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A new Anne Carson poem

September 17, 2015

minor re/visions of 9/11

September 11, 2015

I remember the day, 9/11/2001, like it was yesterday.

I was a student in New York City. I’d been living there for a while at that time—I was still adjusting to being in the big city. I was a Native kid,…

On this particular morning—September 11—I remember hitting “Snooze” in the morning time and going back to sleep. When I passed back out, I remember dreaming about a plane, a small crop-duster in my dream, hitting a small building and falling to the ground….

It was undoubtedly a tragedy. But September 11th wasn’t a surprise, at least not for Native people and many people of color. No, Native people were already well aware of ….

[the need for] rectification for the Marias Massacre, for the Sand Creek Massacre, for Wounded Knee, for North Tulsa/Black Wall Street, the Mankato Mass Hanging, the Red Summer of 1919, Joe Coe, Emmett Till, Internment Camps of Japanese, Chinese Exclusion Act, Slavery, Jim Crow, Genocide, Forced Tubal Ligation of Native Women, Tuskegee Experiments, etc., etc., etc….
Gyasi Ross, “The Day White Innocence Died: An Indigenous Take on #September11

“Keep your head low.” My mother said those words to me sometime after Sept. 11, 2001. It left me baffled and confused at the age of 10. What did my being Muslim have to do with an attack that turned buildings into ash and rubble more than 700 miles away?

I accidentally smashed my thumb in my mother’s Corolla door on the first anniversary of 9/11. She insisted I still go to school even though my thumb had already begun to turn the hues of a Turbo Rocket Popsicle. I was dressed for the occasion, I thought. Red ribbons complacently swayed with my pigtails, red shirt and blue jeans making my white belt pop….
Mahjabeen Syed, “The pain of growing up Muslim in post-9/11 America

A peculiar silence had consumed the usual commotion of my elementary classroom when my teacher Ms. Rubin rushed into the room in the early hours of September 11th, 2001. Her face had lost its familiar tones of vibrance, and her hands were clapped to her mouth.

“The Twin Towers have been hit,” she chokingly announced.

The events of 9/11 profoundly impacted my childhood. I recited the pledge of allegiance every morning, yet I was singled out for my brown skin. Our neighbors shunned my family and I was frisked without fail upon every visit to the airport. I feared for my family — not from terrorism, but from the patriotic zeal that plagues this country.
Chiraayu Gosrani, “The real post-9/11 United States

Requiem for a Never-Ending Conversation: Remembering Mark

August 29, 2015

Two weeks ago, I watched as one of my best friends died.

Longtime readers of my blog, Gaudete Theology, knew him as commenter Mark S. He commented here once, too.

Mark was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer in early 2013.

But our conversation had begun years before that, not long after my manager had hired him. He was passing by my office when he heard me laughing while delightedly telling my officemate that the American Academy of Religion was devoting an entire session at their upcoming conference to discuss whether or not Pastafarianism — the cultus of the Flying Spaghetti Monster — qualified as an actual religion. He backtracked a couple of steps, stood at the doorway listening till I wound down, and then said, “Wait… what? You obviously take your religion pretty seriously – you have a flyer for a religion lecture on your bulletin board – but you’re laughing about the Flying Spaghetti Monster?”

In retrospect I can hear him thinking, “Don’t you know the FSM was made up by a bunch of atheists who are mocking you? You’re supposed to be offended, not amused. What kind of a Christian *are* you?”

So I burbled on a bit about how fabulous I thought it was that religious studies people could use the FSM as a test particle to probe the definition of “religion.” He said, “That’s interesting, I’d like to hear more about that – maybe we can have lunch sometime and talk about it.” And so our conversation began.

Please click through to read the rest of the post and the comments over on my blog.

When I was invited to become a co-blogger here at BLT, Mark was the first person I told. I remember displaying the site on my office computer and showing it to him, saying “Look! Look at this site! I can’t believe these people actually want me to join them!” I was flabbergasted and unsure of myself. He always had more faith confidence in my work than I did myself; this was not the only time that he encouraged me to pursue a wider audience or broader platform for my work.

I hope to gradually resume blogging more actively over the next few months.

trigger warning – Meta Sodomite Challenge

June 30, 2015
TRIGGER WARNING This article or section, or pages it links to, contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors.

“And they inserted their Logic, stuck it in him.”
What the fuck is this shit?
Stewart James Felker

Men don’t use the word “rape” when they testify. They talk about being sodomized, or about iron rods being inserted into them. In so doing, they make rape a women’s issue. By denying their own sexual subjugation to male brutality, they form a brotherhood with rapists that conspires against their own wives, mothers, and daughters, say some of those who testify.

