Sunday, September 28, 2008

Translating Greek Poetry in Translation

UPDATE: Wayne, whose post I link to immediately below, has been gracious. Clearly, there, he is calling for "the exercise of trying to put the Lord's Prayer into contemporary English" and yet I have brought up a number of tangential issues, including "questions of translation audience." Some of you replied. And now we're trying to keep Wayne's conversation there on track. Please feel free, if you want to have other conversation, to do so here.

And, as always, I'd appreciate any evaluation and criticism of what I've said at this blog. Below, I attempt translation.

-----

Wayne Leman at Better Bibles Blog has re-translated the Lord's Prayer to suggest "how to pray in contemporary English." I've retranslated it below to suggest, rather, that the prayer is poetry.

Willis Barnstone, who has studied Greek poetry for some time, has translated the gospels too. He says, "...it is clear that one of the world’s major poets is and has been for two millennia Yeshua the Messiah. His pen was in the hands of others who recorded and translated his words into Greek"

"Matthew, the gospel with the most dialogue, anthologizes the diverse wisdom talk and prayers of Yeshua from the other gospels into the Sermon on the Mount, a string of poems that includes the psalm of the Lord’s Prayer. Matthew is mainly poetry."

Matthew is trying to convey the heart of the uttered prayer into written Greek (into the poetry of a Hellenist script). This does, eventually, help to cause "the spread of the gospel of Jesus" across the Roman empire; and in many ways writing in Greek is defiant of the elitist sexist Roman men who were trying to get everyone to use Latin.

Yeshua (aka Jesus) may be a poet who puns in Aramaic. For instance, some have suggested in his Aramaic there is "punning between the words 'father' (אבא, abba), 'Abraham' (אברהם, abraham) and the verb 'to do' (עבד, `abad)" so that his "conversation was actually conducted in Aramaic, but translated into Greek by the gospel writer." Here's an example:
John 8.39
They retorted and said to him:
"Our abba (father) is Abraham!"
Jesus says to them:
"If you are Abraham's children, `abad (do) as Abraham would `abad (do)!"
This example is important since the Lord's prayer starts with the perhaps scandalous idea in Jewish culture at the time that God is an "abba," a daddy, a papa, someone who's a parent who's intimate. The Greek translation by Matthew loses this scandal: the Greeks, of course, understood the gods and goddesses as their parents. Matthew wasn't necessarily trying to make dynamically equal the poetic oratory of Jesus and Matthew's written Greek version of that. He understood that language conveys culture.

One of my favorite translations of the Lord's Prayer shows how culture is conveyed in language. It is the Cherokee version by bilingual (Cherokee-English) speaker Elias Boudinot, published in the first bilingual newspaper in the U.S.  [Update below, a pic of that text reproduced:


]

So, without much commentary, I'm trying to show below the ways the Greek of Matthew is poetic. I'll only say that the personal pronouns are key (and my formatting below tries to show this some):

πάτερ ἡμῶν
ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς
ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου
ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου
γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου
ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς
τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν
τὸν ἐπιούσιον δὸς ἡμῖν
σήμερον
καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν
τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν
ὡς καὶ ἡμεῖς
ἀφήκαμεν
τοῖς ὀφειλέταις ἡμῶν
καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς
εἰς πειρασμόν ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς
ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ ὅτι σοῦ
ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία
καὶ ἡ δύναμις
καὶ ἡ δόξα
εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας·
ἀμήν.


father of ours
that one in the skies
specialize that name of yours
send that kingdom of yours
birth that wish of yours
as in the sky on the ground
that bread of ours
that dailyness give us
today
and debtless make us
that obligation of ours
as also we
make debtless
the obligation of others
and do not guide us
into testing but rescue us
from that evil doer because of you
there is that kingdom
and that power
and that brilliance
into the ages.
amen

17 comments:

Bob MacDonald said...

Now we're talking - Amen, amen I say to you -

your 'debtless' is the word of the day -
and it doesn't apply in the US of A.

May the people there
empower a true governor.

.. coming to your rendition from reading the Globe and Mail business page and meditating on David Ker's question - who shall I vote for.

Talk about intertextuality!

Bob MacDonald said...

dailyness- brilliant - maridly catches the uniqueness of the word. (for a definition google goodacre and maridly)

evepheso said...

That's beautiful, Kurk.

J. K. Gayle said...

Bob, Thanks! Maridly makes my day :) (Appreciate the google tip. I'll warn everyone else to google 'marid' when they're ready for Arabic.) In my mind, I've gone back and forth a dozen times on the contrived violent poetic ties between 'dailyness' and 'debtless.' You encourage me. You're wonderfully intertextual!

