Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hellenizing the Hebrew (Bible)

This is my (quick) post on the Septuagint (LXX). Elsewhere I've confessed that "Homer's most influenced how I read the Septuagint" and that the "Septuagint's most influenced how I read the rest of the Bible."

Here's a bit of a flashback. When we had to leave behind forever like refugees the place where I'd grown up, my parents gathered up their children and took us all with them to Arkansas. The war in Vietnam was over, and they were assisting people fleeing from their homes there to some land of milk and honey called the USA. I was a very unhappy pubescent teenager in America. Mom, nonetheless or perhaps therefore, made me read Exodus with her every day; she'd read aloud a chapter one day, and she'd have me read aloud the next the next day. My perception was that she was trying to do something good for my rebellious soul. And what an impression it made. Of course, we were reading in English translation (NRSV), so I had no idea the playfulness of "Moses." (משה - Mosheh aka "Moses" - משה - mashah aka "draw out" - מים - mayim aka "[from] water[s]" - the bi-labial sounds of אם - 'em, the universal cry for "ma" for "ma ma" for "mother.") What I did get was that this Moses had the many turns of Odysseus.

When I read Ex-Odus in Greek for the first time, it read like the Odus-sey in Homer's Greek in many ways.

The Septuagint's account certainly didn't read like Aristotle, or Plato, or Plato's Socrates who disparaged Plato's Gorgias. Gorgias in real life (in praising Helen) confessed he was playing with words. Παίγνιόν was his word for his wordplay.

What our histories of the LXX tell us is that the Jews did their own translating of their own scriptures. And that they were back in Egypt (in Aristotle's student's namesake city, Alexander the Great's Alexandria). Their Greek seems to open up possibilities of meanings playfully. Their Greek does not precisely, logically, capture a meaning (i.e., the Aristotelean correct meaning). They actually played with Gorgias's
παίγνιόν. There was ambiguity letting readers in and playfully, interpretively, in. This is significant, significant and creatively resistant.

(My time's up for today. But I'll only say that Rachel Barenblat and Willis Barnstone are two who seem to translate so creatively. Rachel's got a fantastic post up today acknowledging a back translation of her poetry that transposes much Hebrew. Barnstone's a master at translation, of Homer and of the Hebrew-Hellene poetry that many call gospels. I'm reading as an outsider, which makes me think perhaps some day to post on Kenneth Pike, as another influence on how I read the Bible as an outsider.)

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