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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Puzzling the Bible 3

This is the third post in a series. (See 1 and 2)

puzzle after

Image: The Wrath of Saul by Gary Locke, Clubhouse Magazine, March 2006, p. 18.

I started off this series with one idea in mind, and instead have ended up thinking about a lot of other things! First, let me give a shot at the original idea.

Here are my original questions:

  1. What does this picture represent?
  2. What do jigsaw puzzles have to do with the discussion on Psalm 51 that Suzanne has been facilitating?

Now that we have the full image it's pretty easy to tell what we're looking at. It is the face of King Saul as he asks Jonathan why David isn't at the meal:

24 So David hid in the field, and when the New Moon festival came, the king sat down to eat. 25 He sat in his customary place by the wall, opposite Jonathan, and Abner sat next to Saul, but David's place was empty. 26 Saul said nothing that day, for he thought, “Something must have happened to David to make him ceremonially unclean--surely he is unclean.” 27 But the next day, the second day of the month, David's place was empty again. Then Saul said to his son Jonathan, “Why hasn't the son of Jesse come to the meal, either yesterday or today?”
28 Jonathan answered, “David earnestly asked me for permission to go to Bethlehem. 29 He said, ‘Let me go, because our family is observing a sacrifice in the town and my brother has ordered me to be there. If I have found favor in your eyes, let me get away to see my brothers.’ That is why he has not come to the king's table.”
30 Saul's anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don't I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you?

(1 Samuel 20:24-30, NIV)

So, that's the answer to the first question.

The answer to the second question is a bit more difficult partly because my thinking is a little muddled at this stage! I think my intention in asking the question was to call attention to our own cultural viewpoint when we look at stories in the Bible. If you look at the full image above, what do you see? I see a king with a golden crown on his head. I also notice the fork on his plate. What's wrong with this picture? It's pretty unlikely that Saul ever sat at a table on a red velvet throne! Imagine the art director for Clubhouse Magazine talking to the illustrator and saying, "For this story we want a picture of King Saul sitting at the table at the moment when he discovers that David is missing in 1 Samuel 20." Then the illustrator went to the drawing board and thought to himself, "What kind of picture can my young readers understand?" The result was this comical fellow looking like Good King Wenceslas on the Feast of Stephen. Does this image have any relation to the actual historical event?

On one hand, the illustration is helpful because it helps the young readers to imagine the scene. What's less helpful about it of course is that for many of the readers, they will forever imagine King Saul looking like this. And I think that happens to us a lot. It's hard for me to think about Jesus without seeing something like this:

Image: Christ in Gethsemane by Warner Sallman, Sallman Archives, Anderson University

And in the same way when we imagine the color of sin or purity in Psalm 51 we use our own culture to read back into the original text meaning that may or may not be there. For my Mozambican students, the image in the puzzle was a complete mystery. One student was able to identify Saul as a king because he was wearing um chapeu dum rei, a king's hat. But other than that, they didn't really know what the picture was supposed to refer to. Interestingly enough, Mozambicans probably have in their mind's eye a closer image of the original scene because African culture is in this case much closer to the culture at the time of Saul than American culture.

I ended the previous post with a few questions that I'll ask again here:

  1. How close is this image to your mental image of the original story? And would a Better Bible link the original story to our culture or help us bridge the cultural and historical divide? How would it do that?
  2. How do we exegete a text without creating a caricature? How do we translate a text without transmogrifying it?
  3. Did you discover the truth about the puzzle by assembling the pieces in your mind or by putting together the text?  How do text and images interact?
  4. How did The Lord Of The Rings movies affect your enjoyment of the book? What about The Passion Of The Christ?

Today, I begin two intensive weeks of checking the Nyungwe translation of Mark and 1 Timothy. Each of us brings to the table a different image of the original text which affects the way we translate the text. Imagine the trouble we had several years ago translating this strange scene from Luke:

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.

(Luke 7:36-38, RSV)

How do you stand behind someone sitting "at the table" (36) and wash his feet and dry them with your hair?

