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Monday, March 20, 2006

NETS Online

    My own strong feeling is echoed in the words of the late Biblical scholar, Dr. C.H. Dodd, that 'it is rarely safe to ignore the LXX in attempting to determine the meaning of Pauline language.' [Journal of Theological Studies NS 5, 1954, p. 248].

    However, if we would get to the heart of the Christian message we need more than the help of secular Greek. The great Christian words which concern salvation and Christian living were not produced in a secular environment. They are rooted in the Greek Old Testament, so that Septuagintal study is likely to forward Christian exegesis.

This is an excerpt from an article by Michael Marlowe, which rightly argues that the Hebrew - Greek translation tradition found in the Septuagint helps us get to the heart of the Christian message. There is no disagreement about the Hebraistic nature of Septuagint Greek.

However Pietersma suggests an educational origin rather than a liturgical origin for at least some of the text. This would imply to me a more practical level of language, one that was meant to facilitate understanding of the original Hebrew words, one by one.

So the Greek text would not necessarily be in a certain high or refined style, but was sometimes simply a calque for the Hebrew which was the authoritative text. These calques remained frozen or fossilized in the Greek language of the Greek speaking Jewish community and recur in the NT. This does not suggest to me a high language, but nontheless a language which has its own particular characteristics.

While this language may not have been the langauge of the street or marketplace, I have never seen any way in which it was intended as a high literary style, a little awkward maybe, but that is all.

However, words and phrases did take on connotations and specific religious meaning. If anything this would only suggest a general principle that once a translation had been made in a linguistic and religious community, and this translation had become part of the theological discourse of that community, the translation should never be revised. That would justify the King James only faction.

However, I do not think that anyone would go so far as to say that the Bible should never be retranslated into the same language twice. Some argue, as Dr. Packer did with me, that once a Christian community had settled on a certain vocabulary to express its theology, then that vocabulary should become standard and not be changed.

I recognize this human tendency to enshrine a known entity, but I do not know how it can be defended. To me this principle serves the interests of theologians who do not wish to see their theological works become outdated. That would mean that theological texts themselves become a closed cannon. Each denomination would have a set of foundational texts that others may comment on, but not interact with on an equal level.

However, if people can continue to reinterpret the Christian message in their preaching, should the text itself not be retranslated to represent the language use of the current day?

While the NETS translation was explicitly created to correspond to the NRSV, I do not think that there was any intention that this literary English style had a unique stylistic correspondance to the style of the Greek. The language of the Septuagint was considered in terms of its relation to Hebrew, but not for the literary level of the language.

The NRSV was chosen as the corresponding English translation for a variety of reasons well presented in this introduction, To the Reader of NETS. The most obvious one is that the NRSV is a close word for word translation. However, this definition does not necessarily equate with a high literary style.

Pietersma's argument seems to be this, if the Greek was a calque of the Hebrew, then the English should be a calque of the Greek. But this is not for the purpose of maintaining a refined language, more likely an awkward language. There is no spiritual value judgement attached to this choice of the NRSV in my understanding of Pietersma's argument, rather, it is a pragmatic decision. I am not suggesting anything like the old argument that the language is 'debased', but simply that we should not make too much of its style.

Here is a description of the range of lexical guidelines used in translating NETS.

    Contextual
    Renderings -- Stereotypes/Calques -----Isolate Renderings

    The vertical line on the scale represents a semantic demarcation, since words or lexemes placed to the left are always governed by their normal Greek semantic range, while those to the right may be governed by their Hebrew counterparts, though, when such is the case, not by their full semantic range.

    NETS translators have ordered the linguistic information of the Greek in terms of this scale, and have translated accordingly. Though the full extent of the scale is represented in all books or translation units of the Septuagint, naturally, not all units show the same distribution profile.

    Two factors that have exercised a direct influence on a given book's profile are its degree of literalness and its relative chronological placement within the corpus. By literalness is here understood the degree of consistency of Hebrew-Greek verbal equations, as well as the relative number of such one-to-one equations a given book or translation unit features. A book's chronological place within the corpus may be expected to determine the number of calques it contains. That is to say, the later the book the more calques may have been part of its translator's everyday, living lexicon.

So terms which originated as calques of Hebrew became part of the everyday lexicon of the community. Some seem to argue that calques from the Greek text into English need to become part of the everyday lexicon of the contemporary Christian community. Is there a defense for this?

While the final text of the New English Translation of the Septuagint, NETS, is to be published this year, the provisional text can now be read online.

