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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

holy spirit continued

I admit that I don't really know at this point how to resolve the addition of upper case letters for the name of the Holy Spirit. On the one hand, in a translation of the Hebrew Bible, it certainly seems to have the potential to alienate Jewish readers. On the other hand, in the Christian scriptures, not using upper case might be a shibboleth for many Christians.

I will simply wind up my remarks by pointing out that Bibles do vary considerably in the use of upper case, and this does mark an interpretive feature, even in the most literal and "transparent" Bibles. This kind of feature may, in fact, alter our conception of "transparency" when it comes to translation.

For the fun of it, here, in the first image, is 2 Cor. 6:6 in the Codex Sinaiticus - too bad the LXX portions are not online. Look for the ΠΝΙ in the fourth line from the bottom, three letters in. Then, on the last line at the very end you can see ΘΥ for God in "power of God." The nomina sacra can be easily entered into a post by cutting and pasting from this entry.

Of course, this seems like very early evidence that this phrase denoted the Holy Spirit. However, we have to remember that we are aware of some corruptions in the Codex Sinaiticus. In the second image we see that the scribes have written the Greek for,
    Salute the brethren that are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church that is in their house. ERV 1885
The KJV has,
    Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house.
It wasn't until the RSV that a translation represented what is likely the original, since Nympha is a woman's name,
    Give my greetings to the brethren at Laodice'a, and to Nympha and the church in her house.
Look at ΟΙΚΟΝ ΑΥΤΩΝ ΕΚΚΛΗΣΙΑΝ in lines 4 and 5.

Theologically motivated changes or additions to the text are not unheard of. I don't know to what extent verses relating to the persons of the trinity have been affected but I suspect that this is something one should look out for in a translation. I am going to think over the implications of upper case letters for a while and maybe come back to them later. I have no further insight into how to resolve these things. We just have to ask ourselves sometimes how our reading of scripture is affected by our determination to find proofs for certain beliefs.


At Wed Mar 26, 12:38:00 AM, Blogger solarblogger said...

I might personally enjoy a Bible that put those horizontal lines above names. Above upper case letters where things are less ambiguous. Above lower case letters where they are more ambiguous. But I don't know how that would be received or understood by others.

The lines could denote a possible way of reading, while the lack of upper case might show that this is not made certain in the original.

Use of the horizontal lines might even also allow more use of the other terms like "breath" or "wind" without their being taken as a denial of the divine identity of what is mentioned in the text.

The footnote idea was a good one as well.

At Wed Mar 26, 07:59:00 AM, Blogger Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

I was thinking along the same lines, as solarblogger--I'd like some simple way to clue me in on the possible ambiguities.

At Wed Mar 26, 10:39:00 PM, Blogger Kevin A. Sam said...

Ambiguity is not a good thing because it keeps everyone guessing. In the case of scripture, it will keep people guessing for centuries. I wish biblical writers or those early scribes could have kept this in mind for later generations and foreign cultures...ha ha, as if this was possible.

Suzanne, thanks for an interesting series of posts on "holy spirit" or "Holy Spirit."

At Thu Mar 27, 04:24:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Ambiguity is not a good thing because it keeps everyone guessing.

What if some ambiguity is also not a bad thing, because it allows any one of us to interpret?

I'm not just thinking of Martin Luther here. Or of Jesus asking individuals, What do you want? and Where are your accusers? and Who do you say that I am? and What do the scriptures say? and What do the signs tell you? Or of the first Adam, whose responsibility before falling into sin, was to name. But I'm also thinking of those of us who read this blog, and those who write it.

Yesterday, I heard a Muslim woman evangelize for Islam on campus yesterday. She claimed that Muslims are the first feminists, that women in the Arab world have had more and earlier rights than women in the U.S. That the Koran is kinder to women than the Bible is. Very interesting. The Koran is her authority. Her words sounded much like those of a Christian evangelical: sensitive to the culture of the audience. But what if those of us hearing were not like Jesus's audience as he told parable? What if we were more like Aristotle's students? What if there were no freedom and no responsibility to interpret the ambiguities, for ourselves?

At Thu Mar 27, 06:10:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the other hand, in the Christian scriptures, not using upper case might be a shibboleth for many Christians.

That begs the question of what is "Christian scripture". I take your comment to mean that you're referring to the New Testament books. Yet wouldn't most evangelicals argue that the OT should be included because of its Messianic passages, that is, the gross generalization that the OT is the preface of the NT?

It seems that there are three combinations possible:

[1] No uppercase in either OT or NT. This is the policy of translations like the NRSV.
[2] No uppercase in the OT; uppercase in the NT. This is the approach of the REB.
[3] Uppercase in both OT and NT. This is the policy of the TNIV, HCSB, ESV and probably most other evangelical protestant translations.

I don't have my bookshelf in front of me to spot check other translations, but it certainly seems that at least in the case of the OT, there is already a shibboleth in place among "Christian" translations.


At Fri Mar 28, 01:00:00 PM, Blogger Kevin A. Sam said...

JK, there will likely always be ambiguities in this world. We cannot get away from it. But we live in such a grey world that sometimes I wish things were black and white, and sometimes I don't wish for this. Ambiguities translate into how we interpret the intended meaning--sometimes they're good and sometimes, not so good. Maybe I'm sounding a bit ambiguous here too.


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