What God Said: Yada Yada

Isn’t it much more interesting what God said than what any human said? Really, doesn’t God’s spoken language always come to us in translation? At least if we’re reading the Bible it does, doesn’t it? You can’t watch God on youtube or listen to God on your ipod, can you? And whatever God says is translated into what we humans say, or am I just saying “blah blah”?

So (at BBB) I find Dannii Willis’s problem with what Abram said in three Christian versions of the Bible so much less interesting than what God said. (What Abram said in the ESV Bible is “how am I to know …?” What he said in the NLT Bible and in the GOD’S WORD® Bible is “how can I be sure/certain?” Dannii questions as “very odd” the natural English of the ESV and wonders whether the NLT Bible and the GOD’S WORD® Bible take “the right approach” and asks if “all these translations miss the point completely.” The point of Dannii’s problem is to get at “whether this verse [is] about Abram’s cognitive dissonance.” Saving faith and doubtful knowledge make the communication of the point of the Bible rather problematic, with no help from translations that fail to mind this relevance, so Dannii says.)

What God said, in the ESV Christian Bible, is “Know for certain …”; what he said in the NLT and the GOD’S WORD® Christian Bibles, Dannii doesn’t tell us. (It’s, respectively: “Know for certain … ” and “You can know for sure … ”.)

We’re thinking God spoke to Abram in Hebrew. Moses has written (in what we call Genesis 14:13) that Abram was Hebrew, and Moses has written that in Hebrew. So is Moses translating or isn’t he? At least he’s transposing, isn’t he? It’s speech to text, right? What’s that sound like?

I like how Everett Fox makes it sound:

“You must know, yes, know … ”

Notice how Fox is having God say the same thing twice:

“know, yes, know … ”

Earlier translators, who were Hebrews, used their Hellene to have God say something similar:

“γινώσκων γνώσῃ … ” [ginoskon gnose]

The same thing twice.

So the Hebraic Hellene and the Hebraic English sounds like the Heavenly Hebrew, which sounds presumably like something God said, said twice. The Heavenly Hebrew written by Moses as translation sounds like this:

יָדֹעַ תֵּדַע

If you speak Hebraic Yiddish, then that might sound to you like this:

Yada Yada

The point of that for some linguists is that there’s something for communication but of an “origin unclear,” which means, “perhaps onomatopoeic of blather.” One linguist conjectures a “Putative Yiddish etymology” for the reduplicated phrase, without ever thinking it’s a translation of Hebrew Godspeak. Is God saying “blah blah” in French or Swedish or English to the Hebrew named Abram? Whatever. We humans just now “know” it’s our language:

or not:


7 responses to “What God Said: Yada Yada

  1. Fascinating! My post may have missed the mark, but I’m glad I made it now.

  2. That said, if this is how God answer’s his question, I’m still wondering what Abram meant. It only opens more possibilities.

    • Welcome Dannii! Don’t you wonder what Moses meant, if he wrote (down) essentially what is extant today, as history, in the MT? Assuming Moses didn’t overhear Abram and God talking, was he “inspired” to hear the conversation some other way? Or could Moses have heard this dialogue, the narrative, from his mother, who heard it from hers, and so forth and so on? Once you get the answers to those questions, and to “what Abram meant,” then was Moses writing us, or are we somehow overhearing? Does “text” help, as in MText, LXXtext, ESVtext, and so forth? If it always comes back to “what Abram meant” because there’s much (to be) made of “that Abram believed and it was reckoned… ,” then I wonder if we’re really starting to talk about what “we” mean. Maybe in a later post I’ll try to come back to these questions with respect to what Theophrastus in different places labeled a “classic missionary focus” of Christians and “the classic Jewish view” (but he’s not the only one to use such labels).

      • Moses? We can hear him through the much later MT, as we can hear Isaac and Jacob through Moses, Abram through Isaac and God through Abram. And yet through all that convolution, I still believe that we can hear Abram in clarity (but perhaps not all clarity.)

        I don’t think it always comes back to what Abram said, as if as you sound like you imply, hearing Moses and hearing God is unimportant. They’re probably more important that hearing Abram, but hearing Abram is what I’m wondering about at this point in time.

      • Convolution, Dannii? Let’s assume not. This is exactly why I’m interested in the roles of the storyteller, narrator, translator as important. If we think of the translator as merely someone accidentally videotaping Abram and God talking, then we might think of our lack of understanding of the dialog as the fault of the videotaper, as due to convolution perhaps. But aren’t you interested in the elements of the story here, as edited by, as constructed by, someone like Moses, whose sources for the story are unattributed and unclear?

        At BBB, you seem satisfied by Theophrastus’s sorting out Abram’s belief and knowledge question. But you add, “I’m not sure that’s what Abram asked for though, and it’s definitely not what God answered with.” You seem to suggest a problem in Abram with respect to belief and ostensible agnosticism. I’m glad you’re concerned about the lack of coherences, perhaps not only in Abram’s thinking and questioning but also in his question and God’s answer. God is, after all, the object of Abram’s belief (or at least what God said and promised is that object). But now we come back to What God Said as causing two problems for you as you try to focus on Abram, and what Abram said. So, I’m really interested now in your “belief” in what Moses said (assuming his authorial, translational roles here).

  3. Does God speak to us in our language or do we just understand? Do we perceive in a language? Can the one whose tongue is removed speak in tongues? Can the deaf hear the voice of God? If so, what does the voice of God sound like?

    • Welcome Jay! As one of us, I started to see myself in your questions. Then your rhetorical questions cut out my tongue, stopped up my ears, and sat me in the middle of a forest all alone. Some might protest that your questions also effectively render God mute. But what does any of us overhear when God, speaking Hebrew to “the Hebrew,” says יָדֹעַ תֵּדַע? There are not just a few silenced and marginalized women who’ve worked, as profoundly insightful scholars, to recover the silenced rhetorics of silence and the marginalized rhetorics of listening. Some rightly relate these rhetorics to the rhetorics of translation. I’m thinking now of Cheryl Glenn and Krista Ratcliffe, and of Naomi Seidman.

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