Mike, You're kind and encouraging.

John Radcliffe said...

JK, Thanks for the invitation to come over and play at your place.

As regards your translation, I find much to like, and much to intrigue and stimulate thought. However, even on our short acquaintance it probably won't surprise you that there are a few Yes-But's. I'd guess you're seeing (or hearing) things that I don't, echoes, links, or whatever. (Either that, or you're using one of those thesaurus-thingies and haven't quite got the hang of it yet.)

But first a disclaimer: I'm no trained linguist, and make no claim to fluency in any language (not even my native English), so don't be surprised if some of my comments are amazingly obvious or naïve.

Now to business.

father of ours
that one in the skies


I'd guess your rendering "father of ours" is maintaining the word order in order to keep the emphasis on him ("father") rather than us ("our"). At first I thought it was addressing a problem with how Greek possessives are usually rendered, namely, that "our father" fails to indicate whether the noun has or lacks the article, i.e. whether it is definite. But of course that issue doesn't apply with the Vocative or, to put it another way, with the Vocative that issue is never resolved. While a Vocative is always going to be "definite" in the sense that it always relates to the addressee, that doesn't mean it will specify whether the addressee is uniquely a member of that class.

Anyway, as I see it, here it's unclear whether it (i.e. the text, I'm using "it" to avoid having to say Jesus or Matthew) is saying that we have one father or more (for example, I consider I have at least two). It then defines which one it's talking about, but without actually saying whether "that one in the skies" is our only "real" father or not. Rendering "Our Father" loses some of that ambiguity, and not necessarily appropriately.

in the skies

For me, the jury is still out in the case of "sky" versus "heaven". Another problem I see with "sky" is that English lacks a related adjective. We could put "of the …" but that, to me, gives a different "feel" to the expression, and it forces us to choose between putting "sky" or "skies".

Which leads me to the question of why it sometimes says "in the heavens", and sometimes "heavenly"? My first (simplistic) thought is that the first defines ("which father?") while the second characterises (says something about the father, although I'm not sure what). My "developed" theory was that it uses "Father in the heavens" first (one or more times) to define, and subsequently "heavenly Father" looks back, almost as if it means, "the Father-in-the-heavens mentioned above". The problem text here (I'm just talking Matthew) is 15:13, where "heavenly" is used without a preceding "in the heavens", so I guess that theory bites the dust. (I believe the correct scholarly approach in such a situation would be to postulate a primitive error in transmission that pre-dates our oldest copies.)

A further issue (typically hidden in most translations) is why "the heavens" here (v9) but "heaven" there (v10)? Can you shed any light? Could the singular without the article be generic, in effect "(the) heavenly-type realms"?

specialize that name of yours

I think I see where "specialize" is coming from, but I don't see it catching on for liturgical use. If I'm right, then I'm attempting the same thing with "un-common" (see below).

send that kingdom of yours

Not sure about "send". Perhaps you're personalising what it puts impersonally. I.e. if the God's kingdom "comes", it's because he "sends" it. However, I don't see the kingdom as something that God could "send", as I see it as embodied in him: his rule, reign, kingship. For that to "come" / be "accepted", he has to come with it (to both accompany and bring it).

birth that wish of yours

Now you've really got me! As I said over at BBB, I don't think this petition is about getting people to "do" what God wants ("your will be done"), but about asking for what God wants to be what happens. (This may be a result of what people "do", but not necessarily by them consciously lining up with "his will"). But I fail to see the "birth" connection. Please enlighten me.

as in the sky on the ground

I've already mentioned the question of why "sky" singular. I must admit that I've never thought of this phrase in terms of "up" there ("in the sky") versus "down" here ("on the ground"). So I guess I'm just automatically jumping straight to what I think is signified, having long had it hammered into me that "heaven" (where God is) isn't "up there". Something else to reflect on.
___

I’ll have to stop there. Don’t worry. You’re not likely to be subjected to this kind of thing very often! I just started and followed where my thoughts led. Anyway, now I have to go and feed a hungry cat.

To close here's a "free" rendering of the prayer up to the 3rd petition. As I said elsewhere, I'm intrigued by the idea that the line "as in heaven also on earth" applies to the first three petitions, and not just the 3rd. In my previous rewrite I moved it forward to indicate this, but how about repeating it as a refrain instead:

Father, our Father, the one who inhabits the heavens:
May what you are be treated as special, apart, "un-common",
> here on earth as it is in heaven.
May your royal rule be established,
> here on earth as it is in heaven.
May what you want be what actually happens,
> here on earth as its is in heaven.
. . .
___

Thanks for your patience, and for expanding my horizons. (Another "sky" reference?)

