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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Ambiguity and more humility

I can't respond usefully to all the issues raised on this issue. However, I would like to point out that I have held this view since I came on this blog. I do not regard my views on translation to have any intellectual or spiritual superiority. Call it a wish list, if you will.

However, I have recently encountered two instances where after some research I have decided that the meaning of a word or verse in the Bible must remain obscure for me. First. Psalm 68:11. Who divides the spoil? Women, if we go back to Deborah's song. But I have utterly no insights into what the Hebrew says in this verse, and I will have to leave it this way. It may or may not be a word meaning "women."

Second, authentein. I have looked at the evidence in minute detail and I have discussed this with some complementarian scholars. It is evident that there is only one citation contemporary with the epistles which is relevant to authentein. It is "Therefore, if Saturn alone takes planetary control of the soul and dominates (authenteō ) Mercury and the moon ..." Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos III.13 [#157] (second century A.D.)

I do not expect to gain any further insight into the vocabulary involved in these verses. I must let them rest as ambiguous, mysterious unknowns.

So, that is what I mean by ambiguous. Now for what I don't mean. I do not mean that a translation should contain something that sounds the opposite of what it probably does mean. It does not have to be arcane or archaic. There does not have to be one single way of handling unknown words. Since I am thinking of the Greek scriptures, there are few instances where a word is entirely unknown. Usually some meaning can be assigned to it. However, if the meaning is not clear, then the translation should be unclear also.

This translation would exist only as an alternative among other translations, a first among equals, so to speak, not superior or arrogant about its purpose. Perhaps it would open up freedom for the less literal versions, since it would soon become clear that those translations which now call themselves literal are really just one more member of the rabble. So the goal would be to create open space for differing translations and defeat hierarchy in translation. I want my holy grail to sit on a round table.

A last thought for today. There is no logical connection between literalness and masculine language. It is time now for a literal Bible in which woman is also anthropos - human. Let us toss aside the notion that it is only further down the scale of literality that woman becomes human. Even the translators of a literal Bible are going to have their basic beliefs and treasured presuppositions.


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