Well, sorry to be rambling on incoherently like this but I have to run. I look forward to hearing your answers to the questions above.


At Mon May 19, 04:41:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

I'm afraid the "answers" to the questions in your wonderful post are all "questions." They're questions from our daughters, David. (The post is elsewhere so as not to let them hijack the discussion here).

At Mon May 19, 10:35:00 AM, Blogger scott gray said...

how delightfully post modern of you!

first, we are given only a single small piece of a puzzle from which to make generalizations about something it's a part of.

then you give us all the pieces, and we put them together in the only possible correct configuration.

then we find out that what the puzzle pieces make, isn't even real!!


there is a lot of exigesis that works this way, isn't there?


At Mon May 19, 01:08:00 PM, Blogger David Ker said...

Did I do all that?

I can't wait to tell my mommmy.

At Mon May 19, 04:24:00 PM, Blogger scott gray said...

in a postmodern world of synchronicity, she already knows.

unless she's been deconstructed.

At Mon May 19, 07:26:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

I really do think your post is helpful, illustrative. For example, you say: "And in the same way when we imagine the color of sin or purity in Psalm 51 we use our own culture to read back into the original text meaning that may or may not be there. For my Mozambican students, the image in the puzzle was a complete mystery."

It's tough to imagine our blindnesses. The most fascinating thing about Psalm 51 to me is that it's a song by someone who was blind but now he sees. He was in denial. It took an intervention, a confrontation by a gentle God and a faithful friend and a forgiving nation, to get him to come to the end of himself. So I think your showing us puzzle pieces bit by bit gets us to that point, where we can see some.
(A very funny thing: a true story, I had three different college roommates who were certifiably color blind. And they sometimes asked me to help them match their clothes. I had great fun with it, when one guy went out on a church date with a girl he was really trying to impress. I told him his red socks were green. Colorblindedness is on the x gene, you know. The girl was cool, and let him know right away.)

So back to the Bible, and the puzzle of exegesis. I do appreciate the parts n pieces questions. (And I can't really stand that postmodernist pedantry threatens to hijack this discussion in most personal ways). You were getting us to important, personal puzzling questions.

One of my favorite writers puts that this way:

"As far as I'm concerned, my text is flawed not when it is ambiguous or even contradictory, but only when it leaves you no room for stories of your own. I keep my tale as wide open as I can. It's more fun this way. Trust me."

At Tue May 20, 02:43:00 AM, Blogger scott gray said...

david and jkg—

oh dear.

this is what happens when people share discoveries in the blogosphere. because so many interpersonal parts of a ‘real’ conversation (facial gestures, hand motions, general body movement) are left out, meanings are construed that don’t exist.

when i read david’s puzzle story, i shared it with several others in a discussion here in the ‘real’ world. during that conversation, i made the real discovery i shared above— that the puzzle pieces can only go together one way, the ‘correct’ way, and the puzzle itself isn’t about anything ‘real.’ and it applies to scriptural exigesis. (for instance, historical criticism has shifted the position of the pericope from ‘scripture’ to ‘wisdom literature;’ it’s no longer ‘real.’) had you been at that particular conversation, you’d have seen i was making an honest discovery. and you’d have seen others in the conversation respond to that sense of discovery with ideas of their own. and you’d have seen that the conversation was delightful. not a profound discovery, maybe, compared to what you folks are thinking about, but an honest one, nonetheless.

i guess, when i posted my thoughts above, i wanted to share that sense of discovery and delight with david. imagine my surprise at his response regarding his mother. it made no sense; seemed a bit cruel, in fact. so i responded in my cleverness, which wasn’t particularly clever, and it came across a little cruel as well, i suspect. and now jkg thinks it’s all highjacked, or derailed.

it’s the problem with having these discussions online.

imagine, instead, the three of us involved in a christ-oriented ministry, like working side by side on a habitat for humanity site, and discussing david’s puzzle, and psalm 51. you’d have seen my sense of discovery, and responded to it, perhaps with delight. the carpenter pencils would have been busy, wouldn’t they, with diagrams and pictures and puzzles. no flat surface would have been safe. and nothing would have been hihjacked or derailed.

these conversations are best had when working together in a jesus-oriented ministry. so when i respond to others online, i try to imagine myself working side by side with others. doesn’t always work.

heart-felt apologies, here, to whoever needs one.



