Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Encomium of Arlen Specter, Mark C. Taylor, David Plotz, and Helen

Arlen Specter, Mark C. Taylor, and David Plotz have abandoned their own and have, according to their own kind, run off with the enemy. (Yesterday, we read how Specter dumped his political party for the other; how Taylor systematically trashed his American University system for a proposal sounding as foreign as the film Gung-Ho, and how Plotz rejected reading The Good Book as his fellow Jews would [i.e., "Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, or none of these, every Jew who is not totally alienated from his people"] for the practice of reading "the Hebrew Bible as you'd peruse the newspaper.")

They sound like Helen, don't they? I mean Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore of whom Bettany Hughes writes and remembers so beautifully. Remember, Helen abandoned the Hellenes and ran off with Alexander and the other non-Greek Trojan men.

How could Helen be praised? How could she be defended for her defection? And how now Spector, Taylor, and Plotz?

Hughes gets us thinking about the "how"s of rhetoric:
When, in Ancient Greece, the rhetorician Gorgias stood up and delivered his 'Encomium of Helen' (a defence of Helen of Troy's indefensible character) - this was a great joke. How can you laud the most sluttish femme fatale of all time? But the rhetoric also got people thinking - maybe, just maybe the skilled speaker had a point.
Can we listen, and think? Why, oh why, why, why why would Helen (the most beautiful woman in the world) abandon the men, the Hellene men, who had her first?

Here's a little of the answer: the joke, the reasoned rhetoric, the poetry (the confessed word-play of Gorgias), and a good part of it even rhymes:

ἢ γὰρ τύχης βουλήμασι
καὶ θεῶν βουλεύμασι
καὶ ἀνάγκης ψηφίσμασιν
ἔπραξεν ἃ ἔπραξεν,

βίᾳ ἁρπασθεῖσα,
λόγοις πεισθεῖσα
ἔρωτι ἁλοῦσα
. . . .

πῶς οὖν χρὴ δίκαιον ἡγήσασθαι
τὸν τῆς Ἑλένης μῶμον,
ἥτις εἴτ' ἐρασθεῖσα
εἴτε λόγῳ πεισθεῖσα
εἴτε βίᾳ ἁρπασθεῖσα
εἴτε ὑπὸ θείας ἀνάγκη ἀναγκασθεῖσα
ἔπραξεν ἃ ἔπραξε, πάντως διαφεύγει τὴν αἰτίαν

Rosamond Kent Sprague translates these words as beautifully with:

For either by will[ed decision] of Fate
and [willed] decision of the gods
and vote of Necessity
did she do what she did,

or by force reduced
or by words seduced
or by love possessed.
. . . .
How then can one
blame of Helen as unjust,
since she is utterly
acquitted of all charge,
whether she did what she did
through falling in love
or persuaded by speech
or ravished by force
or constrained by divine constraint?

Plato, of course, can't stand it. So he writes his own play, the dramatic dialogue we call "The Gorgias" in which the central character is this slick sophist named Gorgias playing with words and taking money for it right out in public. But in this play of Plato, in which he plays with words all on his own, Plato has his teacher Socrates calling Gorgias out. Gorgias is the defender and praiser of the defecting defective woman - saying she may have been in "love." But the man Gorgias is just a "word lover," as vulnerable as Helen. In Greek, love is ἔρωτι /eroti/. This word plays (in Greek) with Plato's own play on words, the philosopher's neologism: ῥητορικῆς /rhetorikes/. Plato's Socrates gets Plato's Gorgias shamelessly to confess that what he's doing is "rhetoric" - something as filthy as "erotics." So, do we notice the hypocrisy of Plato? By putting words in the mouth of Gorgias, he actually invents here the word "rhetoric."

But we digress - isn't wordplay fun?

Now, French rhetorician Laurent Pernot explains:
Gorgias undertakes to excuse her by arguing that... she [Helen] could only have done so [run off with a non-Greek man] for one of these four reasons: (1) she obeyed the gods' commands; (2) she was carried off by force; (3) she was persuaded by speech; (4) she succumbed to love.
What Pernot (or perhaps our translations of Gorgias) fails to mention is that Helen, according to Gorgias, is worthy of praise for her decision. She's not just a passive damsel or a some-how compelled defector. No, she's also the master of her own destiny. She's a dissident. And men don't like it one little bit. The patriarchy is threatened. (Which brings up entirely different questions about whether and how Spector or Taylor or Plotz should be praised.)

Luce Irigaray gets at the questions of change, profound change, and who best might be the agents for such:
Patriarchal culture is a culture founded upon sacrifice, crime, and war. It lays upon every man the duty and the right to fight for food and shelter, to defend his possessions, and his family [even his women in and around his family] and [his] country as possessions. A decision about war from the patriarchy is necessary at this point but it will fall far short of providing cultural mutation. . . . Men are always plunging deeper and deeper into exploitation and plunder--without understanding very well why. Men go out in search of something they imagine they need without questioning who they are and the relationship between what they do and their identity.

To address such failures of understanding, I believe that the race of men needs the help of persons whose function would be to promote self-understanding among men and to set limits. Only women could fill this function. Women do not belong to the patriarchal culture as fully responsible subject. Hence they have the potential to interpret this culture in which they have fewer vested interests and involvement than men and in which they themselves are not so much products of the system as to be blinded by it. . . . Furthermore, women are not, in principle, supposed to be in hierarchical relation with men. All other minority groups are caught up in such hierarchies. And it is with a completely patriarchal, unconscious or cynical condescension that politicians and theoreticians interest themselves in such minorites and exploit them, with all the risks of the possible reversals of the master-slave relations. --Sexes and Genealogies, pages 186, 87.
Jane Stranz got me rereading Irigaray yesterday when she quoted her and then quoted Grace Jantzen quoting her:

"Love of God ... shows the way. God forces us to do nothing except become. The only task, the only obligation laid upon us is: to become divine men and women, to become perfectly, to refuse to allow parts of ourselves to shrivel and die that have the potential for growth and fulfilment."
--Luce Irigaray, Sexes and Genealogies

"According to Irigaray the wisdom that women and men in the postmodern world most require is the wisdom of becoming divine, without which we 'shrivel and die'."
--Grace Jantzen, Becoming Divine.

In light of the praise of Helen by Gorgias and the agency of women within the patriarchy where we find ourselves (as noted by Irigaray), Jane's quotations do offer men and women hope. Notice how a woman (unlike either the man Plato or the man Gorgias) is able to see love and God and words (without force) as agencies for change. If there is force, it is never forcing, and it is never war or abduction or abuse or rape.

If I were like Gorgias, I might ask you to pay me for this post and any cleverness therein. If I were like Plato, I might be a hypocrite by criticizing another for doing the very thing I was doing in my critique of him. If I were going to try to teach wordplay and poetry, to get students to overcome difficulties, I might have them look for examples (even in this post) of what George Steiner calls "epiphenomenal" or "tactical" or "modal" or "ontological" difficulties. If I were going to try to change the world myself, to abandon my own kind for the opposers, I think I might consider (more than the "telling strategy," more than the "forcing strategy," and even more than the "negotiating strategy") what Robert E. Quinn classifies as the self "transformation strategy."

I'm thinking instead about some fragmented (perhaps final) lines of Sappho's poem on Helen:

εὶ μεν ἴδ]μεν οὔ δύνατον γένεσθαι
λῷστ᾽] ὀν᾽ ἀνθρώποις, πεδέχην δ᾽ ἄραστηαι,
[τῶν πέδειχόν ἐστι βρότοισι λῷον]
[ἢ λελάθεσθαι.]

And about Anne Carson's even more fragmented translation of them:

]not possible to happen
]to pray for a share

I think by now you may have figured that I really do think some change is needed. I think by now you may also have figured out that I have enough on my plate for myself. I think by now you may have considered even that I'm not going to praise or criticize, to defend or denigrate, Specter, Taylor, Plotz, or even Helen. Are you?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Test Your Fair Pay 'Cents'

Today is Equal Pay Day in the USA.

