Thursday, December 31, 2009

the Prostitute...

the Prostitute, Post-Pentateuch Persuasion, and Play in Bible Translation
Joshua is an important book for many reasons....  But what makes the book of Joshua overwhelmingly important is that it stands as a bridge, a link between the Pentateuch (the writings of Moses [i.e., "the Law," Torah]) and the rest of Scripture.
--Francis A. Schaeffer

We assume that the Homeric poet had a number of stories about Odysseus to draw on, but that he judiciously selected those stories that went together to transform what might have been merely an elaborate travel tale into an epic that explores the dimensions and facets of a larger-than-life heroic character....  A literary text, ...with stories and tales intricately linked into a single unitary document, seeks to explain, to bring meaning and order to paradoxical events of human experience.  In this sense, Joshua... approach[es] the Odyssey.
--Kenneth R.R. Gros Louis and Willard van Antwerpen, Jr.

Shortly after the translation was achieved, the Greek text of the Law would have been read and studied in Jewish synagogues in Alexandria....  With time, familiarity with the text grew.  Alexandrian and Egyptian Jews would slowly come to hold the LXX as sacred -- at least as sacred as the Hebrew original....  [T]he collective translators are part of the Homeric paradigm.
--Sylvie Honigman
You see what I'm doing, don't you?  I'm starting a post entitled "The Prostitute, Post-Pentateuch Persuasion, and Play in Bible Translation" with three epigraphs.  The epigraphs are to help us get to what I call "feminist rhetorical translating" of the Bible. They're to help us to uncover, to recover perhaps, some early and likely resistances to Aristotle.  The first epigraph is to emphasize that "the book of Joshua" comes after Torah, just as post-modernism comes after modernism but just as much as midrashim come after the oral-then-written tradition of Moses.  The second epigraph is to emphasize that "Joshua" is literary history.  The third epigraph is to emphasize that the little bit of Joshua in Greek that I'm going to post on (below) is midrashic, Homeric, Aristotle-defying stuff.  It's not the way we typically think of translation today, and that's the point of most translators who follow after Aristotle, isn't it?  But why not remember what the first translators of the Bible did?  Maybe we'll learn something.

This post has three main chapters.  They are:  I. Hebrew Wordplay, II. Aristotle's Word, and III. Opening Pandora's Pentateuch.

Chapter I --
Hebrew Wordplay

In the Hebrew version of Joshua, there's plenty of wordplay before translation.  By "wordplay," I mean both playfulness with words and wiggleroom in their interpretation.  For example, the name Joshua (יְהוֹשׁוּעַ) is playful and is ambiguous.  According to bəmidbar Sinai (aka Numbers 13:16), Moses nicknamed or renamed his assistant who had been named Hosea; and the former renamed the later the name Joshua (יְהוֹשׁוּעַ), and he did so by mixing the younger person's name (הוֺשֵׁעַ) with a contraction of the unspeakable Name (יהוה).  But the observed wordplay does not stop there.  According to a later Joshua (יְהוֹשׁוּעַ), perhaps, this littlest letter י -- in the name and in the Name -- is declared to be significant when he says (through the Greek translator Matthew):  "ἰῶτα ἓν ἢ μία κεραία οὐ μὴ παρέλθῃ ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου" (i.e., Mt 5:18, "neither the littlest letter י nor some serif stroke will go away from Torah").  But the observed wordplay does not stop there.  According to midrash after Torah, there comes more interpretation of the name Joshua (יְהוֹשׁוּעַ); it is a name born of G-d from the name of the woman Sarai (שָׂרַי) who, as a mother, gives up her letter (י) which becomes his "letter yud."   But the observed wordplay does not stop there.  According to the freshest of rabbinic teachings of 2009, we should be able to see something:  can't we see it, whether Moses writing Torah intended it or not, that "one's two eyes are the two yuds"?  There is Hebrew wordplay in the name Joshua (יְהוֹשׁוּעַ), the name of certain people and the name of the first post-Pentateuch parchment.

