Monday, May 30, 2011

Jane rides the train (a mostly male-named train)

"Yesterday I was in the Denis de Rougemont train from Geneva to Basel. You can find the full list of the political, philosophical and literary folk who are celebrated on Swiss trains here, spot how few women are on the list."
--Jane Stranz, "Swiss trains - one step up from poems on the underground"

Who do you know of these political, philosophical and literary folk?  Here are the few females remembered on the mostly-male-named Swiss train:

rhetoric of Ruth

Spread your wings over me, I reply
and his cloak billows high.

Now he clasps my foreign hand
and kisses the tips of my fingers
now skin glides against skin
and the seed of salvation grows in me
the outsider, the forbidden

With these lines, Rachel Barenblat helps her readers hear the poetry in the voice of someone called

רות המואביה
Ρουθ ἡ Μωαβῖτις
"Ruth, the Moabite."

Just after the Bible introduces her to readers as such, and just before it introduces her to a real insider (the more familiar man who discovers her), it complicates with race, class, and gender a considerably difficult rhetorical situation:

So Naomi returned, 
and Ruth the Mo-Abit-ess, 
her daughter-in-law, with her, 
who returned out of the field of Moab
--and they came to Beth-lehem in the beginning of barley harvest.

names and significances:

Naomi, "Delight of Mine," calling herself "Mara" or "Bitterness"

Ruth, "Friend"

Mo Abite ess, "Father? what father does this female have?"

Mo Ab, "Father? what father?"

Beth-lehem, "Bread-house"

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Public Blog Face

May days often make me want to stop blogging.  Too many transitions all at once.  At work, the spring semester turns to summer (when research conducted needs to be written up and sent out to editors for review and possible publication, when the fiscal year closes and the next opens, and when new students arrive).  And this year with family there's been the celebration of our wedding anniversary (my spouse's and mine) and the happy graduations of two of our children (one from undergraduate higher ed and another from high school).

Thanks to the ones of you who've noticed I set this blog to "private" the past several days.  Thanks for the email conversations.  It's time to resume more public conversations around the topics of this blog.

Blogging is an intrinsically social act.  It's social so that, when I'm not able to be so attentive to you, whether you are a regular reader or a new one, all sorts of unintended things happen.  And, thinking that I should or even could control how your read this blog (which is too often an illusion of my own making), I retreat.  I'd rather not have a public face at all.  Otherwise you might think I'm crazy for some of the things I've said.  Or you might imagine me as sane.  You make meanings.  Let me quote Nancy Mairs of this "social act" in a moment.

But, first, let me quote something I read this morning.  It's the preface to Psalm 34.  What maybe you should know as I tell you how I read that psalm is this:  When I was in high school, was an atheist in the closet, I agreed to my father, who was a very public Christian, to memorize this psalm for money.  He, a missionary, had sent me away to a boarding school.  Whatever his motivation, or mine, his having me memorize the Psalm had considerable, spiritual, impact on me when I was 16 years old.  This morning, however, I read not the bit I memorized but the preface.  And I didn't read it in Hebrew first this morning, but in Greek translation of that Hebrew by the Jews in Alexandria, Egypt, who were translating it, whatever their motivation.  Here's how that goes:
τῷ Δαυιδ
ὁπότε ἠλλοίωσεν τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ ἐναντίον
καὶ ἀπέλυσεν αὐτόν
καὶ ἀπῆλθεν
I'm interested the face of this, as a preface.  I'm focusing now on the line ὁπότε ἠλλοίωσεν τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ ἐναντίον.

It's a translation, apparently, of the line in Hebrew that gets translated "when he changed his demeanour before."  (Robert Alter, translating, has "For David, when he altered his good sense before Abimelech....")  In Greek, however, it's something like "when he othered that face of his in opposition to."  Would you image with me that we don't really know all there is to understand here?  Won't you call this Greek Hebraic?  Can you suppose that there's something rhetorical going on here, for Jews taking their holy Hebrew and rendering it into a most public Hellene, that hearkens back to an empire over them, maybe two kingdoms, that one of Egypt and then that one of the Greeks?  What does that public face look like to you?  Lots of other English translators, whether working from the Greek or Hebrew, will convey the idea that David is pretending to be crazy, that he is distorting his face to act like a mad man, that he is trying to trick Abimelech.

The Greek makes it clear that David was changing his public face.  And I never really paid attention to that pre-face to this psalm before.  Sort of changes how I read it now.  What have the Jewish translators done?  How must I read that?  Can they control how?

At any rate, going back to your reading of this blog, I now want to quote (again) Nancy Mairs.  She's written this:
Publication of any sort is an intrinsically social act, "I" having no reason to speak aloud unless I posit "you" there listening; but your presence is especially vital if I am seeking not to disclose the economic benefits of fish farming in Zäire, or to recount the imaginary tribulations of an adulterous doctor's wife in nineteenth-century France, but to reconnect myself—now so utterly transformed by events unlike any I've experienced before as to seem a stranger even to myself—to the human community.... lending materiality to my readerly ideal, transform[ing] monologue into intercourse.
How do you read that? or what do you figure what it means when, right before you read a psalm in public or in private, you notice what David has done with his public face?

For me, you being here reading, with me, is an intrinsically social act.  How we can change when it's good change is what's most interesting to me now.  What faces we put on in public, in publication, change everything.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mothers' Day!

Happy Mothers' Day!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, May 7, 2011

[update] this kid hates the word "Christian": my response to Rachel's rally to restore unity

[update below]

Isn't there still time to join in Rachel Held Evans's "Rally to Restore Unity—a week-long celebration of Christian unity and fundraising effort for Charity:Water?"