There is a lot of ambiguity surrounding sexual torture, says Sheila Meintjes. It is not difficult to understand why. “There is a hypothesis that sexual torture of men is to induce sexual passivity and to abolish political power and potency, while the torture of women is the activation of sexuality. There is a lot of anger about women — because women do not have the authority, but often they have a lot of power.”
Antjie Krog

We have much to learn from Rwandans, who have been brave enough to confront and convict rape as a universal crime. Look outside my office window at that dormitory. We don’t know how to face, to confront, the rape that goes in these buildings on this Texas Christian University (TCU) campus.
an upper level administrator having returned from the TCU-sponsored screening of the documentary The Uncondemned in Kigali

A mark! O, mark but that mark! A mark, says my lady!
Let the mark have a prick in’t, to mete at, if it may be.

She’s too hard for you at pricks, sir: challenge her to bowl.

I will something affect the letter, for it argues facility.
The preyful princess pierced and prick’d a pretty pleasing pricket;
Some say a sore; but not a sore, till now made sore with shooting.
The dogs did yell: put L to sore, then sorel jumps from thicket;
Or pricket sore, or else sorel; the people fall a-hooting.
If sore be sore, then L to sore makes fifty soresone sorel.
Of one sore I an hundred make by adding but one more L.
William Shakespeare

The last Old Testament “Clobber Text” I will talk about is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18 and 19. Some interpret this story to say that the sin of Sodom is homosexuality and believe that God destroyed the city of Sodom because it was “overrun with homosexuals.” To summarize the story, a host invites traveling men into his house. Later, an angry mob of townspeople surround the house and demand that the host turn his guests over to them, clearly stating that foreigners are not welcome and implying that they may be raped or killed. The host attempts to soothe the anger of the threatening gangs by offering women of his household for the mob to abuse instead of his male guests. (Rogers 67). Rogers says that “in that culture, the most humiliating experience for a man was to be treated like a woman, and raping a man was the most violent such treatment.” So, the host felt it was more important to protect the integrity of the male visitors in his house than to protect his own women.
Emily Douglas

In both Gender Trouble and Bodies that Matter Butler deals extensively with Irigaray’s writings and criticises her, especially in her first book, sometimes vehemently (Butler 1990: 18). Nevertheless, in her second book she takes a conceptual turn that is basically similar to Irigaray’s, even if the contact-points for identification she offers are different. As already mentioned, Irigaray argues that a phallogocentrical order induces an outside that is constitutive and stands for the contingent par excellence, for which she coins the metaphor “the sex that is not one”. This appears in Bodies that Matter in a mirrored way when Butler points out that the constitution of a subject is always and constitutively accompanied by exclusion. Butler then passes over this exclusion, which is constitutively part of the formation of any identity, referring on the one hand to the notions of “repudiation” and “abjection” borrowed implicitly from Lacan (Butler 1993: 3 and 111) that designate a process in which the subject abandons unliveable potentialities (see also Distelhorst 2007: 118f.). But on the other hand she superposes this exclusion with the notions with which Michel Foucault investigates the ways in which norms define who and what counts as reality and as a viable subject, and who or what is “fundamentally unintelligible” (Butler 2004: 28 and 30). This brings Butler to the conception that the heterosexual hegemony produces homo-, trans- or intersexuals as “unthinkable, abject, unliveable bodies” (Butler, 1993: xi and 3). Butler criticises Irigaray for, as she sees it, equating the outside of phallogentric order with “the female”.[6] Nevertheless, her writing also mirrors that of Irigaray in Bodies that Matter when Butler relates this outside of phallogentric order to the lesbian and ultimately the homosexual (Butler 1993: 51). In this way, however, as Butler contends, a competition in the sphere of the excluded and abjected emerges between the “feminine” and the “homosexual”, one that is tantamount to a competition between (heterosexual) “women” and “gays/lesbians”. This becomes evident when Butler states “that the feminine monopolizes the sphere of the excluded” (Butler 1993: 48), an assumption she sets out to criticise.[7] Such a bringing-into-competition also becomes evident when Butler critically discusses whether “gender” can be seen as a “code for homosexuality” (Butler 2004: 181) but then herself poses the question of whether “difference” could not be read as a “code for heterosexual normativity” (Butler 2004: 202).
Anna Schober

Above all we must keep in mind that narrative is a form of representation. Abraham in Genesis is not a real person any more than the painting of an apple is real fruit.
Adele Berlin

