Sunday, April 24, 2011

Ἰησοῦν ἀνάστηθι (Jesus Resurrect / Joshua Get Thee Up)

When a Christian reader reads the Greek above, the typical first-glance interpretation is that it's probably something from Saint Paul, writing something very important about the fundamental tenents of faith, for heaven (not eternal hell) in the hereafter, or something being preached by the first Christian martyrs in the Book of Acts as the pre-converted Paul looks on, or something in one of the four canonical God-inspired gospels. Well, in fact, these words Ἰησοῦν ἀνάστηθι [Iēsoun anastēthi] are very special words for Bible beleiving Christians, especially on Easter when one hears about Jesus's resurrection from the dead. But, however, nevertheless.

The entire verse of the Bible where the above Greek phrase is read really goes like this:

καὶ εἶπεν κύριος
πρὸς Ἰησοῦν
ἵνα τί τοῦτο σὺ πέπτωκας ἐπὶ πρόσωπόν σου

And this means something like:

And the LORD said
unto Joshua:
'Get thee up;
wherefore, now, art thou fallen upon thy face?

And both this English translation and the Greek above mirror this:

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל
לָךְ; לָמָּה זֶּה, אַתָּה נֹפֵל עַל-פָּנֶיךָ

The Hebrew here is according to the Masoretic Text from the book called יְהוֹשֻׁעַ; the Greek according to a variant set of texts called Ἰησοῦς Β; and the English according to the Jewish Publication Society (JPS). The simple name for this verse (or for these translations of this verse) of the Bible is Joshua chapter 7 verse 10. As long ago as 1917, the JPS translators were inclined to say something, in their general Preface, before they presented their translation of this book of the Bible, the first after the five books of Moses, and this chapter of the book of Joshua, and this verse; they began and wrote this first paragraph:
The sacred task of translating the Word of God, as revealed to Israel through lawgiver, prophet, psalmist, and sage, began at an early date. According to an ancient rabbinic interpretation, Joshua had the Torah engraved upon the stones of the altar (Joshua 8:32) not in the original Hebrew alone, but in all the languages of mankind, which were held to be seventy, in order that all men might become acquainted with the words of the Scriptures. This statement, with its universalistic tendency, is, of course, a reflex of later times, when the Hebrew Scriptures had become a subject of curiosity and perhaps also of anxiety to the pagan or semi-pagan world.
And, only two paragraphs later, the JPS translators began "to point to the Septuagint, or the Greek translation of the Scriptures, the product of Israel's contact with the Hellenistic civilization dominating the world at that time." After mentioning the "the Arabic translation by the Gaon Saadya, when the great majority of the Jewish people came under the sceptre of Mohammedan rulers" and "the German translation by Mendelssohn and his school, at the dawn of a new epoch, which brought the Jews in Europe, most of whom spoke a German dialect, into closer contact with their neighbours," the translators, in 1917, wrote more about the problems of the Septuagint as they chose to translate the Masoretic text. The German neighbor Adolf Hitler was only 28 years old at the time, and he didn't know how to read English, so he probably was more inclined to read what Mendelssohn or more likely what Luther had translated of the Bible. I'm mentioning Hitler when I really might have mentioned an Egyptian ruler or a Greek imperial conquerer, who may have had the greatest influence on the post-Torah book being rendered into non-Hebrew, into Greek, in Alexandria, Egypt, some two-and-a-half centuries before there were any stories about "Jesus" and his "resurrection." (I'm now referring to one of the Egyptian kings named Ptolemy II Philadelphus -- notice the Greek in his name -- and to Alexander the Great, the disciple of Aristotle, the disciple of Plato.) The choices the JPS translators had to make had a history. And they moved forward into a history of divisions over the Bible, over the stories and the protagonists of them. Most of us forget, or remember selectively.

Today, I'm interested in the different readings as if the Greek is separate from the Hebrew and the English must decide which way to go. The Greek? or The Jew? The Christian (whether Catholic or Greek Orthodox or Southern Baptist or emergent church) or the Jewish (whether more observant or less religious).

