exclusive translations. Good job CEV.

    This is just one example where a “literal” translation appears accurate at first glance, but with a bit of probing actually changes the meaning of the original. It happens all the time in literal translation, where the use of a particular word changes the register of the language in L1 to a different register in L2, or changes the focus in L1 to a different focus in L2, or turns a request in L1 to a command in L2.

    Which English translation of Philemon do you like best?

    I don’t know. I haven’t read through Philemon as a whole with the purpose of comparing versions. But v19 stands out to me as a key verse that carries a lot of impact and emotion:

    NIV: I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self.
    RSV: I, Paul, write this with my own hand, I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.
    NLT2: I, PAUL, WRITE THIS WITH MY OWN HAND: I WILL REPAY IT. AND I WON’T MENTION THAT YOU OWE ME YOUR VERY SOUL!
    NET: I, Paul, have written this letter with my own hand: I will repay it. I could also mention that you owe me your very self.
    KJV: I Paul have written [it] with mine own hand, I will repay [it]: albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides.
    ESV: I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.

    Now, I’m not a native Koine Greek speaker, but I think what Paul’s trying to do is to mention artfully, politely and non-abrasively, but pointedly that although Paul has no official rights over Philemon’s relationship with Onesimus, Paul is trying to influence Philemon by reminding him of an existing relationship debt between Philemon and himself. This would fit with the rest of the tone of the letter.

    For this reason, I think the NLT2 translation of this is terrible. Partly because today, in written English, writing in ALL CAPS (and finishing with an exclamation point!!) communicates a very strong emphasis which I don’t think Paul would have wanted (it’s not artful to yell at someone in a letter). Also, I think the tone is too strong: “I won’t mention that you owe me your very soul.” Not very subtle.

    I think the RSV’s “to say nothing of” probably best captures Paul’s tone and intention in English. The NIV is also good: “not to mention.”

    Do you think the best English translation by your standards would work well for readers in the USA, such as Lloyd A. Lewis, who declares in this post-slavery nation that “Among the letter of Paul, Philemon, the shortest of Paul’s unquestioned letters, is highly problematic, especially for African Americans”?

    I don’t particularly think that it matters. If the letter to Philemon is “highly problematic”, then it’s probably because of the content of the letter, and not because of the translation. I’m not aware of who Lloyd A. Lewis is, but is there a translation of Philemon that he thinks is not problematic?

    Is your favorite English translation clearer to you than Paul’s Greek was to, say, Peter or even to Philemon?

    I doubt it would be clearer to me than it was to Philemon. I’m pretty sure though that it was clear to Philemon. It’s not a difficult letter to understand.

    And now you’ve tricked me into speaking more than “five intelligible words.” Sorry Dannii…..

  20. J. K. Gayle says:

    Michael says:
    Now, I’m not a native Koine Greek speaker, but I think what Paul’s trying to do is to mention artfully, politely and non-abrasively, but pointedly…. Paul is trying to influence Philemon…. This would fit with the rest of the tone of the letter…. If the letter to Philemon is “highly problematic”, then it’s probably because of the content of the letter, and not because of the translation…. I doubt [an English translation] would be clearer to me than it was to Philemon. I’m pretty sure though that it was clear to Philemon. It’s not a difficult letter to understand.

    Thank you for your statements and the examples you give. I think I’m starting to understand what you mean by “literal” and by the issues you have with translations you call such. And yet, what you’re saying betrays some profound binaries that I think aren’t necessary. For instance, you seem to suggest that Paul’s language (and the translators’ language) is one thing while, quite unrelated, “the content of the letter” has little to do with the language. Likewise, you appear to acknowledge “the tone” of the text and how Paul (with his scribe perhaps) writes “artfully, politely and non-abrasively, but pointedly”; but you point, rather platonicly, to something you imagine (and even boldly declare) to be more clear behind the textuality: you point to Paul’s ostensibly obvious “intention.” I’m not trying to “trick” you, and yet I do think it’s telling that you can speak of “Paul’s tone and intention in English.”

    I’m afraid I don’t share with you these assumptions:
    that Paul was being clear with his Greek;
    that he had some singular intention;
    that Philemon had more clarity about what’s going on in the letter than a non-native reader of Greek may have;
    that the author’s intentions can control his readers’ intentions (or understandings of his text);
    or that what a text does has an absolute correlation to what the author intends for it to have.

    For an analogy, I’d like to go back to an illustration Theophrastus gave in one of the comment threads of this series. When Abraham Lincoln wrote and spoke “Four scores and seven years ago,” I doubt he could anticipate the profound (clear) impact his Gettysburg Address has had. He certainly would be amused we’re talking about it today. You don’t even have to know all of American history, or the particulars of the day in which he made the address, to appreciate his choice of words.