How do you join in when you hate the word "Christian"?  No, as a kid, I didn't say this:

As a Jew, I had been led to feel cold chills at the mention of his name. Is this strange? For a thousand years Jews have lived among people who interpreted Christ’s will to mean floggings and burnings, ‘gentleman’s agreements,’ and closed universities.... 

I think very few Gentiles realize that even the most Americanized Jew usually shudders when he sees a church, a cross, or even the name of Christ in print. It is, of course, a shudder of fear; but it gives rise to hate immediately…. I have almost never met a Jew who wasn’t anti-Christian.

No, that's something that Joy Davidman wrote in some of her letters.  But since we're being personal, let me tell you what I was made to sing as a kid, as a missionary's kid, as a Christian MK:
Our parents heard the call of God
And followed His command
To preach the Gospel true and pure
Throughout a distant land

So we too have followed
And in this place called home
We too are sharing in the task
To make Christ Jesus known

For we are MKs
We love to share it...

The one who wrote those lyrics (and got us little kid MKs singing that when I was growing up in my home called Vietnam) was one of my missionary aunts.  Like Joy Davidman (when married to Mr. Gresham), my missionary aunt was abused by her husband.  I'm only bringing that up because she had the experience also that my own mother did.  The men wore the label, "Christian."

But that's not necessarily the only reason I hate the word, Christian.  Maybe I'll have to explain all of that another time.  Today, while there's still the rally for unity going on, I'd just like to remember that Jesus was not a Christian.  When he gave that new commandment, he wasn't talking to Christians.  When he said the sign of following him was unity in love, well, that's right, he wasn't talking about getting Christians not to abuse each other or their wives or their little kids.  And he never used the word, Christian either.  He didn't even use the word in Greek that we get our English word from. 

The point I'm trying to get at is that the word Christian automatically leaves out Jews who are not Christians.  Ironically, the first Jews to whom Jesus gave his rally to unity for were not even believers in Christian doctrines.  The closest followers of Jesus were, like him, all Jews.  And all of them were doubters in the resurrection, according to the gospels of Jesus.  Oh, and those gospels?  Not written by Christians either.  So for Christians to have a unity rally, that doesn't include non-believing Jews, is something, isn't it?  Such a rally doesn't call on atheists or Muslims or Mormons or agnostics either.  Unity is for Christians only?  Well, I guess that's sort of a start.  But that's sort of the way my life started too in a Christian family.  Now what?  Well, I think about the words of jesus a lot.  And here's my little sign:

(sorry for the scowl.  it's the sun in my eyes.  or i'm thinking about the tv show survivor where the Christian guy throws his teammates under the bus because he heard some message from Jesus about love.  and why are there so many Bible reading God talking Christians on the show this season?)


It's probably helpful to know that this missionary kid who hated the word Christian is still growing up.  He's now more often able to say, "I don't love that word."  Once he was an atheist in the closet; now he's most days a theist openly.  For Mother's Day, his mother is coming over for dinner, with her husband (this mk's dad), and that man has recently been making changes.  The retired missionary has been making amends, confessing past abuses, and seeking restitution, forgiveness, restoration, fulness in relationships, and reconciliations where possible.  The relationship that the mk has with his Christian father is in repair (more that it ever was).  The family breathes easier.  The family breathes easier even though that daddy has six cancerous brain tumors, a spine tumor, and stage 4 lung cancer, "incurable and untreatable," says the MD.  The phrase Holy Spirit has taken on new meanings in this family.  What seemed like impossible rifts between people are being overcome.  There's something like the unity rally, but just not so public, going on here.  At this kid does smile often more too:

progress.  not perfection.]

Women Who Don't Shut Up

I spent the weekend at Princeton, listening to distinguished alumni talk about a number of issues, mostly about their career paths and their efforts to balance their work lives and their personal lives. In a discussion of work-life balance led by New York Times writer Lisa Belkin, class of 1982, a young woman stood up and explained that she was a graduate student in molecular science, and that she was pregnant. She said she had no idea how to manage being a graduate student in such a rigorous field with being a mother. She asked, with an unmistakable tinge of desperation in her voice, if Belkin or anyone else in the room had any advice for her. A woman at least fifteen years her senior stood up and said, “I’m a scientist and a mother of three; you can do it.”

When I saw this graph, I thought about that woman. In addition to facing the challenge of balancing a demanding career with motherhood, she also has to contend with being one of the few women in her lab or in her department.
--Chloe Angyal, "... Women in Science"

I have joined the author team over at Biblioblogs and hope to increase the number of British contributors. But the biggest call is to increase the number of women who blog on the Bible. If I can make the top 50, you can. I have only been blogging three years, the same number of years I have had puzzles about faith and the Bible to work through. I am not an academic theologian. 

You need to log your blog with Alexa which gives you exposure and tracks your hits. 

You need to let me know here that you are blogging. There will be a new feature at the top where I can store links to women's faith and bible blogs and then we can send recommendations over to Biblioblogs. 

Seminaries and theological colleges are chock-full of male lecturers, lovely as they are, bible-related scholarship is also under-represented on the female-front. We might begin by increasing women's contributions to this growing forum - please let me know what you think. It's time to 'open up the floor' .... I'm saying nothing about dinosaurs.
--Rachel Marszalek, "Biblioblogs and ...

Wow. I guess these guys' athletic prowess and the money/name they could make for the university was more important than the safety of the other students. Nobody in authority apparently thought it important to take any precautions or keep tabs on young men entering the university with criminal records. And this was supposed to be a "Christian" university!

The only thing TCU can say is that the woman's claims [that she was drugged and raped in a campus dormitory by two TCU basketball players and a member of the football team] were "blown out of proportion"? Wow.
--Kristen, speaking up again (at) "After Women's History Month"

I am so sorry to read these things. I am so sorry that young women are being taught such doctrines. My heart goes out to readers of this teaching. The Bible does not attribute strength or the ability to provide to men over women. This is not to be found in the Bible. On the contrary, in Proverbs 31 we read of the eshet chayil, which literally translated is the "mighty woman." I don't think a literal Bible translation actually exists. It is too bad.
--Suzanne McCarthy, "Women were created to imitate who?"