In Hebrew, likewise, the name of the prostitute is playful and is full of illustrative possibilities.  Rahab (רָחָב) is a playful name with lots of interpretive play (or hermeneutic wiggle room in it).  She's a maid and she's a monster.  "Broad" might be a fair English language translation, since she's a woman and is wide like land where women can be gotten.  You really have to see the Hebrew of Genesis 34:21 to get this:
הָאֲנָשִׁים הָאֵלֶּה שְֽׁלֵמִים הֵם אִתָּנוּ וְיֵשְׁבוּ בָאָרֶץ וְיִסְחֲרוּ אֹתָהּ וְהָאָרֶץ הִנֵּה רַֽחֲבַת־יָדַיִם לִפְנֵיהֶם אֶת־בְּנֹתָם נִקַּֽח־לָנוּ לְנָשִׁים וְאֶת־בְּנֹתֵינוּ נִתֵּן לָהֶֽם׃

These men [are] peaceable with us; therefore let them dwell in the land, and trade therein; for the land, behold, [it is] Broad (רַֽחֲבַ) enough for them; let us take their daughters to us for wives, and let us give them our daughters.
Beyond the wordplay in names, then, there's play in the narrative, in "book" of Joshua itself.  The book of Joshua follows the closed books of Moses and thereby opens up a new library of books in Jewish history after Moses.  God has spoken to Moses, who has nicknamed Joshua and has written down everything God said, and put what's written in a box to be re-read.  Looking into that Torah box of Moses, says Hebraist Rachel Barenblat, "it can seem that the point the writer is trying to make is deliberately obscured beneath layers and levels of allusion and allegory."  Looking beyond that Torah box of Moses, says Christian linguist David Ker, one sees "more about humans than God...  that revelation comes in the context of a long trajectory of God’s dealings with humanity... a metanarrative... a long train wreck of the nation of Israel through apostasy and rejection of God’s covenant....  Ethnic hatred. Religious conflict. Revenge culture."  The first hero, right out of the box, is not even from the nation of Israel, and is not even a male, and is not even a clean female.  Rather, the very first hero is a foreigner, a woman hero, a prostitute for men, a dirty goyish heroine.  And, in Hebrew, there's a point in the story where the heroine, the prostitute, is left behind.  The story starts with her but, in order to get on with purifying the promised land, the story continues without her.  There's more than enough wordplay stuff in the Hebrew story (after Moses) to do a Ph.D. dissertation on and to blog and to teach and to publish on for years.

Aristotle despised such wordplay (as barbaric) and decided to shut it down (at least in Greek).  This is what makes the Jewish translation of Hebrew into Greek so fascinating.  As we'll get to in Chapter III, the translating Jews seem to want to open up meanings, rather blatantly playing with Aristotle's own words.

Chapter II --
Aristotle's Word

The Jewish-Greek translation of the book of Joshua is just as full of wordplay as the Hebrew original.  The wordplay of the translators, however, seems intentionally to spite Aristotle.  To get a good look at that in the next chapter, it's useful in this chapter to review Aristotle's project with the word.

Aristotle developed "logic" (λογ-ική) to box up the overdetermined, ambiguous slippery and playful Greek concept of "logos" (λόγος).  (Never mind that Aristotle himself is engaged in wordplay here.)  He railed against ambiguity, against parable, against hyperbole, against sophism.  He called "rhetoric" (ῥητορ-ική) a counterpart to "dialectic" (διάλεκτ-ική) -- both lesser than logic the way a female is lesser than a male.

Rhetoric, of course, is what Gorgias the sophist did.  And dialectic is what Socrates and Plato did.  The question is whether they could get to absolute reality, to pure knowledge, to certain truth.  Aristotle did sympathize with his teacher Plato, and his teacher Socrates.  They understood how Parmenides had separated "aletheia" (ἀλήθεια) or true truth from "doxa" (δόξα) or mere opinion.  They similarly understood how Gorgias, the mere rhetorician, had mixed "aletheia" and "doxa" in his "praise" of the prostituting Helen.  But Aristotle, when he wrote of rhetoric, used logic and got to true scientific knowledge (or ἐπιστήμη aka episteme) with the central concept of the "enthymeme" (ἐνθυμημα) or the "rhetorical syllogism" as the "body of 'pisteis' (πιστεις)" -- which has become known by rhetoric scholars today as the body of proofs or the body of persuasion.  (If you click on the previous link, then do notice how Aristotle boxes up "doxa" as the safer "endoxa.").  Aristotle taught his logic to elite Greek boys like Alexander the Great.  And Aristotle's project of a pure male logical elite Greek empire was nearly achieved by Alexander.

