Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Letter's Literary: A Personal Translation

In this post, I try my hand at translation of a book of the Bible, though I'm no Bible translator. I'm working my way through the Greek, as the host language; my English is the guest. The interlation (i.e., Greek and English side by side) below is to show the personal, the embodiment, the word play (i.e., wiggle room and playfulness in language). If Willis Barnstone attempts to recover the Hebrew senses lost in the Jewish gospels of Yeshua and in Israel's Apocalypse of Yohanan, I'm hoping to restore some of the Greek senses (for instance, the allusion to the gods in the names, such as Timothy and Epaphras). (With the English, especially the punctuation and name choices, I do confess "taking liberties," as Iyov once put it. For instance, the letter is redesigned as a memorandum; and Paul is Smally -- I just couldn't use either Pee Wee or Tiny, as those two names are infamously claimed.) I would appreciate any feedback from others, especially those who are more experienced translators, those who would have disagreement with my translation, and anyone amused by it in any way.

I'm trying, here, to translate Philemon for these few reasons:

1) It's the only book I can work through quickly to consider its whole start-to-finish context (though that itself is within the first century Roman imperial context, which looks back to various waves of Greek influence).

2) The "book" really is a letter. It is "someone else's mail" - as theologian Richard B. Hay calls Paul's first letter to the Jewish, Christian Greeks in Corinth; and that makes you and me "eavesdroppers." In Kenneth Pike's theory, then, we are principled "etic" observers, outsiders who will change the text and be changed by it, depending on whether and how we go in.

3) The little letter is highly rhetorical, and John Hobbins constantly brings attention to the rhetorical (even when he translates into English Matthew's Greek translation of a sermon of Jesus; more on Hobbins' translation in a moment, with a link to it).

4) As rhetorical and epistolary on the specific issue of slavery, Paul's letter is ambiguous in a number of different ways:
a) first, it is a letter that became a scriptural proof-text for both sides in the U.S. Civil War;
b) second, though a mere letter, it uses principles of rhetoric to make a strong argument (i.e., it delays the main point -- the freeing of the slave Onesimus and even the identification of who the letter is about -- until after the principle disputer, Philemon, has been reasonably won over by enthymeme and epideictic).
c) third, the ambiguous, rhetorical letter on slavery is applicable to other issues such as hermeneutics around whether a husband must be lovingly "over" a wife who must submit;
d) fourth, the ambigous rhetorical letter applicable to many question of human equality is literary (i.e., the proper nouns play with common nouns poetically, semantically; the incidence of chiasmus is frequent; and the implied touch of Paul's chained hand to the paper adds a splash to the poetic punch.)
Now, before jumping right in, I'll mention another huge problem right off the bat. By calling Philemon a letter but by translating it also as literature, we're mixing categories. Logic might say:

premise 1 - letters do not equal literature.
premise 2 - Philemon is a letter.
conclusion - Philemon does not equal literature.

And we could go on like that more, for to translate in a literary fashion something that is not literature is not logical. Not only it is illogical to call letters literature, but it's also unreasonable to use literary translation principles on a epistolary text. (Rather, we might more rationally use Formal Equivalence OR Dynamic Equivalence).

Peter Kirk makes this point in a comment on Elshaddai Edward's post, "Is it time for a new translation acronym?":
I would deny that of much of the Bible, in any meaningful sense of the word “literary”. The Gospel of Mark, for example, is not literary in style, nor in intent; the only meaningful sense in which it is literary is that it has been considered so by some literary critics, judged as if it were literary and found wanting. Similarly, Paul’s letter to Philemon is not “literary” but a personal letter. So, to use the term “literary translation” for Bible translation seems to imply either the false assumption that the original is literary or, in violation of Lingamish’s principle [i.e, "A literary translation will not be literary in ways that the original is not"], an attempt to distort a text which was not originally literary into a translation which is.
So I'd like to go back to the N-dimensionality of language, that Kenneth Pike talks about. Language is not so logical as, well, syllogistic logic. Language's categories (despite all Noam Chomsky's helpful theorizing) do not have the government and binding of "either/or" binary features manifesting in the performance of deep structure grammatical competence, if you'll allow the repetition of the jargon. Aristotle might like that if Chomsky would just translate his theory back into Hellenistic writing. Pike reminds us again and again: Person Above logic.

So now we can mention again John Hobbins' translation of Matthew 23. Note Hobbins' perspective on a sermon (i.e. a discourse with "hortatory" features): he calls it literary. And I say, if it fits as Matthew's Greek translation of Jesus's Hebrew Aramaic sermon within the context of Matthew's Greek gospel within the context of a multilingual multicultural first-century Israel, then why not allow "literary translation" of the literature. Barnstone flat out calls Matthew's gospel literature (while not denying its prosaic qualities, which he says most English and most Christian translations reduce the text to).

