Monday, April 20, 2009

Hitler Translates Hebrews

In the previous post here, I began translating the letter to Hebrews. Before I go on, there's a bit to say.

Hitler translates Hebrews. His is an entirely neutral and benign and objective translation too. His supreme German is dynamically equivalent to the original Greek. There's not a hint of a whiff of the horrors of holocaust in it. No propaganda. No agenda. No bias. No racism. No rhetoric. No sexism.

No? You don't believe that?

Well, did you believe Donald Trump last night on his (taped reality tv show) Celebrity Apprentice, giving Joan Rivers a pass although she calls Annie Duke worse than Hitler? Nely Galán blogs that she can't believe it (although she says nothing about Trump in real reality, off last night at the Miss USA pageant, which he really sponsors).

Which reminds me, second, how Allan Bloom, declaring The Closing of the American Mind two years and two decades ago, used to ask his American college students, "Who do you think is evil?"; and Bloom noted:
"To this there is an immediate response: Hitler. (Stalin is hardly mentioned.) After him, who else? Up until a couple of years ago, a few students said Nixon, but he has been forgotten and at the same time is being rehabilitated. And there it stops. They have no idea of evil; they doubt its existence. Hitler is just another abstraction, an item to fill up an empty category." (page 67)
So could Hitler translate Hebrews with his own categories? I believe he could although he'd not want the world to know exactly what his own categories were. At least, he'd want everyone to think, at first, that he was objective. That he was only following nature, as cold as his decisions ever seemed. That he was without bias.

Hitler's American translator (James Murphy) worked with him on rendering his autobiography into English rather objectively, so that Americans could really believe what he was really up to. I've blogged on this some here and here but want not to forget one chilling phrase (by which he establishes one category of people, and Hitler with Murphy denigrates many - even some non-Jewish Germans - by it):

Es ist immer der gleiche Jude.

He is always the same Jew.

(Hitler's statement as translated by Murphy, which begs the question who "he" is.).

My point is this: it is to suggest very strongly that subjectivity is part and parcel of translating. And when one begins to pretend rather objectively to categorize another human being or the sexed bodies of half of the human race or an entire race of humanity, then there are problems.

Aristotle's taught us in the West to do this: to declare convenient natural categories for humans with social consequences that are to be viewed as only natural. Our problem is that we justify this by cold logic, not by admittedly personal translation.

Third, learning from Aristotle and his method, for example, Martin Luther would say,
And the Jews in mockery said to Him when He was crucified: "If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross." If God thus willed it with His son on earth, we [i.e., German non-Jew Christians as if objective observers] need not wonder if the Christians have a similar experience. Christ says: "The servant is not above his master, if they have persecuted me they will also persecute you." And in the epistle to the Hebrews the apostle says very appropriately: "But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons." Thus we see how Scripture and examples fully agree in this regard, wherefore we ought to recognize in our sorrows and sufferings God's good and gracious will, and not for a moment think that He has forsaken us [i.e., German non-Jew Christians as if objective observers]. (Hauspostille , here from page 346 of an English translation)
The huge bias here is that Luther is not considering "the epistle to the Hebrews" to be exactly a Christian canonical Bible book, but he's not considering Jews to be part of Jesus or Jesus to be a Jew either.

Now, look at the transliteration difference in Hebrews 4, as Luther translates it. Listen to it. The original says in verses 8 and 14, respectively, the following:

εἰ γὰρ αὐτοὺς Ἰησοῦς κατέπαυσεν

Ἰησοῦν τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ

Of course, the passage is referring to two different people, and yet both are Jews and both have the same name (even when transliterated into Greek from the Hebrew). But Luther renders the German differently, so that one is Jew, the other is Christian, and the different names differentiate, as follows:

Denn so Josua hätte sie zur Ruhe gebracht

Jesum, den Sohn Gottes

Luther, of course, is not original in translating this way. He was a disciple of Aristotle (a scholar of aristotelian logic) before he famously renounced both the philosopher and the Pope. What his Christian German translations show, however, is that the abstracting of humans continued to be a part of Luther's practice.

Translation is bias, if you will. It's certainly the subjectivity that Aristotle failed to rid his world of with his method of logic. But to pretend that translation is coldly objective, especially translation of the text of a particular people not your own, is highly problematic.

Fourth, I'm out of time, but want to end with a couple of paragraphs of Elie Wiesel as translated by Marion Wiesel (from his French into her English [with my gendering marks]). I don't think I'll be able to translate any more of Hebrews, especially the Joshuas part, until we read this (from Messengers of God: Biblical Portraits and Legends):
The Jew is haunted by the beginning more than the end. His messianic dream [and hers] is tied to the kingdom of David and he [with her] feels closer to the prophet Elijah than to his next-door neighbor [who might be her neighbor too].

is a Jew? Sum, synthesis, vessel. Someone who feels every blow that ever struck his [and her] ancestors. He [and she] is crushed by their morning and buoyed by their triumphs. For they were living men and women, not symbols. The most pure, the most just among them knew ups and downs, moments of ecstasy and confusion; we know, for they are described to us. Their holiness was defined within human terms of reference. Thus the Jew remembers them and sees them as they were at the crossroads of their own lives: troubled, exalted, marked. They are human beings: people, not gods. Their quest rejoins his [and her] own and weighs on his decisions [and hers]. Jacob's ladder rends his nights [and hers]. Israel's despair burdens [her solitude and] his solitude. He knows [as she does] that to speak of Moses is to follow him to Egypt and out of Egypt. To refuse to speak of him is to refuse to follow him. (pages xii - xiii)

At the foot of the mountain, shrouded in fog, the children of Israel wept. And all of creation wept. And in his sorrow, Joshua forgot three hundred commandments and acquired seven hundred doubts. And the bereaved people, blinded by grief, wanted to tear Joshua to pieces for having succeeded Moses, the saddest and loneliest and the most powerful prophet of Israel and the world. (page 204)

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