Tuesday, August 23, 2011

adding to the narrative complexity: pissed off bloggers and egalitarians and feminists and Bible translators

 “The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off.”
– Jesus

Oh, sorry.  The truth is that my attribution for this quotation above has added to the narrative complexity.  I guess I'll blog a bit further then.  The quotation, in truth, really sort of goes something more like this:

Then Yeshua [aka Joshua] said to the Jews who believed in him,
  If you remain with my word,
  Then you are truly my students,
  And you will know the truth
  And the truth will set you free.

You see, in the very same gospel, in the very same chapter, Jesus [aka the Jewish Joshua, aka Yeshua] had done something. He had already begun to add to the narrative complexity.

He had self-identified, by his actions, by his word too, as an egalitarian.   He had regarded his audience with respectfulness and had called them disrepectful.  Notice, he could have called them sexist. And he could called himself a feminist.

You see, his audience of men had caught a woman in the act of adultery, had brought her alone to him, and were hoping to catch Jesus being soft on her.  They had already accused him of being “emotional,” “erratic,” “self-righteous,” “snarky,” and “out-of-line.”  The whole truth of all of this really pissed him off.  They were treating a woman not as an equal.  But rather than calling them “man-first sexists,” he called on them to disrespect themselves first, to cast the first stone at their own sins first.  Later, his disciples stayed with his word, which is one of those words I've already quoted above here.  Since my blog audience is so big and sometimes some of the readers are so easily offended, let me not repeat them here again.

Let me just suggest that Jesus was talking like a feminist.  I think we can safely say, in quotation marks to be sure, it was the egalitarian feminist Gloria Steinem who, noticing the disrespect of many sexists, said:

 “The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off.”

I myself am playing with these words in a blogpost because I just saw how Rachel Held Evans does too.

And Rachel adds to the narrative complexity.  Let me explain.  She discusses how her blogging has changed, how she's gained her voice and has begun to stand up for egalitarianism and against disrepect.  I'm going to say she stands up like a feminist (depending on who her audience is) and stands against sexists (since there are some in the blogosphere even).  So she gives credit not only to Gloria Steinem but also to “women like Margaret Feinberg, Christine Caine, Carolyn Custis James, Mimi Hadaad, Elaine Storkey, Phyllis Tickle, Lauren Winner, Kathleen Norris, Nancy Ortberg, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Mama Maggie Gobran” and to “women of valor” such as “Marta, Andrea, Elana, Cinda, Janet,” and “Lilet.”  Rachel has also thanked “men like John Stackhouse, Scot McKnight, Brian McLaren, Tony Campolo, Jim Webb, John Ortberg, our husbands, our fathers, our brothers, our pastors, and our friends.”

And so this brings up another issue:  Jesus, like Rachel, thanks many others.  At least he shows his gratitude, his belief in those around him, his fore-trust of his students anyway.  There's an adding to the narrative complexity.  Here's what I mean by that.  It's almost as if he's counting on feminists, like Gloria, and egalitarians, like Rachel, to do what they do.  Just as he's spoken up for the woman so alone in the accusation of adultery, the disciples of Jesus speak up for him.  One way some of them have done this is not only by “remaining in his word” but also by translating his word.

Here's the way Rachel, civil as heck, uses her words to advise choosing words:

Depending on our audience, we may want to use the word “disrespectful” instead of “sexist” or “egalitarian” instead of “feminist.” There’s no need to turn people off with words that may be misunderstood.

I'm sure the earliest of students of Jesus got that, sort of.  They got how he didn't always go on a full-out assault of his enemies.  For example, here's the way his student, John, a self-identifying Jew discussing his fellows, re-ported and re-presented and trans-lated what Jesus said originally; notice how he chooses his words when rendering the words of Jesus into a language of world-dominating non-Jews:

ἔλεγεν οὖν ὁ Ἰησοῦς πρὸς τοὺς πεπιστευκότας αὐτῷ Ἰουδαίους·
  ἐὰν ὑμεῖς μείνητε ἐν τῷ λόγῷ τῷ ἐμῷ
  ἀληθῶς μαθηταί μου ἐστε
  καὶ γνώσεσθε τὴν ἀλήθειαν
  καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια ἐλευθερώσει ὑμᾶς.

Now, to be sure, the truth of the matter is that this written Greek of John's has been translated countless times into written English.  I particularly like the way Willis Barnstone renders the gospel Greek (as Hebraic Hellene) into Poetry.  If you haven't already guessed, the English verse you read above is Barnstone's recognition and representation of the Greek as verse.

At one point in the narrative of the woman and of Jesus, Barnstone makes a remark, in a footnote, about John's wording to translate what Jesus said.  Barnstone says:

The Greek is sparse and needs no fleshing out, saying word for word, “The blameless you [gen.] first at her throw stone.”

In verse, in our English, that goes this way:

  The one among you without sin
  Let him first cast a stone at her.

And Barnstone, now the poet-translator of the poet-translator and the narrator's new narrator, after he's noted the real sparseness of the rendered speech, adds another footnote to the story:

[John] 7.53 - 8.11 is not in early manuscripts and is thought to be an addition.  Although an interruption in the flow of Yeshua's debate in the Temple and whether authentic or spurious, it still adds to the narrative complexity.


Kristen said...

It is interesting that in that passage where Jesus said, "the truth will set you free," the very next things he said pissed off the listeners completely. "You are of your father the devil," for instance. And then "Before Abraham was, I am." That was when they picked up stones to kill him. So it looks as if what Jesus said and what Steinem said really were pretty much along the same lines.

J. K. Gayle said...

Thank you very much, Kristen. For anyone who's looking for the source texts, Steinem is quoted in the Telegram & Gazette article, "Steinem Still Waging Battle against Discrimination," Nov. 15, 2006, Worcester, MA. Jesus is quoted in the gospel of John, chapter 8.