Growing up the child of evangelical Christian missionaries in a "pagan" land, in a family where the Bible governed separations of "father" and "mother"; "man" and "wife"; "preacher" and "congregation"; "head of the family" and "family"; "parent" and "kid"; "believer" and "unbeliever"; "saved" and "lost"; "heaven" and "hell"; "Christian" and "non-Christian"; "Prostestant" and "Catholic"; "Baptist" and "non-Baptist"; "Southern Baptist" and "non-Southern-Baptist"' "the Bible" and "fallible books"; "Christian Bible" and "apocrypha"; "New Testamnt" and "Old testament"; "the red letters" and "the black"; "Americans" and "the Vietnamese"; "Americans" and "the Communists"; "Republicans" and "Democrats"; "whites" and "blacks"; "American society" and "hippies"; "us" and "them" - today, I'm interested in the different readings. I'm interested in the separations and the histories of separations and, if possible, in the future end to unnecessarily separations. Does this interest of mine suggest no divisions, some universalism, a blind ecumenicalism? I don't know. I'm more interested in racisms and sexisms and religionisms that are subtle and not so subtle forms of spiritual and emotional and physical abuses. Those of you who have taken time to read what I've taken time to write know that I consider myself in recovery. Many of us, I think, are.

I worship my Creator today, our Creator, on this day by listening to an unspeakable name say to one Joshua/ Jesus: "Get thee up." I have no problem with that. In fact, after Moses, as one of the goyim reading the Holy Hebrew Scriptures, I see in many ways that this is part of the recovery, part of what mostly Christians would call resurrection even as most still would read this word in exclusion, for the "us" vs. "them" separations. But now we're getting way too personal. But if you read my blog, my outsider blogs, my posts on prostitutes and wordplays in the Bible, then this is personal, right? And you'll pardon me (I hope) for reading the Bible and for believing what I find myself on this day unable to help myself from believing.


Theophrastus said...

Au contraire. Hitler was a Bible translator. Or rather, a sponsor of a very "special" Bible translation. link.

Theophrastus said...

I wonder if you are familiar with the story of the Septuagint as related in the Talmud (Megilla 9a-9b). Here is a portion that enumerates some of the errors. (The Sages use the cover story that the errors were intentionally introduced, but this is really just a way of criticizing the Septuagint translation.)

My point is that within the ancient Rabbinic tradition, there has long been extreme hostility to the Septuagint -- no doubt because it was the Church's Bible.

J. K. Gayle said...

Hitler was a Bible translator.

Very interesting. Thanks for linking to your post and the details there. (In Eric Metaxas's recent biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the influence of the Luther Bible on galvanizing the German languages into one is discussed. But the scorn of Hitler's henchmen for the German churches and even for the Bible is too; Hitler's goal was to have himself eventually as the head of a Nazi-German Church. Bonhoeffer's "Das Gebetbook der Bibel" flaunted the Jewish question of membership in German churches and promoted not the New Testament but the Hebrew Psalms as requisite reading and prayer for Christians in Germany.)

within the ancient Rabbinic tradition, there has long been extreme hostility to the Septuagint -- no doubt because it was the Church's Bible.

No doubt. And Amy-Jill Levine (in The Misunderstood Jew) notes another problem. She mentions finding on the Internet some "Christian Separatists" saying "the firm position of true Christians that the only legitimate source for what is called the Old Testament is the Greek Septuagint." But in her various feminist commentaries (for which she is editor) on New Testament books, her contributors note the influences of the LXX and not so much always whether it's the book of Jews or Greeks, Judaism or christianities, but how it influences sexist doctrines.

Historian Sylvie Honigman and (as you know) Naomi Seidman look at the various legends surrounding the Greek translation of the scriptures. Not all of the Jewish traditions view it disfavorably. Honigman asserts that many of the earliest Jewish readers regarded the LXX to be "at least as sacred as the Hebrew original." And Seidman discusses the Talmudic tradition, viewing the LXX Greek in its "early Jewish counterhistory of Christianity [a stark contrast to the Church Patristic history]," which views God and the LXX translators as being rather political.

Then, we still find good English Bible translators today, Robert Alter and Ann Nyland for example, using the LXX with and sometimes instead of the Masoretic Text.