Q. Why today, already 116 days into the year? (And why Tuesday?)

A. "The day, observed on a Tuesday in April, symbolizes how far into the year a woman must work, on average, to earn as much as a man earned the previous year. (Tuesday is the day on which women's wages catch up to men's wages from the previous week.) Because women earn less, on average, than men, they must work longer for the same amount of pay. The wage gap is even greater for most women of color."
--National Committee on Pay Equity


1. In 1963, when the Equal Pay Act was passed, women made ___¢ on the dollar compared to men.

a. 59¢ b. 63¢ c. 74¢ d. 81¢

2. Today that figure is ___¢ on the dollar compared to men.

a. 85¢ b. 91¢ c. 72¢ d. 78¢

3. Black women earn ___¢ on the dollar compared to white men.

a. 65¢ b. 69¢ c. 85¢ d. 87¢

4. Hispanic women earn ___¢ on the dollar compared to white men.

a. 59¢ b. 52¢ c. 72¢ d. 82¢

5. Over a lifetime, how much less will women earn than men?

a. $550,000 b. $700,000 c. $1,200,000 d. $2,000,000

6. Under the Equal Pay Act, employers cannot pay women and minorities less than white men with the same qualifications for doing the same job.

True False

7. Under the Equal Pay Act, plaintiffs are entitled to compensatory and punitive damages if their employer has violated the law.

True False

8. Women make up __% of the American labor force today.

a. 38% b. 42% c. 44.5% d. 46%

9. What is pay equity?

10. What is the legal status of pay equity?

11. How large is the wage gap?

12. Why is there a wage gap?

13. Hasn't the wage gap closed considerably in recent years?

14. Is it possible to compare different jobs?

15. Who really needs pay equity?

16. Is pay equity an effective anti-poverty strategy?

17. Will the wages of white men be reduced if pay equity is implemented?

18. Will achieving pay equity require a national wage-setting system?

19. Doesn't pay equity cost employers too much?

20. Are wage inequalities the result of women's choices?

21. Will implementing pay equity disrupt the economy?

22. What is the status of efforts to achieve pay equity?

23. What can I do about pay equity?

24. What does the first bill signed into law by President Obama (the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act) do?

25. What does the opposition say?

Check your answers:





Indulging Our Fiction Persistently

The conditions on the slave ships--in which thousands died crossing the seas--the treatment slaves often received, and, in a special way, slavery based on skin color, cannot just be passed over. For complex reasons still debated by historians, Englishmen, continental Europeans, and Americans indulged in the fiction that the black [hu]man was not a person and could therefore be treated as a thing. This fiction covered their hypocrisy. Actually they harked back to Aristotle's definition of a slave as a living tool. . . .
--Francis A. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live, page 114, 1976

Record numbers of blacks and Hispanics are earning diplomas, but the disparity between their salaries and those for Anglos in the workplace is bigger than it has been in almost a decade, according to census data [in the USA] released Monday. "The lesson of most economic downturns is minorities are the last hired, first fired," said Roderick Harrison of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.
--Hope Yen, "Census: Racial disparities in higher-paying jobs persist," Fort Worth Star-Telegram, page 1, Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Monday, April 27, 2009

more, like God: women speak

This is an update of an earlier post like God: women speak.

Suzanne has complete her series with McCarthy vs Wallace 4, McCarthy vs Wallace 5, and McCarthy vs Wallace 6. And her important observations in You shall love your .... complement well today's post by Linda Jones on Christianity and charity.

Hugo Schwyzer (a "pro-feminist" and "Christian" and "feminist" and man) returns to new postings today, engaging the following questions of women and men with faith and feminism:
A reader named Mercy (I have a few with that pseudonym, it seems) writes after participating in this discouraging discussion at Christianity Today. Mercy, a young committed evangelical, youth leader, and feminist, asks in an email
How do you deal, as a Christian feminist, with Christians who seem to still believe women are an after-thought of creation, who deny any feminine qualities of God, who think that because birth control wasn’t accepted by a church until 1930 it’s still evil….I could go one and on, but how do you do it? How do you reason with these people? How do you make them see you’re not a pagan, not renouncing Christ, etc, etc.? How do you live your beliefs?
And here's from Nancy Mairs:

"As my husband has often said, when you talk about Jesus, you reveal little — maybe nothing — about Jesus but a great deal about yourself."

"... as the Mexican American theologian Virgilio Elizondo puts it, that 'the role of the powerless is to evangelize the powerful.' A reviewer of one of my books once took me to task for accepting the tenets of feminist and liberation theology merely on faith, as though one could not possibly, after long contemplation and appraisal, continue to affirm them. But God's preferential option for the poor — expressed at least as far back as Isaiah's cry for the protection of widows and fatherless children — rings true to the Christian ethos. I must accept it, both on faith and on reflection, and act upon it if I am to carry out God's will. And in the tale of a dark-skinned peasant carrying to the conquistadores for their veneration the image of a dark-skinned Lady who promised her compassion to all humanity (even, I must suppose, the conquistadores) lies a model of the care I am, I believe, required to give."

A Dynamic God, pages 109 and 31.

Reading Anointed in Greeky Hebrew

Yesterday our pastor preached a brilliant sermon (on the ways Moses changed and matured) the text of which was Hebrews 11:24-26:

24By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. 25He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. 26He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. (NIV)

Today I want to look at other things in and around the text:

--> especially the ways the early writers and / or editors and / or translators liberally (or "progressively") change this text to increase the play in it (and by "play" I mean both "playfulness" and also interpretive "wiggle room");

--> but how the Christian Bible translators seem to want to do the opposite.

Here's Greek for comparison:

24Πίστει Μωϋσῆς μέγας γενόμενος ἠρνήσατο λέγεσθαι υἱὸς θυγατρὸς Φαραώ, 25μᾶλλον ἑλόμενος συγκακουχεῖσθαι τῷ λαῷ τοῦ θεοῦ ἢ πρόσκαιρον ἔχειν ἁμαρτίας ἀπόλαυσιν, 26μείζονα πλοῦτον ἡγησάμενος τῶν Αἰγύπτου θησαυρῶν τὸν ὀνειδισμὸν τοῦ Χριστοῦ, ἀπέβλεπεν γὰρ εἰς τὴν μισθαποδοσίαν.

Immediately, the reader is transported back to Egypt to ask questions.

There's the daughter of Pharaoh (θυγάτηρ Φαραω) in Hebrews 11:24; and she's lifted right out of Exodus 2:5 & 2:6 & 2:7 & 2:8 & 2:10 in the Greek translation of the Hebrew. That is, this "Hebrews" text points in reverse to an earlier Jewish-Greek translation of the traditional masoret Hebrew text, playfully named "Exodus" (i.e., the Odyssey-like "Way Out of Egypt"), commissioned and completed in Egypt. In Egypt, professor Sylvie Honigman of Tel Aviv University points out, the commissioned Hebrew translators render their old text in the "Homeric paradigm." And, as we're looking back to how the writers and/ or editors and/ or translators of the "Epistle of Hebrews" writes in Greek, Jared Calaway, at his blog Antiquitopia, lets us see and hear the Homeric play - through the first or second century right up to our own.

What we're beginning to question is whether Christian Bible translators work in this paradigm (i.e., the paradigm of Homeric play of the Hebrews). Or is the paradigm of Christian Bible translators more typically aristotelian? Aristotle, by logic of course, wanted to avoid ambiguities in Greek. The text was to lock down the meaning and was to say the one thing that the original author intended and nothing else.

As the reader reads the text above in English translation, an initial question is whether the text points forward to the future. To a precise point. And how far forward into the future? And whom and what might the text be pointing forward to? The quick and precise and unambiguous and objectively obvious answer must be: "to the Christian Christ." But we may be resorting to aristotelianism again - as if that's "translation." And we're getting a little ahead of ourselves, aren't we? So back up from now. Let's back up from "Jerusalem, and all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" when such a remote spot focuses on a place such as bible-belt USA, where non-Hebrews here and now (the majority the population I dare guess) claim "The Book of Hebrews" as a text for Christians alone despite the fact that most Jews can rightly reply, "You can have it!"

Back in Egypt, there's this new King of Egypt (not necessarily Φαραω but certainly the monarch put there in Alexandria after the city is named after Alexander the Great who, we have to add, learned under Aristotle in the aristotelian paradigm). And there, but in the Homeric paradigm, in the Hebrew play with the Greek text in Egypt, this newer King is like the Pharaoh of old who interacted with Moses. Except he must interact with Hebrews who are translators of Moses. As the writer(s), or editor(s), or translator(s) of the epistle of Hebrews quote from these earliest translators, we wonder whether they sensed any fear in those first translators - but we have little doubt that they sensed anything but the proof of belief and the lack of fear in Moses. They write:

27Πίστει κατέλιπεν Αἴγυπτον, μὴ φοβηθεὶς τὸν θυμὸν τοῦ βασιλέως, τὸν γὰρ ἀόρατον ὡς ὁρῶν ἐκαρτέρησεν.
27By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king's anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.

