Thursday, April 9, 2009

David Ker's BBB posts (and this one)

update: I'm including links to .pdf versions of posts referred to in my post here below (so keep scrolling down to find them)

David posted a two-parter this week at BBB and then he promptly took it down, noting in a third post: "But the comment threads are too volatile and I don’t have the time or energy to monitor them." He also invited: "If you would like to react you may do so by writing a post on your own blog and linking here." He's confirmed to me in email that a continued discussion here at my blog would be fine. (And he's posted on a related topic, with perhaps more to come, at his own blog.)

Below is a copy of David's second post, and below that is the comment I made. I was interested in David's posts especially because I am interested in the limitations of pure DE and of essential FE translation - both of which seem to me to ignore the wordplay in both a text and its translation. I tried to show this some, some time ago, by translating the Greek text myself. (David gave a couple of useful comments then). Feel free to comment at my translation there or related to David's post here if you like.

David's Post2 (you have to double click it to see it):

My Comment on David's Post2:
With respect to DE, FE, but also to expressing wordplay, David, NRSV seems to be the better update of the RSV translation of Philemon 8-14.

First, for ex., “to command you to do your duty” is a fine English dynamic equivalence (DE) to ἐπιτάσσειν σοι τὸ ἀνῆκον (v 8). And “as a prisoner” works better with the English adverb “now” (in v 9) than the wooden-literal (less DE) “now a prisoner” as that repetition of δέσμιος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ (fr the first line, the identifying appositive, in v 1). Also the re-arrangement of the Greek order phrases (as in vv 9 and 12 and 14) seems to read more like “normal English.”

Second, in terms of FE, the literal “both” (in v 9) and “that is” (in v 10) are examples of a stronger NRSV relationship to the Greek structures (than RSV or the ESV update has in those couple of clauses).

Third, although both NRSV and ESV (like RSV) fail to get at much of the play in Paul’s language (or to play with English), NRSV does much much better. The obvious plays are on the mood and the aspect of the English verbs. There’s a rhetorical build in the NRSV (absent in the RSV and ESV), for example, by starting with the subjunctive “would rather” (in v 9) but then making “wanted” the (recollective) simple past (in v 13) to parallel the simple past of “preferred” (in v 14) as the powerful set up to the (subjunctive) clause “in order that your good deed might be. . . ” (of v 14).

And the use of the present tense with progressive, continuous aspect gives a breathless feel to the letter. Paul’s readers (of the NRSV) get to hear and to watch him signing the letter with his own hand while a prisoner imprisoned.

Mind you, the translators aren’t trying to tell us what Paul intended. As if he always and only intended one thing - or could know all the meanings and all of the effects of his one intention, if he had only one once in writing this little letter. Phyllis A. Bird (1 of 4 women on the 30 member NRSV translation team) says translating is “to overhear an ancient conversation, rather than to hear [one]self addressed directly”; and Bird adds “I am not certain that the translator is even obliged to make the modern reader understand what is overheard.” (“Translating Sexist Language as a Theological and Cultural Problem” page 91). The men (all men) on the ESV team might not agree–Paul’s singular agenda (as the translators must understand it) is to come through the translation, with the dogmatic force it deserves. The NRSV team, therefore, does a better job, I think, with the wordplay in translation. And some of the examples mentioned show this. (Interestingly, they do pretty well - at least better - with DE and FE too).
David in an email to some of us says this:

Dear friends,

I didn't feel it was quite fair to the commenters on my posts to withdraw them so I have made the posts available as PDFs. I actually found many of your comments very enlightening but there was an air of hostility as well that made it difficult for me to consider what people were saying and was eating up a lot of my emotional energy as well as time. I welcome you to link to these on your own blogs and make use of them as you see fit.

These posts were an attempt to try to look dispassionately at the ESV especially but I see that isn't really an option.

Here are the files:

If you reply to this post I ask that you don't refer to any of the other commenters involved in those posts. I love all of you imperfectly of course but I am trying. "I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntche to agree with each other in the Lord."


Out of respect to David (and to the ones he's also giving much respect to), I'm asking you - anyone reading here - to honor his request: "don't refer to any of the other commenters involved in those posts."


David Ker said...

Go for it, man.

Philemon has many interesting issues in microcosm, wordplay, chiasmus, cultural views on slavery and the long history of interpretation and appropriate of this book. I will try to make avaialble a PDF of both posts with their comments as well as my full comparison of the three translations.

J. K. Gayle said...

Thank you for providing the .pdfs - I've put them in the update at this blog post. Thank you even more for sharing the contexts and your personal requests for us not to refer to commenters in the .pdfs out of respect.

CD-Host said...

That was an excellent discussion going on. It was heated but the content was informative and interesting. I would have loved to have dived in and asked some questions on that thread. I think BBB has to decide if it an encounter group or a serious place to discuss english bible translation. That post IMHO is exactly what BBB should be aiming for real debate on substantive issues by real experts.

If it needs some cold war thrown on the participants to keep the heat down then OK but in the meanwhile those are the sorts of threads that make a blog. J.K. thanks for reposting.

J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks for your comment. Hopefully the BBB bloggers will take not of your encouragement to debate or otherwise to discuss "substantive issues by real experts."

And did you mean "cold water" for "war"? Ha?

Hopefully you'll also encourage others to comment more on the great Philemon posts David wrote!