J. K. Gayle said...

John, Did you call me 'patient'? You give a spectacular analysis of my feeble attempt at poetry, at translation of poetry translated poetically.

Thank you for visiting and for reading (or listening), and replying. My disclaimer is that I have a bilingual/polyglotted brain (not by choice), and have lived around linguists (mostly missionaries and/ or academics) far too long. They don't all, and some not always, hear or overhear the silenced voices (i.e., the rhetorical themes in a text and the positions of those marginalized by the text). My formal linguist training was under Kenneth Pike, and those under his influence, but most of them have left him behind and never understood him as a rhetorician (which he also was). Anyway, enough of swapping stories; except, I know what you mean by "those thesaurus-thingies" and also have a cat.

Business it is.

I'm not convinced that translation is equivalence, or ought to be. Who gets to decide what the "source" text means? And whose "target" is the corresponding one? You might just persuade me to post on questions of presumed equivalence (again). I do like how you avoid having to say Jesus or Matthew speaks; perhaps "the text" speaks differently (also in various ways). Yes, it does have ambiguity--ambiguities, rather. Which father? Your points about the Vocative in Greek and "Our Father" in English are brilliant. What is being gained, or lost, in translation when the English is not clearly vocative and when the Greek seems less dis-ambiguous than it's more contemporary "equivalent"?

Homer, Euripides, Sappho, and Hesiod all spoil "heaven" and the "skies" for me by cluttering it with the deities and also with birds and bats and other creatures. We mortals live down here; Icarus should have know better. I think Matthew, but more the translators of the LXX, understood these things. The Septuagint translators seemed to have despised the elitist Greeks, like Aristotle and Alexander. Their appropriations of Greek language and culture were intentionally selective. (Why don't they use words like "eros" and "rhetoric" or any Greek word ending with the suffix we transliterate "-ic"?) This is, in part, the brilliance of Willis Barnstone's work; he sees how Christians, by translation, have been able to distinguish the Jew and the Greek // and the Christian.

I do think Matthew (or the text) is doing three different things with the phrase (as in vs 9, 10, and 15:13). What are they? You seem to suggest correctly that the singular without the article (ἐν οὐρανῷ in 10) is generic, a realm. Isn't the contrast to the other two phrases not only the article and the plural but also the collocation with "father"? In the first instance, he's up there, in those places above us; in the other instance, these realms really are part and parcel of who he's known to be: of the heavenly places / of the skies. What do you think?

I'm running out of time, but want to say a few more things:

I love "un-common" in your translation! (I was trying for something less binary, thanks to my aversion to Aristotle).

I get your point about "kingdom" is something God couldn't send. I like your wanting it embodied in him. Will think much more about your ideas here!

birth -- there is a Greek play on words here that is as old as Genesis. "γεν-" "γῆν" "γιν-" "γυνή" In Greek the phonology makes puns without too much of a stretch, but even in English what "wish" makes a parent, a father if not a mother? John, I really like your thinking on "asking for what God wants to be what happens"

You are really onto something with your suggestion of the repeated refrain! Now that's an echo I hadn't heard before in the Prayer.

I also think "royal rule" is very good in contrast to "kingdom"!

Thanks for looking "up" with me at some of these things. You may have noticed from my posting yesterday, I'm going to be busy and away from the blog for a bit. But I'd love to continue to dialog with you, as you wish.

Bob MacDonald said...

Now that both of you have raised the issue of the anarthrous nouns - I recall a long article on this in the Word commentary on Revelation by David Aune specifically on the phrase Behold I create new heavens and new earth (an apt issue here in the use of the same heaven and earth words). The lack of an article is in his words intended to grab the attention of the reader saying - listen cause you don't know what I mean. Later the article is used to point back to the 'previously unknown concept' in the phrase. Is this a factor here?

J. K. Gayle said...

listen cause you don't know what I mean. . . . Is this a factor here?
Bob, I would imagine the ambiguity factor as you note it, is relevant here in the Lord's Prayer. Does Aune not address the Prayer?

Bob MacDonald said...

He may - I would have to go back to the library to check it out. it's been a few years. But it is a commentary on Revelation not on the LP.

I did not get the impression of ambiguity - but of rhetorical impression as if the proclaimer is saying 'now pay close attention'.

I find this attractive because in our familiarity with current forms, we have become numb in a negative sense to the presence of meaning outside ourselves.

John Radcliffe said...

Here's the next instalment.

I'm only covering the 4th and 5th petitions, but I've also added yet another rendering of my own (you can never have too many translations, I always think). It isn't intended to replace anything: it's just "another voice". I haven't (as yet) responded to any of your responses to my previous response (I'm glad I made that clear).

