Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Barnstone on "Yeshua"

Rich Rhodes wants to show the limits of marrying naturalness to foreignness in an English translation. His naturalness. But the foreignness of the language of archaic Jews (not Christian, not contemporary, not field-tested to sell in the church). So he translates "using [Willis] Barnstone’s idea of making the translation sound more Jewish, especially in the names."

Rhodes assumes that the Jewish-account in John-the-Jew's Jewish-Greek translation of the Jewish-Aramaic conversation between a Jewish-Joshua and a Jewish-Simon-ben-Yohanan does not already sound "more Jewish." He is assuming also that just now the Jew named "Barnstone is surprised to discover what serious Christians already know — that Jesus is Jewish" and therefore, if Barnstone is Jewish (not Christian as Rhodes is), then it must be rather this Jew's (or the Jews' if anybody's) "responsibility to fix the historical alienation of the Jews by our theological forebears [i.e., Christian men of Rhodes' own powerful religious family]." "[A]nd," Rhodes pledges - as if all of the sudden free from his Western Christian patriarchy and its perpetual dominance over minorities such as Jews - "I’m unwilling to hold my translating captive to that problem."

Barnstone has grappled, yes as a Jew, (and as a Hebrew and Greek and Chinese and Spanish and Polish and Russian and German and French and Romanian and Arabic and English language and literary and translation scholar) with foreignness. And with naturalness.

It was his conversation with Jorge Luis Borges (in Spanish over many decades) that led him to see how foreignnizing the Christian translation of "Jesus" was. The Christian translations had foreignnized the Jews of the New Testament (over many centuries). At the time, he began thinking about what might change if especially the four gospels, written by Jews, would be recovered in translation as less alienating of the Jews who first translated these Jewish stories. What if Jesus was one of the more common, less-marked people named "Joshua"? Oh, but that would be scandalous, to mark him a Jew and not the very uniquely named one of the Christians. By the time Barnstone succeeded with his translation (acclaimed by Jews and Christians alike - in the literary world especially), he had decided that "Jesus" sounded not only more like "Joshua" but that he also really sounded archaic, as from a shtetl within which the residents' names always sound old and foreign

- not like the names of the majority of us who live contemporary lives right here (where our language is natural, as field tests by linguists show, and as not-just-Christmas sales of Bibles in the West confirm).

Here's how that sounds in The New Covenant:
15So when they had breakfasted, Yeshua said to Shimon Kefa,

Shimon son of Yohanan, do you love me
more than they do?

Shimon said to him, Yes, lord, you know that I love you.”
Yeshua said to him,

Feed my lambs.

16He asked Shimon a second time,

Shimon son of Yohanan, do you love me?

Shimon said to him, Yes, lord, you know that I love you.”

17He said to Shimon son of Yohanan for the third time,

Do you love me?

Kefa was hurt that he had asked him for the third time, “Do you love me?”

And he said to him, Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you.”

Yeshua replies,

Graze my sheep.

And he said to him, 18"Amen, amen, I say to you,"

When you were younger,

you fastened your own belt

and walked about where you wished.

But when you grow old

you will stretch our your hands

and another will fasten your belt

and take you where you do not wish to go.


John Radcliffe said...

Hi JK,

Just a couple of quick points in passing:

"especially the four gospels, written by Jews". Now I always thought that Luke was in fact the only non-Jew to pen part of the New Testament.

I do wonder why, if the NT writers apparently considered it OK to use Greek versions of Hebrew names when writing (indeed "Paul" and "Peter" even do it with their own names), we should consider it unacceptable to use "naturalised" English versions of such names in English translations. So, for example, why "Kefa" rather than "Petros" or even "Peter"? Of course, if one is translating the Greek into Hebrew, it would be natural to use Hebrew names, but that's not what we're talking about, is it? Aren't we talking about translating into English? Of course, I fully admit that when reading the Scriptures there is indeed some loss of connection between "the OT Joshua" and "the NT Jesus", but isn't that a different issue, and one easily footnoted?

Personally, if someone is going address me using their own language's naturalised version of "John" (if it has one), I'm not going to take offence (at least not if I know that's what's going on); I might even be flattered. On the other hand, I didn't like it when, some years ago, someone I knew took to calling me "Jonathon", as if John was a short form of that. I pointed out that I didn't like it because they were in fact completely different names, although both originally Hebrew.

Now I'm sure that worldwide people use many different forms of the name Yeshua / Joshua / Jesus / etc, but I greatly doubt that the Person named takes offence. So who am I, or you, or anyone else to insist that people give up a form of the name that they may hold dear, or to suggest that they are using it to deny his "Jewishness"?

Kind regards,

J. K. Gayle said...

Dear Yohanan aka John but not Jonathan, :)

Barnstone answers your wonderful questions so much better than I. Do you have his translation with commentary?

