Our Universal Trouble with Jesus

This weekend, a friend gave me a book I’d not yet read, one by Hans Küng.  So I read it. I read Edward Quinn’s English translation entitled, not Christ Sein, but On Being A Christian.  (My friend also gave me a book by Brennan Manning, who is also Catholic, which I also read, and I’m mentioning this just to ask you, Guess what religious persuasion my friend has?).  Küng, as Quinn translates him, quotes Martin Buber as saying “God [is] the most loaded of all human words.”  Elsewhere, Küng says (as Quinn puts it in English):

“After Auschwitz there can be no more excuses.  Christendom cannot avoid a clear admission of its guilt.”

He had already insisted (when discussing Christians being anti-Jewish) that

“It was not the Reformation, but humanism (Reuchlin, Scaliger), then pietism (Zinzendorf) and particularly the tolerance of the Enlightenment (with its declarations of the rights of man in the United States and in the French Revolution) which prepared the way for a change and up to a point also brought it about.”

Do we see what the Christian Küng (as Quinn translates him into our English) is clearly admitting? It is something, somethings of people, of us humans, beyond the Bible, beyond the New Testament, beyond its Jesus Christ that provides helpful change to the hearts and behavior of Christians.

What I did then was to read Martin Buber in Asher D. Biemann’s The Martin Buber Reader: Essential Writings. I had just finished up Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and was well into Michael Cunnigham’s The Hours. I’m telling you all of this because there are connections. There are connections not just because I’m reading all of these things at once, or, rather, in some sort of rapid succession. There are connections also because I’m finding my trouble with Jesus. I’m finding that it’s our universal trouble. And, believe me if you can, I absolutely hate imposing trouble on anyone, especially you.

So let’s just get to it. I do remember Küng’s having said something about Jesus to an interviewer for Newsweek magazine, was it now a decade ago, more, nearly two? Yes, there it is, right there in the English language wikipedia (though not in the Deutsch):

“If you cannot see that divinity includes male and female characteristics and at the same time transcends them, you have bad consequences. Rome and Cardinal O’Connor base the exclusion of women priests on the idea that God is the Father and Jesus is His Son, there were only male disciples, etc. They are defending a patriarchal Church with a patriarchal God. We must fight the patriarchal misunderstanding of God.”

I could keep quoting, Küng, Buber, Manning, Woolf, Cunningham, Shakespeare. And you could read my quotations in English, or in German, or in Spanish, perhaps in Chinese. I’d love to give you what Buber says about translation, or to show you his translations, or to give you his statement on logic, on how logic is not troublesome (which, of course, is very problematic). A feminist Küng, a translational Buber, what’s the connection here? What is our universal trouble with Jesus?

Well, everything anyone of us has from Jesus is translational. It’s translated. Yes, and even Küng clearly admits that scholars of Plato do better finding Socrates who never wrote a thing himself than Christians do finding Christ. Maybe feminist scholar Cheryl Glenn does a better job reading Plato and finding Aspasia than most do with Jesus. “Jesus” is a loaded term for us humans, like Buber’s “God.” He calls it our term. But the trouble universally is not that Jesus said something, like Socrates did, as Aspasia did, as God did and likely still does. Our trouble is that what Jesus said only comes to us in translation. What he spoke that we read crosses the boundary of one language before it gets to any of us.

Now we have to get translation. Would even a third edition of the Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies help us all, universally?

“Translation” is a loaded human word.


4 responses to “Our Universal Trouble with Jesus

  1. Jesus gets lost in translation much of the time. And so do the Hebrew prophets.

    • But at least the Hebrew of the prophets is in Hebrew. What gets found in translation?

      • Via our 3-D Christian biblioblogger conference conversation (3-d because there are more than two sides to Christianity– Chad came up with it);

        What I meant was that we censor the Hebrew prophets and their vulgar language, to package the bible in a way the supports our individualistic way of reading Scripture, making it safe for a child to pick up without having to ask the hard questions (i.e., discipleship).

      • אָמֵן

        Thanks for repeating this until i got it. The prophets say some very metaphorically graphic things that most translators translate out to make less shocking and more palatable. Thanks for the great face to face conference with you, Rod, and Optimistic Chad!

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