At Tue May 20, 05:25:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

You are a kind and thoughtful person to make such a comment.

Oh no no. When I mentioned my dislike for "postmodernist pedantry" and the highjacking, it's about things I'd been doing and saying. My comments on David's earlier posts in this series required my getting permission but asking forgiveness; and anyone who looked at my blog yesterday knows I was mired in and around pomo.

But I take all of your thoughts here, on talking (you said ministering) together. And on sharing ideas in the blogosphere, with cleverness, that can be read, misread, and so forth. And I just think about how many times I myself wish I could have smiled or inflected my voice so as not to have a hint of offense to anyone who didn't deserve it. (But even then, I can't and don't control how others see and hear me.)

This does speak to author's intention in a text, and to the multidimensionality of language, but mostly to our being persons. Absolutely wonderful stuff.

I do appreciate you for your comment!!

At Tue May 20, 06:38:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I think giving birth to David would be enough to deconstruct his mother. But I'd better be careful what I say, she reads his multiple blogs.

At Tue May 20, 08:53:00 AM, Blogger scott gray said...

thanks, jkg.

altough now i feel i've turned psalm 51 into a sitcom...


At Tue May 20, 10:16:00 AM, Blogger David Ker said...

Scott, I loved your comment (I'm always thrilled that anyone would say anything!) and was just being silly in my reply. I'll only really jump on you when I've known you for a long time and am confident of your good will.

At Tue May 20, 10:18:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

i've turned psalm 51 into a sitcom

Scott :)

David's sitcom (not David Ker's) turned into psalm 51,
which is where Walt Disney got "Snow White" from,
and there are at least 7 little (not Meta) narratives out of that. Now, imagine how awful I feel--cleverness is postmod awfulness.
Peter feels it too,
and never mind David's (yes David Ker's) birthday awfulness that Peter mentions (funny, Peter).
[Where is David BTW?]

At Tue May 20, 01:16:00 PM, Blogger Paul Larson said...

So tell did Walt Disney get Snow White out of Psalm 51? I'm not very clever.

At Wed May 21, 01:12:00 PM, Blogger David Ker said...

I didn't get it either. When that happens I just try to look cool and keep my mouth shut... ;-)

At Wed May 21, 01:42:00 PM, Blogger scott gray said...

actually, disney only got in on it in the middle.

it seems that proctor and gamble picked up the translation of psalm 51 that read 'wash me and i shall become whiter than snow' and started an ad campaign for shampoo for the over-70 set. disney got wind of it, and read from a different translation that applied to seven short narratives within the text: 'waltz me, and i shall become wilder than snow' and got the idea for a dance sequence in an animated movie. then the association of clubs of health and exercise (a.c.h.e.) uncovered yet another translation which they applied to the disney translation: 'watch me and i shall become wider than snow' as a prophecy for over eating and too little workout time spent in the club.

currently, these three money-making enterprises have been dwarfed(!) by the 'psalm 51 lawsuit' involving suits, countersuits, copyright, and the like, and which should reach a verdict sometime in 2023.

this happens when historical-critical translators choose to translate for contextual ends.


At Wed May 21, 02:22:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

I tried to keep my mouth shut too, David, but bust out laughing as I read what you just wrote here, Scott. (And sometimes there's "Truth" in such cleverness, which makes my mouth close again. Don't ask me why, or what I mean by such involuntary chagrin. Now I want to read Psalm 51 again.)

At Wed May 21, 06:16:00 PM, Blogger Paul Larson said...

........and for those of us from Minnesota, just what is the "Truth" in such cleverness, that makes your mouth close.