What are these eight little verses that control how women through 5,000 years of Jewish and Christian history are portrayed? What are these eight little verses that are used to keep women in their proper silent and submissive place in both The Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament? Here they are:
1 Corinthians 14:33b-35....  1 Timothy 2:11-15.
If you just went “Huh?” (or even WTF?!?), don’t worry, you’re not the only one. It’s shameful for a woman to speak in church? A woman has to keep silent because of Eve? And my personal favorite: Women “will be saved through childbearing.” (This is my favorite because my husband and I have chosen not to have children. Guess I’m unsaveable.)

So, what are we in the 21st century supposed to think about this? Do Christians (particularly Christian women) have to be held in rigid gender roles based on these verses? Do women have no choice but to sit down and shut up because these eight verses are used to marginalize and negate any Scripture regarding women working, women making their own decisions, and women in authority? That’s the way these eight verses have been used through the 2,000 years of the Christian Church. But I’ve learned that just because something in the Bible has been interpreted in a certain way for millennia doesn’t that interpretation is right. Look at slavery. Over 100 years ago Christians were using passages in the Bible to justify slavery. Now no American is going to use those passages in Scripture to justify slavery today. We recognize, that even though endorsed in the Bible, slavery is wrong. It’s unethical. We’ve changed how we interpret the slavery passages in the Bible. Why can’t we change how we interpret the passages about women? ....  I’m going to show the different ways these verses can be translated.
-- Shawna R. B. Atteberry, "Women Who Didn't Shut Up ... Why"

Let Obama be "weird" and "foreign" and "womanly." And also let Paul. And let their words be accurately translated to convey the sense they intended. With regards to Paul-- it's high time.
--Kristen, still not shutting up (now on) "Weird, Womanly Words of Obama"

Modern Women, Old Testament: A Jewish-Christian Conversation with Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, author of "70 Faces: Torah Poems," and Elizabeth Adams, author and publisher. On Sunday, May 8, Christ Church Cathedral will host a book discussion with Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, author of a recently-published and highly-praised book of poems which approach the five books of Moses from a questioning, modern perspective.

As a longtime poet and writer, newly-ordained rabbi, and recent mother, Rachel's work helps us look at these texts from new and personal perspectives. How can modern women and men engage actively with these early Hebrew scriptures, while still loving and respecting the Bible and remaining faithful Christians and Jews? What does the tradition of midrash have to offer to Christians? How can poetry -- a tradition deeply embodied in the Hebrew Scriptures -  free us to think and feel creatively about the human issues the Bible addresses in these stories?

-- Rabbi Rachel Barenblat (the Velveteen Rabbi), "... tour ... "

What I've come to, after a lifetime 
of wondering, 
of working through the biblical evidence for and against, 
of reading widely on both sides of the 
whole male/female thing,
of arguing with others and with myself and even with God - what I've come to is this: 
the thing I'm called to do is,
to live the other truth.
As a trusted counselor said to me this morning,
"That is the revolutionary act."
And I've stood astounded,
mentally open-mouthed,
when men (and women) whom I love and respect 
say and do things that are stunningly at odds 
with what they say they believe.
Because, as I have learned to my chagrin 
and sometimes very deep personal pain,
 giving mental assent to an idea, to a doctrine, to a denominational stance ...
and living that truth in day-to-day practice are 
two very different things.
Anger was not going to do a thing to bring change.
 But living that change just might make a beginning.

So that's what I've tried to do - 
to live the change I hope for, I pray for, I long for.
I've been a woman in ministry for 17 years, 
serving the church in a denomination 
that has been ordaining women since 1974.
But that same church has not been proactively engaged in making that act a reality in the day-in and day-out life of the local church until fairly recent years.   
I thank God for my denomination.
I love who we are and who we are becoming.
But getting here has been tough sledding.
Real progress is being made, now on an almost daily basis.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Weird, Womanly Words of Obama

In this post, I'd like us to consider President Obama's words as womanly and also as weird.  But can we also talk about how a translator may and "ought not" translate these words of his?

(This has implications for translation theory and practice as related to what's better for the bible.  So maybe we can get to that some too.)

First, I'm not the only one to say Barack Obama's words are womanly.  Second, I am going to call these words "weird."  Third, would you look at and listen to them with me.  Finally, let's talk translation.


Mr. Obama's speech tends to be rich and nuanced and different from the stereotypical speech of a man.  (The stereotypes were created by Aristotle or were reinforced by him in many cases.  Aristotle made a big big deal out of the differences between male and female speech; Anne Carson, a careful reader and wonderful translator of ancient Greek has noted many of these differences; and Nancy Mairs makes a big deal out of these differences too.)  Deborah Siegel of posted how some of us have observed the stereotypically womanly characteristics of Mr. Obama's words in answering the question, "Is Obama Leading Like a Woman?"


I'm calling Obama's speech womanly.  But let me also qualify much of it as "weird."  Now let me go a step further and say it's not only womanly and weird but also "foreign."  (Aristotle would have called it absolutely barbaric or barbarous or something like that.)  Please know that I'm now using the words weird and foreign in the way that two of the Better Bibles Blog bloggers are using those words this week.  I don't at all agree with their arguments yet (i.e., that the Bible doesn't have weird or foreign language and/ or that even if it did a translation of the Bible shouldn't have weird or foreign language); I'm only using the words they way they do:  "We may have to learn many more new things all at the one time when we read the Bible, but that doesn’t require weird language" and "It may be inevitable that sometimes the message sounds foreign, but there is nothing about this that suggests that the [English Bible] translation should sound foreign, generally speaking."  

