Tuesday, April 13, 2010

do you hear? / haven't you read?

It's probably a bit inaccurate for me to say there's resistance to reading the Bible through the voices of feminisms, rhetorics, and translations . (Maybe it's more accurate to coin a word like feministrhetoricaltranslating to get at what I mean.)

It's entirely accurate to say that I hear a lot of Bible peddlers today wanting to make it read like a better information brochure. And some preachers want it to perform like a Shakespeare play or a reading of John Milton's blank verse Paradise Lost. And still others need it to be natural, to speak to me, in my language, so that if I'm Martin Luther and if I'm reforming the Bible in German, then I'm saying (in my German, of course), "Whoever would speak German must not use Hebrew style...  [O]nce he understands the Hebrew author... has the German words to serve the purpose, let him drop the Hebrew words, and express the meaning freely in the best German he knows…. to make Moses so German that no one would suspect he was a Jew."

To be sure, there's nothing particularly wrong with these goals to inform, to perform, or to reform.  The first is trying to overcome the difficulty of information gaps of bad bible translations.  The second is hoping to overcome the difficulty of dumbing down and of flattening out the highly literary and the interesting contours of written texts.  The third is attempting to overcome the difficulty of foreign modes of communication.  There's nothing particularly wrong with trying to overcome difficulty, especially when it comes to Bible translation difficulty.

But these three goals are hardly anything like the sort of transforming methods (in talking, listening, and reading) that the Jews writing and translating their Bible used.  To move to transform is to get at be-ing or, more likely, at be-coming.  And we all may have been around long enough to know that this is a considerable difficulty if you are fe-male or might be a wo-man.  It's a difficulty especially if you could be a wo-man speaking.  And it's a considerable difficulty if you would be a wo-man speaking in order to translate in the world of men.  Eve, for example, comes second in the Bible but she speaks first with the snake.  And a Greek speaking woman with no name but with a demon possessed daughter becomes a crumb seeking dog when speaking with Jesus.  And feminist Nancy Mairs says, "Thus, I could hold offices in Pilgrim Fellowship, I could even be asked to preach to the whole congregation, but without seeing adult women in parallel roles, I couldn't feel sure who I was supposed to be(come)."  Did I get into this feminist rhetorical translating methodology too soon?  Yes, I re-member now.  I stepped into it with you in my first sentence.  Might it really be the same river of Jewish bible methodologies that we're stepping into?  What does such a flowing river become?

Well, let me try to be a little more propositional here.  Rather than just being informational (i.e., propositional), the Bible is more than that.  Rather than just being performative (i.e., a wonderful literary text), the Bible is more than that.  Rather than being simply a means for reform (as if reformation means purifying out the foreign and putting in my kind and my kind of language), the Bible is more than that.  Rather, indeed, the Jewish bible (or Bibles) might be the sort of document(s) that won't leave its hearers and readers be.

Maybe a good example is what we call Psalm 8.  Before we call it anything, we might look at what Jews in and of and through the Bible called it.

Matthew, for example, has Jesus using it in riddling.  The latter's enemies are questioning who he must be.  And Matthew alone (of all the gospel writers and Jesus translators) has this Jesus quoting Psalm 8.  It goes something like this (from Matthew 21):
        15 But when the high priests and the scholars saw the wonders he performed and the children crying in out in the Temple, "Hosanna to the son of David," they were indignant, 16 and said to him, "Do you hear what they are saying?"
        And Yeshua answered,
                Yes.  Have you never read in the Psalms:
                "From the mouths of children and infants
                You have composed praise for yourself"?
Now, we're reading this in the English of the Jew named Willis Barnstone who's goal is to let the Jew named Joshua (aka Yeshua, or Jesus) and the Jew named Matthew say what they are saying.  This insider stuff is important.  Is English Jewish?  But is Greek?  In fact, Jesus isn't speaking Greek, but he may well be quoting it.  But the Jew named David wasn't speaking or writing down or singing his praises (his Tehillim or his תְהִלִּים) in Greek, but other Jews translated it as it comes to Matthew.  And we need to notice what Matthew is doing.  Yes, he's translating these Hebrew Aramaic outbursts and this Hebrew Aramaic conversation into literary Greek.  He's getting Joshua to get his enemies to listen to Psalm 8 when they all hear children and others praising, even praising Joshua as the son of David.  It's curious stuff indeed.  Nonetheless, Matthew himself is also reading Psalm 8 and is getting his Greek readers listening.  Matthew's using the Greek word θαυμάσιος / thaumasios / which Barnstone says is "the wonders" - and this hearkens back to the Jewish Greek version of Psalm 8, which speaks early on of God's name being "wonderful."  And then there are the tiny children, yes of Psalm 8 and now in Matthew's storytelling, praising.  And there's the playful retorts of hearing, of questioning, and of reading, and of questioning again.  What's to become of all of this?  Is it for information?  Is it to perform something that must be appreciated by the intellectuals (certainly not uneducated children)?  Is it to reform, as if Greek is better than Aramaic which is better than old Hebrew and as if Christianity with a Jesus is better than Pharisaical Judaism and as if a new testament and gospel rendition of Psalm 8 might reform David's praise?  What might this be?  And what if I were to hear, to read?  Who might I become then?