    Now, let’s go back to Paul’s letter, literally to his choice of words. I’ve formatted line breaks and bolded some of his pronouns. You don’t have to understand the particulars of the context (though many are mentioned in the letter) to appreciate the stark contrasts and comparisons that Paul’s use of pronouns makes. The Greek, very early in the little letter to Philemon, is making singularly pointed statements about its author and its audience. (Notice how the writer starts addressing more than the one person, and then how he directs the attention — while the others are overhearing or eavesdropping or standing by — to the one, Philemon).

    What have the CEV translators gained for us English readers by losing the dance of Paul’s pronouns? “Philemon, each time I mention you in my prayers, I thank God.”?

    And what would a translation lose by participating (whether Philemon gets it or not) in the (pronominal, singular-plural) wordplay?

    “Thanks go to this God of mine,
    As always what’s memorable of yours,
    Makes it into those prayers of mine:
    what’s been heard of yours
    that loving and that believing
    possessed
    toward the Master, Joshua,
    and for all the holy ones —
    which is how there’s common sharing
    of that believing of yours
    a capable conception in comprehension
    in all that’s good of ours
    for Messiah Joshua.”

    Εὐχαριστῶ τῷ θεῷ μου
    πάντοτε μνείαν σου
    ποιούμενος ἐπὶ τῶν προσευχῶν μου
    ἀκούων σου
    τὴν ἀγάπην καὶ τὴν πίστιν
    ἣν ἔχεις
    πρὸς τὸν κύριον Ἰησοῦν
    καὶ εἰς πάντας τοὺς ἁγίους
    ὅπως ἡ κοινωνία τῆς πίστεώς σου
    ἐνεργὴς γένηται ἐν ἐπιγνώσει
    παντὸς ἀγαθοῦ τοῦ ἐν ἡμῖν
    εἰς χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν

  21. Theophrastus says:

    When Abraham Lincoln wrote and spoke “Four scores and seven years ago,” I doubt he could anticipate the profound (clear) impact his Gettysburg Address has had. He certainly would be amused we’re talking about it today.

    Old Abe was definitely a failure at prophecy: “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here.”

  22. Michael Nicholls says:

    J.K. wrote:
    you seem to suggest that Paul’s language (and the translators’ language) is one thing while, quite unrelated, “the content of the letter” has little to do with the language.

    I was trying to simplify a fairly complicated issue. If we understand Paul’s letter at all (and I’d argue that we do… at least, we know that it’s a different letter from his letter to the church in Ephesus), we know that it somehow relates to slavery, and essentially it doesn’t outright denounce slavery. With this in mind, I don’t see how someone who didn’t like this letter in one translation because of its position on slavery would somehow like it in another major translation.

    Likewise, you appear to acknowledge “the tone” of the text and how Paul (with his scribe perhaps) writes “artfully, politely and non-abrasively, but pointedly”; but you point, rather platonicly, to something you imagine (and even boldly declare) to be more clear behind the textuality: you point to Paul’s ostensibly obvious “intention.” I’m not trying to “trick” you, and yet I do think it’s telling that you can speak of “Paul’s tone and intention in English.”

    I’m not sure I follow. Doesn’t all communication have an intention/s?

    I’m afraid I don’t share with you these assumptions:

    With these adjustments, I’m happy to own this list:

    that Paul was being for the most part clear with his Greek;
    that he had some singular intention/s;
    that Philemon had more clarity about what’s going on in the letter than a non-native reader of Greek may have;
    that the author’s intentions can should control direct his readers’ intentions (or understandings of his text);
    or that what a text does should have a has an absolute correlation to what the author intends for it to have.

    Without these principles of communication, what’s the point? Why write anything?

    What have the CEV translators gained for us English readers by losing the dance of Paul’s pronouns?

    It’s avoided the mistake of using a restrictive/exclusive English pronoun. I think this is more important to Paul’s message than the ‘dance’ of pronouns. Some may disagree.

    And what would a translation lose by participating in the wordplay?

    As I said, by participating, an English translation puts a non-inclusive pronoun where Paul had a non-exclusive one. This changes the meaning.

  23. J. K. Gayle says:

    Theophrastus proves:
    “Abe was definitely a failure at prophecy” 🙂

    Michael asks:
    “Doesn’t all communication have an intention/s?… Without these principles of communication, what’s the point? Why write anything?”