The reader immediately notices something and someone hidden. Perhaps more than one somebody missing. Yes, the invisible God. Yes also the hidden daughters. For all the repetition given to this daughter of Pharoah (Exodus 2:5 & 2:6 & 2:7 & 2:8 & 2:10) and for all of the recognition given to her, the text never gives her name. We know her because her name is invisible and unspoken and she acts like God: she saves the dying, the male, the Hebrew, the son. And she alone gives him his name. The name she gives translates into Hebrew wordplay: משה - the Egyptian Mosheh punning playfully on the agency of his Egyptian MaMa אם who Mercifully delivers him משה from the Muddy Ruddy Bloody Murderous waters מים - as if out of the womb and out of the lips of the Egyptian mother and midwife and princess christener and nurse provider.

In the old Greek text (that Hebrew translation done back in Egypt as "Exit Odyssey" or Exodus 2:11), Moses grows up: μέγας γενόμενος Μωϋσῆς. In the new Greek text (as Hebrews 11:24), the transition seems as abrupt: Μωϋσῆς μέγας γενόμενος. By the new text, the reader is carried back but is simultaneously thrust forward to a midrash-like analysis of an entire episode of the old story. An entire complex narrative turns on one little clause: ἠρνήσατο λέγεσθαι refused to be known. In the old story, the grown boy becomes a witness to injustice and murder and flees the scene. In the new text, he becomes the son of a mother no longer and is faithful to another.

At least this is how most English Christian translations of this text lock down the story.

It never moves forward from that.

There's the rejection of the female, a rejection of the faithful salvation by a woman of a male as if she were his very own mother and as she collaborates with other women braver than fathers and brothers (either Hebrew or Egyptian) - the baby's very own mother and sister collaborating with the princess - the incredible mix of Egyptians and Hebrews, faithful language and rhetorical naming and playful translation and ancient feminisms.

The Christian text in English rejects the feminism. So let's read more closely. Let's ask questions so that the apparent male dominance and Christian dominance of the text doesn't make it always only one thing and never ever anything else. (Yes, I know - such dominance sounds like Aristotle not necessarily anything like the Septuagint translators or the writers of Hebrews of a far different, absolutely more different in play.)

How different might the text (i.e., the Greek translation of the Greek translation of the Hebrew in the Homeric paradigm) be?

The identity "υἱὸς θυγατρὸς Φαραώ" in Greek might be translated in English as "a son of a daughter of Pharaoh." The collocation of son and daughter does not suggest an easy dominance of one over the other or even of the one purely different from the other. The collocation, in fact, syntactically mirrors an appositive - which is just a fancy way of saying that both nouns translate one another in what Mikhail Epstein might, rightly, see as an inter-lation as much as a trans-lation. And both, then, are related together to the proper noun "Pharoah" in a sense. This reading (which English translators tend to lose with "the son of the daughter of the Pharaoh") makes the contrast in the next verse very compelling.

There's more feminism (more gender inclusivity) than unmarked male-dominant sexism in Hebrews 11:25. (Long before the English bible gender debates in Chrsitianity especially, we get this inclusiveness in the Greek text of Hebrews). The identity "τῷ λαῷ τοῦ θεοῦ" in Greek is definite even in translated English: "the people of the god." The contrast of identities for the Hebrew around Πίστει is from indefinite son-daughter of Pharaoh to definite people of the Divine One. There's no necessary rejection of females or of the participation of a foreign Egyptian female. Moses, of faith (and prior to Jesus Christ and faith in him), does not lose his sonship with respect to the daughtership of the princess of Egypt. Moses is not even renouncing his lineage in the least - as Paul seems to when calling himself a Hebrew of Hebrews (of a particular tribe of the nation of Israel with a baby's circumcision to boot) while renouncing this identity "
for the sake of Christ" as we read that in English. No - Moses "a son" who is in many ways like "a daughter" of Pharaoh is also one of "the people of God." And "a daughter" like that, we read in the old text and say again, is like "the God" who saves the son. If it we're not for her, he would not have the name Moses, the wordplay name, the feminist name of a princess collaborating in translation with a few slave women.

Which brings us to another verse:

26μείζονα πλοῦτον ἡγησάμενος τῶν Αἰγύπτου θησαυρῶν τὸν ὀνειδισμὸν τοῦ Χριστοῦ, ἀπέβλεπεν γὰρ εἰς τὴν μισθαποδοσίαν.

Christians who translate tend to make the "τοῦ Χριστοῦ" here refer to "Christ Jesus" only and obviously, quite objectively and logically, to no one else. (In another post, we've wondered why the English translation has to commit what Robert Alter calls "the heresy of explanation" when referring in Greek to Ἰησοῦς - who must always and only be explained by the translator to the reader as either "Jesus" or the other guy "Joshua.") So now again the English translator finds useful Aristotle's convenient logic boxes. "Christ" is the real (if abstract) category for the "Christian" - and nothing else fits.

But the text of Hebrews pushes readers back again to the Septuagint. First, we go back to Egypt and to daughters and a son being rescued. But then the translation brings us to lyric and poetic Hebrew beyond the epic narrative "Exodus."

First, from the phrase "τὸν ὀνειδισμὸν τοῦ Χριστοῦ" to Exodus 2:3 in Greek translation and a similar clause:

ἐπεὶ δὲ οὐκ ἠδύναντο αὐτὸ ἔτι κρύπτειν, ἔλαβεν αὐτῷ ἡ μήτηρ αὐτοῦ θῖβιν καὶ κατέχρισεν αὐτὴν ἀσφαλτοπίσσῃ καὶ ἐνέβαλεν τὸ παιδίον εἰς αὐτὴν καὶ ἔθηκεν αὐτὴν εἰς τὸ ἕλος παρὰ τὸν ποταμόν.

Notice the verb, κατέχρισεν - it's what the Hebrew daughter is doing. She's anointing the basket, she's "besmearing" says translator Lancelot Brenton, and she's "plastering" it says translator Larry Perkins. And those who read Homer's epic Odyssey remember hearing this at least four times as women are doing things on behalf of others in need:

τὰρ ἐπεὶ λοῦσέν τε καὶ ἔχρισεν λίπ’ ἐλαίῳ,
ἀμφὶ δέ μιν φᾶρος καλὸν βάλεν ἠδὲ χιτῶνα,

In another post at another blog, we've read the wordplay of Hebrews into Greek. But the point we want to make here is that such play is Homeric not aristotelian. The very idea of the Greek translation that "Christ" the English word comes from is from early ancient Greek feminism. It's messy stuff of lyric of epic of women of poetics of rhetorics that Aristotle tried to avoid. It's the messy stuff that Christ-ian translators today still try to avoid.

But it's the very stuff that Hebrews writing and translating their own scriptures embraced and produced.

So, in Hebrews 11:26, the writers-translators have Greek readers turning. Turning first back to the Homeric translating of Exodus 2:3 - a daughter translating a basket into a womb. We are taken back again to the Christ-verbs (to things women do and do again) in the Odyssey. Next, Hebrews 11:26 takes us back but forward a bit.

We are now turned to and turning in the "Strummings of Strings" in the "Psalms." The salient sounds of "τὸν ὀνειδισμὸν τοῦ Χριστοῦ" have their reverberations in Psalm 89.

(The Psalm in Hebrew is more "A Maskil [מַשְׂכִּיל "wise, nationalistic song"] of Ethan [איתן 'the Enduring'] the Ezrahite [אזרחי "Native Son"]-- notice the wordplay of the Hebrew names lost but found anew in the Greek a wise, nationalistic song which in Greek is by Αιθαν τῷ Ισραηλίτῃ or literally, "Shining / Blazing, the Israelite." Bacchylides loves the word αἰθᾶν in speaking of Apollo - so why not use it for איתן, the play on אזרחי?).

Listen to the reverberations from Hebrews 11:26 in the lyric Greek, in the Greek Psalm that is of Αιθαν τῷ Ισραηλίτῃ the "Shining Israelite." Here's the song in responsive dialogue with the Lord in Greek (Psalm 89:52, echoing 89:38, echoing 89:20). Listen:

οὗ ὠνείδισαν οἱ ἐχθροί σου, Κύριε,
οὗ ὠνείδισαν τὸ ἀντάλλαγμα τοῦ χριστοῦ σου

σὺ δὲ ἀπώσω καὶ ἐξουδένωσας,
ἀνεβάλου τὸν χριστόν σου·

εὗρον Δαυιδ τὸν δοῦλόν μου,
ἐν ἐλαίῳ ἁγίῳ μου ἔχρισα αὐτόν.

