Some Drum Rolls are Bigger

On December 27th, 2004 we noticed something big.  It was an explosion.  A big explosion. It was 50,000 light years away.  Our Ionosphere reacted to it (it had happened a bit earlier, of course).  If you were looking at the right place at the right time, it was as bright as a full moon.  If the explosion had been a mere 10 light years away, it would have stripped the protective ozone layer off our planet and we would have been radioactively fried.  To put this size in some perspective–if that is, in fact, possible when talking of such sizes–Voyager 1 has been traveling for 33 years, at an average speed of 37,360 mph, and it has only covered a distance of a minuscule 16 light hours (about the size of our solar system).  Fifty thousand light years is considerably farther away…to say the least.

Very least.

What I want to merely (relatively speaking) mention isn’t that big.  However, it might as well be.  It is remarkably rare for exegetes and Bible translators to talk about it.  Paradoxically, we rarely notice these large things.  Well, ok, I’ll ‘fess up (if no one else will):  we don’t look for it; we don’t deal with it.  It seems so far out there that we simply ignore it.

Why don’t we deal with the LARGE forms of a Biblical text?  I’ve often wondered why the formally equivalent side of the discussion, while focused on the forms of the original, remains focused on the words.  What about paragraphs?  What about sections?  Should we not also consider how to translate those?  Shouldn’t we, at least, work hard to find them, to define them?

I mentioned in a comment on the previous post (Little Drum Rolls) that there’s something else going on with Matthew 9:37.  I was thinking of larger drum rolls.  The thing I was referring to is a bigger thing than μὲν.  It’s the section that starts in Matthew 4 and ends in Matthew 9.

Scot McKnight (Jesus Creed, though I can’t find a link to the exact post, it had something to do with Jesus’ Missional purpose), several years ago,  noticed the delimiters of a major section in Matthew.  Linguistically, Matthew purposely and formally signals the section breaks.  He chooses his words (actually something a bit larger) to explicitly define the beginning and end of a section.

The problem for translation is that English doesn’t create section breaks in the same way.  If we just translate words, and not translate this bigger thing, we do not guide the reader along the same cognitive path which the original author intended.

Please consider the following observations.

1. Notice the identical wording Matthew uses at the beginning and the end of the section.

Matthew 4:23:

1) καὶ περιῆγεν
2)   ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ Γαλιλαίᾳ
3) διδάσκων ἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς αὐτῶν καὶ κηρύσσων τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τῆς βασιλείας καὶ θεραπεύων πᾶσαν νόσον καὶ πᾶσαν μαλακίαν
-)    ἐν τῷ λαῷ

Matthew 9:35:

1)   καὶ περιῆγεν
-)   ὁ Ἰησοῦς
2)   τὰς πόλεις πάσας καὶ τὰς κώμας
3)   διδάσκων ἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς αὐτῶν καὶ κηρύσσων τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τῆς βασιλείας καὶ θεραπεύων πᾶσαν νόσον καὶ πᾶσαν μαλακίαν

And who would argue that ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ Γαλιλαίᾳ (“throughout Galilee”) is sufficiently different from τὰς πόλεις πάσας καὶ τὰς κώμας (“through all the towns and villages”), especially since Jesus has “crossed over and came to his own town.” [9:1 NIV2010]  Matthew 4:23 and 9:35 forms an Inclusio-like device which brackets the entire section.

2. Notice Matthew 4:17 uses a temporal discourse marker: ἀπὸ τότε ἤρξατο ὁ Ἰησοῦς (“from then Jesus began…”).  This is a Temporal Framing Device.  ἄρχω has obvious connotations of leading, too, as if Jesus is now taking the lead and beginning something he had not done up to this point–it’s a new beginning.   I wonder if one could translate the clause as “At this time Jesus set out to preach…”  Temporal Framing markers are important oral culture devices since they mark the discourse breaks in a text.

3. Notice the selection of disciples in Matthew 4:18-22 is mirrored in Matthew 10:1ff.  The earlier “calls the disciples”; the later “sends them out.”

4. Notice the thematic information between Matthew 5 through 7.  Isn’t this something very much like the inclusio-like statement:  διδάσκων ἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς (“teaching in the synagogues.”)?  I would also say this is very much κηρύσσων τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τῆς βασιλείας (“preaching the good news concerning the kingdom”).  That will open up some theological tangents which I do not want to go down.

5. Notice the thematic information between Matthew 8 through 9.  Isn’t this predominantly the other inclusio-like statement: θεραπεύων πᾶσαν νόσον καὶ πᾶσαν μαλακίαν (“healing every disease and every sickness”)?

These two themes are mentioned in Matthew 4:23 and again in 9:35.  Matthew is telling us what he’s going to tell us, he tells us, and then he tells us what he told us–a standard communication device.