    This question of yours may just get at the crux of the frustration that you, Dannii, and Wayne sometimes seem to express here in posts and comments at this blog. You are saying, aren’t you, that the Bible, Paul’s letter to Philemon’s household, and Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg are essentially “communication”? Implicit in communication, then, are certain features: namely, a communicator, her or his intention for the communique, yes the communique, and the audience or intended recipients of the communicator’s intended communique. There are, of course, the other (tangential) issues of communication, such as “clarity” and “clarity in translation.” And so you ask, “Why write anything?” as if “communication” of a communique between communicators is all there is to it.

    To me, this view is platonic. The message (or the communique) must be abstracted from the language (or the vehicle for the communication) in the platonic view. What matters far less than our assumption (or presumption) of knowing what an author or a rhetor intended, in the platonic view, is the language he or she decided to use (or even stumbled upon, perhaps, when composing a text or giving a speech).

    But there’s another, richer view. There’s another richer practice. It’s this: that language is not just the vehicle, not just the residue, not just the shadow of communication. Like it or not, Paul cannot write Greek language (albeit for his intention, his communique) without participating in all sorts of (unintended) meanings of language (many of which have nothing to do with what we late readers would like to presume must be his basic, clear and clearly-communicated meaning). Like it or not, Lincoln cannot write and speak English language eloquently without clearly missing the opportunity to communicate clearly to all readers and listeners of all times. “Four score and seven years ago” is not clear communication. (Yes, I know Dannii, they are five words; but is this “communication” exactly “intelligible” to the natural-English audience that is so often targeted in discussions of this blog?) Lincoln’s language is eloquent, not necessarily intelligible or natural. Paul’s language likewise is eloquent language, enduring and powerful, begging to be translated as such.

  24. Michael Nicholls says:

    Kurk, I have no idea what you’re talking about. For a second I thought I understood, but when I understood it I realised that it’s impossible to understand any author (according to what I understood), and so I gave up that understanding because I have no way of knowing what you were communicating, and I guess we’ll have to be content knowing that we’re writing to each other without any idea what the other is trying to say, but at least we’re saying it eloquently. In that split second of understanding I decided to leave Africa, because trying to translate a ‘communique’ (aka the Bible) for people is impossible – I have no idea what the Biblical authors meant to communicate, and therefore I have no business translating what I don’t understand. But then I understood that I can’t understand, and so by my not understanding that understanding is impossible, I had no choice but continue in my ignorance and stay.

    🙂

    Just to be clear, not that that’s possible, but I don’t believe that language is just a vehicle for delivering an Aristotelian list of binary propositions. I believe that all that stuff – eloquence, literary beauty, freshness, creativity – are valid parts of language and communication. Unfortunately we have to translate that stuff from L1 to L2 (that’s the hard truth), and it doesn’t all go across. Sometimes we have to pick and choose. The secret is in discourse, not so much in words. Translating “Four score and seven years ago” word-for-word into Jita won’t make any sense at all. But finding a similar Jita register and style that communicates the same kind of power and eloquence is a good start for a translation.

    Can I assume that you don’t share with me these assumptions:

    that Michael was being for the most part clear with his English;
    that he had some intentions;
    that Kurk had more clarity about what’s going on in Michael’s posts than a non-native reader of English may have;
    that Michael’s intentions should direct Kurk’s understandings of his post;
    and that what Michael’s post does, should have a correlation to what Michael intends for it to have?

    If that’s the case, then this helps me understand your posts better, because we might be working off different assumptions.

  25. J. K. Gayle says:

    Michael,
    Your words hurt me. They drip with sarcasm, construct a straw man of my own words, and mock them. “That’s not my intention,” you plead to yourself. But then we all can see how you language, how you address me, shift from calling me “J.K.” to using my nickname for the first time at this blog. (The first time you used it at your blog, you asked about that name and then jeered at me for a typo when I invited you as a friend to call me by my name; you used your words to play with my words.) Your words hurt me.

    🙂 Now, with the smiley emoticon, all can see how we’re both communicating playfully. You are really quite clever, Michael! You communicate your point(s) “artfully, politely and non-abrasively, but pointedly.” 🙂

    Now, let me just make clear to all that you really have not hurt me by your words. However, I think we’d all agree that words have hurt, that they do hurt sometimes, and that the speaker or writer doesn’t always intend for her or his hurtful words to hurt her or his audience(s).

    But you have illustrated one very important thing about the Bible. You have demonstrated that language is not mere communication, not entirely governed by the intentions of the communicators.