We find the Bible of the Jews in Greek, and even where it’s in Hebrew and in Hebrew Aramaic, it’s mostly in Greek. And we may even want that language not to be rhetorical. But where the Jewish bible is in Greek, it comes to us already translated. Translation is rhetorical, whether we’d like it to be something a-rhetorical or not-too rhetorical if possible.
J. K. Gayle

Aristotle consistently sought to contrast his philosophical system [of logic] with that of his predecessors even if the contrast required distortion of his predecessors’ doctrines…. The conceptual term for the Sophists was usually logos and sometimes legein [which means ‘to speak’] — terms broader in meaning than any ancient conception.
Edward Schiappa

Pardon me for having so many epigraphs and the necessary trigger warning. I’m trying to set the stage for my limited blog engagement with a particular translation challenge.

Here’s further context.

Last Friday the Supreme Court of the United States granted marriage equality. That same weekend blogger Deane Galbraith issued “The Sodomite Challenge: How to Translate Genesis 19:5” to a few of us bloggers. Earlier that week I’d been to a Shakespeare play on the Texas Christian University campus with my daughter who’d just graduated from college and is going this week to South Africa to be a teacher, reading in preparation, Antjie Krog’s Country of My Skull: Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa and finding herself in tears talking with my wife and me about it. These are coincidences of my own life. My limited blog engagement with Deane’s particular translation challenge is highly subjective. There are ambiguities to take note of.

Yesterday I finally brought myself not to translate the Hebrew of the MT into English, as is Deane’s challenge. Rather I brought myself to confront the Hellene translation of that Hebrew done in spite of the Aristotelian phallogocentricism that Alexander the Great learned from Aristotle. I rather agree with Sylvie Honigman, who says the translators of the Hebrew scriptures in Alexandria did not work out of the Alexandrian paradigm but instead out of a Homeric paradigm. I tend to find compelling the Talmud’s claim, according to Naomi Seidman, that the Septuagint is a trickster text, a rendering of the Hebrew that confronts the politics of the Greeks in the context of Alexandria, of Egypt.

I do think Deane is most correct about the Hebrew representations:

So the story of Sodom in Genesis 19 evokes three types of sexual intercourse, none of which actually occur, but which are only spoken about [in the MT’s Hebrew].

  • First, the crowd infer that Lot had been having sex intercourse with the two men/angels by night (Gen 19:5a);
  • Second, the crowd of men demand sexual intercourse between them and the two men/angels, and (Gen 19:5b);
  • Three, Lot offers his two daughters for sexual intercourse with the crowd of men (Gen 19:8).

But no actual sexual intercourse takes place until, in a surprising twist, Lot has sex with his two daughters (Gen 19:30-38).

With the exception of the imagined sexual intercourse between Lot and the two men/angels, each of the other three descriptions of sexual intercourse (described or actual) involves rape: the rape of the two men/angels by the crowd of men from Sodom; the rape of Lot’s two daughters by the crowd of men from Sodom; the rape of Lot by his two daughters.

The Hellene, or Greek, representations of this sort of Hebrew representations do something else. They engage readers in a male contest over language, over Logos in the Greek Empire. Such is violent. Such violence silences women. Such silences men who are called kinaidoi (“catamites”). Logic sounds more natural, less botched, according to Aristotle, who taught Alexander, to greatly colonize the world, which is now, in the West largely still our world.

The Jews translating their own Scripture in Alexandria Egypt had Sarai say to Abram of the Egyptian woman:

εἶπεν δὲ Σαρα πρὸς Αβραμ
ἰδοὺ συνέκλεισέν με κύριος τοῦ μὴ τίκτειν
εἴσελθε οὖν πρὸς τὴν παιδίσκην μου
ἵνα τεκνοποιήσῃς ἐξ αὐτῆς
ὑπήκουσεν δὲ Αβραμ τῆς φωνῆς Σαρας

Readers notice the preposition προς. In the gospel of John this gets translated as “with” as in “with God”; and this provokes Anne Carson to ask, “What kind of withness?”

It’s more than with. More intimate than that. More violent perhaps. The non-consensual “entering into” by the man “with” her. Or did she have a choice, this slave, this woman, of Egypt?

Earlier for Genesis the translators have written, using Greek:

καὶ ἐξεκαλοῦντο τὸν Λωτ
καὶ ἔλεγον πρὸς αὐτόν

ποῦ εἰσιν
οἱ ἄνδρες οἱ εἰσελθόντες πρὸς σὲ τὴν νύκτα
ἐξάγαγε αὐτοὺς πρὸς ἡμᾶς
ἵνα συγγενώμεθα αὐτοῖς

We see the same words, εἰσελθόντες, “enter into,” and multiply πρὸς. What sort of intimate withness is this?

