Thursday, September 17, 2009

When Sheep Don't Need Sex: More Wordplay in Matthew

Below is my translating of Matthew's storytelling and translating.  I've put in brackets the original Greek words that translate some of the original Hebrew words along with those even more original Hebrew words.  Of course, the spoken language Matthew translates mostly was probably Hebrew Aramaic; and yet not all of this story is spoken language, is it?  (Suzanne gets us listening to the words of Syriac Aramaic in a related post.)

The protagonist of Matthew's Greek story and translation is the protagonist who questions the readings of his antagonists.  There is text in this oral story, then.  The word for "reading" in Greek, of course, is a play on the word for "knowing"; it literally means to "know from above."  The protagonist knows some of the high holy Hebrew scriptures from God above, and he quotes a bit of it back to the antagonists.  They seem hung up on how he reads the Torah Law, and how it relates to the healing of a mortal human being.

With my translating, what I'm trying to show is Matthew's clever wordplay, his poetry perhaps, and his rhetoric really.  Observe the contrasts and interplay between the words for God, for mortal humans, and for sheep.  This wordplay starts in verse 3 perhaps and really in verse 8.

Observe:   we get from Matthew neither the sex of the sheep nor the gender of the mortal human whose hand is healed.

This post is following on a few others earlier, which I've linked here.  Unfortunately, most of the discussion around Matthew 12 so far has ignored the beginning of Matthew's story and the start of his wordplay there.

Here goes:


1  At that time, during Sabbath [Σάββατόν / שַׁבָּתֹ], Joshua [Ἰησοῦς / יְהוֹשֻׁעַ ] went through the grainfields.

Then, his apprentices were hungry and were beginning to pluck and to eat the stalks.  2 Then, the observing Separtists [Φαρισαῖοι /פרושים ] said to him:
Look at what your apprentices are doing.
This is not to be done during Sabbath [Σάββατόν / שַׁבָּתֹ].
3 Then, he said to them:
This is not known by your reading [ἀν-έγνωτε], is it?  What you’re saying is not known by your reading of what David [Δαυίδ / דָּוִיד] did when he was hungry, is it?  4  Or how he, and those with him too, went into the house of God [οἶκον τοῦ θεοῦ /בֵּית אֱלֹהִים], and ate the showbread of the presence [ἄρτους τῆς προθέσεως /לֶחֶם]?  This is not to be done by him?  Nor by those with him?  This is not to be done if not by the Priests [ἱερεῖς / הַכֹּהֲנִים] alone?
5 What you’re saying is not known by your reading [ἀν-έγνωτε] of Torah Law [Νόμος / תֹּורָה] either, is it?  During Sabbath [Σάββατόν / שַׁבָּתֹ] the Priests [ἱερεῖς / הַכֹּהֲנִים] in the Temple [ἱερος / הֵיכַל] defile Sabbath [Σάββατόν / שַׁבָּתֹ] and are innocent [ἀναίτιος /נָקִי], right?
Here, then, is a statement for you all:
6 “What’s greater than the Temple [ἱερος / הֵיכַל] is here.”
7 If you, then, had known [ἐγνώκειτε] what this is --
“It’s mercy I wish for and not sacrifice.”
[Ἔλεος θέλω καὶ οὐ θυσίαν
/ כִּי חֶסֶד חָפַצְתִּי וְלֹא־זָבַח]
If you, then, had known [ἐγνώκειτε] what this is -- then there should not have you’re your judging condemnation [κατε-δικάσατε] of the innocent [ἀναίτιος /נָקִי].
8 The Master of Sabbath … is the offspring of a mortal human
[τοῦ Σαββάτου … ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου
/ אֱנָש.ׁבַר … שַׁבָּתֹ]
9 Afterwards, he went from there into their Synagogue [συν·αγωγή / עֵדָֽה].

10 So observe:

There was a mortal human [ἄνθρωπος] who had a mangled hand.

They asked him about it - making this statement -
Is it to be done? 
to heal during Sabbath [Σάββατόν / שַׁבָּתֹ]?
They asked him this in order to accuse him.

11 Then he said to them:
Among all you mortal humans [ἄνθρωπος] there is someone who has just one sheep [πρόβατον ἕν / כִּבְשָׂה אַחַת קְטַנָּה].  Should it fall during Sabbath [Σάββατόν / שַׁבָּתֹ] into a pit, would that someone not grab it and lift it out?
12 How much more, then, would you carry a mortal human [ἄνθρωπος] than you would a sheep?
Thus, it is good [καλῶς / טֹוב] during Sabbath [Σάββατόν / שַׁבָּתֹ] to do this.
13 That’s when he made this statement to the mortal human [ἄνθρωπος]:
Put out you hand
 [Ἔκτεινον τὴν χεῖρά σου / שְׁלַח יָֽדְךָ]

And the hand was put out there, and it was restored, healthy as the other one.