What I'm saying is that Obama's language is weird and might sound foreign and that better translators of his language do even better when they translate it that way.  


Want some evidence?  Okay then.  Here's some recent stuff from President Obama:
  1. his Presidential Proclamation for the National Day of Prayer (which happens to be today)
  2. his speech announcing the killing of Osama bin Ladin (which most of the world has heard now)
  3. his recent book (which is the only children's book any US president in office has ever written)
In 1. his President Proclamation, he uses interesting language at least at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of the pronouncement.

At the beginning, President Obama hearkens to history and quotes what others before him have said, including a former president and a civil rights leader.  He identifies with both men quoted.  But to quote the civil rights leader (with whom he identifies, by race, at least in other contexts), Mr. Obama first quotes a woman:
The late Coretta Scott King recounted a particularly difficult night, during the Montgomery bus boycott, when her husband, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., received a threatening phone call and prayed at the kitchen table, saying, "Lord, I have nothing left.  I have nothing left.  I have come to the point where I can't face it alone." 
Here, the President's words are rather nuanced.  He's not giving the source for his first quotation.  But when quoting the African American leader, he does.  And he goes on at length.  And his readers see how important it is to him that a woman, this particular woman, has recounted with some considerable pathos (i.e., remembering "a particularly difficult night") some danger and much desperation beyond all human limits.  If this were translated into, say, Arabic language, then wouldn't the better translator try to account for the English language nuance here, for the digressions that back up the story and put it back into the memory of a woman who is not really the central one being talked about in the first place?  Well, yes.

In the middle of his Proclamation, President Obama uses gendered language that is inclusive.  He says:
Let us pray for the men and women of our Armed Forces and the many selfless sacrifices they and their families make on behalf of our Nation.  Let us pray for the police officers, firefighters, and other first responders....
Notice the language that many say is awkward and just politically correct.  It's awkward to specify men "and women" and it's even more awkward to use two words and five syllables (i.e., "police officers") instead of more directly "policemen" and to use three syllables (i.e., "firefighters") for the clear two in "firemen," and so forth.  The translator should not bother readers with literal forms.  The dynamic-equivalence translator would be kind to let the readers know that were talking about mostly men anyway.  However, wouldn't the better translator of Chinese language do well to take the time to render the President's female-equal and woman-inclusive words as 男人女人 even though that can also simply and clearly communicate 人?  And how about his woman-inclusive words?  Wouldn't she or he (the translator into Chinese) find 消防队员 more descriptive of what the President wrote than 救火队员 , the former phrase literally meaning something like Fire-Rescue Team-Member for "firefighter" and the latter phrase meaning literally something like Warrior-of-Fire Team-Member and referring exclusively to males? Well, yes and yes.

At then end of his Presidential Proclamation, the President writes the following:
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 5, 2011, as a National Day of Prayer.  I invite all citizens of our Nation, as their own faith or conscience directs them, to join me in giving thanks for the many blessings we enjoy, and I ask all people of faith to join me in asking God for guidance, mercy, and protection for our Nation.
      IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-ninth day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand eleven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fifth.

          BARACK OBAMA
Now, that's just weird.  I'm talking about the President's words here.  If a team of linguists were to field test this among native speakers of natural American English in 2011, then they'd say, "Not my heart language."  And if some other linguist in, say, Mozambique were to try to take this into African Portuguese, then he or she would likely want to rid the language of its strange and foreign sounding high register.  Otherwise, who knows what President Obama really meant?  But the better translator into Portuguese would translate it as weird and foreign-sounding un-natural and un-contemporary Portuguese just as it's weird and foreign-sounding un-natural and un-contemporary English on May 5, 2011, right?  Well, yes.  Here's the Proclamation.

In 2. his speech announcing the killing of Osama bin Ladin, President Obama uses womanly and weird and foreign-sounding words too.  You can read the speech here at Unsettled Christianity.  You can listen to it and watch it again here at

First of all, he's mentioning with men, again, "women, and children."  And with "their father," also "their mother."  (Of course, I'm being a little silly to point out his gender inclusiveness, again.)  Secondly, the President is way too subjective.  He's getting way too personal.  He's used first person personal pronouns, "I" and "we" and "I" and "we" all over the place.  He's named groups "my team," and "their Pakistani counterparts"; he's identified individuals by name, insinuating how they deserve a share of the credit, "Leon Panetta," and "President Bush," and "President Zardari."  (Yes, I know.  He's taken some political partisan flack for that and has been cynically suspected of being a slimy woman-like sophist trying to garner his own political capital from the electorate and the populous and even the world audience.)  Thirdly, he says "may God bless" at least twice.  (And we all know that in natural field-tested English this shouldn't be used for common-man language but for helping someone out after they sneeze.  "God bless you."  A perfect, non-literal and dynamic equivalent to that is "Gesundheit."  What the President should have said, what he really intended is this:  "Thank you. Don't Worry; be happy. And that goes for the United States of America too."  In colloquial, natural German it's Danke. Keine Sorge, glücklich zu sein. Und das gilt für die Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika zu.)  And yet, doesn't the better German translator keep Obama's language just a marked and as weird as it is in English?  Well, yes.

In 3. his recent book, President Obama again uses womanly and weird and foreign-sounding language.

Well, we just have time to consider the title.  But if you read it all for yourself, you'll get it.  The title alone is Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters.   Well, okay, peek in for a bit.  It's dedicated:

To Michelle -- whose fierce love and daily good sense
have nourished such wonderful daughters

And the book's about 13 Americans, not all of whom are men.  That's right.  Some are also African Americans, some are even African American women.  The audacity.  Is this weird hope again?