Who Anoints as a Greek woman might (verse 20)? And whom is Anointed (mashach משח)? Isn't God anointing his son David?

Why is the psalmist complaining? What good is the anointing if it seems the Lord is casting it off (verse 38)?

When the enemies reproach the anointed one, won't there be remembering (verse 52)?

משיח mashiyach חרף charaph

ὠνείδισαν oneidisan τοῦ χριστοῦ tou christou

Or will all be lost in translation? In the aristotelian paradigm of "translation" that separates:

"male" from "female"
"the son" from "the daughter"
"peasant women" from "a princess"
"Moses" from "Egyptian lips"
"Hebrews" from "the kingdom of Egypt"
"Jesus" from "Joshua"
"Christ" from "feminine anointing"
"Christ" from "David"
and finally
"Christian Hebrews" from "Jewish Hebrews"

In this post, I know I'm using hyperbole, exaggeration for effect. I'm not trying to overwhelm anyone with the exhaustive possibilities of wordplay. I am wanting to show some of the unaddressed power of Aristotle's method. And to show how separating and silencing Christian translation, by its limited logic, has tended to be. And to show that aristotelianism is not what Hebrew translators (including women as agents in Hebrew narrative) tend to use. And to reassure all of us that logic is okay as long as logic is not our only human tool or our only personal language.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Listen? Look? Really?

Ἀκούετε. ἰδοὺ ἐξῆλθεν ὁ σπείρων σπεῖραι.
καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ σπείρειν
ὃ μὲν ἔπεσεν
παρὰ τὴν ὁδόν,
καὶ ἦλθεν τὰ πετεινὰ καὶ κατέφαγεν αὐτό.
καὶ ἄλλο ἔπεσεν ἐπὶ τὸ πετρῶδες
ὅπου οὐκ εἶχεν γῆν πολλήν,
καὶ εὐθὺς ἐξανέτειλεν διὰ τὸ μὴ ἔχειν βάθος γῆς:
καὶ ὅτε ἀνέτειλεν ὁ ἥλιος ἐκαυματίσθη,
καὶ διὰ τὸ μὴ ἔχειν ῥίζαν ἐξηράνθη.
καὶ ἄλλο ἔπεσεν εἰς τὰς ἀκάνθας,
καὶ ἀνέβησαν αἱ ἄκανθαι καὶ συνέπνιξαν αὐτό,
καὶ καρπὸν οὐκ ἔδωκεν.
καὶ ἄλλα ἔπεσεν εἰς τὴν γῆν τὴν καλήν,
καὶ ἐδίδου καρπὸν
ἀναβαίνοντα καὶ αὐξανόμενα,
καὶ ἔφερεν ἓν τριάκοντα
καὶ ἓν ἑξήκοντα
καὶ ἓν ἑκατόν.
καὶ ἔλεγεν, Ὃς ἔχει ὦτα ἀκούειν ἀκουέτω.
--Mark and perhaps Peter the Rock (translating for Joshua of Nazareth)

πῶς οὖν χρὴ δίκαιον ἡγήσασθαι τὸν τῆς Ἑλένης μῶμον,
ἥτις εἴτ' ἐρασθεῖσα
εἴτε λόγῳ πεισθεῖσα
εἴτε βίᾳ ἁρπασθεῖσα
εἴτε ὑπὸ θείας ἀνάγκη ἀναγκασθεῖσα
ἔπραξεν ἃ ἔπραξε, πάντως διαφεύγει τὴν αἰτίαν
--Gorgias of Leontini (speaking for Helen of Troy)

It can be all Greek to me, and yet, and still, we all can see the play.

I've bolded and italicized and formatted the bits of text above to show some of the repetition, the variation on a theme, the parallelism even across parables.

Aristotle despised such play in language. Here's why: it didn't seem true to reality.

Reality has males above messy females, logic above messy dialectic and its counterpart rhetoric, and educated natural-born Greek men above all messy bar-bar-ians or slaves. End of story.

There is no need for fables, for parables, for others' stories. There is no need to change. No need to mess up reality.

When Aristotle at age thirty seven married Pythias his first wife, he that year declared that age thirty seven is the optimum age to marry for a man. He'd gotten his "virgin," as Hesiod said to:
Take to your dwelling a woman when you are ready to marry,
Not long after your thirtieth birthday is something behind you,
Nor when you're very much older, for that is the age to get married.
See that she's four years older than puberty; wed in her fifth year.
Marry a virgin to teach her all her respectable duties.
Most of all marry a woman who lives in your neighbourhood, nearby.
Looking about you, be sure no neighbour makes fun of your marriage.
Surely a man can obtain nothing better at last than a woman
When she is good; if she's bad, there is nothing more thoroughly tiresome;
Keeping her eye on her dinner she kippers her husband however
Strong without smoke. She'll bring him unwilling to early old age.
--Work and Days (697-705, trans by Daryl Hine)
So just guess how young Aristotle's virgin was when he got her so naturally?

When Aristotle went bald early, he observed the reality that "The front part of the head goes bald because the brain is there and man is the only animal to go bald, because his brain is much the largest and moistest. Women do not go bald." And he went on to observe "Again, one quality or action is nobler than another if it is that of a naturally finer being: thus a man's will be nobler than a woman's," something the men of Sparta with their hair - their long hair - and with their ignobly free women failed to grasp.

If life changes sometimes, that's only natural. And nature from time to time will need a helping hand. Why? Well, logically because females sometimes fail in the procreative act. And their failing nature leads to female babies (which are penis-less and otherwise botched males); sometimes a defective mother having sex defectively can even lead to male offspring that's defective, to dwarfs and to other mutations. Fortunately, logic allows female infertility and animal mothers producing defective offspring to be overcome. Why, even good horsemen know this nature:

Aristotle advises, "After an interval put the horse to the mare again because the mare cannot bear it continuously." Here he's talking logically, literally: "Ἴσως δὲ μᾶλλον ἂν δόξειεν ἀπόδειξις εἶναι πιθανὴ τῶν εἰρημένων λογική [“logic”]—λέγω δὲ λογικὴν [“logic”] διὰ τοῦτο ὅτι ὅσῳ καθόλου μᾶλλον πορρωτέρω τῶν οἰκείων ἐστὶν ἀρχῶν. . . . . οὗτος μὲν οὖν ὁ λόγος [“logos”] καθόλου λίαν καὶ κενός• οἱ γὰρ μὴ ἐκ τῶν οἰκείων ἀρχῶν λόγοι [“logoi”] κενοί, ἀλλὰ δοκοῦσιν εἶναι τῶν πραγμάτων οὐκ ὄντες. He's writing here on animal sex generally (i.e., Generation of Animals) but gets into the particular realities of geometry and of fixed, unchanging nature, by logic. Logic listens to nothing else but reality, nothing but nature, as the educated Greek male (not the Spartan man, mind you) so coldly and objectively sees it.

Krista Ratcliffe, in all her wonderful work on rhetorical listening, has correctly observed that Aristotle rejected "listening" in his canons of rhetoric.

Ratcliffe's is no small insight. Which may explain why Aristotle didn't hear Gorgias (whom his teacher Plato in the dialogue "Gorgias" has his teacher Socrates disparaging as mere Gorgias the "rhetorician"). Gorgias, in real reality, rather playfully was listening to Helen, giving her lots of wiggle room as to why she'd run off with a barbarian instead of staying home with an educated Greek man. Gorgias was listening to a woman. A vulnerable mess. This is listening rhetorically. Listening with intent for very personal, very subjective implications that are prone to make you soften your heart and change. You don't necessarily need to know educated Greek to hear.

If Mark had written and translated so that Aristotle could have read, then Aristotle wouldn't have listened to this nonsense either. Aristotle didn't listen to barbarians. Aristotle didn't change nature or his own nature.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Reading Joshua in Greeky Hebrews

Is it absolutely necessary to read Hebrews 4:8 in the Greek (as perhaps once upon a time a translation of Hebrew into Hellene) and to conclude absolutely that the text must only refer to Joshua of the Book of Joshua? Sure, the verse comes right after the two quotations of Psalm 95:7. (The first quotation begins that discussion of Moses and the people unable to enter "rest" in the promise land; and the second directly precedes verse 8 of Hebrews 4.) Sure, the writer most definitely intends "Joshua" when using the Greek name Ἰησοῦς. So I'm not asking what the writer intended, or what the text directs all readers to.