When we look at the Greek translation bit from the book of Joshua in the next chapter, the words to pay attention to are episteme, doxa, aletheia, enthymeme, and pistis.  Aristotle had a clear and pure and unambiguous and intentional meaning for each of these important words of logic (to avoid womanish rhetoric).  And yet the Jewish translators seem to have other things in mind.

Chapter III --
Opening Pandora's Pentateuch

My title for chapter III is playful, an attempt to drop Pandora's name so as to get us remembering what happened when her box was opened.  Pandora, of course, is the first woman for the Greeks which makes her some like Eve, the first woman of Torah and like Rahab, the first woman after Torah.  When wordplay translation opens up stuff after the Pentateuch, well, then, you can figure what happens.

My thesis is that the 72 translators of the legend of the Septuagint worked against Alexander's and Aristotle's project.  Here they are, Jews back in Egypt, again under the rule of a kingdom not their own.  Sylvie Honigman suggests that, though in this potentially subservient position, they've rather subversively turned Alexandria Egypt into a new Jerusalem, that they've resisted the imperial impositions of Aristotle's logic.  That's not to say they are pre-logical or post-logical or a-logical or illogical.  It is to say that they see what Aristotle has done by boxing up Greek.  They get what he intends by using the little "-icky" suffix on words, by changing "logos" to "logic."  They avoid the suffix like an Egyptian plague.

Now we can look at what the Jewish translators do by rendering the Hebrew of Joshua into Hellene.  We come again to that "point in the story where the heroine, the prostitute, is left behind."  We come to a turn, to the first villain.  This guy's trouble and troubling, and so his name is Achan (עָכָן).  We've come to the point in the story where the heroine is no longer necessary, to Joshua 7:1.

The contrasts are stark.  Whereas the hero is a woman, the villain is a man.  She's a foreigner; he's a son of Israel, from the very Jewish tribe of Judah.  They both hide something, but her lying and her knowledge of God save her; his eventual truth-telling and his opinion of God destroy him.

So now we get to the Greek.  For Aristotle, females were scientifically objectively lesser than males.  Males were the ones with the science, with certainty about Nature and Reality and Truth.  Remember the words (a) episteme, (b) doxa, (c) aletheia, (d) enthymeme, and (f) pistis?  Roughly, they mean (respectively) the following for Aristotle:  (a) "sure knowledge," (b) "mere opinion," (c) "Truth with a capital T," (d) "persuasion's logical body [which is less rigorous than a pure logical syllogism]," and (f) "proof or persuasiveness."

But this same Greek for the Jewish translators in Alexandria was more open.  They seem to take a tight set of Aristotle's strictly boxed up words and open them up.   Remember the words (a) episteme, (b) doxa, (c) aletheia, (d) enthymeme, and (f) pistis?  Now, not only do they mean the very boxed up meanings Aristotle meant them to mean but they also have Jewish-barbaric meanings as well.  Respectively and roughly, these Greek words for the Jewish translators also mean the following:  (a) "a whorish woman's confession," (b) "glory to God," (c) "the truth of a man named Trouble," (d) "outlawed coveteousness," and (f) "working faith or belief in God."

Here's the text.  I'm giving both the LXX translator's Greek and Brenton's English translation (mostly).

In Joshua 2:5, Rahab the prostitute persuades.  First, she lies, saying to the men of her nation about the Jewish spies:  "I know not [οὐκ ἐπίσταμαι episteme] whither they are gone."  Then (in verse 9), the foreign prostitute says to the Jewish spies:  "I know [ἐπίσταμαι episteme] that the Lord has given you the land."  The barbarian goyish woman denies having certain scientific knowledge and then claims she has it.  The LXX translators are using Aristotle's word as dirty, womanly opinion, as mere doxa.  By her rhetoric (through the Hebrew-to-Hellene translation), this prostitute saves and is saved.