Now, I said we only have time for the title.  So let's get back to it.  "Of Thee I Sing"?  Doesn't the President know how antiquated this phrase is?  Doesn't the President care how ambiguous this phrase is?  How will the readers know what he means?  Who can tell us what he surely must intend singularly intend as writer?  Well, the translator can.

The translator won't confuse us with the fact of the deep cultural significances of this phrase for African Americans closer to the onset of the Civil War and beyond.  No, surely Obama is being more American than that.

The translator won't bother us (unless in an endnote) with the fact that this particular phrase has had earlier and more enduring historical significance for women in America working for their rights.  So let's just take time to read a page real quickly from that history (from Sweet Freedom's Song: "My Country 'Tis of Thee" and Democracy in America) -

Those women's rights songs riffed off of "Of Thee I Sing":

Let your joy be unconfined. 
Let it speak so clearly that its echo will be 
heard around the world.
[Let] it find its way into the soul of every woman

who is longing for the opportunity and liberty still denied her.
Let your voices ring out the gladness in your hearts! . . .
Let us sing, together, 

"My Country, 'Tis of Thee . . .
Sweet Land of Liberty,
Of Thee I Sing.

Thee means what?  That weird womanly foreign-sounding language is written to whom?  To two young people, English readers.  Both black.  Both female.  Both growing up in America when it's still 2011.  The audacity.

The other day, I read that there's a Korean translator who's translated this book into Korean for Korean readers.  Although I haven't seen it yet, I wonder if she or he has kept in the womanliness, the weirdness, and the foreign-sounding tone of President Obama's words.  Would that be a better thing than not to do?  Well, yes.


let's talk translation.  how do you think a translator may (and "ought not") translate these words of Barack Obama, these weird, womanly words of his?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

2 Bible Blog Announcements

1. The saddest thing about the April 2011 Top 10 Biblioblogs is that not a single woman blogger was voted tops this month. 

The other sad thing is that I completely forgot to vote in March for April. When I voted in February for March (which was the US Women's History Month), then my 10 votes for the bibliobloggers top 10 were as follows:
1. Suzanne McCarthy

2. Jane Stranz

3. Rachel Held Evans

4. Rachel Barenblat

5. Maggi Dawn

6. Rachel

7. Shawna Atteberry

8. Jamie

9. Bitsy Griffin

10. April DeConick

And the following happened in March:

2. April DeConick, Forbidden Gospels

3. Suzanne McCarthy, Suzanne’s Bookshelf
But I hadn't voted ever before for this Top 10 list.  Notice what happened for February:
5. Suzanne McCarthy’s Suzanne’s Bookshelf
6. April DeConick, The Forbidden Gospels
And earlier for January:
9. The Forbidden Gospels (April DeConick)

And when it all began in 2010, for December:
No women at all.
Now, the funniest thing to have happened for the April 2011 Top 10 Biblioblogs was this:
8. Kurk Gayle, Aristotle’s Feminist Subject

2. There's a new Bible blog to announce today:
The Better Better Bibles Blog (BBBB) at 
Don't worry.  At the BBBB, they haven't kicked Aristotle's Feminist Subject off of their blogroll.  This blog of mine just hasn't been rolled there yet.  And they've promised they'll blogroll yours if you ask 'em.  (Yes, I know, the BBB bloggers have decided to censor all my comments automatically.  And they've removed my blog from their blogroll.  Sigh.  Maybe some of us will feel a little more welcomed at the BBBB.)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

I Have Been Censored by the BBB

Somebody over at the Better Bibles Blog has censored me.  I tried to join the conversation there but got this instead:

Your comment is awaiting moderation.

It was more nerdy stuffAnd maybe whoeveritwas saw my comment coming.  Maybe it's what I wrote here.  Sigh.  Maybe it's not important after all, but here's what I tried to contribute:
What an extremely important distinction Theophrastus notes here!

Robert Alter has said, “the language of the canonical texts [i.e., specifically that of the written Torah (aka the Pentateuch)] was not identical with the vernacular, [in] that it reflected a specialized or elevated vocabulary, and perhaps even a distinct grammar and syntax.” 

Alter finds this hugely notable because the Hebrew Bible has an elegance, a literary style, that is not demotic, not oral-rhetorical. In fact, (and this is my observation) if what Alter says is true, then the Hebrew Bible is indeed special in a literary-linguistic sense. It defies what rhetoricians such as George Kennedy call “letteraturizzazione,” or “the tendency of rhetoric to shift its focus from persuasion to narration, from civic to personal contexts, and from discourse to literature” or a “slippage of rhetoric into literary composition.” (Walter J. Ong, like Kennedy, saw orality as basic and literacy as its eventual evolved state, with “secondary orality” as a third synthesis of orality and literacy within literate cultures – cultures like our own now and those of the Bible in translation).

Alter, to be sure, translates from the Masoretic Text. As Theophrastus notes, he and Fox also bring out the wonders of the added, punctuated oralities. And Alter often even turns to the Greek Septuagint to find clarity where Masoretic Text doesn’t have it. In those instances, (again my opinion) the MT has been less liberal in its punctuating. The MT and the Greek translations give voice, if you will. And Alter’s and Fox’s English translations do too. There’s an oral dimension brought into the more purely literary.