    Moreover, for example, we can easily turn to someone like atheist-turned-Christian-theist C. S. Lewis for more demonstrations. Lewis is not a Jew nor is he (he confesses) a Hebraist. And yet he writes (a book) his Reflections on the Psalms, puzzling over how un-Christian, un-charitable some of the bible’s psalms seem to be. And he gets at how, on the other hand, these very psalms do have the marks of Christianity and how there’s something like the voice of the Jesus of the Christians in them. This, we must all agree, was not and is not the intention of the writers and the singers of those Psalms!! These reflections are what Lewis calls “Second Meanings,” and he writes a couple of chapters to get at what he means (rather ironically, as ironic as your words make me in your previous comment). To begin showing how second meanings work, Lewis discusses an offhand comment of a slave in an account of Roman history; it turns out, Lewis shows, that the slave unintentionally says “something truer, or more importantly true, than he himself supposed.” The slave turns out, without really intending it, to be a better, a truer, prophet than the “Old Abe” of Theophrastus has been. Lewis goes on at length then to discuss Virgil’s unintended prophecy of the Virgin “birth of Christ” and Plato’s unintended prophecy of “the Passion of Christ.” In the end, Lewis imagines Plato confessing, “That is what my words really meant, and I never knew it”; he speculates Virgil may or may not have agreed that his words pointed to Christ’s birth; and he acknowledges that the slave of the Romans would have said (in Lewis’s play at double-negative slave English): “I never meant no such thing.”

    Now if any one of us were to translate into Jita your comments, mine, or any of the communiques that Lewis reflects on (the Hebrew Psalms, the slave’s comment, Virgil’s prediction, or Plato’s), then we’d do well to go well beyond what we think is the rhetor’s or writer’s meaning.

  26. J. K. Gayle says:

    Michael says:
    Translating “Four score and seven years ago” word-for-word into Jita won’t make any sense at all. But finding a similar Jita register and style that communicates the same kind of power and eloquence is a good start for a translation.

    If Abraham Lincoln had traveled around Lake Victoria around the time he visited Gettysburg, then it would be interesting indeed. If he could have learned that there have been four centuries of slave trade in that region that cost the lives of twenty million Africans, then it would be quite fascinating. If he were bilingual in his English and in his Jita in this context, then I imagine we would translate “Four score and seven years ago” quite powerfully. Don’t you think that he’d understand how his Gettysburg Address, in Jita, would be “highly problematic”? It’d be problematic for the indigenous peoples around Lake Victoria; and it’d be problematic for the sons of the slave traders, for the colonists there. Lincoln pleads with his listeners: “we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.” But is he intending the precisely counted 23,055 dead of the Union Army who died? Or is he including also the accurately noted 23,231 dead of their enemy army?

    “Four score and seven years ago our fathers” — who are these “fathers”? And who are “our”? And whom is included when Lincoln uses his English pronoun “our” but once again (i.e., “our poor power”)? How might Jita readers (and listeners) get that? And couldn’t Lincoln give it to “them” without necessarily including them? So wouldn’t their Jita translation of his Gettysburg Address go beyond mere communication? Aren’t they forced to overhear, to eavesdrop, to suspend their read and their interpretation of what surely Old Abe must mean? Again, when know that his words failed to predict their own enduring “power” (as Theophrastus reminds us with his most recent comment above).

    Michael,
    Of Paul’s letter to Philemon, you say “we know that it somehow relates to slavery, and essentially it doesn’t outright denounce slavery.” But do we really know that Paul didn’t mean to let it outright denounce slavery? Ever read how Lincoln read Philemon, how he denounced how slave owners in the USA, how his contemporaries, read the plain Bible on slavery? The communique to them was very clear. Nonetheless, a good bible translation of Paul’s Greek will allow for more than a plain read that might suggest only that Paul’s letter will not and absolutely cannot “outright denounce slavery.” Paul’s Greek, and a good translation of it, is full of wordplay, full of eloquence that goes beyond the platonic “essence” some may read into it. Because of how it’s read, how simply as a piece of straightforward communication it is read, African American Lloyd A. Lewis, a bible scholar, can observe that “Among the letter of Paul, Philemon, the shortest of Paul’s unquestioned letters, is highly problematic, especially for African Americans.” The good translator cannot pretend to step out of the problems, as if Jita readers or African American readers will read it directed at them or their “congregations.”