8 Comments:

At Tue Mar 21, 02:04:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Thank you, Suzanne. But I understand that some of these ideas are rather controversial. For example GHR Horsley has written of The Fiction of 'Jewish Greek', an article in New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity volume 5 (1989). Horsley writes for example (pp.27-28):

M. Silva characterises as Hebraisms those Semitic loans in the NT which are mediated via the LXX ... After eliminating technical terms he finds only c.60 Hebraisms and 20 Aramaisms in the NT. ... It needs to be emphasised that while the literary impact of the LXX on the NT writers is not to be doubted, its actual influence on the vocabulary of the NT is small, apart from the obvious matter of theological and other technical terms.

Thus Silva (writing in 1976) and Horsley (1989) contradict Deissman (1909)'s words (as quoted by Michael Marlowe) "Here is a Greek which is full of Semitisms." The change in understanding has come about because extensive discoveries of papyri have proved that many alleged Semitisms were in fact normal Koiné Greek. In fact Marlowe's whole article is flawed by his failure to interact properly with scholarship later than about 1960. I accept that here I have not done so either; I claim no great expertise, and don't have the time to look into this in detail. My point is simply that the issue is by no means a simple one.

So, whereas there is no doubt that, in Dodd's words, "The great Christian words which concern salvation and Christian living were not produced in a secular environment. They are rooted in the Greek Old Testament", claims that the whole New Testament is underlain by the Septaugint should be taken with considerable caution.

Also, I like the idea that a rather literal translation, using original language rather than natural target language grammmatical forms, should be considered a calque of the original. A calque, also known as a loan translation, is defined as "a compound/derivative/phrase that is introduced into a language from translation of the constituents of a term" and as "A form of borrowing from one language to another whereby the semantic components of a given term are literally translated into their equivalents in the borrowing language". Of course a Bible translation is more than a single term, as in the definitions here, but a formal equivalence Bible translation can be understood as made up of calques, in the same way as at least parts of the Septuagint are.

 
At Tue Mar 21, 07:27:00 AM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

Peter wrote:
Thus Silva (writing in 1976) and Horsley (1989) contradict Deissman (1909)'s words (as quoted by Michael Marlowe) "Here is a Greek which is full of Semitisms." The change in understanding has come about because extensive discoveries of papyri have proved that many alleged Semitisms were in fact normal Koiné Greek.

My own view, which his held to with quite an open hand given the lack of scholarship I have access to, is that the world of the time was a lot more cosmopolitan than either side of the argument wishes to give into.

In other words, to a degree that enabled effective communication, Jews were hellenized and the nonJews were semitized.

I think this supports, or at least is quite consistent with, Suzanne's statement:
While this language may not have been the langauge (sic) of the street or marketplace, I have never seen any way in which it was intended as a high literary style, a little awkward maybe, but that is all.

This is why I can agree with the data as presented by Michael Marlowe in his article and yet quite disagree with his insistence that that means that a Bible translation must be esoteric and only understandable by those privileged to be within a linguistic sub-community.

 
At Tue Mar 21, 07:33:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

My point is simply that the issue is by no means a simple one.

I am quite happy to hear another perspective.

There are different areas in which Hebrew shows its influence in the New Testament. One is in the vocabulary, and the other grammar. So the vocabulary might be ordinary Koine Greek, but the grammar less so in some books.

I know less about the Papyri than about the Septuagint.

I think the idea that the Septuagint had an educational origin implies that it wasn't translated using a specific liturgicl language, but the ordinary Koine vocabulary, with a more Hebraistic syntax.

Certainly Acts seems like pretty straight forward Greek, but Matthew not so much. And Hebrew grammar helps in understanding some of Paul's use of genitive phrases, where Greek might normally have had an adjective.

But I am sure there are a counter arguments.

 
At Tue Mar 21, 06:42:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

This post continues a thread that left me quite perplexed. An earlier line of discussion raised a question I thought had long been settled, viz., just how Semitic is NT Koine? I'm no great expert, but it just doesn't seem all that Semitic to me. And, as I said, before I started reading these blogs, I thought this was settled issue. So I started thinking about the question a lot.

Then last week I ran into a colleague and friend, who is a professor of Greek, just as he was coming out of his 400 student mythology class. I couldn't pass up the opportunity. I asked him the big question: what did he think the language of the NT sounded like? He prefaced his answer by pointing out that much of the scholarship on the language of the NT language is myopic. (My word, not his.) His point was that we -- I'm as guilty as anyone of looking only at the Bible -- tend to focus on the NT and the LXX so much and wander so little out into the classical literature that we miss the big picture. His basic answer was that NT Koine doesn't sound particularly different from the Koine of the papyri, and is very similar to the language of the Egyptian papyri, and frankly not all that different, adjusting for register, from that of Josephus. The differences just aren't that significant.