Similarly, Willis Barnstone, translating the Greek of Paul in the New Testament, finds a move to mix the modes of orality and literacy:
“The letters to the Romans (probably his last letter) and the Corinthians show Paul at the peak of thought and rhetorical magic. He achieves language magic in demotic Greek (Koine), with a flare of the classical period while keeping to the simplified syntax and virtues of the vernacular. He has the high flow of Plato, who wrote in Attic Greek, in his own less inflected tongue.” (page 114 of The Restored New Testament)
We all remember how Plato moaned about writing (ironically writing what Socrates said to Phaedrus):
“Writing, Phaedrus, has this strange quality, and is very like painting; for the creatures of painting stand like living beings, but if one asks them a question, they preserve a solemn silence. And so it is with written words; you might think they spoke as if they had intelligence, but if you question them, wishing to know about their sayings, they always say only one and the same thing. And every word, when once it is written, is bandied about, alike among those who understand and those who have no interest in it, and it knows not to whom to speak or not to speak; when ill-treated or unjustly reviled it always needs its father to help it; for it has no power to protect or help itself.” [275d-e] 
Punctuation is the father of the written text, that translators use, to protect it and to help it speak.

The Socratic dialectic is shut down.  The language police protect and enforce the "better" voice and viewpoint (i.e., their own).  Silence to the dangerous.  Sigh. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

for nerds: history, punctuation

It's almost as if Chloe Angyal over at is afraid of talking seriously about history. Or is it really just "nerdy," for example, to remember (which she does) "the role of Black women activists in the abolition movement" from 1833 to the 1870s (as blogged by historian and professor of English, Carla L. Peterson)?

I did think it was really nerdy for Mike Sangrey over at Better Bibles Blog to go on and on and on about punctuation.  Or was he just trying to get us to notice how wacky his punctuation was while he was making his pronouncements?  He was trying to convince us of clarity and naturalness, saying things like, "So, punctuation is required in the translation, or it wouldn’t be clear and natural—it wouldn’t communicate to an English audience."  I don't really see that as particularly obvious or fair to a writer, and it gives the translator both a lot of latitude and liberty (contra "Nature"), which is how it should be, I believe.

But then who am I?  For family portraits, you may find me wearing such t-shirts:

And sometimes I like blogging on history and on punctuation together, as HISTORYANDPUNCTUATIONTOGETHER.  Sometimes I'll blog on Aristotle.  Wouldn't a dissertation be enough?  Sometimes I'll blog on the Bible.  Wasn't sunday school quite enough?

Well, call me what you like.  I think you're reading this blog post, aren't you?  Maybe you're one of those translation nerds.  If so, then stay tuned for more.

One day, one of Aristotle's students (it could have been Alexander the Great) read this:

If you recognize it, then it's likely that you know it wasn't written for you.  It wasn't.  You know it's a little clip from Aristotle's Rhetoric.  Yep, that's right.  We know it as the book called "The Rhetoric," or as what its most recent translator, George A. Kennedy, calls On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civil Discourse.  And we know that it's really 3 Books, and the little clip above is what has been punctuated as Book 3, Chapter 5, paragraph 6.  Kennedy has entitled the context here as this - "Chapter 5: To Hellēnizein, or Grammatical Correctness" and has put that title, without my quotation marks but with his own white space, as the header on page 206 of his book, the translation of Aristotle's book(s) on rhetoric.

We can also see that paragraph 6 here is how Aristotle rags on the "punctuation" of Heraclitus.  (To be sure, we already know from other things Aristotle wrote how much he disliked Heraclitus, who, for Aristotle, did not write with "Grammatical Correctness," or To Hellēnizein.)  Aristotle is stressing how important it is to be clear and natural with Greek, for his elite Greek all-male students.  (It's sort of like Mike Sangrey's mantra for Bible translators punctuating).

So, some later editor of Aristotle makes these helpful changes in punctuation, helping out Aristotle, not necessarily Heraclitus:
[6] πέμπτον ἐν τῷ τὰ πολλὰ καὶ ὀλίγα καὶ ἓν ὀρθῶς ὀνομάζειν: “οἱ δ᾽ ἐλθόντες ἔτυπτόν με”.  ὅλως δὲ δεῖ εὐανάγνωστον εἶναι τὸ γεγραμμένον καὶ εὔφραστον: ἔστιν δὲ τὸ αὐτό: ὅπερ οἱ πολλοὶ σύνδεσμοι οὐκ ἔχουσιν, οὐδ᾽ ἃ μὴ ῥᾴδιον διαστίξαι, ὥσπερ τὰ Ἡρακλείτου. τὰ γὰρ Ἡρακλείτου διαστίξαι ἔργον διὰ τὸ ἄδηλον εἶναι ποτέρῳ πρόσκειται, τῷ ὕστερον ἢ τῷ πρότερον, οἷον ἐν τῇ ἀρχῇ αὐτῇ τοῦ συγγράμματος: φησὶ γὰρ “τοῦ λόγου τοῦδ᾽ ἐόντος ἀεὶ ἀξύνετοι ἄνθρωποι γίγνονται”: ἄδηλον γὰρ τὸ ἀεί, πρὸς ποτέρῳ δεῖ διαστίξαι.
And that's when the English translators get busy.  Here's the renderings of the top three translators (I guess they're the most-read):