  27. J. K. Gayle says:

    I meant to say one other thing (keep having all these intentions). 🙂

    When Lewis is trying to “make sense” of the communique’s of Jesus and of Paul (i.e., the Paul who writes to Philemon), he comes across problems a good translator must take into account. Lewis says:

    “He uses paradox, proverb, exaggeration, parable, irony; even (I mean no irreverence) the ‘wisecrack’. He utters maxims which, like popular proverbs, if rigorously taken, may seem to contradict one another. His teaching therefore cannot be grasped by the intellect alone, cannot be ‘got up’ as if it were a ‘subject’. If we try to do that with it, we shall find Him the most elusive of teachers. He hardly ever gave a straight answer to a straight question. He will not be, in the way we want, ‘pinned down’. The attempt is (again I mean no irreverence) like trying to bottle a sunbeam.

    Descending lower, we find a somewhat similar difficulty with St. Paul. I cannot be the only reader who has wondered why God, having given him so many gifts, withheld from him (what would to us seem so necessary for the first Christian theologian [albeit a formidable Jew]) that of lucidity and orderly exposition.” (Reflections on the Psalms, page 113)

  28. Michael Nicholls says:

    Kurk wrote:
    Now, let me just make clear to all that you really have not hurt me by your words.

    🙂 You had me worried for a second, and then I had a good chuckle. Your intention, no? 😉 I’d hope a good translation of our posts into Vietnamese would capture that style and cheek. What would a word-for-word translation of these posts into Vietnamese sound like to a Vietnamese speaker?

    You have demonstrated that language is not mere communication, not entirely governed by the intentions of the communicators.

    I agree. I think ‘intention’ is an important thing to look at when translating, but there are times when a ‘communiqué’ communicates more (or less) than the communicator intended – isn’t that the whole point of forensic linguistics?

    Now if any one of us were to translate into Jita your comments, mine, or any of the communiqués that Lewis reflects on … then we’d do well to go well beyond what we think is the rhetor’s or writer’s meaning.

    Yes. And my whole point is that word-for-word (or, morphosyntacic equivalence) translations fail at the first meaning, long before any attempt has been made to translate the second or deeper meanings. Those depths of meanings are not contained in morphosyntax, but in discourse.

    But I get the feeling from your posts that you would challenge any translator who claims that she or he can even understand the overt meaning of a text (before looking at deeper meanings). I said “we know that [Paul’s letter to Philemon] somehow relates to slavery, and essentially it doesn’t outright denounce slavery.” You replied, “But do we really know that Paul didn’t mean to let it outright denounce slavery?”

    That’s a decision that a translator has to make. Otherwise, what will you say in the L2? If your literal translation in L2 sounds like a ‘suggestion’ in that language, then are you happy with that? If your literal translation in L2 sounds like an outright denunciation of slavery, then are you happy with that? What might be an outright denunciation in one language, might only be a suggestion in another language if you simply follow the word order and choice of the first language.

    Let’s assume, just for the sake of example, that Paul was denouncing slavery outright and overtly. When I read Philemon in English versions I get the impression that he was not denouncing slavery overtly. It sounds like he’s putting pressure on Philemon because of his relationship with him. In English, if you want to denounce something overtly, you say something like, “Slavery is wrong. Do not continue to enslave Onesimus.” Therefore, my conclusions of Philemon will be far different than what he intended, than what it meant to Philemon and other first century Greek speakers, and different from what he would have said had he been writing in 2010 South Australian English. It would have been better for the translators of this letter to keep the ‘impact’ and ‘style’ of the orginal (i.e., an overt denunciation in Greek) and be faithful to how an overt denunciation is handled in English (i.e., to use words like ‘don’t’ and ‘it is wrong’).

    If the translators’ intent is to leave it open to interpretation, then they have failed. The way it’s translated in English communicates “pressure on Philemon because of his relationship with him,” not, “an outright denunciation” of slavery. I would argue that Paul’s Greek also was “pressure on Philemon because of his relationship with him,” and not, “an outright denunciation” of slavery, and thusly I translate it.

    You wrote concerning the ‘platonic’ view of communication:
    The message (or the communiqué) must be abstracted from the language (or the vehicle for the communication) in the platonic view. What matters far less than our assumption (or presumption) of knowing what an author or a rhetor intended, in the platonic view, is the language he or she decided to use (or even stumbled upon, perhaps, when composing a text or giving a speech).

    The language that the author or rhetor used is very important. I don’t deny that. Like I said, I don’t think a ‘communiqué’ and its extracted propositions are the same thing.

    But as a translator I have no choice but to leave the language of the communiqué behind when I am translating into L2, since it is a different language. We all know that a translation is not the same thing as the original. What I don’t fully understand yet is what your philosophy of translation is? Is it “look for deeper meanings”? Is it “translate word-for-word as much as possible”? Is it “maintain the foreignness of the L1”?

    on the other hand, these very psalms do have the marks of Christianity and how there’s something like the voice of the Jesus of the Christians in them.