So we leave the heroine and come to the villain.  His rhetoric is poorer, is less persuasive.  But the Hellene translation by the Hebrew readers is just as playful.

In 7:19, Joshua (the story's protagonist) says to the villainous trouble-making troubler named Achan:   "Give due opinion, that is, give glory (δόξαν doxa) this day to the Lord God of Israel, and give a confession; and tell me what thou hast done, and hide it not from me."  The translators use a word Aristotle associates with lying (i.e., doxa) as something inherently owed to God.  The wordplay is ironic, is funny, is suggestive of meanings now flying out of the box.

Then Achan replies (in verses 20 & 21):   "In truth [Ἀληθῶς aletheia] I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel: thus and thus have I done:  I saw in the spoil an embroidered mantle, and two hundred didrachms of silver, and one golden wedge of fifty didrachms, and I like a Torah outlaw coveted [ἐνθυμηθεὶς enthymeme] them and took them; and, behold, they are hid in my tent, and the silver is hid under them."  The translators have Achan confessing not with mere doxa but with Aristotle's absolute Truth.  But he confesses that he broke the 10th commandment of the Ten Commandments, and the translators have him "coveting" when they have him using Aristotle's "rhetorical syllogism," which is Aristotle's "body of proof or persuasion."  It seems the Jewish translators of their own playful Hebrew into playful Greek were playing with Aristotle and his student Alexander.

IV --
an afterword

Now, I understand that many rhetoricians and many bible scholars are going to argue with me here.  They might say:
"Sometimes words are homophones -- that is, they have different meanings though they sound (and sometimes even look) the same.  'Enthymeme' in Aristotle's Rhetoric is not the same word as 'enthymeme' here in Joshua 7.  You don't understand the nature of language and linguistics, basic stuff."
But I'm going to appeal to the rhetoricians and the bible scholars to talk to one another.   I'm going to ask us to compare our histories, to see how we fit in with Aristotle's paradigm.  (There's another word, the Greek word pisteis, that rhetoric scholars and bible scholars use differently too.  The New Testament writers, like Aristotle, are very keen on getting this right, and around Rahab - a woman, a prostitute, a foreigner - it seems most important -- See Hebrews 11:31 and James 2, especially 2:25)  So I would say this, in reply:
"The LXX translators tend to open up meanings of Greek words that Aristotle shut down.  The words and the meanings were once used by Homer, by Sappho, by the playwrights, and the other poets of old.  And the Septuagint translators have the vantage, the advantage, of seeing how both Aristotle and his predecessors used language differently.  The first Bible translators, the Jewish translators of their sacred Hebrew scriptures into their sacred Hellene scriptures, were much more open to wordplay than we tend to be.  We tend to follow Aristotle in shutting down meanings of words.  But the original linguists translating the Bible originally knew and behaved better, more playfully.  I think we could call it Torah and even post-Pentateuch persuasion.  If Willis Barnstone is willing to call Eve 'the mother of translation', then why can't we imagine Pandora as another Eve?   Why can't we be more willing to open the box?"
The real tragedy is the silencing of women (whether by rhetoric studies - more muting and erasing of women than "the male bastion of philosophy" - or whether by bible translation scholarship).  This silencing happens, I'm convinced, in large measure because of Aristotle and what feminists rightly call his boxed method of phallogocentrism.  Whether you're a man or a rhetoric scholar or a bible translator, what you risk missing by following Aristotle's separationist method is hearing women.  For example, you may miss hearing "Rahab and her sisters" as noted by Suzanne McCarthy in this BBB post; and you may miss hearing what Rahab has said (as noted in another post here at this blog) which notes how, in Joshua 2:14, "The Jews [translating their own Bible] have 'καὶ αὐτὴ εἶπεν' (for which [English translator] Brenton has 'and she said') for the original, ambiguous [and wordplay] Hebrew phrase 'אמֶר'.”  I'm hoping that we can at least listen to wordplay in bible translation, that we can remember what Greek was like before (and after) Aristotle, and in the best of all worlds that we can listen to so-called "womanly" discourse that acknowledges "all men and women" as "created equal."  We may have to recover feminisms, rhetorics, and translating that Aristotle once boxed up and put away.

No comments: