(HT to Iyov for an amazing post, which links the anti-intellectualist practices of the Nazis and the early Vatican to the earliest church. I’m asking here, Do Bible translators have anything to do with any of this?)
Let’s take a look.
The Greek word περίεργος (or periergos, the compound of περί + εργος) is used twice by Bible writers. (Aristotle uses the word five times in the Rhetoric, so let’s look at that too. Isocrates, a rival of Aristotle and of Plato, uses the word as well, and I’m bringing this up because there’s some good range of English on the word by a translator of Isocrates).
In the Christian New Testament, 1) Paul uses the word in his first letter to Timothy,
and 2) Luke uses it in his history of the early church, which we call Acts.
1) Paul uses the word this way (I Tim 5:13):
ἅμα δὲ καὶ ἀργαὶ μανθάνουσιν περιερχόμεναι τὰς οἰκίας οὐ μόνον δὲ ἀργαὶ ἀλλὰ καὶ φλύαροι καὶ περίεργοι λαλοῦσαι τὰ μὴ δέοντα
2) Luke writes it this similar way (Acts 19:19):
ἱκανοὶ δὲ τῶν τὰ περίεργα πραξάντων συνενέγκαντες τὰς βίβλους κατέκαιον ἐνώπιον πάντων καὶ συνεψήφισαν τὰς τιμὰς αὐτῶν καὶ εὗρον ἀργυρίου μυριάδας πέντε
The respective contexts show the following: 1) Paul is giving Timothy reasons to exclude young women (i.e., younger than 60) from the widow’s-help-list at church, namely their mis-behaviors; 2) Luke is giving readers the mis-behavior of new Christians who decide, as part of their turning to Jesus, to burn their scrolls in public.
Bible translators, perhaps because of the scarcity of the word περίεργος, have relied on lexicons that perhaps rely on these two very specific contexts. It’s a kind of circularity game that goes on. Which comes first, the authority of the lexicon to determine ostensibly disperate meanings or the authority of the contexts which seem to point to different meanings? But even when Bible translators want to abandon the literal equivalence game, the dynamic equivalence game gets them into other problems. Because the same word appears in two different contexts, the translator can explicitly supply the equivalence only inferred in the separate contexts. And this will determine that the same word, necessarily, means two substantially different things.
Bible translators (both the literal equivalent types and the dynamic equivalent types) have had this. They have had 1) Paul calling the excluded young women, in English, “busybodies” or “meddlers”; and 2) Luke saying that the repenting new Christians are practitioners or followers of or experts in “curious” or “strange” or “magical” “arts” or just “magic.”
Now, really, περίεργος might easily inclusively mean both (or all) of those things. So let’s consider quickly also how the late and the great George Norlin translated the word as Isocrates used it. (Norlin, we should remember, supported the Jewish and Catholic faculty members at the University of Colorado in the 1920s when the Ku Klux Klan in power in the state government was calling for their ouster). Norlin has Isocrates saying, in English, “fop” and “futile” and “idle” and “gratuituous” and “superfluous” (for περίεργος).
And let’s throw in how Aristotle (in his Rhetoric alone) writes the following in the English of George A. Kennedy, of John H. Freese, and of Rhys Roberts: “superfluous,” “unneeded,” “beyond the present task,” “nobody wishes . . . unless.”
To be very clear, the range of meanings is a very good thing. The context does help color the senses of a word used. The writer, and then the translator, can and should stretch any single given notion of a term, for her or his own rhetorical and communicative purposes.
But reader beware. When the translator makes young women excluded because they are always and only the “meddling busybodies,” then there’s a problem. Likewise, when the translator has people with rare and raw conviction always and only doing “curious strange magical” reactionary things, then there’s another problem. The problem is not that Paul or Luke cannot say these things; the problem is that the English translator makes Paul only say these things this certain definite way; likewise Luke in another entirely unique way.
We should speculate why Adolf Hilter might have liked what Martin Luther tries by having Luke writing in German. Here’s Apostelgeschichte 19,19: “Viele aber, die da vorwitzige Kunst getrieben hatten, brachten die Bücher zusammen und verbrannten sie öffentlich und überrechneten, was sie wert waren, und fanden des Geldes fünfzigtausend Groschen.”