Please only respond when/if you have the time and inclination, but please do say if you've lost interest. I may find working through this to be a simulating exercise, but I doubt that trying to follow my disjointed ramblings is to everyone's taste.
___

that bread of ours
that dailyness give us
today


Let's get a few introductory points out of the way first. (These are just me thinking aloud about how I "hear" the text.)

(1) The bread is "ours" because we need it, not because we already have it. (If we already had it we wouldn't need to ask.)

(2) One problem with retaining "bread" in the translation is that, for those of us in Western countries, at least, bread isn't as important to our diets as it once was (and still is in some societies), so to many people the idea of no bread wouldn't be a disaster. (Personally, I love bread: it's my favourite food. But liking bread isn't the issue here, needing it is.)

(3) "Bread" is a part standing for the whole. What's the whole? Not, I think, just food in general, but whatever we need to live (as against what we might want after our needs are met).

(4) We only need it to be given when we need it; we don't need to have it in advance. So as I see it, we're asking for "today's bread today" (or "tomorrow's bread tomorrow"), not "tomorrow's bread today". Perhaps even: "Give us the bread we'll need tomorrow, [when tomorrow becomes] today."

(5) When we ask God to give it to us, that doesn't exclude intermediate agency, including our own efforts. We're asking God to do something like "so ordain things that we will be able to obtain the necessities we need to sustain us" (where "we" = ourselves and any dependants we might have). That's also why we ask for God's provision on a day-by-day basis: it includes continuing our present provision by whatever means is appropriate.

And a couple of general points applying to the Prayer as a whole:

(A) The aorist tenses used throughout shouldn't, I think, be taken to imply we are looking for a once-and-for-all response. Rather either: (1) they simply don't address the issue of "point" or "continuous" action at all; or (2) as the prayer isn't a one-off but is designed for repetition, then it is the prayer rather than the verbs in it that are to be seen as iterative. So the aorists in the Prayer contrast with the introductory present imperative in verse 9 ("this is the way you should be praying").

(B) The fact that Jesus tells us to ask seems to imply that our request is likely to be granted. (Which I find very encouraging!)

Turning (at last) to your rendering:

I'm afraid "dailyness" just doesn't work for me. Not because it's a "made up" word (the term in the original probably was. Unlike today, people in Matthew's day didn't use dictionaries to define whether or not something was a "proper" or "real" word). It's rather that we need an adjective that can define "bread" (you can't say "dailyness bread"). Truth is: I'm having a problem improving on "daily"!

"That bread of ours, that daily stuff (we need), give us today."
___

and debtless make us
that obligation of ours
as also we
make debtless
the obligation of others


This makes interesting reading. First let me try to do my usual preliminary unpacking.

As human beings we owe certain obligations to God. I take it that the text is talking about the obligations we owe to God, as he is the one being asked to free us from them. (Jesus summed these obligations up as: "Love God and one's fellow human beings".) When we fail to meet these obligations we find ourselves "in debt" to him. Now we may be able to discharge some of those "outstanding" obligations, but in fact most would remain permanently outstanding unless God does something about it. [I note that immediately following the Prayer (verses 14 and 15) these "debts" or "obligations" are referred to as "transgressions" or "miss-steps" (places where we have "put a foot wrong" in our dealings with others). That looks at them from the viewpoint of how they arise, the text here view the result: an outstanding obligation or debt.]

So what can God do to help us out of the impossible position we've put ourselves in? He can "forgive" the debt. Now today when we say, "I forgave X", we probably mean, "I no longer feel bitter, resentful or angry about what X did". I don't think that's what the text is talking about. I see it saying that when God "forgives" he is giving an undertaking not to "pursue" the debt: he is "writing it off" as "unrecoverable". He will no longer consider it as an outstanding obligation that we have failed to meet.

Now I don't consider this distinction unimportant, as the text goes on to talk about us forgiving other people. The question I see is: do we meet that requirement by simply not "pursuing payment", or do we also need to shed our resentment and bitterness over how we have been wronged? Maybe the appropriate response is to ask why we would continue to feel bitter, resentful or angry with someone who no longer "owes" us anything: with someone who's supposed to have a clean slate as far as we're concerned. I guess the truth is that if we do still bear a grudge, then we're still trying to "recover" something from the debt: it's still there on the books. (Unlike us, God doesn't bear grudges. He doesn't have to: if he doesn't choose to forgive, he has the ability to deal with the matter.)

I think the object of the forgiveness is the "thing" rather than the person. It is the obligation that is "forgiven"; we, as the ones in debt, are the beneficiaries of the forgiving act: those obligations are forgiven FOR us. (Dative of advantage perhaps? The person forgiven is in the Dative, while the "thing" forgiven is in the Accusative.) Even when the object isn't specified (as in "as we forgave our debtors"), some object seems to be implied: we forgave [something] FOR our debtors.