John H. Freese had this in 1926 and his later publisher, for the Harvard Loeb Classical Library, put the revised punctuated Aristotle text right next to Freese's English --
The fifth rule consists in observing number, according as many, few, or one are referred to: “They, having come (pl.), began to beat (pl.) me.”
   Generally speaking, that which is written should be easy to read or easy to utter, which is the same thing. Now, this is not the case when there is a number of connecting particles, or when the punctuation is hard, as in the writings of Heraclitus. For it is hard, since it uncertain to which word another belongs, whether to that which follows or that which precedes; for instance, at the beginning of his composition he says: “Of this reason which exists always men are ignorant,” where it is uncertain whether “always” should go with “which exists” or with “are ignorant.”
Then H. Rhys Roberts, the same year, has this (which was republished also, in 1954), with a few updates in natural and clear punctuation, like so --
(5) A fifth rule is to express plurality, fewness, and unity by the correct wording, e.g. "Having come, they struck me (oi d elthontes etupton me)." It is a general rule that a written composition should be easy to read and therefore easy to deliver. This cannot be so where there are many connecting words or clauses, or where punctuation is hard, as in the writings of Heracleitus. To punctuate Heracleitus is no easy task, because we often cannot tell whether a particular word belongs to what precedes or what follows it. Thus, at the outset of his treatise he says, "Though this truth is always men understand it not," where it is not clear with which of the two clauses the word "always" should be joined by the punctuation.
Much more recently, and to make things more natural and clear for students of rhetoric in 1991 (and then 2007), Kennedy has this --
6. Fifth is the correct naming of plural and singular:  "Having come, they beat me."  What is written should generally be easy to read and easy to speak--which is the same thing.  Use of many connectives64 does not have this quality, nor do phrases not easily punctuated,65 for example, the writings of Heraclitus. To punctuate the writings of Heraclitus is a difficult task because it is unclear what goes with what, whether with what follows or with what precedes. For example, in the very beginning of his treatise he says, "Of this Logos that exists always ignorant are men." It is unclear whether "always" goes with what precedes [or what follows].

64. Polloi syndesmoi, or polysyndeton, regarded by later rhetoricians as a figure of speech involing a surfeit of conjunctions: i.e., A and B and C, etc., rather than A, B, C. . . . .
65. Classical Greek was generally written without punctuation and even without spacing between the words; it thus had to be "punctuated" by the reader.

Now, if you're looking for a point from me, an idea, a belief, a conclusion of sorts, then it's this: there's very little "natural" about language like this. Rules are written by humans, even punctuation rules. And these are often broken. I believe the KJV Bible, and just about every Bible before it and after has broken punctuation rules.  (I wanted to say that today, just because it's a historical one, you know, the KJV birthday.)

So the king of pronunciation is the one who makes up the rules. A creative writer, like Heraclitus, might be difficult or playful or allow too much play. And so somebody like Aristotle will come in to try to shut that down, to attempt to shut him up. It's sort of comical when you look at it, because Aristotle is just as nerdy as Heraclitus before him. And his punctuation is hardly any clearer. It's just different in how it pronounces the need for clarity and for naturalness and for correctness.  What might you think?  Is this nerdy stuff?  Does it have relevance to history for you, to bible, to translation?  Is one of the four translations above (that Greek one and the three Englishes) clearer or more natural or more accurate or correct to the original than the others?

Remembrance without Obligation

New arrivals usually knew nothing about the conditions at a camp. Those who had come back from other camps were obliged to keep silent, and from some camps no one had returned. On entering camp a change took place in the minds of the men. With the end of uncertainty there came the uncertainty of the end. It was impossible to foresee whether or when, if at all, this form of existence would end.
    --Victor Frankl, Ein Psychologe erlebt das Konzentrationslager (also entitled From Death-Camp to Existentialism, and more recently re-titled, Man's Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy)
You may have read Elie Wiesel's Night or fiction such as Cynthia Ozick's The Shawl.  You may have watched Claude Lanzmann's Shoah or drama such as Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List.  You may have heard your eldest daughter tell you that she wants your father to read Viktor Frankl's book, since he's been afflicted (like she was) with the death sentence of cancer; or you might have sat through, over the course of hours, her recalling to you many of the things that Frankl wrote on little pieces of paper that he kept and smuggled out of camps until one day he was able to form them into a book of remembrance, translated into English, purchased later for yourself, then your father, then your best friend whose own uncle had taken his life in despair and whose father now also sees no reason to keep on living.

How do you prepare for such things?  What words are there?  And what if any of us forgets and then finds ourself unable to foresee a good end?

Candidly and courageously, Rachel Barenblat confesses today:
Yesterday was Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. I want to bear witness, but the words don't want to come.
And ck takes us by video to "Israel" where "it is a national memorial day and public holiday" not always with words:
One of the ways it is commemorated is with the sounding of air raid sirens throughout Israel.
I'm glad for those who aren't silent about unspeakable things.  Bearing witness can be such a burden.  How ever did anyone allow and participate in the atrocities, the unthinkable?  How did anyone survive?  Another day, another important year, another time when we hope no one obliges anyone to keep silent.

Enemy Death

After President Obama announced that Osama bin Laden was dead, I was glad to see that Rod of Alexandria and Joel Watts directed us to the words of certain Jews:

one young rabbi said:
43 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the [imperial] tax-collectors do the same?
and one wise king had already said:
17 Do not rejoice when your enemies fall,
and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble
And in quoting Matthew 5:43-46 and then Proverbs 24:17, Joel and Rod might have also quoted many, many others (i.e., 2 Samuel 3:32, Job 31:29, Psalm 35:15, Psalm 35:19, Proverbs 17:5, Proverbs 24:18, Obadiah 1:12, Micah 7:8). 

The history of the Jews is replete with enemies and responses.  In September of last year, Rachel Barenblat was re-learning and teaching the history and posted on "The early history of Jews in Muslim lands"; in October she noted "Jews in medieval Christendom" and a few of their "dreadful enemies" back then and over there.  And, on the day when much of the the world watched the wedding of a future king perhaps and his bride, the history of the marriage of enemy Adolf Hitler to his bride was overshadowed for a moment; and who then celebrated the next day remembering that racist, sexist, evil enemy's death?  I'm sure there were some but we were quieter, weren't we?

I think a lot about enemies, and about this very Jewish concept of loving enemies, or of praying for them, or at least of forgiving them at some point.  How does that happen?  I have enemies.  Hitler, Osama bin Laden, and some who are still very much alive.  The goal for me is not to get rid of enemies.  I just can't do it, often for very real and practical reasons.  "Vengence is mine" is one of those scriptures quoted around me when I was little, and often it seemed very sour-grapes and was mostly helpful because it helps you imagine God as your hit man. 