We see other words with the multiple πρὸς: namely ἐξάγαγε and ἔλεγον. And there’s συγγενώμεθα. These words recall Plutarch’s later critique of the much earlier Salon, whom Aristotle valorized (from here, with Bernadotte Perrin’s English translation from here):

ὅλως δὲ πλείστην ἔχειν ἀτοπίαν οἱ περὶ τῶν γυναικῶν νόμοι τῷ Σόλωνι δοκοῦσι. μοιχὸν μὲν γὰρ ἀνελεῖν τῷ λαβόντι δέδωκεν: ἐὰν δ᾽ ἁρπάσῃ τις ἐλευθέραν γυναῖκα καὶ βιάσηται, ζημίαν ἑκατὸν δραχμὰς ἔταξε: κἂν προαγωγεύῃ, δραχμὰς εἴκοσι, πλὴν ὅσαι πεφασμένως πωλοῦνται, λέγων δὴ τὰς ἑταίρας. αὗται γὰρ ἐμφανῶς φοιτῶσι πρὸς τοὺς διδόντας. [2] ἔτι δ᾽ οὔτε θυγατέρας πωλεῖν οὔτ᾽ ἀδελφὰς δίδωσι, πλὴν ἂν μὴ λάβῃ παρθένον ἀνδρὶ συγγεγενημένην. τὸ δ᾽ αὐτὸ πρᾶγμα ποτὲ μὲν πικρῶς καὶ ἀπαραιτήτως κολάζειν, ποτὲ δ᾽ εὐκόλως καὶ παίζοντα, πρόστιμον ζημίαν τὴν τυχοῦσαν ὁρίζοντα, ἄλογόν ἐστι: πλὴν εἰ μὴ σπανίζοντος τότε τοῦ νομίσματος ἐν τῇ πόλει μεγάλας ἐποίει τὰς ἀργυρικὰς ζημίας τὸ δυσπόριστον.

But in general Solon’s laws concerning women seem very absurd. For instance, he permitted an adulterer caught in the act to be killed; but if a man committed rape upon a free woman, he was merely to be fined a hundred drachmas; and if he gained his end by persuasion, twenty drachmas, unless it were with one of those who sell themselves openly, meaning of course the courtesans. For these go openly to those who offer them their price. [2] Still further, no man is allowed to sell a daughter or a sister, unless he find that she is no longer a virgin. But to punish the same offence now severely and inexorably, and now mildly and pleasantly, making the penalty a slight fine, is unreasonable; unless money was scarce in the city at that time, and the difficulty of procuring it made these monetary punishments heavy.

What we see is the violence, the rape, the struggle for men to account for rape especially when raped.

Even the line καὶ ἔλεγον πρὸς αὐτόν is a struggle. My translation of this translation is this line,“And they inserted their Logic, stuck it in him.” Somehow, ironically, SF at Deane’s blog violently reacts. The need to confront this sort of thing in our day and time is there. We are stuck with this sort of language.

Suzanne McCarthy: No more crankypants!

June 24, 2015

When Theophrastus announced that Suzanne McCarthy was joining him, Craig Smith, and me to start blogging here, one of her blogs had been, for some months, earlier in that same year, one of the “Top 50” most-visited biblioblogs and had been voted by bibliobloggers, one month, as being in the “Top 10” blogs on the Bible and then, in a later month, had been voted #1.

Suzanne, the first time this Top-10 thing happened, said:

I decided some time ago to completely ignore the list of top 50 biblioblogs. I was just being a pain about it, and I didn’t want to foist my irritation on others ad infinitum. So imagine my astonishment on finding out that somebody, or a collection of somebody’s, has voted this blog among the top ten biblioblogs. Shoot, now I am going to have to improve my manners and act like one of the gang. No more crankypants!

In a timely fashion, longtime blogfriend, Dan Brennan has emailed me about this post on cross gender friendship. What a bouquet of roses it is tonight.

The second time the Top-10 thing happened (with the very Top-1 blog vote), Suzanne posted this way:

The Top 10 Biblioblogs reports that I have been voted number 1! (No artwork, though.) I don’t know how to interpret this, since I have no idea how many people vote. But let me say that I sincerely appreciate the response.

I take this two ways. First, I personally should keep on blogging. In spite of my single issue blogging, some people still want to read it. Second, I choose to read into the results that the biblioblogosphere wants to affirm the participation of women. I don’t think I am far off there.