I don't get the "Truth" from this whole long twisted discussion.

I like what Bob said, "It is true also that at least 3 billion people have King David and his troubles in their tradition. If they read it, they will profit from David's sin-offering for us which also anticipates the perfect sin-offering we have in the Lamb of God."

At Wed May 21, 06:47:00 PM, Blogger scott gray said...


that would be the david who had snow white's husband sent into battle? his translation reads: 'watch me, and i shall become winner of snow'

At Wed May 21, 07:55:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

I like what Bob said too, Paul Larson. And I'm also smiling at what you wrote again, Scott.

Paul, Have you read C. S. Lewis's autobiography Surprised by Joy? I'm thinking of his chapter "Checkmate," in which he describes his unconverted self first thinking about "Christians": "Absurdly (yet many Absolute Idealists have shared this absurdity) I thought that 'the Christian myth' conveyed to unphilosophic minds as much of the truth, that is of Absolute Idealism, as they were capable of grasping, and that even that much put them above the irreligious. Those who could not rise to the notion of the Absolute would come nearer to the truth by belief in 'a God' than by disbelief."

His "plot quickens and thickens" and turns to the point where he recognizes two different kinds of conscious thoughts he's thinking: he names these with another's names "enjoyment" and "contemplation." This is the huge point where God begins the metaphoric "checkmate." Lewis recognizes that Truth is something appropriated either subjectively or as if objectively but nonetheless subjectively. (It's some like what happens to David when he convicts himself by pronouncing a verdict upon the character in Nathan's parable. I'm quite sure his mouth was open listening and pronouncing but shuts rather quickly then. Much of it's feelings if intellectual too; none of it's manufactured. Truth is becoming this way. I didn't want to say Why, because how do we understand that? Do we think we can understand Psalm 51 from the outside looking in? From Texas or from Minnesota?)

At Thu May 22, 03:41:00 AM, Blogger scott gray said...


when you read a descriptive text, do you paint a picture in your head? when you read psalm 51, do you unfold a lifelike film in your mind? is it cut and pasted from movies you've sen or other experiences you've had? does it play the same each time you return to the text?

i do. and in my christian tradition (anglican catholic), this text, at least the penitential part, is read every ash wednesday and first sunday in lent. so the same picture gets 'cemented' in my head each year. which takes on weight as some sort of 'truth.'

the joy of word play like this is that it 'uncements' the picture, changes the film i have running in my head, and this jarring through silliness sets my preconceptions about psalm 51 free.

jkg said psalm 51 required another read after my snow white story. perhaps a fresh read, unstuck from preconcieved pictures and films. and the interplay here, along with david ker's puzzle approach, has set me free, to paint a new set of pictures in my head as i read, perhaps more profound than the set i've been carrying around for years.

bob macdonald, who i hope likes me well enough to let me tease him, is a top notch typologer, and if i believed in typology as much as he, he'd be the first person i'd ask for a p(s)alm-reading.



At Thu May 22, 04:46:00 AM, Blogger scott gray said...

jkg, et al.--

your focus on jaw-dropping during story-telling has me thinking.

i teach chemistry to less-than-rocket-scientist high school students. we have a week and a half to go. as you can imagine, we are less about chemistry and more about what they'll do after they graduate--college, jobs, summer vacations. as these kids tell their stories, i find myself with jaw alternately wide open and slammed shut.

in the religious ed department of my parish, the jaw opening and closing happens with the younger kids. recently, i asked a group of nine-year olds the story of zacheas, and collectively, they know it, so one person tells one part, then another person another. i play the role of jaw opener and closer over the 'outrageous' parts of the story. everyone's eyebrows are pressed deep into hairlines.

at what point do we lose this amazement? is it because we hear the same stories over and over? maybe a lectionary approach (my tradition is anglo catholic), where the same decriptive and prescriptive texts are heard every three years in the same translation, is defeating. maybe it's because we've made these texts sacred and given them such authority, we've reified them so, that even descriptive stories becomes prescriptive, and the jaw dropping is lost. perhaps homelitics, at its best, is about putting the jaw-dropping back in the text. i'm still thinking.

mere moments ago, me poor old mum, 82-years old and post-stroke, sneezed while she was brushing her teeth, and my jaw dropped for the first time today.

after a few more days of reading about you folks wrestling and delighting in psalm 51, i will be ready to read the text anew, perhaps with a fresh aye.