Rather, I'm asking if there can't be a second meaning here. Could there be a meaning that the writer never intended at least not at first? And could there be a second meaning that all readers won't quickly get but that some might agree to? Could it be a meaning that the writer (or that the Greek translator of the Hebrew writer) would concede?

You know, we tend to think that Thomas Jefferson would concede to Elizabeth Cady Stanton that "All men are created equal" is a text that allows later readers to see that "All men and women are created equal" is a second possible meaning.

And C.S. Lewis thinks, likewise, that Plato would concede that he was writing also about the suffering and death of Jesus when he wrote about the unfair suffering and death of Socrates. (Lewis thinks that Virgil might deny he was writing about mother Mary and baby Jesus when he prophesied of a virgin birth - and yet, Lewis believes Virgil's text has this second meaning).

And readers such as Mary Daly get us seeing positive meanings in "eavesdropping" and unintended sexist meanings in "the-rapist" (once the "therapist," for example) and in "stag-nation" (first intended perhaps benignly as only "stagnation").

But would the language of the Bible, the Christian part of it no less with the Hebrews name nonetheless - would that language really ever have wordplay which racists or sexists might try to eliminate? I think the game of many male Christian Bible translators today is to "disambiguate," which means to declare for the reader that there must be only one meaning, and then to declare in the same breath what the single meaning must be. (No one often thinks that this is Father Aristotle's game too - the sexist, racist Aristotle one might add).

What I'm trying to ask also is whether translating Ἰησοῦς as "Joshua" in Hebrews 4:8 but as "Jesus" in Hebrews 2:9, 3:1, 4:14, 10:10, 10:19, 12:2, 12:24, 13:20, and 13:21 robs the English reader? Willis Barnstone thinks "Jesus" actually robs this Jew of his Jewishness and that this English transliteration of the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew actually robs Jews of this Joshua. And Barnstone, himself a Jew, is also an acclaimed Greek classicist, a brilliant translation theorist and historian, and an outstanding translator of many texts including the gospels of the New Covenant. Barnstone wonders what would happen if the world of translators, by analogy, made Socrates not Greek by transliteration and in an anti-Hellenist move then turned the world against all Greek people who are responsible for his death. That, I think, is often a bit much for anglo-centric Western Bible translators of the Christian church of this century to take in.

So I'm just asking: What's the problem for readers really when the translator is brave enough to avoid what Robert Alter calls the "heresey of explanation"? And what's the benefit if the English Christian "Jesus" in Hebrews were always "Joshua"? And might ever the reader be able to see the play when Joshua (as Jesus and / or as Joshua) can be the one(s) who did not give the people God's rest way back then?

Here's the verse, and I'd love to hear what you think:

If, in fact, they by Joshua had been given rest,
there wouldn’t ever have been another spoken of after that day.

If, in fact, they by Jesus had been given rest,
there wouldn’t ever have been another spoken of after that day.

εἰ γὰρ αὐτοὺς Ἰησοῦς κατέπαυσεν,
οὐκ ἂν περὶ ἄλλης ἐλάλει μετὰ ταῦτα ἡμέρας.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

like God: women speak

First, there's a helpful description written by Nancy Mairs of "feminine discourse" (at the end of this post).

And also there's linked here a poem "LIKE GOD (TAZRIA)" beautifully and profoundly written and spoken by the incredibly talented Rachel Barenblat after which she says,
The Hebrew word for womb is רחם / rechem; the Hebrew word for compassionate is רחמן / rachaman. Every time we call God Ha-Rachaman, "The Compassionate One," we're also subtly hinting at the existence of God's womb. (Kind of brain-breaking if one presumes that the word "God" is masculine, isn't it?) The ability to nurture new life in the womb and then bring it forth into the world is something women have in common with God -- at least on a metaphorical level.
And here and here and here is Suzanne's important series "McCarthy vs Wallace" in which she most carefully and insightfully writes explaining and exposing: "Once again, this is the level of [patriarchal hierarchy] scholarship used to keep Christian women out of leadership positions in the church."

And Gitl Wallerstein-Braun writes here to begin her essay on fundamentalist "Judaism and feminism" with a story of her own:
It was some twenty years ago, when I was summoned to meet the principal of the local ultra religious girls school attended by my four daughters. I left the meeting shell shocked by the unexpected rebuke I was given. Across the other side of the desk from me, the deadly serious young man castigated the immodest cut of the neckline of my dress.

This experience switched me on to the subversive agenda to keep us religious women in our place; from asking any questions about the disproportionate sacrifices we were compelled to make for our ancient way of life. We were denied all academic and literary stimuli. We were expected to endure the often devastating physical toll of multiple pregnancies and child births. So it dawned on me that our communal religious ethos may represent some issues other than teaching the fear and love of the Lord.
And there's Zohra Moosa, who writes here in answer of a rather logical and rather typical question of separation, of Islamic "Faith and feminism": "I was asked directly whether I found it difficult to reconcile the two, whether there were inherent tensions I had to navigate and how did I square my religion and my belief (the two were conflated in the question) with my feminist convictions."

And Asma Barlas writing again voices here that:
I do not like to call myself a feminist; yet, the label continues to stick!

The truth is that long before I learned about feminism, I had begun to glimpse a message of sexual equality in the Qur’an. Perhaps this is paradoxical given that all the translations and interpretations that I read growing up were by men and given that I was born and raised in Pakistan, a society that can hardly be considered egalitarian. Yet, the Qur’an’s message of equality resonated in the teaching that women and men have been created from a single self and are each other’s guides who have the mutual obligation to enjoin what is right and to forbid what is wrong.

But, then, there are those other verses that Muslims read as saying that men are better than women and their guardians and giving men the right to unfettered polygyny and even to beat a recalcitrant wife. To read the Qur’an in my youth was thus to be caught up in a seemingly irresolvable and agonizing dilemma of how to reconcile these two sets of verses not just with one another but also with a view of God as just, consistent, merciful, and above sexual partisanship.

It has taken the better part of my life to resolve this dilemma and it has involved learning (from the discipline of hermeneutics) that language--hence interpretation—is not fixed or transparent and that the meanings of a text change depending on who interprets it and how. From reading Muslim history, on the other hand, I discovered that Qur’anic exegesis became more hostile to women only gradually and as a result of shifts in religious knowledge and methodology as well as in the political priorities of Muslim states. And, from feminism, I got the language to speak about patriarchy and sexual equality. In other words, it was all these universes of knowledge that enabled me to encounter the Qur’an anew and to give voice to my intuition that a God who is beyond sex/ gender has no investment in favoring males or oppressing women either.
Now Nancy Mairs. She is not claiming at all to speak for God or even like God here. (She has written another book in which she discusses the Dynamic God: Living an Unconventional Catholic Faith.) But here I wanted you to hear. To see her description of feminine discourse - as you yourself think about faith, perhaps your own faith, and perhaps even God. (Oh, and you have to get through a few paragraphs of patriarchy first, the dominant implication of a "chain of immortality" that is male first, but what's so new about that? Please be patient.)
. . . . What is hers by right he [the father] must take [from the mother] by force, through law, by giving it [Jacques] Lacan's Name-of-the-Father: "the patronym, patriarchal law, patriarchal identity, language as our inscription into patriarchy. The Name-of-the-Father is the fact of the attribution of paternity by law, by language." With his own tongue the father has named the baby. Now it is his. . . .

Once he gets her settled into domesticity, however, and gets a baby, the baby seems to belong to her, not him. They are forever together, nuzzling each other, rocking and humming and babbling. This doesn't much matter if it's a girl baby, since some stranger will one day get his own baby out of her; but if it's a boy baby, it's of his line, and he must wrest it away from its tricky mother and insert it into the chain of immortality he is forging. "No," he bellows, louder than Rumpelstiltskin, at the cowering child behind her skirts. "You can't have this one. This one is mine. He is my son." And named by the father, the child becomes a man.

In order to get what he wants, then, the father must have power to coerce those around him to meet his demands. To have power is to alienate oneself, however, because power is always power over and the preposition demands an object. The fundamental structure of patriarchy is thus binary: me/not me, active/passive, culture/nature, normal/deviant, good/bad, masculine/feminine, public/private, political/personal, form/content, subjective/objective, friend/enemy, true/false. . . . It is a structure, both spatial and temporal, predicated upon separation, not relation. It demands rupture, the split into halves engendered by the abrupt erection of the phallus: those who have and those who have not. It speaks the language of opposites.