14 So, the Separtists [Φαρισαῖοι /פרושים ] left and took council together to destroy him.


Dan said...

Congratulations on avoiding any male references to the crippled human. You did it better than I thought could be done, without even using 'it' except for the sheep (which is even neuter in the Greek).

John Radcliffe said...

I like it. (Somehow little touches like "So observe" in v10 just brighten my day. Perhaps I just need to get out more.)

I think something is definitely lost in v11 when "what human being among you" becomes simply "which of you", especially as a "human being" reappears in v12. On the other hand, coming up with something that sounds like nature English is quite tricky (using "man" twice as older versions do just won't do today). Perhaps:

11 He said to them, "Wouldn't any person among you who has a sheep that happens to fall into a pit on the Sabbath simply take hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value, then, is a person than a sheep! Consequently, it is proper to do good on the Sabbath."

Can I ask for clarification at a couple of points?

(1) I take "What is greater" in your translation as being definite. Is that intentional? I mean, rather than "Something greater" (or trying to retain the word order and its emphasis: "When compared to the Sanctuary, something greater is here!"). Again I think something is lost if we translate "Someone …". (Even if I take his point to be that the One to whom the Temple is dedicated is "greater than" it. Quite a thought!)

(2) In v8 doesn't the lack of the article before "Lord" and its presence before "Son" suggest that the latter is the subject rather than the other way round?

So (trying to keep the word order and its emphasis): "For the one who is Master of the Sabbath is the Offspring of Humanity" (Or: "For Master of the Sabbath is who the Offspring of Humanity is"; more simply: "For the Offspring of Humanity is Master of the Sabbath")

* * * * *

Off topic somewhat, here's another anthropos passage that I find instructive:

"A woman, when she is in labour, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world." (John 16:21, New King James)

I was pleasantly surprised to find the NKJV "gets it right" (the KJV, of course, had "man" in the generic sense), especially as this seems to be the only place in the entire Bible where it uses the term "human being" (with the plural never appearing at all).

Here a lot is lost by putting "that a child has been born", as some translations do. The NET Bible gets it right, but then spoils things with this footnote: "Grk 'that a man' (but in a generic sense, referring to a human being)", which seems to implies that anthropos could be other than generic. Even more unfortunate is that similar footnotes are strewn throughout its NT footnotes.

Bob MacDonald said...

Kurk- thanks again - what seems important to me in your careful work and Joel's is the exposing of questions that translation has to address. Equally, the repetition is vital - in this case it is one human standing up against the traditional answers to questions of Torah. How do we read and remember the Scripture? Do we simply not think about it? And how about those priests in the temple! And what is greater than the temple but the sanctuary of flesh that stood among them then and builds itself in bodies of flesh by the Spirit now as then? Your detail translation suggests that the answer to every question (of what is greater) is not necessarily 'Jesus' in the abstract.

J. K. Gayle said...

Dan, John, and Bob,
Many thanks for the kind words. Thank you also for thought provoking questions. I'll be thinking about them for some time, and hope to reply soon.

John, You've actually inspired a post here. But I'm out of time for now and must say more later.

J. K. Gayle said...

John & Bob -
You both brought up Luke's comparison (i.e., the "greater than" statement in v 6). The nature of the comparison is an important question. Please let me respond to that, and then also consider v. 8, which you highlight John, which to me in not unrelated. Both statements (i.e., v 6 & v 8) are extremely important because they foreshadow the key comparison made in v 12 - that comparison between "work" during "Sabbath" to rescue a sheep and to heal a mortal human.

The Greek genitive in all verses is key, isn't it? That might sound a little technical, but I'm taking liberties as a reader. What I mean by that is, regardless of what a Greek grammarian such as Aristotle might teach, there can still be a punny aspect to language. Luke may not have intended to have us 21st century readers make comparisons between his three comparisons - at least not around the genitive - but I think if he saw our analysis (how it sounds to outsiders), then Luke might just agree with how we're looking at it.

The salient phrases, respectively, are these:
(v6) τοῦ ἱεροῦ
(v8) τοῦ σαββάτου
"ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου" - a frozen phrase
(v12) ἄνθρωπος - the play on the frozen phrase
(Notice also Matthew's repetition of the verbs ἐστιν / ἔξ-εστιν, even right through these three statements of comparison).