At Thu May 22, 07:33:00 AM, Blogger Paul Larson said...

Yes, I have read most of Lewis' theological writings, little of his fantasy. He has contributed a great deal to my spirituality. I really like "The Problem of Pain", and "A Grief Observed".

While I understand your point I don't agree with cleverness as a source of truth. Cleverness is often centered in ego, self. Rightly or wrongly it is taken by others as insincerity which certainly doesn't lead to communication or truth. I also think it is used as a mask to hide one's fear behind.

I can only speak for myself but praying Psalm 51 provides me with contact with the Absolute. On the surface IS the literal, the act of praying changes it to conscious contact. The literal here to me is rather straight forward and I have explained my literal interpretation elsewhere. In the big picture, though, it is certainly about asking for help as a child would and expressing fears as a child would. Clever doesn't fit here, it throws one, jars one back into the realm of the material and separates one from God. One of my favorite prayers includes, "relieve me of the bondage of self".

Yes we come to these prayers/songs with all sorts of baggage. For me that doesn't make the experience the same every time since I am different every time, although union with the Absolute doesn't change by definition. Sometimes things change subtly with great effect and in this case the image of Egrets brings something new to this prayer and well as bringing this prayer to me in the image of the Egret.

I guess one needs to do what one needs to do. I need to keep as far away from something that makes me feel clever as possible. "For it is by self forgetting that one finds."

At Thu May 22, 08:04:00 AM, Blogger scott gray said...

but in the jaw-dropping, one's looses one's self entirely, at least for a moment.

At Thu May 22, 12:00:00 PM, Blogger Paul Larson said...

Absolutely, now the question becomes, what slid past me since I didn't see anything that caused my jaw to drop.

When I inquired about the truth I got

"that would be the david who had snow white's husband sent into battle? his translation reads: 'watch me, and i shall become winner of snow'"

Would this be clever or jaw dropping? Please enlighten me.

At Thu May 22, 12:28:00 PM, Blogger scott gray said...


david, king type, was, according to my reading of the stories in the hebrew scriptures, one of the most immoral and unethical leaders i could possibly imagine.

he betrayed the trust of a loyal subordinate for a snowball.

yet we want 3 billion people to read about him, and possibly to admire him, and possibly emulate him?

and your jaw doesn't drop at this?



At Thu May 22, 12:47:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Cleverness is often centered in ego, self. Rightly or wrongly it is taken by others as insincerity which certainly doesn't lead to communication or truth. I also think it is used as a mask to hide one's fear behind.

Paul, I often wonder if Jesus (in contrast to someone like, say, Aristotle) isn't the most clever human being who ever made human beings. His hyperbole, his parables, his miracles, his defying expectations and timetables of even his closest friends. I don't think Elton Trueblood's The Humor of Christ gets at the half of it.

And C. S. Lewis in his Reflections on the Psalms says of Jesus:

"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."

I'll confess I don't much like it either, such personal cleverness (especially when it references me). Ironically, Jesus (all too often) centers his cleverness in my self, my ego. "The law came through Moses. Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."

At Thu May 22, 01:09:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Kurk wrote:

Paul, I often wonder if Jesus (in contrast to someone like, say, Aristotle) isn't the most clever human being who ever made human beings. His hyperbole, his parables, his miracles, his defying expectations and timetables of even his closest friends.

So true, Kurk. And then I wonder what the implications are for Bible translation, if any. I have found that many people take many of Jesus' statements literally and miss what he meant. He meant something far more radical than chopping off an arm, or extracting an eye, or hating our fathers and mothers. I know that if people don't get what Jesus' meant, they are in the same company with many of his original audiences. OTOH, Jesus spoke in typical rabbinical fashion, so I think he expected some people to understand him, at least those who had ears!