That's just lesson one.  We move from Matthew to another Jewish writer and Jewish Greek translator of the Bible.  She also quotes Psalm 8 (or, perhaps, he does).  You know who I'm talking about, don't you?  Of course you don't.  No one does, because she has no name.  In history, she's become No Man.  To us, she's sort of like the Greek Odysseus to the one-eyed Cyclops who's been blinded by the hero.  Let's come back to that in a moment.

I'm talking about the writer (and translator) of the book of Hebrews.  She's the only one of all the New Testament to mention Joshua of the Old Testament explicitly by name.  She's the only one to write his name ambiguously in close proximity to her explicit naming of that other Joshua (i.e., "Jesus" or Yeshua -- in Hebrews chapter 4 then 5).  And Barnstone is just as happy, in his Jewish English, to leave the Greeked Jewish names the same, to let them be ambiguous.  (Verse 8 of Hebrews chapter 4 goes like this:  "While Yeshua gave them a place to rest, he would not have spoken of another day after that."  Verse 7 of chapter 5 goes like this:  "In the days of his flesh Yeshua addressed prayers and entreaties, with loud cries and tears, to the one who could save him from death.")

But right before she writes this ambiguous name for the first time so explicitly (in Chapter 2 verse 9), she also quotes Psalm 8.  There's a rhetorical build to this point.  There's absolutely no mention of his name to this point.  The whole book starts in a startling way, with a surprising and surprisingly playful opener, inviting in Greek readers of Homer's Odyssey, as if we readers are to figure out who the ultimate wandering hero is.  The insertion of Psalm 8 is offered somewhat as an insider's clue to a riddle.  But is the riddle to be solved with information?  Is it mainly to be enjoyed and appreciated as a high literary performance?  Can the Greek readers reform this, or might the Hebrew Aramaic listeners, or the Christians later?  Why Psalm 8?  And how Psalm 8 to tip off who this now named Joshua is and is to become?  And what will we readers be and become if we read it so rhetorically as written and translated by her?  Do we know who she is?  But do we know who we are?

If we had more time, we might look at what the Jew named Saul or Paul does with Psalm 8.  We might wonder whether he's really become someone all that different from other Jews (like David and David's Greek translators and Matthew and Matthew's Joshua and Willis Barnstone and, of course, that other writer/ translator/ editor whoever she could be writing "Hebrews").  Is Paul using Psalm 8 to inform, to perform, or to reform?  In some letters, he writes informationally, logically, like Aristotle.  In some places, he writes with playful coined Greek phrases, performing like Gorgias in his Praise of Helen.  In some instances, he writes reformationally, like a good pharisee would, like Plato would, sifting through the shadows of Jewish traditions for some substance of Truth.  But when we hear, when we read, what he writes to Greek readers in Corinth Greece, then perhaps he's writing for transformation of the most profound sorts.  Maybe he doesn't have it all nailed down yet, hasn't overcome the mysterious difficulty of being and of becoming.  (See I Corinthians 15, especially in Barnstone's English but also in Paul's Greek).

So where does that leave us?  And that's not, I suppose, such a bad question.  If we're hearing and reading, are we changing?  And how so?  And if the Bible and its translations only inform, or primarily perform, or help me to reform, then what am I missing?  What am I?  And if our bodies are sexed, male and fe-male, then in whose image might we be and might become?

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