Friday, January 29, 2010

Translating Names

In the previous post, I began thinking about our generally Western (especially Aristotelian) idea and practice that a name and naming contains and limits.  Names in the West tend to close down meanings rather than to open up meanings.

In this post, all I really want to do is to show how two Bible translators try to open up meanings around names.  In the next post, (to be named "translating Peter") I'll attempt to get at how a Bible writer is translating, is naming, and is opening up meanings (and I'll aim for opening up meanings by my own translation of his translation).

In this post, the two translators featured are Willis Barnstone and Ann Nyland.  Remember, Barnstone and Nyland are both trying to translate so that the words and the names in the New Testament do not close down meanings.  Barnstone is after restoring the Jewish meanings lost in Christianized transliterated names.  And Nyland is trying to open up the Greek words and names to meanings in the sources prior to the New Testament.

Let's take a look at Barnstone's then Nyland's respective translations of what we name as "verses" of the "Bible" in the "gospel" of "Matthew":  "Matthew 16:15-19." And let's also consider their footnotes on these verses.  In Barnstone's translation, he's trying to show where the text became christianized, something his second footnote gets at.  In Nyland's translation, she's attempting to get at the meaning of the Greek name for an Aramaic name but how the Greek name contrasts in meaning with another Greek word the writer of the Greek text uses.  Reproduced below is what the two translators do and say (as each is concerned about the practices of earlier English translators around the names).

     15But you, who do you say I am?
16Kefa, called Shimon Kefa, “You are the mashiah, the anointed, the son of the living God.”
17Yeshua answered him, saying,
     You are blessed, Shimon bar Yonah.130
     It was not flesh and blood that revealed to you this vision,
     But my father who is in the skies.
  18And I tell you that you are Kefa the rock
     And upon this rock I will build my church, 131
     And the gates of Gei Hinnom will not overpower it.

130. Barjonah, son of Jonah from the Greek Βαριωνᾶ (Bariona), from the Hebrew יוֹנָה בר (bar yonah). Some have suggested a secondary derivation from the Hebrew יוחנן בר (bar yohanan).

131. The Greek words ἐκκλησία (ekklesia) and συναγωγή (synagogue) mean an “assembly,” “gathering,” or “congregation,” and both words can refer to “synagogue.” However, ekklesia (except in the Septuagint Greek version of the Hebrew Bible) is normally translated church, while synagogue is the common word for “synagogue.” Here, in Yeshua’s prophecy, the intentional futurity of “I will build my church” is contrasted with the old Jewish tradition represented by Gei Hinnom, the Hebrew word for “hell.” Yeshua’s dramatic message is that he will build on a rock the new church that will overcome the old synagogue, and that Christian heaven will overcome Jewish hell. In his lifetime there was no Christian church, and Yeshua preached in the synagogues. For the observant Jew to say that he would “build a church” is an anachronism, revealing not his voice but that of churchmen many decades later when a Christian church as a building and institution did exist. The superimposition of later terminology, theology, and history on the figures of Yeshua and his followers remains the essential dilemma of the New Testament.
     15 “But you – who do you say I am?” he asked.
     16 Simon Peter answered, “You’re the Anointed One, the Son of the living God.”
     17 “You are a blessed person, Simon Bar-Jonah!” Jesus exclaimed. “This wasn’t revealed to you by human beings but by my Father in the heavenly places. 18 I certainly say that you are Peter, the stone, and I will build my assembly upon me, the rock,1 and Hades’ gates will not triumph in an encounter with my assembly!

1 In the Greek, the “this” refers to Jesus, not Peter. He is playing on words. “Peter,” ὁ πέτρος, ho petros, is the Greek word for “stone” and ἡ πέτρα, he petra, is the Greek word for a rock, or shelf or ledge of rock, cliff or boulder, used in “upon this rock (πέτρα, petra, not πέτρος,  petros, Peter) I will build my church”. They are two completely different Greek words. See use in Eur. Medea, 28-9; Eur. Andr. 537; Soph. OT, 334ff. However, some (dating to back [sic] Tertullian in the third century) argue that the two words here have the same meaning. Much earlier than Tertullian, the Shepherd of Hermas states that Jesus is the rock.


John Radcliffe said...

Hi JK,

I'm puzzled. Ann Nyland translates (my brackets):

"I will build my assembly upon [me,] the rock"

and adds the footnote:

"In the Greek, the 'this' refers to Jesus, not Peter"

I completely fail to see any basis in the Greek for this contention. As I see it, the Greek may suggest that the "rock" (feminine) on which Jesus is to build differs from the "stone" (masculine) that is Peter, but I see nothing "in the Greek" to identify what the "rock" might be if it isn't Peter.

Some have suggested that Jesus could hardly have given Simon, a male, a feminine name, and so had to use the nearest masculine equivalent. But as we're probably dealing with Matthew's translation of Jesus’ Aramaic into Greek, it’s possible that in the spoken Aramaic Jesus used the same word for both Simon's new name and the foundation, and it’s Matthew, not Jesus, who introduced the distinction. (Of course, I know no Aramaic at all, as against a trifling amount of Greek, so I wouldn’t know if this assertion is true.)

So am I missing something?

Jay Seidler said...

Interesting to think about the qahal/knista/synagogue/ekklesia that Jesus had in mind. What were the similarities and differences of Jesus' new assembly that was to invade the gates of Gei Hinnom to the ones existing in that society.

J. K. Gayle said...

Hi John,
Wonderful points! Yes, Barnstone is quick to show that Matthew is translating, and by doing so is changing (adding his own voice to) what Jesus spoke. The more interesting thing you get to, I think, is the question of the grammatical differences in the word Matthew chooses (whether Jesus made distinctions or not), with respect to gender. You're a bit ahead of my posting another translation which tries to deal with some of that. Nyland speculates Jesus as the referent to the second of the Greek nouns (not the name "Peter") based on the Shepherd of Hermas's interpretation, I suspect. Too bad in her footnote, her last English word doesn't show exactly which Greek word is in that later text. Do you know? Or has anyone reading this found it? I'll look later, if not.

Yes, it is fascinating. Barnstone is clearly suggesting that Matthew or even likely some later editor(s) of his text is taking it all in a post-Jewish Christian direction. Thanks for adding the Hebrew, but especially the Aramaic, that we don't see in Barnstone's rendering or footnote. You get us to that problematic question of "the original" and of "the author's intent" and now of "the translator's intent." If I have time today, I'll try to deal more with this in another post.