On Luke, he quotes John Shelby Spong at length: "the Episcopal bishop asserts that 'The Gospels are Jewish Books' (title of chapter 2 [of Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes]. He notes that although Christians have been educated to deny that the New Testament is a Jewish book, 'the Gospels are Jewish attempts to interpret the life of a Jewish man' (20) and 'in a deep and significant way, we are now able to see all of the Gospels are Jewish books, profoundly Jewish books' (36). He observes that the gospels were written by four Jews (Mark, Matthew, John, and Luke, a convert) about Jews. The bishop goes on to confess his own worldwide, Christian-prejudiced education with regard to the gospels: 'How was it that one whose name was Yeshuah or Joshua of Nazareth, whose mother's name was Miriam, could come to be thought of in history as anything but a Jew? . . . Not only did I not understand that Jesus was Jewish, but it never occured to me to assume that his disciples were Jewish either. I could not imagine Peter, James, John and Andrew as Jews, to say nothing of Mary Magdalene and Paul' (25-25)."

I'm out of time making this comment at this moment. You ask such good questions about Kefa vs Petros. If you have the Barnstone commentary with his translation, there's rationale there for these moves. I'm with you that Joshua has much more play (of course than Jesus or) than Yeshua. But let's keep talking if you like. Have to run, sorry.

John Radcliffe said...

I don't have a copy of Barnstone, nor do I know much about JSS. In the latter case, what I have come across hasn't impressed me much, and what you quote here simply adds to that negative impression. To be honest, I'm simply astounded that anyone (let alone a bishop) could say that at some point they hadn't realised that Jesus or his disciples were Jewish! I just don't see how anyone with even the most basic knowledge of the Bible could come out with such a statement.

Personally, the idea that "Christians have been educated to deny that the New Testament is a Jewish book" sounds a bit too much like a conspiracy theory. Of course it does depend on what one means by "a Jewish book". If we mean it is only intended for Jews, then, as a non-Jew, I would strongly disagree (and indeed would say the same about the Hebrew Scriptures too). But if by "a Jewish book" one means one written (almost exclusively) by Jews, within a Jewish historical and religious context, about someone who was (and still is!) a Jew – then of course it is, and I've never heard anyone deny the fact.

I'd love to discuss names further but, like you, I'm short of time.

The car is booked on the boat for Friday morning (ready or not), so I'm well into one part of holidays that I definitely dislike: sorting out what needs to be done before going, deciding what to bring and what to leave, and finally trying to get all of the former into just one small car along with my mother and everything she needs / wants to bring. My laptop is definitely going (for my photos), as is my pocket PC, and probably my mini computer as well (as that's what I now use most as my "Scripture resource"). It seems ridiculous to be taking three computers, but the truth is that I'd rather bring something and not need it than leave it behind and wish I had brought it. The book list is just about sorted, again largely on the basis that if I bring enough to keep me going for two weeks, the weather will be good and they won't get read, but if I assume little reading time, it will rain the whole time, and I'll be frustrated with nothing to do.)

So Scotland here I come. But I look forward to playing catch-up here when I return.

J. K. Gayle said...

Ha! I love the way you pack, John. And I'm absolutely delighted that you'd share that here! Before I say bon voyage, let me also thank you for sharing your impressions of Barnstone and his quotations of Spong and for reflecting on the implications. I'll confess I'm not a huge fan of Spong, but it seems in how Barnstone quotes him that his childhood was profoundly one of a non-Jewish, more Christian-only Jesus and friends. My childhood too was like that. Southern Baptist Sunday School and Royal Ambassadors and Training Union every week in Vietnam, then in the Bible belt USA, then in Indonesia - for me - had "Jêsus Christ" not anyone Vietnamese but the one distinctly Aryan-white with blue eyes; "Jesus" "Christ," in the USA, for me was sold as the ticket from hell (not entirely Jewish concepts either one, I now think); and "Yesus Kristus" is the Dutch or American or Sumatran Batak antithesis to "Muhammad" whose "Al Qur'an" of "Allah" counters by saying, No, he's the Holy Prophet "Isa" whom the Jews, of course, rejected.

Hope your holidays are wonderful! bon voyage!

Rich Rhodes said...

My late father would have fallen over laughing to hear that he comes from a "powerful Christian family". I'm highly sensitized to matters of institutional oppression. (I've worked with Native Americans my entire professional life.)

But you are not tackling the inherent contradictions of the act of translation head on. Since it is an act of foreignizing the original to translate at all, there will be blood. Someone will be short-changed. That balancing act can't be held accountable to political correctness. Accept the fact that you are a white, Anglo-Saxon male, and don't apologize for it. (This doesn't preclude sensitivity, even outrage, at injustices past, but don't fall prey to the guilt trip.)

J. K. Gayle said...

Blood, Rich? You've inspired me to listen again to "Indians on Translation."