There are still few women biblioblogging, and there certainly is a lack of women with an academic background blogging in biblical studies.

She went on in the same post to reiterate something of importance to her about blogging in general and about blogging on the Bible in particular:

I truly feel that there is a great deal of friendship and empathy expressed for women in the biblioblogosphere…. So, lots of friendly interaction and I appreciate that. But the question remains, why would anyone blog about my spiritual condition? Women, effeminates, and atheists routinely draw fire in some very unpleasant ways. There are nasty things said about our status and right to exist and function alongside the “real men” all the time. Although only a very small proportion of bibliobloggers are mean, this has some dampening effect. Most of the negative comments are said by those who are not actually bibliobloggers, but these more outspoken authors are often affirmed by bibliobloggers….

Her full post is here.

I mention this because Suzanne would often acknowledge when others positively influenced her, even through blogging. For example, a couple of years before BLT, she posted this post that started this way:

She is there, in particular, making a point to say how in specific ways other bloggers, in this case Theophrastus and me, have provided her with stuff that she considers great. And yet, whenever some of us were discussing stuff on our blogs in not-so-great ways, Sue would express hope that we might change those ways of ours, just a bit at least; and she’d get us thinking about other, related great stuff. Here’s another example:


Her “two” she refers to in this comment are Theophrastus and me again (he writing in vigorous defense of Aristotle’s teachings and I in disdain of Aristotle’s misogyny); see how Suzanne gets us moving on, hoping for friendliness and for friendship in blogging, having us read something she’d already read as it is more clearly where we might share learning and come to some agreement.

But Suzanne McCarthy was not necessarily ever all about agreement. In fact, she enjoyed difference of opinion, intelligent disagreement, and smart debate. She urged us in starting BLT to promote this.

“That’s the thing,” she wrote to the two of us on this idea of co-blogging inclusively on various subjects related to the Bible, literature, and translation. “There is stimulation to be had from an active interchange, even with lots of disagreement, but no bullying.”

And so Suzanne McCarthy modeled this sort of blogging, and biblioblogging, for all of us. She never stopped blogging and never stopped blogging this way, and always with humour. To the end of her life, she was troubled by the ignorant and the sexists and the bullies, who offer little and damage much and many. Her crankypants crack is in their honour, I must say. Thankfully, she left us all with a few wonderful published articles (like this one) and a possible book on the way and a set of wonderful blog posts and trans-formative conversations with many. Below are her top-10-most-read BLT posts in order from first-written to most-recently posted. You might just find again some great stuff there.

Ann Nyland on publishing the GLTB Study Bible
SEPTEMBER 13, 2011

Hugo and the train stations of Paris
FEBRUARY 26, 2012

The Opramoas Inscription
JUNE 22, 2012

Women, IQ and complementarianism
JULY 18, 2012

Pagninus Latin Bible online
NOVEMBER 17, 2012

The Dovekeepers and Ancient Jewish Magic
JANUARY 27, 2013

Tim Keller, Allender and Longman need a refresher course in biology.
JANUARY 16, 2014

Noah: A rabbi’s review
MARCH 29, 2014

Ishi not Baali
APRIL 3, 2014

Susannah Heschel on “Selma”
JANUARY 18, 2015

In Tribute: Suzanne McCarthy, 1955-2015

June 20, 2015
In early 2008 I encountered Christian egalitarianism for the first time and embraced it with excitement and relief.  Finally, I could let go of my cognitive dissonance! I could believe in a God who hadn’t arbitrarily consigned me to subordinate status; I could trust that I hadn’t been created for subordination to a man while still somehow being his equal.

Naively I thought that any Christian who learned of this liberating new way of looking at Scripture would feel the same way I did.  Surely it would be a relief to them, too, to stop fighting against their better instincts the way I had had to fight mine.  Surely they would be happy to understand that God’s ways were higher than the church’s ways.  Surely they would be happy to see women set free.

And then, jarringly, upsettingly, I began to come across the counter-arguments.  The ones that said egalitarian Christians were in rebellion against God; that they were twisting the Scriptures because they didn’t want to fulfill their God-given gender roles; that in their heart of hearts they loved the world and the world’s culture too much to stand against it for Christ.  The Bible was plain and clear, they said.  How could I go against it?

Once I would have been willing to believe them, but the cage door was open and swinging, and I had found my way outside.  How could I go back in?  Dismayed, doubting myself, I looked for scholarly support for what I hoped, what I had to believe was somehow true, no matter what the accusations against it.  Men of God with credentials and letters after their names– men like John Piper and Wayne Grudem– were insisting that egalitarian scholarship regarding Greek words like “kephale” (translated “head” as in “the husband is the head of the wife”) was mistaken and wrong-headed. I had no training in ancient languages.  Who should I believe?

