Sunday, April 4, 2010

and in three days

Λύσατε τὸν ναὸν τοῦτον
καὶ ἐν τρισὶν ἡμέραις
ἐγερῶ αὐτόν

When the enemies of Jesus asked him to give them a sign of his authority, he gave them a riddle instead (see John 2:19). These opponents were still puzzling over it when the imperial Romans had him pinned naked to the executioner's cross (see Mark 15:29 and Matthew 27:40).

Now if we translate John's Greek translation of Jesus's Hebrew-Aramaic riddle into English, then we have decisions to make, don't we?

1) If we want the English to be natural (i.e., the translator's idea of what "our natural English" must be), then it would go something like "GOD'S WORD® Translation (©1995)" has it:

"Tear down this temple, and I'll rebuild it in three days."

2) If we're a "relevance theory" bible translator (i.e., focusing on the message, the content so pragmatically communicated), then we might need to make sure the reader knows that "temple" really doesn't mean just temple but rather Jesus's body.  And we're relieved to find, then, that the gospel writer, John, has gone on to do just that.  So we can keep "temple" there in John 2:19 and let his 2:21 explain for us in English with footnotes as the NET Bible translators do:
"But Jesus47 was speaking about the temple of his body.48"

47tn Grk “that one”; the referent (Jesus) has been specified in the translation for clarity. This Greek term is frequently used as a way of referring to Jesus in the Johannine letters (cf. 1 John 2:6; 3:3, 5, 7, 16; 4:17).

48tn The genitive “of his body” (τοῦ σώματος αὐτοῦ, tou swmato" autou) is a genitive of apposition, clarifying which temple Jesus was referring to. Thus, Jesus not only was referring to his physical resurrection, but also to his participation in the resurrection process. The New Testament thus records the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as all performing the miracle of Christ's resurrection.
3) If we're a Jesus Seminar type, then this isn't very satisfying at all.  And so you might write a section of an essay and entitle it "Proto-John 2:19" and then go on to make and give warrants for your claim 
"that Mark 14:58==John 2:19 is a claimed saying of Jesus in a shared narrative source of Bethsaida-Mark and John."
Hence, in all three cases (i.e., [1] in natural English translation, and / or [2] in Relevance Theory translation, and / or [3] in historical Jesus de-/ re- construction non-translation), you can avoid the riddle.

You can avoid Jesus's very likely allusion to the Hebrew book called (עֶזְרָא) Ezra, which might mean in English something like an abbreviated form of "G-d helps."  You can avoid the likely fact that Jesus is not only saying something about himself (i.e., his body, as John 2:21 tries to make clear) but that he is also getting his enemies to identify things about themselves (i.e., that they might be like those temple-destroyers in the narrative of G-d Helps). 

You can avoid having to go to the Jews' own translation of Ezra from Hebrew to Hellene (i.e., the "Septuagint" or "LXX"), which no doubt Jesus and his enemies were aware of.  There, of course, in Ἔσδρας Βʹ (or Esdras 2) one may read this:
αὐτοῖς ἀφ’ ὅτε δὲ παρώργισαν οἱ πατέρες ἡμῶν τὸν θεὸν τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ἔδωκεν αὐτοὺς εἰς χεῖρας Ναβουχοδονοσορ βασιλέως Βαβυλῶνος τοῦ Χαλδαίου καὶ τὸν οἶκον τοῦτον κατέλυσεν καὶ τὸν λαὸν ἀπῴκισεν εἰς Βαβυλῶνα

But after that our fathers provoked the God of heaven, he gave them into the hands of Nabuchodonosor the Chaldean, king of Babylon, and he destroyed this house, and carried the people captive to Babylon. (here Englished by Lancelot Brenton in 1851)
In this Hebrewish Greek, there's freedom for John the gospel writer to put Jesus's riddle into Hebrewish Greek as noted above.

You also can avoid the allusions to Joshua.  This Joshua (aka "Jesus") is giving his enemies a riddle for a sign, but you can avoid that he is also by his riddling making further allusions to his sweet namesake, his very violent predecessor.  What's with this three days imperative thing?  And who crosses to the other side?
עִבְרוּ בְּקֶרֶב הַמַּחֲנֶה, וְצַוּוּ אֶת-הָעָם לֵאמֹר, הָכִינוּ לָכֶם, צֵידָה:  כִּי בְּעוֹד שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים, אַתֶּם עֹבְרִים אֶת-הַיַּרְדֵּן הַזֶּה, לָבוֹא לָרֶשֶׁת אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם נֹתֵן לָכֶם לְרִשְׁתָּהּ.

Pass through the midst of the camp, and command the people, saying: Prepare you victuals; for within three days ye are to pass over this Jordan, to go in to possess the land, which the LORD your God giveth you to possess it. (here Englished by the JPS translation team of 1917)
So the point I'm getting at here is that the riddle of Jesus is a very serious inside joke.  It's a Jewish insider riddle.  He's not going to explain it.  He's not going to explain it to you, especially.  His followers (i.e., the male disciples) won't get it until it's too late (or unless they're female perhaps).  And his enemies to his dying day will pretend like they didn't get it.  And it's radical wordplay that involves the listener and the reader (okay, yes you and me this time) who must construct of it what can be constructed.  And better bible translations really had best get some of that without trying to avoid it or to give it all away all too soon.


David Ker said...

Sweet post!

J. K. Gayle said...

In the words of Napoleon Dynamite to his pal Pedro - "Well, you have a sweet bike."