    But do we really know that they have the marks of Christianity and something like the voice of Jesus of the Christians in them?

    C.S. Lewis says (concerning Jesus):
    He will not be, in the way we want, ‘pinned down’.

    But do we really know that he won’t be pinned down in the way that we want?

    You wrote:
    Ever read how Lincoln read Philemon, how he denounced how slave owners in the USA, how his contemporaries, read the plain Bible on slavery?

    But do we really know that Lincoln denounced how slave owners read the plain Bible on slavery?

    You wrote:
    You are really quite clever, Michael!

    But do we really know that I am quite clever?

    😉

  29. jkgayle says:

    Michael asks:
    But do we really know…? But do we really know…? But do we really know…? But do we really know…?

    Michael emphatically exclaims:
    But do we really know…? But do we really know…? But do we really know…? But do we really know…?

    But he’s also asked / exclaimed:
    That’s a decision that a translator has to make.
    But I get the feeling from your posts that you would challenge any translator who claims that she or he can even understand the overt meaning of a text (before looking at deeper meanings).

    Michael,
    There’s no question that we (you, and I) use language for communication. What I’m saying (as we communicate) is that language (through a narrow lens of pragmatics — such as one focused by Paul Grice, or by Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson, and Ernst-August Gutt) remains subjective. Your own sentences (as questions) mix interrogative signs with propositional signals. If you’re feeling as if I should translate the words of that into words of Vietnamese, and if you’re asking me to declare what that must sound to “sound like to a Vietnamese speaker” — how it should sound –, then I’d have to ask (and to imagine) “Which one, which Vietnamese speaker”? My siblings and I would play with the Vietnamese of our non-native Vietnamese speaking father, but we’d also invent Vietnamese that, at once, made sense but didn’t make any sense at all, to our native Vietnamese playmates. If I translated that into English, then how would it sound? Right, how would you get it?

    What I find most fascinating about language is how we can pretend objectivity by it and yet how we concede that it makes outsiders and insiders. This is very subjective. Contemporary Christian theologian says “When we read Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, we are literally reading somebody else’s mail.” At least that’s what some unnamed and anonymous albeit paid author (some presumed expert editor, yes presumptuously objective) says that Hays says. It’s literally the first sentence of one of Hays’s books. But the very Jewish Saint Peter has said (okay, you’re right, he’s at least more Jewish than Saint Paul when we read them from a purely Christian, and not so Jewish, perspective): “ὁ ἀγαπητὸς ἡμῶν ἀδελφὸς Παῦλος κατὰ τὴν δοθεῖσαν αὐτῷ σοφίαν ἔγραψεν ὑμῖν ὡς καὶ ἐν πάσαις ἐπιστολαῖς [Παῦλου] λαλῶν ἐν αὐταῖς περὶ τούτων ἐν αἷς ἐστιν δυσνόητά τινα ἃ οἱ ἀμαθεῖς καὶ ἀστήρικτοι στρεβλοῦσιν ὡς καὶ τὰς λοιπὰς γραφὰς πρὸς τὴν ἰδίαν αὐτῶν ἀπώλειαν.”

    I’m trying to keep language very personal, Michael. Pragmatics, on the other hand, tends to reduce language to an abstracted communique. Grice, Sperber and Wilson, and Gutt tend to. It’s not so different, in my view, from what Aristotle tends to do with his language he calls logic, the reduction of what he would call Truth to a rule-bound set of statements he calls Syllogisms. And, do you see now what we’ve done? We’ve pretended that our English transliterations for our communicated abstractions are still Greek, that logic and syllogistic must be as narrowly intended as Aristotle says. We would like Grice et al to be right; and we imagine that they are.

    Here’s the trouble, however. “Every word and action of Jesus’ life is an echo of the Hebrew Bible–and not least, the concept of Messiah.” Such a statement, in English, in my comment here, at the Better Bibles Blog, is very personal. Is the register known? Is it intelligible? Or is “knowing” or is “intelligibility” the most important thing to focus on with such words. Now, you’re asking me for context. I could ask you tp read David Rosenberg’s preface to his letter to the Catholic Pope. And we might agree to read page 214 of his An Educated Man: A Dual Biography of Moses and Jesus. And we might go broader to read the entire book. But then Rosenberg might ask if we could read the entire Bible, so that every word and action of our life is an echo of the Hebrew Bible. Would we then find ourselves reminding ourselves that Rosenberg is a Jew while he so reminds us that Jesus is a student of Moses? And when a slave reads the Greek, Paul’s Greek, somebody else’s mail — whether that slave is one “Ὀνήσιμος” or the unwed 17-year-old, black mother of a wed white man’s baby in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on the morning of November 19, 1863 at 9:30 a.m. — what has it communicated? And what is really “felt”? And what does he or she know?