It was then that I came across her blog– or maybe I was directed there; I don’t remember.

Suzanne McCarthy. Suzanne’s Bookshelf.

Her bio simply said she was a woman living in Vancouver, Canada, but that she also blogged at Abecedaria, a scholarly site about language and letter systems.  As I used the blog search engine, it seemed that any topic on the complementarian/egalitarian debate that I typed in, she had addressed. As I read her words, I found myself encountering a singularly wise, compassionate, articulate scholar, who seemed to feel the same way I did about being consigned to female subordination.

For anything that Grudem or Piper said, Suzanne McCarthy had a strong answer, using facts and evidence from ancient language sources, showing how the words Paul and Peter used had been used by their historical and literary contempories.  For instance, here is an excerpt from one of her articles about how the word “kephale” (“head”) was used by Philo of Alexandria:

The “head” is the virtuous person. I see no indication that this person has ruling authority. In another book, Philo gives an example of this kind of person, Philadelphus,

        “Ptolemy, surnamed Philadelphus, was the third in succession after Alexander, the monarch who subdued Egypt; and he was, in all virtues which can be displayed in government, the most excellent sovereign, not only of all those of his time, but of all that ever lived; so that even now, after the lapse of so many generations, his fame is still celebrated, as having left many instances and monuments of his magnanimity in the cities and districts of his kingdom, so that even now it is come to be a sort of proverbial expression to call excessive magnificence, and zeal, for honour and splendour in preparation, Philadelphian, from his name; (30) and, in a word, the whole family of the Ptolemies was exceedingly eminent and conspicuous above all other royal families, and among the Ptolemies, Philadelphus was the most illustrious; for all the rest put together scarcely did as many glorious and praiseworthy actions as this one king did by himself, being, as it were, the leader of the herd, and in a manner the head of all the kings.” On Moses II:29

Here “head” means “most illustrious” and simply cannot mean “authority over” since Philadelphus is head of the kings in his family who lived before him and followed him. He simply never had authority over the other kings in chronological succession with him. Was Philadelphus really the “ruling authority” over his own father? 

. . . Much still needs to be done to release men and women from a ruler – subject relationship, and allow them to enter into a relationship of hesed, which is “covenant love” and is simply called kindness, or lovingkindness in the King James Bible. The scriptures are so clear on the fact that hesed is the core value in relationships. [Emphasis added.]

At the time I first encountered her blog, Suzanne McCarthy’s day job was teaching special-needs children.  Her gentle graciousness in imparting the wisdom she gained from these children seemed to shine a light into my soul:

The learning goals for the Down’s syndrome child are to have her identify and express her choice or personal preference. The student also learns appropriate group behaviour and how to act as hostess and leader of the group. She plans, buys and prepares the food. She cleans up. She passes the food around and passes the pen for other students to record their choice. It is her event.

Experiencing and expressing personal autonomy is essential to psychological health. These students are more than just trainable. We do not train even a child of the most limited ability as if she were anything less than fully human. She also has the experience of being the leader of the group. She controls the pace and responses. We each need the experience of functioning as a leader. We ask this for all of us, that we would also be able to experience and express choice in ways that are respectful of other people.

In a comment on her own post, Ms. McCarthy adds: “I thought that it was an important statement on authority/permission and the individual. We do not restrict even children to total submission.”

To be human, she says, is to be able to make choices for oneself, to have personal agency.  Even those we might consider the least capable need the dignity of self-expression, the experience of autonomy, and a chance to try leadership.  Here is “do unto others” in a nutshell.  And here is the definitive answer to male headship, in a post where she never overtly mentions the topic.  If full humanity cannot be realized in a state of constant subordination, how can we Christians consign women to just such a state?

It seemed to me that I could hear Jesus saying, “I had Downs syndrome, and you helped me learn to make my own choices. I was a special needs child, and you gave me dignity. I had limited abilities, and you let me experience leadership. Inasmuch as you have done this to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you have done it to me.”

Later, Suzanne began blogging here on Bible Literature Translation, and she, with the other members of that group, ended up inviting me to join.  To be honest, with my simple Bachelor of Arts, I have always had a bit of an inferiority complex about posting my stuff among the much more erudite offerings of my fellow members– but Suzanne McCarthy made a special effort to make me feel valued as a contributor, however infrequently I posted.