... continued

J. K. Gayle said...

(... continuation of the previous comment... )

So the main contrast in v 6 seems to be with the earlier statement about the "priests IN the Temple" - or οἱ ἱερεῖς ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ. I almost put for v 6 "Someone greater" - you're correct, John, that that loses something :) ! But I think Matthew is not specifying, and is therefore requiring the reader and the listener (the translator perhaps) to supply "Something" or "What's" The effect is that Jesus's statement is a good bit vague, and requires everyone else to interpret. The effect is not unlike the effect of his parables, one of which he tells very shortly. Bob, I absolutely love your hermeneutics here: of course it must be "the sanctuary of flesh" a growing embodied Temple (not abstract at all). Your interpretation is very reminiscent of John's explanation of Jesus's quizzical statement "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days": "But the temple Jesus spoke about was his own body." (Jn 2.19,21)

So then there's v8, a comparison without the comparative "greater" (i.e., μεῖζόν). Matthew's translation of the words of Jesus read like a classic metaphor. I put in the ellipsis to signal some awkwardness or hesitation. John, I agree with you that the definite article isn't needed with Master, but the troubling thing about the construct here is how the rigidity of the frozen phrase (i.e., "the offspring of the mortal human") gets interrupted -almost melted - by the genitive phrase "of the Sabbath." For some parallelism in English (and so I could elide the definite article before Sabbath), I fronted the article before Master. Really, I'm wanting (again) to signal that Matthew's statement (a Greek written translation of spoken Aramaic) is both unclear and ambiguous, a bit awkward.

Finally, the big comparison made in v 12. Again, there's the genitive. But this climax is marked. First, the comparative "greater" (i.e., μεῖζόν), isn't needed because of the comparative "how much more then" (i.e. Πόσῳ οὖν). Second, the copula ἔξ-εστιν is postponed, shifted to a later, the very next and conclusional, statement. We readers, then, are confronted with the clause - διαφέρει ἄνθρωπος προβάτου. It's such a parallel to ἐστιν τοῦ σαββάτου ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου. Verb, N1, N2. However, here in v12, the verb's one of those comparative transitive verbs. Pardon the pun, but this verb "carries" a double load, not only a "mortal human" but also "a sheep." Matthew's already had Jesus have the Pharisees establish the value of the sheep. The mortal human, therefore, is of at least the same worth. And, in conclusion, says Jesus, in Matthew's Greek: Ὥστε ἔξεστιν τοῖς σάββασιν καλῶς ποιεῖν. This conclusion is brilliantly sandwiched right between Jesus's address to the Pharisees as sheep valuing mortal humans and his address of the mortal human with the mangled, withered hand. Brilliant. Sorry to go on and on, but I do think the story telling and translation into Greek by Matthew is just brilliant. Thanks again for your comments!

Divine_Contemplative said...

All very interesting. I never really thought of anaginosko as coming from "knowledge from above;" rather, I understand it as "knowing again;" written material serves as a record and memory aid, so I never considered any implication from the spatial meaning of ana.

I also never considered the connection of anthropos in those two stories. Most certainly, though, it serves as a connection between the two. The connection I've always noticed is the more obvious link of Jesus granting anapausis from the strictures of the Pharisees, strictures that affirm the Law's goodness while denying to show the basic humanity that God delights in.

Perhaps anthropos was used in reference to the one healed specifically to solidify the connection with the previous passage, rather than for any other purpose.

Personally, I'm not sure that the "person with a withered hand" episode is meant to specifically convey that humanity has a greater value than a sheep (or cattle in general). Such a thing should be so axiomatic that it needn't require teaching.

Rather, here's how I see how it fits into the larger context:
Plucking Grain on Sabbath: Rest 1
Withered Hand: Rest 2; Healing 1
Chosen Servant: Healing 2
Jesus and Beelzebul: Rest 3; Healing 3

By this "rest" theme, I am referring to eleutheria from the hard-heartedness (and heavy-handedness) of the Pharisees. The healing theme is self-evident.

I realize that even if this is a valid structural analysis, it doesn't negate the possibility of other legitimate lessons within specific episodes.

What are your thoughts on this thematic connection? Matthew loves threes, I know.

J. K. Gayle said...

Gary, Thanks for the overview you've given. My thoughts are that you're on to something, that Matthew is stringing together his various episodes so that the one I've blogged on here can't be reduced to some message of valuation of humans with respect to sheep. I do think that the authority of Jesus with respect to the challenging authority of his opponents is a big part of what Matthew's hoping to establish.

On the prefix ana-, my reading is that it can be ambiguous but has a strong spatial / directional meaning in the range of meanings. This was the problem for John's Greek-speaking Nicodemus in John 3. "Born again," for what John wrote is a lesser translation if you ask me. John's Jesus is using all kinds of directional (up and down) terms. And αν-ωθεν seems a nice counterpart to εσ-ωθεν and at least half a dozen other *-ωθεν locative words. So there's where my play on Greek reading as "above knowing" comes from.