As I see it, the picture doesn't seem to be that the debtor is "sent away" free of any further obligation (I mean as regards the matter in hand), but rather that the one to whom the obligation is due is seen as giving the debt (the debtor's IOU?) back to ("sending it off to") to the one who owes it (which has the effect of cancelling it).

So back to your rendering: I think "obligation" is fine, if viewed as an outstanding obligation that we still "owe", rather than an upcoming obligation ("I have to do X for Y on Saturday"). However, I'm less happy with "make … debtless". The "debt" idea is picked up from the context (as is the "forgive" idea: I don't think either is inherent in the verb itself), but it doesn't work as well as "forgive" does, as you seem to be equating "us" with "our obligations". "Debtless" doesn't work with obligations, only people! You also seem to ignore the shift from "our debts" to "our debtors", or is this down to the lack of a suitable noun for people who owe obligations? ("Obligees" perhaps?)

But, as always, seeing a problem is easier than fixing it!
___

Father: Ours, yet filling the skies!
May we down here, like they up there:
Recognise you for who you are;
Welcome your Royal reign;
And own your will as ours.

Meet our needs, as and when we have them;
Forgive for us the debts we owe [to you],
As we do for those in debt to us;
Don't push us too far, lest we fail the test,
But keep us safe from the Enemy.

[We ask] because:
Sovereignty, Ability, and Splendour
Belong to you alone.
Now and throughout the coming ages:
May it be so!

J. K. Gayle said...

It's that rendering of yours that I really like, John. I especially enjoy:

Father: Ours, yet filling the skies!
May we down here, like they up there:
Recognise you for who you are


The emphasis on the personal, on our locations, on "who you are," are wonderful. And you got that (in)differentiation between the possessive of "Ours" and the unpossessable marked by ", yet"

I love your confession about your attempt: it's just "another voice"

and that in response to my attempt: just me thinking aloud about how I "hear" the text

I take your good pt on the aorist tense, and I appreciate what you say about my "debtless" failing especially to ignore the crucial shift to the more personal "debtors" or, as you suggest, "obligees," with all your concerns about "obligations" noted.

When we deal only in one language--which seems at times what Wayne was wanting, the issues of adequacy of expression are huge. Is there a perfect English poem? Which some makes the larger point of this bit of the prayer you excerpt. What do we owe? but how does forgiveness come?

You should see by now that I haven't lost interest in our conversation. I really do appreciate your thoughts and insights. With the little time I have now, I'll just add something I think is really crucial:

There's irony in the personal in this prayer and in our translating of it. I mean, I do insist on having the personal in translation. But I don't know how to go along with your observation of the "fact that Jesus tells us to ask seems to imply that our request is likely to be granted." That is encouraging, and yet it's encouraging only through translation. The fact is that Jesus does not tell "us" anything in this prayer. He is telling others, of a different time, a different language, a different location, a different viewpoint and mindset.

So what you say about bread is entirely right. If Jesus were telling my family and friends in Vietnam, or my friends in Japan, to pray this prayer, then he'd be advising them to ask for "rice" which is a synecdoche for "meal" or "daily food" in the respective languages for those who speak them: "com" and "gohan."

To keep translation personal without overly personalizing, then, I like images and metaphors such as "hearing" or "overhearing" or "eavesdropping" or "listening in on" or, as Richard Hays puts it for the views on Paul's letters to churches, "reading someone else's mail."

Hope you'll feel free to come back whenever you have a thought, John. Do know that my slowness to respond here doesn't mean a lack of interest. And if we're at the end of a long conversation, yes, I think one of us could signal it somehow.

John Radcliffe said...

JK, I'm glad you enjoyed the translation.

I'm still intending to finish what I started, so expect at least one further comment, perhaps next week. I appreciate your feedback and the stimulation it provides: there's a lot of truth in that old adage: "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another" (Proverbs 27:17, TNIV).

For now, just one on-topic comment:

Regarding what you say about Jesus not telling "us" anything, here we may disagree. I understand the Prayer as being "for us", even if it wasn't given "to us", in that Jesus gave it to his disciples, and I take that to include us. But I do recognise that the *form* in which it was given reflects the context of his first disciples, not ours. Now it could be argued that Jesus aimed his version at his original disciples, whereas Matthew's aim is wider (and God's perhaps even wider). On the other hand I find Jesus himself to be very inclusive in his "aim".