I confess to not knowing how we should translate all these difficult sayings, if most people don't get the meaning behind the medium. Maybe we should just continue to translate Jesus' difficult sayings literally and depend on teachers trained in rabbinical studies (how many of them are in Christian circles?!) to teach people to understand beyond what they hear.

Thanks for reminding us of how uncomfortable Jesus' sayings really are, not only by how radical they sound when we first hear them, but how even more radical they are if we take their real message seriously.

At Thu May 22, 02:03:00 PM, Blogger Paul Larson said...

Yes, David wasn't the best and when Christians try to reconcile this with the David on Chronicles they run into a big paradox, especially if they take the Old Testament literally. To Jews he is a hero, so what, they believe the Old Testament, they are the ones that wrote Chronicles. So no that doesn't make my jaw drop. Bob also said, "If they read it, they will profit from David's sin-offering
for us which also anticipates the perfect sin-offering we have in the Lamb of God." I was told that David was a man after God's own heart simply because he worshiped One God in One place, not due to his moral claim. Now this is what they believed. Do you have to no!

I never said David was someone to be emulated, and I all I WAS saying was that I like Psalm 51 among others. I don't even know if David wrote it and I don't care. It brings me the peace that passes all understanding.

The Disney metaphor was used to convey the clever metaphor you started off with. This has become a sitcom.

If David was such a great guy why did he arrange to have her husband killed? This is colloquial and gets the point across. It avoids the implication, aren't I clever for continuing the Disney metaphor. Do you mean to say this feeling didn't occur to you as you thought these up. I am not trying to speak ill of you I am trying to explain what I'm trying to get at, obviously very poorly.

My point being that I understand this Psalm just fine and I understand David just fine.

I understand that I cannot fully understand Jesus just intellectually....come on......Because of our sinful nature, whether Christian or non-Christian, we never can fully know and understand God and his will by our own reason or intellect. Yes, you and Luther agree!

I don't believe Jesus wasn't trying to be clever. Clever to me implies what we used to call an effete intellectual snob. One who obscures for the sake for showing off, or hiding lack of true understanding. I believe he was trying to explain in a very mentorly way by using many different approaches to the same point, and to convey some sense of the mysticism that resides in the spiritual. Also, I don't think that the parables were ever intended to be difficult to understand. Dr. Kenneth Bailey has explained these in Luke in several different books and DVD's in light of the middle eastern culture/mindset that they arose from at the time. These were not written for us, or English Poet/esses. But using the middle eastern origin they become simpler.

At Thu May 22, 02:12:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

I confess to not knowing how we should translate all these difficult sayings,

Thanks for the wonderful points and questions here, back to the puzzle of translating that David started us off with.

The thing about the difficult sayings, the clever rhetorical moves, of Jesus is this: they come to us already in translation. I don't think the Greek translation (by Mark, Matthew, John, and Luke and their collaborators) reproduces the immediate impact on the listeners of Jesus. OTOH, orality is transposed into literacy. OTotherH, Aramaic is translated into Greek.

Greek was pervasive, whether the Romans or the Jews liked it. Or else MML and J would have written the histories of Jesus in another language. They didn't. They translated. But what clever Greek.

That, to me, brings up older conversations you and I (and Rich Rhodes if I remember) have had. Is this "Koine" as yall call it really some sort of exceptional (or striking, surprising) Greek? No and yes. No, because the language is heard and read all over town (I mean it's one of the three biggies written on the note on the Roman cross of Jesus, when in Jerusalem, if you believe L in Acts 2, there are many other languages spoken too).