  30. Michael Nicholls says:

    All good points, and as I’ve said before, I appreciate your insight.

    I’m still waiting for an answer to “what your philosophy of translation is?” It’s starting to sound somewhat nihilistic, but I’d rather let you define it than put words in your mouth.

  31. jkgayle says:

    “what your philosophy of translation is?” It’s starting to sound somewhat nihilistic

    I think Nietzsche would not be amused. When it comes to the Bible, I think it’s at least important to see what the authors and translators of the Bible itself do with translation. Some of Pike’s emic / etic principles come into play here: Text production, and translation, is extremely personal, depending on whether one’s an outsider or insider.

    I like what Lydia H. Liu says we translators may do (at least if we’re Chinese translators appropriating modern, Western non-Chinese texts): she shifts metaphors from “source” and “target” to things more personal and more polite such as “guest” and “host.” (Here’s one old post of mine in which I’m trying to practice rather than just to theorize or philosophize: http://speakeristic.blogspot.com/2008/04/our-english-hosts-their.html). So what do you think Nietsche would think about the Chinese translations of Nihilist as

    虚无主义的
    or as
    恐怖主义者的
    .?!

    Notice how the latter, at least in my English, also connotes terrorist!

    I also like how Karen H. Jobes urges Bible translators to think of Bible translation as “bilingual quotation.” This isn’t too far from how Michael Epstein thinks of bilingual (i.e., di-glot) text production as “stereotexting” and as “inter-lation” (vs. mere “trans-lation”). I think Liu, Jobes, and Epstein are all on to something: a multi-layered, more-open translation rather than one that tells the reader what the original language by the original author singularly and surely must mean of course!

    But don’t we all respect what David Rosenberg says about Moses translating the word of God? The former says about the latter:

    “Whether it took Moses four months or forty years to write the Torah, figuratively speaking, it also took more than four centuries to have it written down in its nearly final form.”

    Rosenberg is rightly interested in the evolution of not only the Hebrew text but also the Hellenistic interpretations of it. And, although he’s not quoting Naomi Seidman quoting the Talmudic history of the Septuagint, Rosenberg does value the hermeneutic tradition and contributions of the Talmud writers to the Torah. The suggestion (of the Talmud) that the LXX translation is akin to Greek sophistry is quite interesting. This gets us back to the whole insider/ outsider issue (i.e. emics and etics) in translation. I dare say that Jesus and his translators were as playful, as rhetorical, with Aramaic and Greek. There was no Aristotelian pure pretense of objectivity, no Platonic hope for ideal communication, in the earliest Bible translators. In fact, it seems there was much that encouraged subjectivities, much that gave the Bible translator agency as an original author. The restraint and check on such translators, as Rosenberg and Willis Barnstone would suggest, was that the translation invariable was done in and among a community of well-educated Hebrew Bible readers, readers who were likely multilingual (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) readers and writers. This is a far cry from nihilism, if you still hear something nihilistic there.

  32. Larry says:

    I have been fascinated by the knowledge you guys seem to have. And, I do understand that there is a great demand to know all of the many wonderful things written in the Bible. However, I’m not so sure literal understanding is always supposed to transpire. I believe the Spirit of God will lead all true Christians to necessary understanding regardless of the language, the translation, and how it is translated. It’s amazing that the King James Bible stood for almost 400 years literally without challenge in the English language and was used in converting billions of Christians. The whole world will never understand completely and will not be able to beat that record not matter how perfectly man is able to translate the ‘Word of God’. These verses in the Bible convince me that the Spirit of God is a necessary ingredient in full understanding of the Bible: John 16: 13, Matthew 10: 19-20, Jon 14: 26, and ICorinthians 2: 13. I would be interested in your comments. Larry

  33. Michael Nicholls says:

    I believe the Spirit of God will lead all true Christians to necessary understanding regardless of the language, the translation, and how it is translated.

    Doesn’t history kind of argue against this?

  34. Mike Sangrey says:

    I believe the Spirit of God will lead all true Christians to necessary understanding regardless of the language, the translation, and how it is translated.

    If I may take a slightly different tack than Michael N….

    Larry, consider Acts 2. As far as the Spirit of God leading people, The Holy Spirit did exactly that in Acts 2. However, He didn’t do it in a way where people heard “blub, blub, yada, yada, yada” and they understood the meaning of, “[t]herefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ–this Jesus whom you crucified.” God did it with the clear, accurate and natural use of language.