Now a confession …

I think that, like me, you don't go with the idea that there is only one "correct" way to translate a text. I think it may sometimes be appropriate to say that, in a particular instance at least, a rendering is "wrong" or, more commonly, that one is better than another. But in general, I tend to judge translations on the simple criteria of whether *I* find them helpful. It's like my taste in music: I think music can be good without my liking it, and vice versa. I like a piece of music if it "does something for me" (what may well vary from piece to piece). I use the same approach when it comes to translation: a translation may be "good" without my liking it, or having a use for it.

I do sympathise with those who keep asking whether we need yet more Bible translations. It may well be that the resources *should* be expended elsewhere, but personally (selfishly?) I tend to think one can never really have enough, as long as each new one has its own "voice": one that is sufficiently different to what I'm already familiar with. I'm afraid I just don't understand those people who stick to a single translation. Of course it could be that, for someone who knows nothing of the original languages at all, consulting a variety may simply lead to confusion. Or is it just like having a narrow taste in music (or none at all)?

Perhaps the distinction is that "normal" people are those who might refer to as many as 3 or 4 different versions, while I, with over 20 on my Pocket PC, am in fact a translation junky in need of rehab.

J. K. Gayle said...

John,
I appreciate your comments very much! Since you wrote a few days ago, I haven't been able to stop thinking about your notion of Jesus's prayer being "for us." This deserves more discussion, maybe even a full post.

But I'm also intrigued by your way of judging a translation as "good." I love that you see it as subjective (you say it's like "taste," and I do follow that metaphor). This is an honest assessment, I think, of how any of us judges a text, especially a translation.

You say:

"I think that, like me, you don't go with the idea that there is only one 'correct' way to translate a text. I think it may sometimes be appropriate to say that, in a particular instance at least, a rendering is 'wrong' or, more commonly, that one is better than another. "

What you're allowing for is a translation to be "incorrect" and for many translations and translatings (as methods of translation) to be "correct." This observation also deserves more comment.

Looking forward to hearing from you again!

John Radcliffe said...

Well here's the next instalment. (Sorry it took so long to arrive, I hope you'll think it worth the wait.)

and do not guide us
into testing but rescue us
from that evil doer because of you
there is that kingdom
and that power
and that brilliance
into the ages.
Amen


First it might be appropriate to comment on the question of whether the Prayer has 6 or 7 petitions. In favour of 7 is the fact that there are 7 imperatives (although one, for reasons I don't understand, is actually an aorist subjunctive impersonating an imperative). Some people may think there *must be* 7 because they're into numerology. Others say 6, because they treat the first two lines quoted above as a single (two-part) petition, connected (or should that be "divided"?) by a "but". Because of what I see as similar subject matter, I'd vote for 6, understanding the 6th petition as being expressed first negatively ("don't do that") and then positively ("do this instead").

Then there's the question of why the 5th and 6th petitions are introduced by kai, but the others (or at least the 2nd and 3rd, the equivalent in the first half) aren't. I don't know. To me it seems that the first three are seen as distinct wishes regarding God himself, while the last three combined are about us asking for what we need. (So just when I'd decided there are 6 petitions, perhaps there are really 4, with the last divided into three sub-petitions, and the final sub-petition again divided: 1, 2, 3, 4a, 4b, 4c(1) and 4c(2).) Or again, perhaps it's just stylistic: a way of introducing a bit of variety.

Perhaps I should have dealt with such considerations before starting to look at the Prayer in detail, but here I have to admit that I tend to avoid introductions and overviews. I hardly ever read that sort of thing before I start looking at a Biblical book or passage in detail, nor do I read through a few times in different translations first. No, I just dive straight in: I don't want to be told in advance what it's all about; I want that to unfold as I read it, so I consider this method is the nearest I can get to the experience of the first readers / hearers. They didn't know what the writer was going to say a few pages further on, and so couldn't let that affect their understanding of what was being said *here*. Of course, I sometimes have to put a statement or passage "on hold", and see whether what comes later throws some light on it, and on other occasions I realise I misunderstood something that I covered earlier. But my principle is that looking *back* for help from what went before is legitimate, but looking *forward* definitely isn't. Then again, perhaps I'm just lazy.

Now back to the text.

and do not guide us into testing …

As I understand things, the noun behind "testing" and its related verb may be "neutral" (testing to see whether something will pass or fail, without particularly wanting or expecting either result), "positive" (hoping it will pass) or "negative" (hoping it will fail). From the negative usage comes the idea of enticement to do wrong that we refer to as "temptation". Here I don't think that narrower idea is in view, as the text is talking about *God* testing us, or at least allowing us to be tested, and so I think the popular rendering "temptation" must be rejected in favour of something like you have.