And note how Sir Philip Sidney writes The Defense of Poesy. How ironic that he must use rhetoric and Prose to defend Poetry. Why not use Poesy (i.e. Poetry)? And could poetry prove the worth of rhetoric and of prose too? Of course! Again, it is we the people writing and reading and speaking and listening who see the various qualities (sometimes ironic, sometime
unintended by the author) as various letter or literature, poetry or prose, formally equivalent or dynamically equivalent or literarily equivalent.

So here is Philemon, first in the original Greek (with some re-formatting -- it's my poor html that doesn't quite do what I want), and second in a kind of original English:

1 Παῦλος δέσμιος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ
καὶ Τιμόθεος ὁ ἀδελφὸς

Φιλήμονι τῷ ἀγαπητῷ καὶ συνεργῷ ἡμῶν
2 καὶ Ἀπφίᾳ τῇ ἀδελφῇ
καὶ Ἀρχίππῳ τῷ συστρατιώτῃ ἡμῶν
καὶ τῇ κατ' οἶκόν σου ἐκκλησίᾳ

3 χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ
4 εὐχαριστῶ τῷ θεῷ μου πάντοτε μνείαν σου ποιούμενος ἐπὶ τῶν προσευχῶν μου 5 ἀκούων σου τὴν ἀγάπην καὶ τὴν πίστιν ἣν ἔχεις πρὸς τὸν κύριον Ἰησοῦν καὶ εἰς πάντας τοὺς ἁγίους 6 ὅπως ἡ κοινωνία τῆς πίστεώς σου ἐνεργὴς γένηται ἐν ἐπιγνώσει παντὸς ἀγαθοῦ τοῦ ἐν ἡμῖν εἰς Χριστόν

7 χαρὰν γὰρ πολλὴν ἔσχον καὶ παράκλησιν ἐπὶ τῇ ἀγάπῃ σου ὅτι τὰ σπλάγχνα τῶν ἁγίων ἀναπέπαυται διὰ σοῦ ἀδελφέ 8 διό πολλὴν ἐν Χριστῷ παρρησίαν ἔχων ἐπιτάσσειν σοι τὸ ἀνῆκον 9 διὰ τὴν ἀγάπην μᾶλλον παρακαλῶ τοιοῦτος ὢν ὡς Παῦλος πρεσβύτης νυνὶ δὲ καὶ δέσμιος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ 10 παρακαλῶ σε περὶ τοῦ ἐμοῦ τέκνου ὃν ἐγέννησα ἐν τοῖς δεσμοῖς Ὀνήσιμον 11 τόν ποτέ σοι ἄχρηστον νυνὶ δὲ καὶ σοὶ καὶ ἐμοὶ εὔχρηστον 12 ὃν ἀνέπεμψά σοι αὐτόν τοῦτ' ἔστιν τὰ ἐμὰ σπλάγχνα 13 ὃν ἐγὼ ἐβουλόμην πρὸς ἐμαυτὸν κατέχειν ἵνα ὑπὲρ σοῦ μοι διακονῇ ἐν τοῖς δεσμοῖς τοῦ εὐαγγελίου

14 χωρὶς δὲ τῆς σῆς γνώμης οὐδὲν ἠθέλησα ποιῆσαι ἵνα μὴ ὡς κατὰ ἀνάγκην τὸ ἀγαθόν σου ᾖ ἀλλὰ κατὰ ἑκούσιον 15 τάχα γὰρ διὰ τοῦτο ἐχωρίσθη πρὸς ὥραν ἵνα αἰώνιον αὐτὸν ἀπέχῃς 16 οὐκέτι ὡς δοῦλον ἀλλ' ὑπὲρ δοῦλον ἀδελφὸν ἀγαπητόν μάλιστα ἐμοί πόσῳ δὲ μᾶλλον σοὶ καὶ ἐν σαρκὶ καὶ ἐν κυρίῳ 17 εἰ οὖν με ἔχεις κοινωνόν προσλαβοῦ αὐτὸν ὡς ἐμέ 18 εἰ δέ τι ἠδίκησέν σε ἢ ὀφείλει τοῦτο ἐμοὶ ἐλλόγα

19 ἐγὼ Παῦλος ἔγραψα τῇ ἐμῇ χειρί ἐγὼ ἀποτίσω

ἵνα μὴ λέγω σοι ὅτι καὶ σεαυτόν μοι προσοφείλεις 20 ναί ἀδελφέ ἐγώ σου ὀναίμην ἐν κυρίῳ ἀνάπαυσόν μου τὰ σπλάγχνα ἐν Χριστῷ 21 πεποιθὼς τῇ ὑπακοῇ σου ἔγραψά σοι εἰδὼς ὅτι καὶ ὑπὲρ ἃ λέγω ποιήσεις 22 ἅμα δὲ καὶ ἑτοίμαζέ μοι ξενίαν ἐλπίζω γὰρ ὅτι διὰ τῶν προσευχῶν ὑμῶν χαρισθήσομαι ὑμῖν
23 ἀσπάζεταί σε Ἐπαφρᾶς ὁ συναιχμάλωτός μου ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ
24 Μᾶρκος Ἀρίσταρχος Δημᾶς Λουκᾶς οἱ συνεργοί μου

