he thought that you cannot in principle separate your theory of language from the users and uses of language. Every other theoretician … thought that such a separation was not only possible, but necessary. Pike’s articulation of tagmemic theory lacked the mathematical precision
Kurk, I ask again wanting to hear your answer, … wordplay is actually the meat … how do we turn that into a “better bible”?
Often we forget how much of Shakespeare was, in its time, quite low-brow…. I think the Bible … all over the place, from the magnificent poetry of the psalms and tight literary prose of Genesis, through the less than literary instruction book of Leviticus, and much of the Old Testament is just history. It’s hard to see it as high prose.
… translations? They should give as much insight as possible into the … originals … literary masterpieces, and so I think the best translations are literary masterpieces…. Let’s take a translation like the Common English Bible … well-meaning … but it has some terribly awkward sentences, … wild inconsistencies, and even omits … arbitrarily.
I think God is perfectly capable of speaking for Himself, if we would just get out of His way. Figure out, to the best of our abilities — no holds barred, no pre-conditions, no pre-conceptions — what the text sounded like (meant) to its original audience, and let the chips fall where they may. God will do with it what He wants.
I think it is reasonable for Jews to translate the Bible so that it aligns with their beliefs. This is actually unremarkable, since the Bible was first revealed to them and they were the first to translate it, such as the LXX.
Dannii, Rich, Theophrastus, and Wayne,
Thanks for taking time to comment on a blogpost and with me and one another! Above are excerpts I’d like to respond to in one place since over the past several hours I’ve been entirely unable to do anything but follow along, reading what you’ve said.
Pike’s most valuable contribution was insisting on viewing language as being deeply more human, more dimensional than logic, than formalism, than mathematics. He liked to paraphrase Goodman speaking, in Ways of Worldmaking, of “radical relativism within rigid restraints.” Fastforward: a philosopher visited the campus where I work now arguing against “relativism” (precisely and technically defined) and, in a private conversation with me, insisted that Goodman didn’t (couldn’t) mean “relativism” at all but was so enamored with the r,r,r,r alliteration that he forced “pluralism” (properly) into the wrong category entirely. The philosopher was so exercised by Goodman’s “misuse” of “relativism” that he wrote, published, and sent me an article on it.
Hope you see the problem.
Language isn’t so precise, not like this philosopher talking with me wants it to be. So, whether JEPD or Robert Alter’s translation of the J and E or P and D differences, so hypothesized, or whether David Rosenberg’s, there really is their “human” decision to call things “documented” or the same or different. Same? Different? Who decides? Mathematics?
I quoted Thomas Christensen (in the earlier blogpost) to illustrate. He says, “The notion of ‘equivalence’ in translation is imprecise and falls upon the translator to determine as a personal judgment.” Then he goes on to equate Chomsky with Pinker! He does; and he might even appeal to “logic” to do so. But, Christensen’s also just equated “Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf” (in a statement I excised when quoting him in my post above). And Christensen has likewise, rather imprecisely, determined as his personal judgment that Sapir like Wharf is not equal to Chomsky like Pinker.
When it comes to wordplay, per se, then, I’d like to equate the Greek sophist Gorgias with Jesus. In my personal judgment, I can say that “The Encomium of Helen” is equivalent to “Matt. 13:3b-9.”
Both Helen’s Gorgias and Matthew’s Jesus use “prose” without wordplay per se. They do, that is, until the very last word. (Note my equivalences here: Jesus and Gorgias are doing the same thing with language. Matthew and Gorgias are doing the same thing with Greek language in writing. Gorgias is Helen’s defense lawyer; Matthew is Jesus’s translator. The last word is equal to the whole of what comes before it, turning it so differently.)
This is some the sort of thing that Sir Philip Sidney does by playing with prose “In Defense of Posey” and that G. K. Chesterton does in Orthodoxy by writing prosaicly to put poetry over prose. Their arguments have the appearance of, dare we admit the force of formalism? But their argument is, ironically, that poetry undercuts this all, turns it around, spins it upsidedown, where there’s radical relativism. It’s the humans not their a priori categories that “determine.”
Now, mind your language, fellas: “low brow,” “literary masterpieces”
Rich, you speak up to say: “God is perfectly capable of speaking for Himself”
Wayne, you reason your beliefs: “I think it is reasonable for Jews to translate the Bible so that it aligns with their beliefs.”
Who has the linguistic upper hand here? Helen or Gorgias? Jesus or Matthew? Sidney’s and Chesterton’s prose or poetry? God or Rich’s God? Wayne or Wayne’s reasonable Jews with beliefs?
So, when you start talking about the LXX as a rather imprecise, won’t you mind your language? Maybe, on the other hand, the Talmud is right. Or is that Naomi Seidman’s Talmud? Who’s equating what here? Precise Logic? (You know, she’s “equivalent” to Alter in some imprecise ways: i.e., They are the very same faculty together, co-lleagues). Seidman says the Talmudic writers say the LXX translators say the Hebrew says something. This isn’t just the “telephone game” in which one message eventually gets lost. It’s a human being or two or more saying things are equivalent (albeit imprecisely). Now consider with me how personally, how human, Seidman opens her book on the “difference,” the “non-equivalence” between Jews and Christians. I’m talking about her Faithful Renderings: Jewish-Christian Difference and the Politics of Translation (Afterlives of the Bible). She opens her book with the story of her own father, translating. I’m not equal to telling it here and now myself. (My own father’s taken a turn for the worse, and I’m quite sure I won’t be blogging much, not if I wanted to, and I think I don’t now). But her father in her true story of him translating makes the point of her book: that translation, that even the LXX perhaps, can be imprecise and might be imperfectly faithful for some purpose, some relatively precise and nearly perfect purpose, on purpose. What’s revealed is only equivalent to what’s hidden. This sort of human language plays the way Gorgias and Matthew and Sidney and Chesterton play it.
This is how I’m trying to answer Dannii’s question.
A “better Bible” translation lets the translator play with language the way Dante did when writing his masterpiece that he said could not be translated. A “better Bible” translation. I’d say it really is equivalent to a “comedy,” perhaps “La Divina” Commedia as Boccaccio put it, but that’s just me speaking. I’d like the translator to decide, with ears to hear, when the prose of Jesus turns as poetry. (And I’m saying Matthew already did that, once upon a time).