Which is not women's language, since women, for a variety of reasons, live in a polymorphic rather than a dimorphic world, a world in which the differentiation of self from other may never completely take place, in which multiple selves may engage multiply with the multiple desires of the creatures in it. . . . The difference that emerges here is not the polarity intrinsic in the dominant discourse, which reduces "woman [explains Domna C. Stanton] to man's opposite, his other, the negative of the positive." No, this is an absolute and radical alterity that enfolds the other, as in pregnancy a woman's immune system shuts down in such a way that she shelters and nourishes, rather than rejects and expels, the foreign body within her: "Cells fuse, split, and proliferate; volumes grow, tissues stretch, and body fluids change rhythm, speeding up or slowing down. Within the body, growing a graft, indomitable, there is an other. And no one is present, within that simultaneously dual and alien space, to signify what is going on [observes Julia Kristeva]." Feminine discourse is not the language of opposites but a babel of eroticism, attachment, and empathy.

--voice lessons: On Becoming a (Woman) Writer, pages 40-42.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Susan Boyle Reveals Society's Enduring Bigotry

First, read Courtney's post "Susan Boyle Reveals Society's Enduring Bigotry." She begins:

I feel like I may have been the last person on earth to watch the video of 47-year-old Brit Susan Boyle taking all the "Britain's Got Talent" folks by surprise with her beautiful voice. This morning, nearly 40 million people have seen the clip on YouTube. So what gives? Why is this striking such a global chord? Well, from a feminist perspective, there are some really compelling explanations. First of all, Susan Boyle defies just about every one of the "ideal beauty" standards that have such a tight grip on the recording industry.

Now, read Aristotle's ideal beauty:

θηλειω̂ν δὲ ἀρετὴ σώματος μὲν κάλλος καὶ μέγεθος, ψυχη̂ς δὲ σωφροσύνη καὶ φιλεργία ἄνευ ἀνελευθερίας.
A female’s good character really comes from a body with a good large figure, but also from a personality with wise submissiveness and affection for work without preoccupation from freedoms.

--Rhetoric 1361a

Aristotle Teaches Einstein

Hal got me to go with her to the public library again last night. With a Joan Didion novel and another by Joyce Carol Oates in her hands, she passed me trying to balance Alan Lightman's Einstein's Dreams in my own hands while leafing through Annie Dillard's For the Time Being. "Dad, I'm going to get some non-fiction too," she told me and ended up also with two books on mental illness, one on dianectics, one on the "science" of dreams, and a college-level introduction to psychology by "Dr. Joseph G. Johnson." Whew!

Now she'd inspired me to check out from the physics section Lightman's book Ancient Light: Our Changing View of the Universe.

I've heard and read from Lightman about how (he thinks) science writing is different from artistic writing. Doesn't that sound a little like Aristotle, who must keep such categories separate? And I've read Lightman's incredible fiction before and have discussed with him its translation into over thirty different languages. "Do you want the translators of your novels to write in the target language like scientists, Dr. Lightman, or like artists," I asked him. He then incredibly, bravely, shows that he has gone beyond Aristotle and his aristotelian logic: "The translators must be both artists and scientists."

So back to our books. I skim this morning through my daughter's intro to psychology textbook, in which Dr. Johnson begins with a history of the science. Aristotle appears early and directly influences the thinking of Thomas Aquinas and then of Rene Descartes on the mind and soul. I look now at Lightman's science book on the history of cosmology ("In memory of Rabbi James Wax of Memphis who always thought about the big picture"). Aristotle figures early, of course, and directly influences Nicholas Copernicus and then Thomas Digges and then Isaac Newton; as you shall see below and infer by the title of this post, Aristotle also influences Einstein profoundly.

The chapter ends breathlessly (as I think about Lightman's persistent Aristotelian distinction between "science writer / artist writer") with these two sentences:
Whether Newton himself was more persuaded by this logical argument or by his religious beliefs, he ended up supporting the Aristotelian tradition of a cosmos without change. That tradition, unchallenged by Einstein, was not questioned until the late 1920s.
-(page 13, my emphasis)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Aristotle Saves Jesus

Aristotle saves Jesus of the evangelical Christian church in the Western world. And saves him from liberal university types, from postmodernism, and from the appearances of anti-intellectualism.

Look. Here's from conservative evangelical Christian professor Randal Rauser of (letting Aristotle, not Jesus, answer Pilate):
"What is truth?" Pilate's memorable question was thrown out unexpectedly by an audience member when I was lecturing a few years ago on Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. . .

One hears of such skepticism often these days, frequently associated with the term "postmodernism" (though the term is slowly becoming passé). But is the nature of truth really as mysterious as this student suggested?

It is true that philosophers debate the metaphysical nature of truth. But such intramural debates can often obscure a deeper and wider agreement over the core essence of truth. That essence is captured in the common sense observation articulated long ago by Aristotle: "to say of what is, that it is, and of what is not, that it is not, is true."

Perhaps you were expecting an earthshaking profundity? If so then Aristotle's definition may appear deflationary, even trivial. (Surely truth cannot be as simple and boring as Aristotle suggests?!)

Maybe it is for this reason that some people have suggested alternatives to the common sense conception of truth. Thus, some have suggested that truth is consensus (that is, truth is whatever everybody agrees upon). Others have suggested that truth is what works (or more colorfully, whatever gets you through the day). Unfortunately, neither offers a remotely credible alternative to the conception codified by Aristotle. After all the faddism of skeptical philosophy the fact remains that truth is a statement which corresponds to reality.

From this it would follow that an essential (if not yet sufficient) criterion for being a person of truth is to be the kind of person who ensures that your statements are accurate, that is that they correspond to reality.This means (among other things) carefully and charitably coming to understand and engage the views of others rather than brashly caricaturing and prematurely dismissing them.

One might think then that evangelicals, who brand themselves as people of truth, would be well known as people who only make statements that reflect the nature of reality accurately.

[sigh] "Who needs truth when you've got Jesus," is Rauser's sarcastic (i.e., evangelical sarcasm) title for his blog post. "Truth" (i.e., The Truth of such a christ-ianity) is an essential category (i.e., Aristotle's notion, and Pilate's). Until the evangelicals' Jesus follows Aristotle's simple "Truth" - evangelicals won't be True intellectuals, concludes Rauser.

And philosophy prof Dallas Willard notes in one of his books for his evangelical Christian audiences (Divine Conspiracy, page 135):
The world has succeeded in opposing intelligence to goodness. A Russian saying speaks of those who are "stupid to the point of sanctity." In other words, you have to be really dumb in order to qualify for saintliness. Centuries ago, even, when Dante assigned the title "master of those who know," he mistakenly gave it to Aristotle, not Jesus, for Jesus is holy."
But notice that Willard succeeds in opposing the world to the church. But notice that Dante, opposing intelligence to goodness, was not only of this "world" but was also of the rather aristotelian Western church.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Hitler Translates Hebrews

In the previous post here, I began translating the letter to Hebrews. Before I go on, there's a bit to say.

Hitler translates Hebrews. His is an entirely neutral and benign and objective translation too. His supreme German is dynamically equivalent to the original Greek. There's not a hint of a whiff of the horrors of holocaust in it. No propaganda. No agenda. No bias. No racism. No rhetoric. No sexism.

No? You don't believe that?

Well, did you believe Donald Trump last night on his (taped reality tv show) Celebrity Apprentice, giving Joan Rivers a pass although she calls Annie Duke worse than Hitler? Nely Galán blogs that she can't believe it (although she says nothing about Trump in real reality, off last night at the Miss USA pageant, which he really sponsors).

Which reminds me, second, how Allan Bloom, declaring The Closing of the American Mind two years and two decades ago, used to ask his American college students, "Who do you think is evil?"; and Bloom noted:
"To this there is an immediate response: Hitler. (Stalin is hardly mentioned.) After him, who else? Up until a couple of years ago, a few students said Nixon, but he has been forgotten and at the same time is being rehabilitated. And there it stops. They have no idea of evil; they doubt its existence. Hitler is just another abstraction, an item to fill up an empty category." (page 67)
So could Hitler translate Hebrews with his own categories? I believe he could although he'd not want the world to know exactly what his own categories were. At least, he'd want everyone to think, at first, that he was objective. That he was only following nature, as cold as his decisions ever seemed. That he was without bias.

Hitler's American translator (James Murphy) worked with him on rendering his autobiography into English rather objectively, so that Americans could really believe what he was really up to. I've blogged on this some here and here but want not to forget one chilling phrase (by which he establishes one category of people, and Hitler with Murphy denigrates many - even some non-Jewish Germans - by it):

Es ist immer der gleiche Jude.

He is always the same Jew.

