Saturday, February 16, 2008

Jesus Is an (Inaccurate) Simultaneous Translator

I am before the American people today through no inclination of my own but because of a deep-seated conviction that the country at large does not know the extent to which lynch law prevails. . . . I can not believe that the apathy and indifference which so largely obtains regarding mob rule is other than the result of ignorance of the true situation.
--Ida B. Wells

Eight Negroes lynched in one week. . . Nobody in this section of the country believes the old thread-bare lie that negro men rape white women. If Southern white men are not careful they will overreach themselves, and public sentiment will have a reaction. A conclusion will then be reached which will be very damaging to the moral reputation of their women.
--Ida B. Wells

Sometimes I will half jokingly say to [my Philosophy 101 students] as they hand me their tests after an exam, "Did you believe what you wrote?" And they all smile. Because they know that the important thing is not to believe what you write but to write the “right answers.” And unfortunately that is a very encapsulated way of indicating what happens when we lose truth. When we lose truth, there's nothing left but conformity.
--Dallas Willard

Ida B. Wells and Dallas Willard were born 73 years apart. She’s an African American woman; he’s a Euro American man. And they both have the same concern that truth is lost without belief.

But if we talk with Wells or Willard a little longer, if we take time to slow down, to sit down, and to sip with them some Earl Grey tea and really listen, then we may just hear something more. Neither is insisting, legally or philosophically, on anything mechanistic. They’re not only wanting “accuracy” lest there be “inaccuracies.”

No, no, no. It’s “Truth,” yes. With belief, of course! And it’s the condition of the human embodied. You yourself have one, remember? Touch your face, then excuse yourself for a moment to believe what you see in the mirror. And then come back for more, to talk, to listen:

Rape of women. Lynching of negroes. Writing of vacuous right answers with a sheepish smile on one’s face.

So we, friends, broach the subject of translation. And accuracy. Remember how Kenneth L. Pike started his monolingual demonstrations? And how he ended them? He started by reminding us the whole affair of social intercourse might fail. He began by insisting only two things of the one with whom he’d speak: that they use their language only (not his), and that they’d be friendly. Pike wanted to listen to that person in her body, not to Aristotle’s fool-proof and accurate logic all over again. So he ended his demonstrations with a poem (not logical prose) for you and for me. We also could listen, in our bodies, profoundly. Truth, yes. Belief, of course. Something deep inside our flesh and bones, amen and amen.

So we, friends, broach the subject of translation. And accuracy. Accuracy’s not just Aristotle’s cold dis-embodied game. No, Robert Funk and the “Jesus” seminar play the game too. Those words that the canonized four of the church say were Jesus can no longer be believed; they’re not accurate. I’m not saying the color-coded Funky English translation isn’t beautiful but that it’s lost truth.

So we, friends, broach the subject of translation. And accuracy. Joshua (aka Jesus) was a simultaneous translator. He says he only spoke the words he heard from the sky, in his body standing on the earth. And he depended on a woman to convey his words about that body torn and emptied that stood up again after three days of being deep down. He didn’t have a concern for her accuracy but for the belief of men and women in their bodies, where they stood on this earth. (Check the epigrams below if you don't believe me.)

So we, friends, broach the subject of translation. And accuracy. The irony of the “Jesus” seminar is that they really are accurate, in a sense. But they say only 20% of the words of Jesus we think we’ve heard are his. But won’t we agree that 0% of the words of Jesus are “original”? That 100% of what we get from him we get in an unholy tongue, penned by translators none of whom ever went to SIL?

So we, friends, broach the subject of translation. And accuracy. When the stakes aren’t so high, when we’re just playing Plato’s academic games, when we’re talking about “rhetoric,” then we might relax a bit more. So what if we find one of the leading experts on Greek rhetoric today concerned with accuracy and precision in his translation of one of the leading experts on Greek rhetoric way back then? The “so what” is that the leading expert way back then was so unlike Ida B. Wells. No, I don’t mean that Aristotle was not a woman, and not black skinned, and not from the natural class of slaves, and not uneducated in the elite schools, and not a barbarian. I mean that he was not a translator, he was not one who could hear others in their bodies as they spoke believable truth. Or else he might have had to change himself, to come down, and to sip a cup of Earl Grey tea with them.

This may just be an epilogue for a series around Translation: 6 or 7 “Logical” Cases. But do catch the epigraphs below, if you can hear with ears and see with eyes and believe in your body:

Ἦσαν δὲ Ἑλληνές τινες ἐκ τῶν ἀναβαινόντων ἵνα προσκυνήσωσιν ἐν τῇ ἑορτῇ· οὗτοι οὖν προσῆλθον Φιλίππῳ τῷ ἀπὸ Βηθσαϊδὰ τῆς Γαλιλαίας, καὶ ἠρώτων αὐτὸν λέγοντες, Κύριε, θέλομεν τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἰδεῖν. ἐρχεται ὁ Φίλιππος καὶ λέγει τῷ Ἀνδρέᾳ· ἐρχεται Ἀνδρέας καὶ Φίλιππος καὶ λέγουσιν τῷ Ἰησοῦ. ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἀποκρίνεται αὐτοῖς λέγων, . . .
ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐὰν μὴ ὁ κόκκος τοῦ σίτου πεσὼν εἰς τὴν γῆν ἀποθάνῃ, αὐτὸς μόνος μένει· ἐὰν δὲ ἀποθάνῃ, πολὺν καρπὸν φέρει.

Now there were certain Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast; these therefore came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip came and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip came, and they told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, saying, . . .
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

--John, Jesus, certain Greeks, Philip, Andrew, King James, certain other translators

So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive.
--Audre Lorde

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