And here’s a bit from Mein Kamf, “10 Ursachen des Zusammenbruchs”:
Eine der ersichtlichsten Verfallserscheinungen des alten Reiches war das langsame Herabsinken der allgemeinen Kulturhöhe, wobei ich unter Kultur nicht das meine, was man heute mit dem Worte Zivilisation bezeichnet. Diese scheint im Gegenteil eher eine Feindin wahrer Geistes- und Lebenshöhe zu sein.To those who want English, here’s James Murphy following Hitler:
Schon vor der Jahrhundertwende begann sich in unsere Kunst ein Element einzuschieben, das bis dorthin als vollkommen fremd und unbekannt gelten dürfte. Wohl fanden auch in früheren Zeiten manchmal Verirrungen des Geschmackes statt, allein es handelte sich in solchen Fällen doch mehr um künstlerische Entgleisungen, denen die Nachwelt wenigstens einen gewissen historischen Wert zuzubilligen vermochte, als um Erzeugnisse einer überhaupt nicht mehr künstlerischen, sondern vielmehr geistigen Entartung bis zur Geistlosigkeit. In ihnen begann sich der später freilich besser sichtbar werdende politische Zusammenbruch schon kulturell anzuzeigen.
Der Bolschewismus der Kunst ist die einzig mögliche kulturelle Lebensform und geistige Äußerung des Bolschewismus überhaupt.
Wem dieses befremdlich vorkommt, der braucht nur die Kunst der glücklich bolschewisierten Staaten einer Betrachtung zu unterziehen, und er wird mit Schrecken die krankhaften Auswüchse irrsinniger und verkommener Menschen, die wir unter den Sammelbegriffen des Kubismus und Dadaismus seit der Jahrhundertwende kennenlernten, dort als die offiziell staatlich anerkannte Kunst bewundern können. Selbst in der kurzen Periode der bayerischen Räterepublik war diese Erscheinung schon zutage getreten. Schon hier konnte man sehen, wie die gesamten offiziellen Plakate, Propagandazeichnungen in den Zeitungen usw. den Stempel nicht nur des politischen Verfalls, sondern auch den des kulturellen an sich trugen.
One of the visible signs of decay in the old REICH was the slow setback which the general cultural level experienced. But by 'Kultur' I do not mean that which we nowadays style as civilization, which on the contrary may rather be regarded as inimical to the spiritual elevation of life.Funny thing is, this dynamically equivalent English translation of the original German is the real work of an actual propagandist.
At the turn of the last century a new element began to make its appearance in our world. It was an element which had been hitherto absolutely unknown and foreign to us. In former times there had certainly been offences against good taste; but these were mostly departures from the orthodox canons of art, and posterity could recognize a certain historical value in them. But the new products showed signs, not only of artistic aberration but of spiritual degeneration. Here, in the cultural sphere, the signs of the coming collapse first became manifest.
The Bolshevization of art is the only cultural form of life and the only spiritual manifestation of which Bolshevism is capable.
Anyone to whom this statement may appear strange need only take a glance at those lucky States which have become Bolshevized and, to his horror, he will there recognize those morbid monstrosities which have been produced by insane and degenerate people. All those artistic aberrations which are classified under the names of cubism and dadism, since the opening of the present century, are manifestations of art which have come to be officially recognized by the State itself. This phenomenon made its appearance even during the short-lived period of the Soviet Republic in Bavaria. At that time one might easily have recognized how all the official posters, propagandist pictures and newspapers, etc., showed signs not only of political but also of cultural decadence.
But τὰ περίεργα of Luke becomes only “die da vorwitzige Kunst getrieben hatten” for Luther which reinforces Hitler’s much reduced conception of “Der Bolschewismus der Kunst” which must be burned as Murphy’s “all the official posters, propagandist pictures and newspapers, etc., [that have] showed signs not only of political but also of cultural decadence.”
We’re out of time. We are out of time, for now, to talk about young women as the only busybody meddlers, if also superfluous or idle, excluded from the church’s aid to otherwise qualified widows. But, it seems, we always are.