But I think that there's more to it than just hanging around waiting for the one and only God (who happens to be on my side) to take out my enemy, to kill him.

There is much to learn from the abused and from the oppressed here that echoes the real Jewish sentiments of enemy love.

And reading Anne Lamott, when President George W. Bush was in office taking out all of our enemies, I used to laugh at how she'd work out forgiveness of him, because God commanded her to do so, because this was a scriptural thing to do. She learned not to grit her teeth and not to drink the poison of resentments.

And reading bell hooks, I learn about "definition."  How Aristotle, the enemy of females, taught definition was to avoid ambiguities, to define precisely, to "objectively" put your enemies into little and much lower boxes so as to keep yourself free and above and alive; I think I blogged at least once about his strategy.  But hooks has a better way of defining.  Here's one of her definitions that includes the word enemy, and that acknowledges with some force who that must be:
Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression. This was a definition of feminism I offered in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center more than 10 years ago [in 1985]. It was my hope that at that time that it would become a common definition everyone would use. I liked this definition because it did not imply that men were the enemy. By naming sexism as the problem it went directly to the heart of the matter. Practically, it is a definition which implies that all sexist thinking and action is the problem, whether those who perpetuate it are female or male, child or adult. It is also broad enough to include an understanding of systemic institutionalized sexism. As a definition it is open-ended. To understand feminism it implies one has to necessarily understand sexism.
("Feminist Politics: Where We Stand," Feminism is For Everyone: Passionate Politics, page 1)
Notice her phrases "my hope" and "broad enough" and "to include" and "open-ended" and the repeated, "to understand."   This is key to loving one's enemy, to real understanding, I believe.  Notice who this woman's enemy is, although she suffered much because of men:  "[one does not need to] imply that men were the enemy."  This in not mere rhetoric.

This is a way of opening up the possibilities.  It's akin to what Sappho does, to what Anne Carson helping us read and translate Sappho does (from her book, Eros: the Bittersweet).  It speaks to love, to hate, to how we divide unto death, or pray and forgive.  Yes, it's that Jewish idea, but here's from a Greek, from an English poet's perspectives that might help:
It was Sappho who first called eros "bittersweet." No one who has been in love disputes her. What does the word mean?....  Here is contradiction and perhaps paradox. To perceive this eros can split the mind in two. Why? The components of the contradiction may seem, at first glance, obvious. We take for granted, as did Sappho, the sweetness of erotic desire; its pleasurability smiles out at us. But the bitterness is less obvious. There might be several reasons why what is sweet should also be bitter. There may be various relations between the two savors.  Poets have sorted the matter out in different ways. Sappho's own formulation is a good place to begin tracing the possibilities. The relevant fragment runs:
ρος δατ μ λυσιμλες δνει,
γλυκπικρον μχανον ρπετον
Eros once again limb-loosener whirls me
sweetbitter, impossible to fight off, creature stealing up
_____________________________(LP, fr. 130)
It is hard to translate. "Sweetbitter" sounds wrong, and yet our standard English rendering "bittersweet" inverts the actual terms of Sappho's compound glukupikron. Should that concern us? If her ordering has a descriptive intention, eros is here being said to bring sweetness, then bitterness in sequence: she is sorting the possibilities chronologically....  But it is unlikely that this is what Sappho means....  Love and hate bifurcate Eros....  Paradox is what takes shape on the sensitized plate of the poem, a negative image from which positive pictures can be created. Whether apprehended as a dilemma of sensation, action or value, eros prints as the same contradictory fact: love and hate converge within erotic desire.
Notice how Anne notices how "Love and hate bifurcate Eros" but also how "love and hate converge within erotic desire."  This isn't mere rhetoric.  This isn't just poetry.  This isn't at all how an extremist like Osama bin Laden or Adolf Hitler or an elitist like Aristotle would do things.  Yes, I know they're all men.  But who is implying the nature of the enemy?  My enemies?  Love our enemies?  Pray for those who hate us?  What kind of contradictory poetry or rhetoric or Bible teaching is that?

My wife and I once attended a conference on Love and on loving enemies; it was led by a counseling psychologist whose area of research was sexual abuse, on dealing with the trauma afterwards, on confronting the abusers.  His best friend, he said, was a scholar on the Hebrew Bible.  They advised, he told us, to define our enemies, "but to use a pencil with an eraser."  He then gave several categories for abusers of others so as to begin to have strategies and boundaries for moving forward with them in life.  "But," he reminded, "as you define the people in your life, write with that pencil and be ready to use the eraser to make changes."  I like that.  It seems Jewish in some ways, Bible-like in some ways, feminist in some ways, poetic and Sappho-like and literary-with-real-life in some ways.  As I think about what Joel and Rod posted as they thought about the death of Osama bin Lin, killed by the United States of America as announced by its president, it's useful.  I have living enemies today.  And if I pray for my enemies, then how does that change them and me?  It does.  Rather than causing enemy death, it tends to make me question why they are my enemy, death deserving.  These sorts of words, then, and practices, are helpful.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

from Amanda, from Rachel, from Suzanne

Amanda Mac, a top ranking Bible blogger alongside Optimistic Chad and Rod of Alexandria, says, "it’s not that there is only a handful of female biblibloggers out there," and she encourages us to read the many. It's not just the same old stuff from men; I think her encouragement to read more of the many women bloggers on the Bible has a lot of value whether you're a man reading or a woman reading.

Rachel Marszalek whose blog is a top ranker among the mostly-men "Top 50," says:  "we are in danger, more than the Samaritan woman, of only half reading something with symbolic import."

At Suzanne's Bookshelf, Suzanne, who's been voted a top Bible blogger, reminds us of the Greek meaning of a Bible word read at the Royal Wedding:   "The Greek word adelphoi..., that is brother and sister."