But yes, this "koine" is nonetheless rather remarkable. The translation language of this particular Greek is striking because maybe MML & J are not as fascile with writing Greek as they are with, say, speaking fisherman's or tax collector's Hebrewish Aramaic. But also Yes, because the translators (intentional) choices are not the kind of best Greek that someone like Aristotle and all the other popular writing handbook authors prescribe. In other words, this is rhetorical Greek, the kind of stuff that Plato warns about: there IS hyperbole and parable. (Aristotle rails against this stuff too). The Greek of the gospels is overly Jewish too: it's like poetry, it's narrative, it's (pardon this word) Passion. And the central character is so (pardon this word too) Pathetic. What I myself mean by that is his stomach hurts too often when he gets moved by the crowds and the women and the other needy weak sick people. The word σπλαγχνίζομαι comes to mind, which Matthew translates Jesus as saying about himself. This kind of pathos is not the kind of thing, in regular even koine Greek rhetoric, that was valorized in men. It's an ethos too, but not a persuasive straightforward logos by common standards.

So now the question is not just about Jesus's spoken rhetoric and bodily moves but it's also about translation. Were MML and J really only just literally only transposing? Or can translation, doesn't translation, bring one's self into it too? Just as Jesus did? And as MML & J seem to do too with their Greek?

Should translation use logic alone, or primarily, as Aristotle conceived it? Is the translator of Jesus really intending first and foremost if not exclusively to be coldly objective? In our Western culture, I think that sounds good. Cleverness sounds ego centric and crafty and manipulating, but logic (the technique of technical logos does not.

One more ramble, for example. I think of John's opener. How it invokes Genesis 1:1. But really it invokes Genesis 1:1 in Greek translation. There's the deep Hebrew tradition, but there's an interlation of Hellene tradition too. It's not only the mysteries (the secrets) and the myths (muthos) of beginnings and births and mothers (Gen - Gyn) but it's also a play on logic with logos. In the beginning was the word . . . and the word was God. It invokes that Greek play between Eros (who brings together Heaven and Earth) and eiro (speech). The combining of flesh and deity, and earth and heaven, and beginning and what God says is not the prototypical Greek. It's a clever, self-conscious poetic rhetorical Greek translation of Hebrew. So, should our English translations (whether of Jesus in his MMLJ cleverness or of Paul and Peter and John in their letters or of John in his Apocalypse) be more literal or more rhetorical?

(Sorry for the rambling, Wayne. It's a tremendous question you're asking.)

At Thu May 22, 02:23:00 PM, Blogger Paul Larson said...

Too many posts going back and forth at once.......worse, I note, that in quoting Luther, I used the same self aggrandizing cleverness I was speaking against. Yup, I'm fatally flawed. Thank God for Grace. Time to move back.

At Thu May 22, 02:50:00 PM, Blogger scott gray said...


please, please, please don't be angry at what i'm about to ask; i mean this in the most sincerely discovery-oriented way possible; please don't be angry--

when you made the discovery that you were being pedantic, too--

did your jaw drop?

it's exactly the kind of discovery i meant. and if you hadn't gotten angry, you might not have made the discovery.

jkg, wayne--

are the plethora of translations targeting different subcultures in english-speaking parts of the world the same sort of response as having four (or more) different gospel accounts? are authentic translations only made from within a community or subculture, instead of by translators outside? and in the process of an insider becoming proficient enough at translating from greek or hebrew to english, does that insider loose his/her insiderness, and the resulting translation carries too much outsiderness? how might an insider truly translate authentically for his/her community?



At Thu May 22, 03:00:00 PM, Blogger scott gray said...

and once a community 'got it'-- and by that i mean got the good news, the gospel, not got the text (got the 'word' made manifest inside the community instead of the 'word' brought to them) would a written response from within the community be authentically gospel, and should we consider such a telling of the gospel, the passion, as part of our canon?

just thinking...

At Thu May 22, 03:05:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Too many posts going back and forth at once.....