In January 2014 Suzanne announced on BLT that she had been diagnosed with a terminal illness.  It was in the context of this that she shared her post There are Worse Things than Dying:

No matter what, the overwhelming trauma of living 30 years in complementarianism will not fade. The further away I get, the more I experience a normal, loving life, the more I realize that I lived those 30 years in severe physical and psychological pain and trauma. I will never be able to describe the absolute terror of living 30 years in a form of bondage that was supposedly willed on me, not by culture, not by my own stupidity, but by God when he created the world. That is what I believed. I tremble as I write this. It brings on nausea and shaking. It was completely terrible. But that is what Carson teaches, but he has never experienced the trauma himself. He wills it on the other sex.

Not all women experience complementarianism the way I did. However, the reality is that not once, while I was in the situation, did I express my true feelings about this belief. How would anyone know what women caught in this web of suppression really think? In the situation, there was a kind of numbness that keeps one going. There is a way to live and not live, at the same time. That is what it was like.

I did not experience complementarianism in marriage like that, but I do know and have experienced how God’s name is taken in vain when it is used as an instrument of power and control.  As I read her words, I was humbled and blessed by the transparency and openness with which Suzanne McCarthy wrote. Her writing was embued with the power of her mind and the beauty of her heart, and I have to say it has spoken to me as few others have in my life.

Perhaps it’s also because she loved the wild places like I do, and could write about them like this:

I am looking out my window
at the mountain now
That we climbed last fall
To train for further climbs we said
But we didn’t really know.

From the summit
we gazed down
On straits and islands
To the west
On city to the south

And to the north
The serried ranks
Of mauve tinted peaks
Reached to infinity.

We lay spreadeagled
on the soft sand table
The very topmost leaf of land
From which everywhere
Is down

And the ravens dipped
Out of the wild blue sky
And the thrumming beat
of their broad wings
Echoed through our bones
And their black serrated spans
pinned us to the earth

Then we hurried down
Heels digging in the gravel
And promised to each other
That we would return next summer

With pencils and paper,
Sketchpad and notebook
And a day’s worth of food and water

But we never did.


The mountain came to me
And I lay myself down
Face to the moss carpet
That edges the creeks
You cross as you ascend

This is the return
To the earth before Adam and Eve
When we were children playing
In the land before time
I see the children playing

— that I feel as if we were in some way kindred spirits, even though we never personally met.

I will miss you, Suzanne McCarthy.  One day in eternity, I hope to take your hand and tell you how much you have meant to me.

Suzanne McCarthy: Sad News

June 16, 2015


Suzanne Ethelwyn McCarthy

December 14, 1955 – June 12, 2015

With deep sadness and love, we announce that Suzanne Ethelwyn McCarthy, née Hayhoe, passed away at the Dorothy Ley Hospice in Toronto, after a long struggle with breast cancer.

Beloved wife of Jay Frankel, beloved mother of John Cormac McCarthy and Helen Eva McCarthy, beloved mother-in-law of Lindsay Marie McCarthy, beloved grandmother of Wyatt Hudson Cormac McCarthy, and beloved sister of Doris Morris [Bill], Elizabeth Francisco [Bruce], Ruth Hayhoe [Walter Linde], Douglas Hayhoe [Maurita], Alice Hayhoe, Cecil Hayhoe [Joan], and Louise Sinclair [Blair].

Suzanne was born in Toronto on December 14, 1955, the seventh of eight children of Richard Scott Hayhoe and Doris Emilie Guignard Hayhoe. After attending Humberside Collegiate Institute, in Toronto, where she studied several languages, among other subjects, Suzanne specialized at the University of Toronto in the study of linguistics, French, German, Greek, and Hebrew, and for a year pursued French-language biblical studies at Institut Emmaüs, in Vevey, Switzerland. In 1978, she received her B.A. in Classics and Modern Languages from the University of Toronto as a French Specialist. She pursued further studies there, focusing on the teaching of primary and secondary French, and receiving a diploma in Teaching English as a Second Language, in 1979. She received her M.A. in Education from the Franco-Ontarian Centre at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, at the University of Toronto, in 1994, writing her thesis on the Cree syllabary and writing system.

Suzanne was an authority on the history of biblical translation as well as written language systems. In addition to her scholarly contributions to understanding the Cree writing system, she was an incisive critic of the recent movement in some circles to translate the Bible in ways designed to reinforce and sanctify the submission of women—the topic of her book, whose publication we look forward to.