I'm not, however, happy with "guide". Now it may well be that this is a common usage of the verb outside the NT, but within it always seems to have a more "concrete" nuance. People bring a paralysed man on a stretcher into a house, introduce hearers to a new idea ("bring it into their ears"), take blood into the Holy Place, or, perhaps most tellingly, of Jesus' followers being brought into a synagogue for a "disciplinary hearing" (in this case, quite likely against their wills). So perhaps we could say that the word is about executive action rather than directing or guiding someone. I'd suggest, therefore, something like "bring" or "take" (I don't think the traditional "lead" is any better than "guide").

… but rescue us from that evil doer

Here "rescue" is definitely better than the traditional "deliver". I might talk about a parcel being "delivered" but not a drowning child.

Your rendering "that evil doer" really made me stop and think. I would agree that the form here (masculine adjective with the article) is almost certainly personal ("someone" rather than "something"), and your rending is open to being interpreted as a reference to any evildoer, or to one in particular (that one often called "the evil one", as many translations put it). But I must admit that I've never really been happy with the idea that Jesus would include a reference to "that one" in his prayer. So a generic reference is certainly worth more consideration.

… from that evil doer because of you there is that kingdom …

On text critical grounds, I don't really consider the "doxology" to be a part of the original Prayer. Although I have no strong objections to its inclusion, especially in liturgy, I'm not keen on integrating it into the Prayer as your versification does. I'd definitely have a break after that "evil doer".

… because of you
there is that kingdom
and that power
and that brilliance
into the ages.
Amen


I've never given the doxology a lot of thought (other than to reject it!), but I do hear some echoes from the first half of the Prayer.

For "kingdom" see my comments on the 2nd petition. I think it's about God's kingship or "Royal rule".

As regards "power", I must say that I tire of hearing people talking about how the name for dynamite comes from this word, as though that was relevant. I see how the related verb is used as much more significant, and so see this as "directed power", or the "ability" to do what is required, rather than power or strength in general. Regarding the ability to get things done, compare my comments on the 3rd petition.

As for "brilliance" (or "glory", "splendour", or whatever), perhaps compare the 1st petition. It is uniquely his because of who / what he is (his "name").
___

So, JK, I hope you found it worth the wait. However, I haven't finished yet, I'm afraid. I still owe you a comment on your feedback to date, so watch this space.

J. K. Gayle said...

John,
Thanks for coming back, and for unfolding so much here. I do like the way you read, and listen, and get us listening with you.

My emphasis in translating, attempting translating, this go round was on the personal (as shown in the personal pronouns, and my insisting on a visual line break after each). You're shifting the kaleidoscopic lens now towards the personal imperatives and their sets (i.e., the negative/ positive pair; and the ones marked by kai). I imagine there can be other further turns to take with the scope, but like how you're focusing here.

The other thing that you're doing, that I'll resist more, is highlighting my English without keeping in view Matthew's Greek. We could argue that that is okay to do because we only really have his Greek to highlight (since the "original" Aramaic of Jesus is gone).

We're stuck with what Anne Carson observes of Homer: "He wants this word to fall silent." And of Francis Bacon: "He wants to convey the
sensation not the sensational, to paint the scream not the horror." And of Joan of Arc: "her rage against cliché" (Carson's talk is here.) Jesus seems to have allowed Matthew to paint the scream of the prayer, but not its horror (i.e., in Aramaic).

But there's something in language, in languages together, that even Matthew's translating points to. Those who read the Greek but who remember (even as Matthew does) the sounds of the Aramaic, understand the stereoscopic effect. This is what I'm also wanting by bringing English alongside. There's the parable effect. One story translates the other, or rather is translated by the listener, as his story against hers, and both together. The effect is met, as the punchline with a laugh, an involuntary out-loud laugh, at the telling of a inside joke.

When language translated becomes "original" (as your highlighting my English suggests it does), then what happens when the new original is placed beside the old? The effect again: it's a grammatical appositive. There's no big struggle for primacy, for purity, for one over the other. In English, the words "human" and "god" mostly mean distinct things. But the phrase "human god" changes both words. That's what I would like in my English translating of someone else's Greek, and his of someone else's Aramaic.

But Mikhail Epstein says this is not translating at all: rather, he coins, it's "interlation": "Robert Frost said that poetry is what gets lost in translation. By contrast, interlation increases, indeed doubles the benefits of poetry."