25 ἡ χάρις τοῦ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ μετὰ τοῦ πνεύματος ὑμῶν

1 Smally -- A Chained Prisoner of Anointed Joshua
and God Guy -- A Brother
Buddy – Our Loved-One and Co-Worker
2 and Loveless – Our Sister
and Horseman – Our Co-Warrior
and the Entire Group Called to Your House, Buddy
3 Favor and Peace
God – Our Father
and Joshua Anointed – Our Master

4 Blessed favor goes to my God when my memories of you, Buddy, are made vivid in my prayers. 5 I keep hearing about your love – and your belief, which you hold in your possession before Master Joshua – for each one made supremely special. 6 So I’m praying that your partnership in belief is actively birthed – in the expansive knowledge of everthing that’s good in each one of you – for our Anointed One.

7 What I hold in my possession is joy, and much of it -- not to mention a call from beside you to be encouraged – and that’s all because of your love Buddy. And that love through you, Brother, refreshes the supremely special ones to their gut-level core. 8 Now, much of what I hold in my possession – from the Anointed One – is boldness: a boldness to order you to do the right thing. 9 Through love, there’s much more: a call to you alongside, to encourage you, Buddy. This is Smally here, the old guy; and now I’m even a chained prisoner of Anointed Joshua. 10 I’m beside you, calling you around now to my child -- the one I birthed in my chains -- I’m talking about Handy. 11 He’s the one who was useless to you once, but who is now -- to me and to you -- very useful in the most blessed ways. 12 He’s the one I’m sending back to you, Buddy. He’s my gut-level core. 13 He’s the one I had been counseled to hold in possession for myself, so that you, Buddy, could serve me in these chains of that Blessed Announcement to the World.

14 Apart from your knowing all about it, though, I didn’t have any wish to make a single move. I did wish that -- by no obligation -- there’d be that goodness of yours, rather by your own free will. 15 Perhaps, in fact, he was apart from you an hour, so to speak, so that for ages to come you’d hold him in your possession -- 16 no longer as a slave -- rather, as above a slave: a loved brother -- especially to me -- but so much more to you, Buddy, not only in the flesh but also in the Master. 17 If you hold onto me now as a partner, then take him back as you’d take me. 18 If, however, he’s committed some injustice, or has a debt, against you, then state that on my bill.


I will repay so that there’s no statement of your debt, Buddy: that you owe me your own self. 20 Yes, Brother, I myself need something handy from you as you’re in the Master: refresh me to my gut-level core in the Anointed One. 21 Persuaded by how you’ve heard me before, I’m writing to you now, Buddy, seeing once again that you’re going to go above and beyond to make good on this statement. As you’re doing that, please get a guest room ready for me. 22 I’m expecting, in fact, that the requests each one of you is making will bring favor to you all.

Aphrodite’s Guy – my co-inmate in Anointed Joshua
24 And my co-workers – Warrior, Valorman, PopulaceMan, and Lukan

The favor of the Master – Joshua Anointed


Anonymous said...

Good choice. See Stephen Levinsohn's Non-Narrative manual where he talks extensively about Philemon:

I've blogged about Philemon and its connection to Colossians.

And Michael Kruse has talked ad nauseum about family vocabulary in the NT including Philemon.

J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks! Wish I'd seen Levinsohn's stuff, and Kruse's, and Lingamish on Philemon first. But you three confirm many of my translational moves. Not that the moves are all mine; they are NOT: I owe much to my other teachers on language and on the Greek language and on rhetorics and on feminisms.

The Levinsohn stuff I have 3 problems with: 1) the "banana beer and marijuana" made my head spin; 2) "SELF-INSTRUCTION MATERIALS
on NON-NARRATIVE DISCOURSE ANALYSIS" leaves me LONELY and NEGATIVE; 3) Levinsohn's interlinear gloss reminds me of Walter Benjamin's "third language" (i.e., theoretical language, like an IPA for the phonetician) of a translator.

I love your posts, especially on Kurios and on Seeing Double.

Anonymous said...

What's the difference between 1 Timothy and Philemon? Levinsohn's nonnarr explains it nicely:

2.4 Deductive versus inductive reasoning and instruction versus persuasion

Bob MacDonald said...

Brilliant - you're back! Tov

J. K. Gayle said...

Bob, you are always such an encourager! a sheynem dank