In the array of Greek specialists, living and dead, whose names are being tossed around, I'll take this guy any day, for one really good reason. The standard the Berkeley Greek faculty hold their graduate students to is this: when you go on a dig (which they do a lot), you have to be able to read at sight whatever the team pulls out of the ground, inscription, papyrus, whatever. The direction of the dig, with possibly $100's of thousands of dollars at stake, can and often does depend on what the language specialist says. Since he trains students to this level, and since he's been reading Greek for 40 years and knows the whole body of Greek literature inside and out, I pretty much trust his judgement.

There's another fact that we often miss because of our intense Biblical focus. There was a lot of Aramaic around interacting with Greek since classical times. (Read about it in Chapter 3 of Ostler's Empires of the Word (pg. 82ff).) Semitic influences on Koine are not just in Palestine.

Which brings up another point. We now also know a lot about koines that hasn't been taken into account in this argument. Interesting things happen to languages that have more non-native speakers than native speakers. In particular they develop more "flexible" grammars than non-koines. (Indonesian is an excellent modern example.) This fact alone makes it hard to maintain that NT Koine sounded special to the average non-Palestinian Koine speaker.

 
At Tue Mar 21, 08:08:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Richard,

Thanks for responding and investigating this. I seem to perceive three threads in your argument.

First, the NT and LXX isn't all that different from Koine Greek in general.

Second, there was, in fact, a lot of Aramaic interacting with Greek.

And third, the grammar of Koine was typical of a language with many non-native speakers.

So, in some way this seems to allow for a certain amount of Hebraisms being found in Koine Greek. I don't disagree with any of this.

However, you don't say whether your friend reads Hebrew as well as Greek.

NT Greek doesn't read all that different from other Koine Greek to me either, but having to line up a possible Hebrew equivalent side by side with every phrase in a NT passage, did inpress me somewhat as to the influence of Hebrew/Aramaic. I have been back and forth on this a few times.

I definitely do not hold to a strong view of Hebraisism in NT Greek.

Which brings up another point. We now also know a lot about koines that hasn't been taken into account in this argument. Interesting things happen to languages that have more non-native speakers than native speakers. In particular they develop more "flexible" grammars than non-koines.

Actually my paper for Pietersma, many years ago, argued this very thing. So he is well aware of this and I think has taken it into account. At that time, if I remember correctly, there was a tendency to consider the Greek NT as a translation of an earlier Aramaic document. I argued strongly against this, using second lg error analysis methodology, arguing first for simplifications as you mention, such as non-native speakers would use, as well as calques.

I argued that these would be typical of the language used at the time in a polyglossic community, so there was no necessity to consider any part of the NT as a translation of an Aramaic document.

So this present article of Piertersma's is quite different from his original thesis, that the NT must have been based on an Aramaic original.

I think overall this puts my thinking close to yours, but I came at it from the other side. I like to think there is a bit of both. That is, I would hate to see someone not look at the Aramaic when trying to understand a difficult passage in the NT or LXX.

In any case, I didn't mean to be controversial and regret if it appears that way. I have had a fairly eclectic education, taking in arguments from both sides. I only mention this our of interest. I don't have a set stance on this. It simply interests me either way.

I am quite open to considering whether Pietersma's thesis has validity, or not. However, my own view of Koine did shift somewhat when I moved out of classics into NE studies. But I was always the one in that context to argue for a more moderate view.

 
At Tue Mar 21, 11:36:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

Suzanne,
When you did your second language error analysis, did you take into account the possibility of interlanguage effects? (For anyone eavesdropping who doesn't know what interlanguage effects are, they are a type of rule/pattern that arises in second language learning which does not have a basis in either the learner's native language or in the language being learned. Second language learners go through progressive stages in which they learn that the patterns are different from their native language, but they don't understand what the correct pattern is and they make up something that is neither. Hence the term interlanguage. Some of the simplifications that arise in koines are interlanguage patterns.)

 
At Wed Mar 22, 12:27:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Yes, I did. I looke at interference and simplification/interlanguage, as two contrasting types of constructions.

I was taking a course in second language acquisition as well as morph and syntax in the ling. dept. that year, so I worked through this fairly thoroughly. However, I don't think that I still have a copy of the paper. Sorry. I have forgotten a great deal of it.

I think I hold a fairly middle of the road view on this, remember that I was arguing against the necessity for an Aramaic vorlage. What I was writing was considered way out in left field then. Now, it seems I appear to be on the other side. Isn't that the way!

But I am not up to date on the latest theories. I would be interested in reading a variety of different current positions.

Having said all this, I only find this of general interest. I don't see it as being important in the sense of making a difference in our basic view of the Bible and the task of translation.

 
At Wed Mar 22, 02:03:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

There is no disagreement about the Hebraistic nature of Septuagint Greek

I guess this statement of mine was a little too strong. :-)

 

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