I'm afraid I'm not getting to your feedback much either. I do like your suggestion that "guide" can mean so many things more than I perhaps want it to. On whether "the evil" is a personal agent, I suppose I'm imagining Matthew (maybe not Jesus himself) remembering his telling of the "testing" of Jesus in the desert (and I'm so happy with your observations about "testing"). Mark has the Spirit casting Jesus out into the desert for the encounter with the "tester"--ek ballo, as for excommunication or for exorcism. Why doesn't Matthew follow Mark? Matthew uses ana ago for the Spirit's movement of Jesus. So, the petition here, for "us," is "do not" eis en egkes or, more to the root, eis phero, which implies a "carrying into." Whether we have to or ought to read the Prayer in the context of the Sermon and that in the context of the Ministry and that in the context of Jesus's being led (or guided or forced out into or carried into) testing is a question. I like to imagine Matthew telling a story (rather than his stringing together Mark's or Q's pericopes, as some "scholars" insist he/they did). I prefer to suspect many things personal are going on in the telling of such a story.

As for the need for a break after that "evil doer," I can't disagree with you. Perhaps, for all kinds of reasons, the "doxology" should be marked (with a different voice, another pen, a separate ink or font or case on the letters). You make a good case, literarily, for closing the prayer with a return to the opening (i.e., "the 1st petition"). Actually, I'd never thought of that--and now see its value. (I don't like how C.S. Lewis comes to a precise conclusion in his discussion of the English word "glory" in his essay "The Weight of Glory." This is the main reason I was wanting to push a "light" word like "brilliance.")
--
Looking forward to your further thoughts, John!

John Radcliffe said...

JK, I'm afraid you lost me when you said:

The other thing that you're doing, that I'll resist more, is highlighting my English without keeping in view Matthew's Greek. We could argue that that is okay to do because we only really have his Greek to highlight (since the "original" Aramaic of Jesus is gone).

Would you mind expanding on that? (I did say back over at BBB that frequently much of what you say goes right over my head!)

One thing I do understand (although probably not what you're talking about here) is that we may find any given language inadequate in our attempts to convey our intended meaning. That experience isn't unique to translation into a different language, as even the original writer or speaker had to "translate" what they wanted to say. So I think it would be wrong to always insist that "this is what he meant" just because "this is what he said". It may be that what the writer wanted to say just couldn't be conveniently expressed precisely and unambiguously in the language at hand. That also implies that it may even possible for a translation into another language to convey the writer's meaning better than the "original" did (because the real "original" was the one in the writer's head). The truth, I guess, is that our words always say more or less than we intend or "want" them to say, and the key to successful interpretation (or translation) is to look behind the words and forms of the utterance and try to "see" what the writer or speaker may have wanted to say, while filtering out what is just extraneous lexical and grammatical "noise".

Even I, with my *extremely* limited understanding, frequently find myself trying to "see" the Greek behind an English translation that I or someone else is reading, and I will then try to understand it on the basis of the Greek rather than the English. Is that what you're talking about with the Aramaic behind Matthew's Greek? Are you trying to express what it might have said as well as, or instead of, how it turned out in Greek? This, incidentally, is one reason why I'm sometimes happier with a "bad" English translation that lets me "hear" the Greek than a (supposedly) "better" one that shuts me out and leaves me guessing ("how would the writer have said *that*?"). Yes, I know "that's not what translations are for", but when it comes to the crunch, I'll take whatever works for me.

On the other hand, what I perhaps find most useful about "conventional" translations (the ones that are actually written in something approaching ordinary English) is that they embody what the translator(s) understood the passage to mean. The original, in contrast, is always virgin ground, where the reader is on their own without any footprints (except perhaps punctuation and capitalisation) to suggest what path to take. So I'd guess that this is a use of translations that even those able to read the original may find valuable: they are maps showing routes that other explorers have taken. They offer clues to what the writer may have been talking about, which may be valuable even if our response is "well I don't think *that* is what it means". Indeed, one reason I find interlinears helpful (I know they are anathema to many!) is that I can pick up what I can directly from the Greek, but elsewhere it's as if the translator has pencilled in a path I might want to take, but I'm not forced to follow it if I can see an alternative route that I might prefer.

Thanks again for the conversation so far. I'm sure that on a reread other points will arise, so I'll throw them into the mix as and when, if that's ok by you. It's good to talk, and to catch a glimpse of how some things look through someone else's eyes.

J. K. Gayle said...

Sorry, John. I wasn't very clear at all.

Yes, I meant that your commentary on my English when divorced from the context of the Greek skews the meanings that may be made from both languages side by side. This is what Epstein points out: a "source" text next to a "target" text allows readers (even the translator) to make meanings that are not allowed when one text or its translation are separated. Epstein calls the parallel or stereo effect "interlation." Interlinears have the effect some. But they miss grammar or phonological play (within each language and between the two languages), as the interlinears tend to be lexical glosses only. By making a line break after each Greek pronoun (and English pronoun too), I am asking the reader to hear rhymes. In Greek and in English this works differently but there are some plays between the languages phonologically, grammatically, if lexically also.

Thanks for your many insights and comments! Please, let's do continue our conversation as you like.