As I mentioned above, the problem for translation is that English doesn’t create section breaks in the same way.  If we just translate words, and not translate this bigger thing, we do not guide the reader along the same cognitive path which the original author intended.  How can we solve this important issue?

As an aside, before I ask the question, Matthew 9:37-38 is a transition paragraph–it stands between the former section and the next one.  Because of its brevity and the way the μὲν…δὲ pair works, it’s quite “in your face.”  It’s clearly an thematic introduction to what follows next.

So, how do we translate this much larger drum roll?  How does English do it?  Are there ways of using words to do it?  Is it headings?  Is it typography?  How do we do it?

7 thoughts on “Some Drum Rolls are Bigger

  1. bobmacdonald says:

    There are similar frames in the psalter and other books. For example, reinforcing the frame of Moses in the fourth book there is also a repeated phrase in psalm 90 וּמֵעוֹלָם עַד עוֹלָם with a repetition in psalm 103 and a finale in psalm 106 as part of the doxology. This kind of repetition appears to reinforce the deliberate nature of the editing of the text that we have. This is a combination first sounded in the doxology of Book 1 and then refrained from until book 4. Book 5 adds a variation not seen in the other books. מֵעַתָּה וְעַד עוֹלָם. I was looking at these to see how the ancient poets considered time and space. Very apt considering your supernova example.

    An equally good example is in Job 3 and 41, the specific words Leviathan and ‘the eyelids of dawn’ are repeated, one of many signs confirming the book as a story.

    Many people have noted large-scale inclusios before. It is sometimes moot whether they are deliberate.

  2. Wayne Leman says:

    Yes, preach it, preach it, Mike! The forms of a text larger than words, phrases, clauses, and sentences need to be translated. That requires even more attention to one’s mother tongue so that the function of the original discourse forms is accurately translated to it.

    Bob, thanks for mentioning that there are similar frames in the psalter. I’ve always been fascinated by the repeated responses, something like “Thank God for his loving kindness.” Surely these are markers of some kind of language “packages”. Whatever they are, they are beautiful and they sure do keep reinforcing something that the psalmist (and Yahweh himself) wanted us to pay attention to.

  3. Peter Kirk says:

    Mike, you could solve the problem that not many people noticed your deliberate repetition, or thought it was bad editing (or at least they would have if you had not drawn attention to what you were doing), by putting section headings in your posts. After all, that wouldn’t be as much stretching of normal blogging style as you do when you put footnotes in your comments!

  4. Kevin McQuate says:

    First, I have no training in this area, I am simply interested in bible translation because there is so much at stake. I even hated english classes in school! (wish I had done better now.) I am however a troubleshooter, So here goes.

    Trying to create sections in english to mirror sections in the greek when the two languages consistently handle them differently would just confuse the english readers. Thinking out of the box, one could retain the familiar english paragraphs but create a new device for revealing the sections in the greek. Maybe a subtle use of color? I suspect just coloring large sections of text would be too distracting, but maybe just underlining the sections in a particular color or less obtrusive yet maybe a fine colored line vertically placed in one of the margins, with a matching colored verse number at the beginning and the end.
    It seems to me the value gained from this would outweigh the strangeness of it.
    I look forward to whatever you come up with!

  5. Mike Sangrey says:

    Kevin,

    First, I have no training in this area, I am simply interested in bible translation because there is so much at stake….I am however a troubleshooter.

    Thank you for responding, Kevin. Training is a mixed blessing–it’s harder to see the obvious, sometimes. 🙂 And, we need troubleshooters who value bible translation as highly as you. Field testing, something few English Bible translations have done, is quite important. No one has field tested the larger linguistic structures we’re talking about here. So, any input you can give would be most helpful. Who knows, you might help get those “trained” to do something about it. 🙂

    …less obtrusive yet maybe a fine colored line vertically placed in one of the margins, with a matching colored verse number at the beginning and the end.

    That’s a very interesting idea. I like the “less obtrusive” part. And yet, effective. One difficult to solve problem is Greek has a quite natural way to contain a section inside a section inside a section. That is, it can build a hierarchy rather easily. The “line in margin” idea could solve this by using multiple lines.

    I don’t know how long you’ve been hangin’ out here; but I’m of the opinion there needs to be two different kinds of translations because there are two different (and, in my opinion, mutually exclusive) uses of a translated Bible. One type provides what is needed in order to analyse the text. The other is designed for the reader to get the meaning by reading it.

    I say that to say I think your suggestion would work quite well for the former type.

    The later type has to use the ordinary constructions the destination language already has in place. That’s like, the point.

    I look forward to whatever you come up with!

    You and me both. 🙂

    Later today I’ll see if I can find some time to follow-up with another comment.

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