(Hitler's statement as translated by Murphy, which begs the question who "he" is.).

My point is this: it is to suggest very strongly that subjectivity is part and parcel of translating. And when one begins to pretend rather objectively to categorize another human being or the sexed bodies of half of the human race or an entire race of humanity, then there are problems.

Aristotle's taught us in the West to do this: to declare convenient natural categories for humans with social consequences that are to be viewed as only natural. Our problem is that we justify this by cold logic, not by admittedly personal translation.

Third, learning from Aristotle and his method, for example, Martin Luther would say,
And the Jews in mockery said to Him when He was crucified: "If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross." If God thus willed it with His son on earth, we [i.e., German non-Jew Christians as if objective observers] need not wonder if the Christians have a similar experience. Christ says: "The servant is not above his master, if they have persecuted me they will also persecute you." And in the epistle to the Hebrews the apostle says very appropriately: "But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons." Thus we see how Scripture and examples fully agree in this regard, wherefore we ought to recognize in our sorrows and sufferings God's good and gracious will, and not for a moment think that He has forsaken us [i.e., German non-Jew Christians as if objective observers]. (Hauspostille , here from page 346 of an English translation)
The huge bias here is that Luther is not considering "the epistle to the Hebrews" to be exactly a Christian canonical Bible book, but he's not considering Jews to be part of Jesus or Jesus to be a Jew either.

Now, look at the transliteration difference in Hebrews 4, as Luther translates it. Listen to it. The original says in verses 8 and 14, respectively, the following:

εἰ γὰρ αὐτοὺς Ἰησοῦς κατέπαυσεν

Ἰησοῦν τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ

Of course, the passage is referring to two different people, and yet both are Jews and both have the same name (even when transliterated into Greek from the Hebrew). But Luther renders the German differently, so that one is Jew, the other is Christian, and the different names differentiate, as follows:

Denn so Josua hätte sie zur Ruhe gebracht

Jesum, den Sohn Gottes

Luther, of course, is not original in translating this way. He was a disciple of Aristotle (a scholar of aristotelian logic) before he famously renounced both the philosopher and the Pope. What his Christian German translations show, however, is that the abstracting of humans continued to be a part of Luther's practice.

Translation is bias, if you will. It's certainly the subjectivity that Aristotle failed to rid his world of with his method of logic. But to pretend that translation is coldly objective, especially translation of the text of a particular people not your own, is highly problematic.

Fourth, I'm out of time, but want to end with a couple of paragraphs of Elie Wiesel as translated by Marion Wiesel (from his French into her English [with my gendering marks]). I don't think I'll be able to translate any more of Hebrews, especially the Joshuas part, until we read this (from Messengers of God: Biblical Portraits and Legends):
The Jew is haunted by the beginning more than the end. His messianic dream [and hers] is tied to the kingdom of David and he [with her] feels closer to the prophet Elijah than to his next-door neighbor [who might be her neighbor too].

is a Jew? Sum, synthesis, vessel. Someone who feels every blow that ever struck his [and her] ancestors. He [and she] is crushed by their morning and buoyed by their triumphs. For they were living men and women, not symbols. The most pure, the most just among them knew ups and downs, moments of ecstasy and confusion; we know, for they are described to us. Their holiness was defined within human terms of reference. Thus the Jew remembers them and sees them as they were at the crossroads of their own lives: troubled, exalted, marked. They are human beings: people, not gods. Their quest rejoins his [and her] own and weighs on his decisions [and hers]. Jacob's ladder rends his nights [and hers]. Israel's despair burdens [her solitude and] his solitude. He knows [as she does] that to speak of Moses is to follow him to Egypt and out of Egypt. To refuse to speak of him is to refuse to follow him. (pages xii - xiii)

At the foot of the mountain, shrouded in fog, the children of Israel wept. And all of creation wept. And in his sorrow, Joshua forgot three hundred commandments and acquired seven hundred doubts. And the bereaved people, blinded by grief, wanted to tear Joshua to pieces for having succeeded Moses, the saddest and loneliest and the most powerful prophet of Israel and the world. (page 204)

Sunday, April 19, 2009


My maternal grandmother and my mom are great at making preserves. They put fruit and sugar in jars, and it's the best tasting stuff God ever made!

So in this post, I'm going to try. Dannii asked me last week:

"My question is, how much wordplay do we want to preserve? When does preserving/transferring/adding wordplay get in the way of our purpose?"

Dannii was asking about my thoughts on a feminist rhetorical translating of Hebrews 4. I thought I'd back up and begin with Hebrews 2. I'd try translating, would try making preserves.

Here's the first of three sections of that letter starting with the important little Greek reader-warning phrase, μήποτε or "so we don’t."

Without any further commentary (except for the fact that I'm trying for a wordplay AND a dynamic equilvalence AND a formal/literal equivalence AND a literal equivalence too), here's how the writer begins to introduce the subject of his or her letter. It's Hebrews 2:1-8a in Greek then my English (stopping short of that introduction of Joshua - aka jesus - by name):

1Διὰ τοῦτο δεῖ
περισσοτέρως προσέχειν ἡμᾶς τοῖς ἀκουσθεῖσιν,
μήποτε παραρυῶμεν.

2εἰ γὰρ ὁ δι’ ἀγγέλων λαληθεὶς λόγος ἐγένετο βέβαιος
- καὶ πᾶσα παράβασις καὶ παρακοὴ ἔλαβεν ἔνδικον μισθαποδοσίαν
- 3πῶς ἡμεῖς ἐκφευξόμεθα τηλικαύτης ἀμελήσαντες σωτηρίας; ἥτις, ἀρχὴν λαβοῦσα (λαλεῖσθαι διὰ τοῦ κυρίου) ὑπὸ τῶν ἀκουσάντων εἰς ἡμᾶς ἐβεβαιώθη, (4συνεπιμαρτυροῦντος τοῦ θεοῦ σημείοις, τε καὶ τέρασιν καὶ ποικίλαις δυνάμεσιν καὶ πνεύματος ἁγίου μερισμοῖς κατὰ τὴν αὐτοῦ θέλησιν.)

5Οὐ γὰρ ἀγγέλοις ὑπέταξεν τὴν οἰκουμένην τὴν μέλλουσαν, περὶ ἧς λαλοῦμεν. 6διεμαρτύρατο δέ πού τις λέγων,

“Τί ἐστιν ἄνθρωπος ὅτι μιμνῄσκῃ αὐτοῦ,
ἢ υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου ὅτι ἐπισκέπτῃ αὐτόν;
7ἠλάττωσας αὐτὸν βραχύ τι παρ' ἀγγέλους,
δόξῃ καὶ τιμῇ ἐστεφάνωσας αὐτόν,
8πάντα ὑπέταξας ὑποκάτω τῶν ποδῶν αὐτοῦ.”

1Therefore, this is what we must do:
fasten on fully to what we hear,
so we don’t float away.

2If, in fact, what’s spoken thru angelic messengers as a statement was decisive at its birth
- and if all those falling away and hearing sideways got their just reward
- 3then how will we get out of that by disregarding such a great delivery to safety?
Whatever in the Beginning was gotten (as spoken through the Master) by those who heard it was to us decisive;
(4 co-testifying was God with signifying evidence, and not only with miracles and a full range of dynamic powers but also with Holy LifeBreath parted and parceled out as he wished.)

5It was not, in fact, under angelic messengers that the intended Colony was ordered, which is what’s spoken about. 6There were, nonetheless, testimonies given somewhere by someone in these statements:

“What is a human that he [or even she] is remembered?
Or the son of a human [if ever a daughter] that he [or she] is overseen?
7Less a bit is he [and she of course] when beside angelic messengers.
Brilliance and honor are his crown [or hers],
8 all are subjects ordered under his feet [or hers]”

Jared Calaway at Antiquitopia has up a post "Heb. 2:10-11: A Discussion". That prompted me to go ahead and finish translating and posting on Hebrews 2, as I promised Dannii I would. My translating is wanting to mark the default "sons" in the text as "daughters" also. It's also trying to show the wordplay in the Greek (and by that I mean both the interpretive wiggle room and also the playfulness). There's a rhetorical build to the introduction of and the singling out of "Joshua." He's one of all humans, male and female. And when he's special, he specifically rewards every human, female and male, generally with crowning brilliance and honor.

Jared conjectures, "Perhaps the thrust of the passage pushes toward the natural commonality." Perhaps my translation shows some of that. Although "pushes" seems too strong to me. And "natural" seems a little too lacking of the supernatural stuff going on in the narrative.