Yup, Paul, it's tiring isn't it. Have appreciated your comments, sincerely!

does that insider loose his/her insiderness

Wayne and I have a mentor, Kenneth L. Pike, who spent his academic career asking such questions. He coined the terms "etic" and "emic," which I've referred to in a post today over at my blog. Terms for outsider and insider. But he did much more than theorize. He has a practical theory for translation. And he demonstrates that in his famous "monolingual demonstration." Wayne's done that too, and so have others around BBB such as Richard Rhodes. It's going from the etic position to the emic by keying in on the emic speaker's psychological reality, in and on that emic speaker's own terms. Clever stuff indeed!!

Then, more recently, there have been those working on notions of "translingualism." Steven G. Kellerman is a sort of historian of translinguals, who he says are people who invent rhetorical ways of writing in the second language. They're outsiders who've become more clever than the insiders, if you will.

Lydia H. Liu writes on translingualism and on translation. She studies how Chinese have appropriated modernism from the West. The linguistic stuff is what she keys in on. Very compelling because she herself is Chinese researching and writing here in the West (in the USA). She, like Pike, practices what she preaches.

Then there's Mikhail Epstein, who has coined the terms interlation and stereotexting to describe what happens when there's the bilingual diglot text side by side. Those who read both don't lose by translation--they actually gain more than the sum of the parts of the meanings of the respective language texts. In other words, rather than there being some kind of Hegelian synthesis of the two L1 and L2 texts as thesis, then antithesis, then synthesis; there's instead a kind of preservation of both the target and the source but additional understandings as well by the interlation or stereo-focused-texts. (I've mentioned Liu and Epstein at my blog someplaces some time ago).

Let me just add, you should hear Wayne out on this. We do take different positions, even on our common teacher, Pike.

At Thu May 22, 03:07:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Meant to say that your q abt the four gospels, that there are 4, is some like Epstein's ideas with stereotext and interlation.

At Thu May 22, 04:29:00 PM, Blogger Paul Larson said...

First of all I wasn't angry, I was sincerely trying to communicate, and was just trying to find a way of explaining who I was. We are obviously approaching this from very different places. No value judgment just an observation.

To be rigorously honest with you. No I wasn't surprised. I have know for quite a while who I am, and it often isn't pretty. I constantly try to check out myself to see when my defects begin to rear their ugly heads. This is not due to any strength of moral character on my part but is actually a necessity for continued life as I have learned to like living it. I am no better and no worse than others, but this blog isn't where I belong. I get impatient when I offer my feelings openly and people don't react as I would have them. I no longer want to be the director of the play wishing for the actors to behave as I wish. The doesn't mean I don't still try. For some reason, here, just brings out this desire all the more.

You know you don't go to a barbershop unless you want a haircut.

At Thu May 22, 04:49:00 PM, Blogger scott gray said...


i'm sorry this has been frustrating for you. you're not shaved, just assymetrically singed a litle. oh the wordplay i want to begin...

i'm glad that you find contemplative meaning and comfort in psalm 51. it is not my intent to belittle your interpretation or connection to the psalm. i have a harder time than you connecting contemplatively, i think.

i don't know what kind of 'directorship' you desire, but if its a good wrestle you're looking for, possibly frustrating, but with someone ready to stay willfully engaged, visit my link through my name. i promise a good conversation, i'll let you direct a bit more through your questions (maybe...), and i'll listen to everything you have to say. off topic doesn't scare me a bit.

if not, i hope you find the kind of affirmation and stimulus you desire, somewhere online.


boy, have you given me a lot of homework. i posted today on a venn diagram about scripture and wisdom literature, and i wonder how my essay would have been different if i knew more about epstein, liu, and pike.

thnk you for a fascinating conversation.



At Thu May 22, 09:10:00 PM, Blogger David Ker said...

Paul, one thing your comments made me think about was that comment threads tend to take off in different directions and so they're not always a good place to get the "straight Truth." As a blogger it originally frustrated me that people didn't talk "stay on topic" but I've since come to enjoy the diversions and it has expanded my thinking.

Even so, I think you are entitled to a straight answer at some point though you might have to wait a while...

I value your viewpoint and am glad you are taking part in this (rather strange) conversation.


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