    And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.

    And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born?
    [NASB: Acts 2:4,8]

    The people did not report, “Wow! I heard the sounds of a language I don’t know, but, amazingly, I just somehow understand what was said.” The Bible says, “…hear them in our own language. That was Bible translation in its finest–real time, clear, accurate, and natural.

    I find this the true miracle–God talks in my language.

  35. Larry says:

    Mike, I agree 100% with your post on Jun 26. God not only worked with those speaking, but also to the 17 or so languages that were there. They heard in their own language not something that was not understandable.The Spirit of God is the great translator!

  36. Michael Nicholls says:

    Larry wrote:
    … the Spirit of God is a necessary ingredient in full understanding of the Bible

    I totally agree Larry. Good point.

    One of the things we’re aiming at with translation ‘revisions’ is simply to make the language more straightforward and natural where there could be unnecessary confusion. For example, in some languages, if you translate “Caesar Augustus” literally it sounds like a first and last name, but by ‘revising’ it you can make it clear that ‘Augustus’ is the name part, and ‘Caesar’ is a title (“in the year of Augustus, who was the ruling Caesar” might be enough).

    Where I’m working in Africa we test our translation work by asking people in the community questions about the translation:

    Q. What does it mean when we say, “In the year of…”?
    A. It means that Caesar Augustus was born that year.

    Conclusion: Oops! We need to change it so that it means “In the year that Caesar August was ruling.”

    Q. What do you know about Caesar Augustus?
    A. His father was called Augustus.
    Q. Why do you say that?
    A. Because you always say someone’s name first (Caesar) then their father’s name (Augustus).

    Conclusion: Double oops! We need to change it so that it means “the person called Augustus, who was the ruling Caesar” and possibly put a footnote to explain what a Caesar is.

    In English translations, sometimes these ‘literal’ wordings from Hebrew/Greek come into English and unnecessarily confuse the reader. As English changes, it’s good to revise our translations so that they reflect the normal way that we would say something, otherwise we might be communicating something entirely different (like that our Lord’s first name is Jesus and his last name/surname is Christ!). 😉

  37. WoundedEgo says:

    >>>……For example, in some languages, if you translate “Caesar Augustus” literally it sounds like a first and last name, but by ‘revising’ it you can make it clear that ‘Augustus’ is the name part, and ‘Caesar’ is a title (“in the year of Augustus, who was the ruling Caesar” might be enough)…

    Actually, “Augustus” was an honorary title, similar to “the revered one.” At birth, he was named “Gaius Octavius Thorinus” but was adopted posthumously by Gaius Julius Caesar (his great uncle). As a result, he was then renamed as “Gaius Julius Caesar,” and to that name added the suffix “the revered.”

    So you the more accurate translation would be to keep the first three names as proper names, but translate the appendage:

    “Gaius Julius Caesar, the Revered.”

    One might be clearly understood if one referred to him as:

    “Gaius Julius Caesar [II], the Augustus [“Revered One”]”

    Whew!

    >>>…Conclusion: Oops! We need to change it so that it means “In the year that Caesar August was ruling.”

    I’m not sure to which occurrence of “in the year of Caesar August was ruling” to which you refer, but that makes me wonder if he only ruled one year?

    >>Conclusion: Double oops! We need to change it so that it means “the person called Augustus, who was the ruling Caesar” and possibly put a footnote to explain what a Caesar is.

    KURIOS was both a title and a proper name, and Julius had both the name and the title. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augustus

    >>>…otherwise we might be communicating something entirely different (like that our Lord’s first name is Jesus and his last name/surname is Christ!). 😉

    I am of the opinion that the error is that of Paul, who was apparently of the opinion that Jesus’ last name was CRISTOS. He certainly uses it as a name – there can be no question about that.

  38. Michael Nicholls says:

    WoundedEgo, thanks for doing the extra homework. You are correct. I was trying to keep it fairly simple and free of details so that the principle would come across – that word order can mean very different things in different languages, so care must be taken, followed by testing among the language speakers.

    WoundedEgo wrote:
    I’m not sure to which occurrence of “in the year of Caesar August was ruling” to which you refer, but that makes me wonder if he only ruled one year?

    Good point! Just goes to show that testing a translation is crucial. 🙂 I wasn’t actually quoting a verse though, just making up an example. A better example would have been Luke 3:1 – Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar and 2 Kings 12:1 – In the seventh year of Jehu Jehoash began to reign.

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