Note the color coding of certain words that seem to mark paragraphs. The topic of the paragraphs shift (shifts that Jared is asking us to discuss). So, following his lead to focus on the pronouns, you get my color codings on those pronouns too.

Click the image below to expand it and to read the text. It's, as I said to Dannii, not only "literal/literary" but also an interlation, a gesture at Dynamic Equivalence that would too narrowly try to make "accuracy" mean words without play. Hope you enjoy, and hope you'll head over to Jared's blog to discuss.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Faces of Racism and Sexism

"Only 4.99 To Own A Racist Black Bobble Head," reports Renee at Womanist Musings. She adds other pictures too, with apt sarcasm: "In yet another stunning example of how post racial our world has become. DealExtreme has decided to sell the following dolls." If you've heard or ever "hear that blacks need to get over the past because Obama is president," then look straight in the face(s) of Renee's post.

"Why is Facebook's avatar a dude?" asks Jessica at And she goes on to share and to comment on this: "Sociological Images has a great short post about Facebook's default avatar - which appears to be a white male." Worth the read if you're a social networker online (especially since you're reading blogs and thinking about unmarked sexism and racism on the internet).

Thursday, April 16, 2009

very super practical intercourse and paradise

What do you mean by the title to my post? Fair enough, you first want to know everything I intend by it. How long do you have? and how deep do you want to go?

Let me just explain initially that I'm first just trying to show wordplay. I'm giving words with much "play." In other words, there's much "wiggle room" in the meaningS of the words AND there's also much "playfulness" in them. More than that, the words have play for you that is different perhaps than their play for me. If Aristotle could or would share our English, then this would give him fits. He'd probably scoff that we're barbarians with a mother tongue sounding like the tricky slick language of sophists such as Gorgias and only-half-serious philosophers such as Heraclitus or, worse, like the polluting, ambiguous lips of females like Sappho or Aspasia or (the gods help her) Helen.

Another thing I'm trying to do is to use a parable, an analogy of sorts.

I'm hoping to begin an answer to Dannii's "very super practical" question. Dannii has read through some of my posts and has patiently and kindly re-read The Silence of (Rahab and) the Joshuas. He asks a number of related questions, so let's just consider his first to see how far we can go:
My question is really a very super practical one here: assuming we had all the time and energy, the translation/linguistic skill and experience, a deep knowledge of the Bible and other writings of the time, an insightful understanding of all the past cultures involved and today's culture, and your crazy feministic theories, how exactly would we translate Hewbrews 4 for a normal English-speaking adult, for my friends at uni, my bus driver or even my sister.
Dannii's question is a fair one, a legitimate one if you will. He's setting assumptions, and he's making other assumptions (such as the assumption that translation is an "exact" process and that the feminist theories are mine and are crazy).

So I'm asking Dannii, and any of us really, how we might translate our English into another language. The analogous English is the playful and unconstricted English in my title. I'm suggesting that the Greek of Hebrews 4 is as full of wordplay; and before we get to someone else's Greek it may be helpful to try to get at our English.

But, to be sure, "our" English is originally part of a story Mike Sangrey tells at another blog. Mike's trying to use his story and his English at least as a parable to say, "Gethsamane means oil-press. Should one translate it? Or transliterate it?" David Ker jokes with him, "The real reason you wrote this post is so you could share that racy story!" Maybe this is the exact and real reason I am writing this post: to share Mike's racy story. Here's a bit of it:

Mike is on the phone with someone who is helping him update his personal records, his address. She asks first:

“It’s a small town.” I paused. “…Intercourse.”

She giggled. “Really?” she said.

I replied, “Yep, that’s the name.”

“Ok. What’s your new address? I need the street first.”

I gave her the street name.

“And having left Intercourse where did you move to?”

I could tell there was a smile behind the question. It was at this point in time I realized this was going to be a bit funny.

“Well, ummmmmm…” I paused. “…Paradise.”
Now how, if exactly, will we translate Mike's story into any other language?

If Portuguese, for example, should we just use paraíso? Or might we opt otherwise for Céu or for lugar agradável?

If Spanish, for example, should we just use intercambio and explain in a footnote also that it might just be trato, relaciones, contacto sexual? Are we going to explain somewhere somehow all of the English play?

If Chinese, for example, should we be content with 天堂, 伊甸园, or 乐园? And do we make our Chinese reader giggle with 交往 or 交流?

Should we, can we, mustn't we try to bring across or to create wordplay? Shouldn't we understand the problems with our own language (with Mike's own, with the phone operator's own): "intercourse" and "paradise"? And how if very super practical?

Won't the "crazy" feminist theories insist on the personal before the logical? The (feminine) body written and not silenced or abstracted? The voices once lost in the original now found in translation? The marginalized humans recentered?

I'm now just asking questions. Questions for translation.

I'm wondering what French writer (teacher and historian) Laurent Dubois means by translating English from Spanish in his "'Man's Darkest Hours': Maleness, Travel and Anthropology" (and what Ruth Behar and Deborah Gordon mean by including that in their Women Writing Culture:

Search no more for paradise. Yesterday, I burned it.
Busques de no más el paraíso. Ayer, lo quemé.

It's the conclusion to his little story about someone else that concludes Dubois' essay. The story is called "Paradise." What do you mean by that?

Jesus is a Jewish Religious Feminist

Jacob won his share of eternity, but he emerged a shaken, shattered man. Jacob or Israel? Both. True, God ordered him not to call himself Jacob anymore, yet one moment later the Bible calls him that. As though Israel did not succeed in severing his link to Jacob. . . . More than his father and his grandfather, Jacob was conscious of the pluralism that was to mark his descendants. . . . But, says the Midrash, at the moment he was about to translate his vision into words, his prophetic gifts were withdrawn. . . . He could but look. In silence. . . . In other words: the story he did not tell is more beautiful than the others--all the others--those told in his name and even those told by himself.
--Elie Wiesel [Translated from the French by Marion Wiesel]
page 133-34 of Messengers of God: Biblical Portraits and Legends
Most people who "understand" Jesus don't understand his rhetoric. Christian bible translators and scholars, like Aristotle, want at least their exposition of the Greek translation and their own English translation too to be clear.

If Jesus, like a woman, is silent or silenced or evasive or equivocating or short on explanation or unable to expound or pluralistic or throwing the interpretation back on the listeners, - well, then. Then this all must be fixed. Otherwise the fundamental structure of the patriarchy (that essential 'either / or' binary) will be de-constructed. Or worse: the dreamy wife of Pilate, the interpretations of Mary of Bethany, and that mother of Israel (or is it Jacob?) will be saying all kinds of messy things.

here's from some scholars who are as aristotelian as most other anglo-centric bible translators today. it's from their conclusive (not evasive or silent or without explanation or exposition) book The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say [if he didn't speak like a woman]?

Mark 14:61 Once again the high priest questioned him and says to him, "Are you the Anointed, the son of the Blessed One?"

62 Jesus replied, "I am! . . . "

Matthew 27:12 And while he was being accused by the ranking priests and elders, he said absolutely nothing.
13 And then Pilate says to him, "Don't you have something to say to the long list of charges they bring against you?" 14 But he did not respond to him, not to a single charge, so the governor was baffled.

Luke 22:70 And they all said, "So you are the son of God?"
He said to them, "You're the ones who say so."

23:3 Pilate questioned him, "You are 'the King of the Judeans'?"
In response he said to him, "If you say so."

There can be no doubt that Luke believed that Jesus was the Anointed, the son of God, and the son of Adam. . . . But Luke's convictions do not determine what the historical Jesus thought of himself. The remarkable thing about these gospel narratives is that their authors do not make Jesus speak more directly and explicitly about the things they themselves believe. (page 393)

The words ascribed to Jesus here repeat what Luke found in Mark 15:2. Jesus' reply here, as in Mark, is evasive. (page 394)

In any case, the reply Jesus is made to give to Pilate is a repetition of what he is reported to have said to the high priest in Matt 26:64. The words are actually ambiguous. They can be translated either as "You said it, I didn't," or "Whatever you say." This kind of evasiveness goes together with Jesus's refusal to give full answers or explain and expound. (page 266).

Since the context determines [i.e., unequivocally disambiguates] the meaning in this case, the majority of ["Jesus" "seminar"] Fellows were inclined to vote black [i.e., black ink bolded as above to signal "Jesus did not say this; it represents the perspective or content of a later or different tradition"] or grey [i.e., grey ink to signal "Jesus did not say this, but the ideas contained in it are close to his" but they are clearly not his.]