Having worked as a French teacher, Suzanne later worked for many years as a teacher of children with special needs in the Vancouver, BC school system. She loved the outdoors, especially the woods, and was also an avid reader and an elegant, graceful writer and poet. She faced her long final illness with characteristic courage and dignity. She was an honest, forthright, humble, respectful, and kind person, and her active love for her children and others in her life was her foundation for living.

Paul Tournier on the Superiority of the White Race

June 16, 2015

Paul Tournier is a Swiss physician whose writings influenced my American missionary parents greatly. I asked my mother recently if she’d read his The Violence Within (translated by Edwin Hudson for English language publication in 1978), and she thinks she has. That was before I’d myself read what he writes about power (which is, his Part II of the book, to go on further with his work “not so much to describe the escalation of violence as to discover its root cause”).

Please forgive me, dear blog reader, for enticing you in with the title, “Paul Tournier on the Superiority of the White Race,” as if the white race is the only thing with “superiority” in Tournier’s mind. Now that I’ve read his book — both Part I on Violence and Part II as his perceived root cause of violence, namely Power — may I share with you a few quotations? And I’m going to ask my mother again what she remembers. The year he writes this is 1977, not a year in the world without either escalated violence or power behind it.

Here is a bit excerpt for you, for us, then, in 2014:

Mission always aims at mastery. Missions to heathen lands, as they were conceived when I was young, were permeated throughout with a preconception of the superiority of the white race. Missionary committees followed their progress with the satisfaction of a General Staff following the advance of their victorious troops on a headquarters map….

This cause [of the escalation of violence in our modern world] is, I believe, to be found in the modern idolatry of power. ‘Be powerful’; such is the first commandment, as much in our so-called Christian West as in Islam and in the [atheistic] Communist world.


June 8, 2015

This is what its like to be a white person in the public pool in McKinney, Texas USA.

You need somebody else to ask you to read about the history of segregated pools… about housing discrimination and restrictive covenants… about the history of black women in this country. And after you have read all the things, you need somebody else to ask you to take a look at your own life, your own decisions. To be white means you haven’t had to do much such reading or to do much examination of your own life and your own decisions. What it’s like to be white is not to have to be questioned like this or to be told by anybody to be any different than you are already are, since you are in your rights to be, to be just as you are, and to not have to be different:

Who are you trying to keep out of your restricted neighborhood? Your private community pool? How often do you call the police instead of parents over the inconvenience of a teenage party? Who do you assume is or isnt in your neighborhood? Were you hopeful for white neighbors? Do you even see anyone else? When this happens in your neighborhood, will you just watch? Will you use your body to protect children or to ignore them, or to hurt them? Yes, you must learn and reflect and decide how you will be different.

(This is what its like to be a black girl in America.)

If Complementarian Bible Translators Rendered Aeschylus

June 8, 2015

If the Greek play The Eumenides (or Εὐμενίδες, or The Kindly Ones), written by Aeschylus, were translated by a male-only team of complementarian translators of the Bible, then the lines would likely go as they go for Paul writing to Timothy, when this biblical man team is rendering.

Paul writes (the following in Greek), and they render (using the following ESV English) –

διδάσκειν δὲ γυναικὶ οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω,
οὐδὲ αὐθεντεῖν ἀνδρός,
ἀλλ’ εἶναι ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ.

I do not permit a woman to teach
or to exercise authority over a man;
rather, she is to remain quiet.

Aeschylus writes (the following in Greek), and they would likely render (using the following ESV-like English) –

Ἀπόλλων: τίς ἥδε τιμή; κόμπασον γέρας καλόν.
Χορός: τοὺς μητραλοίας ἐκ δόμων ἐλαύνομεν.
Ἀπόλλων: τί γὰρ γυναικὸς ἥτις ἄνδρα νοσφίσῃ;
Χορός: οὐκ ἂν γένοιθ᾽ ὅμαιμος αὐθέντης φόνος.

Apollo: What is this honorable role of yours? Brag on of your fine privilege.
Chorus: It is to drive from their domiciles those sons who assault, batter, and murder their mothers.
Apollo: Why not when a woman abandons a man?
Chorus: Because that would not be the exercise of authority over a relative who is kinfolk.

The above, respectively, are I Timothy 2:12 and The Eumenides (209 – 212) in English Standard Version.

Below are examples of other English of translations for the same Greek lines of Aeschylus. Respectively, the examples are the renderings of the dialogue of Apollo and the Chorus, lines 211-212,  by various translators:  Lewis Campbell (1890), Arthur S. Way (1908), Herbert Weir Smyth (1926), Richmond Lattimore (1973), Robert Fagles (1984), David Grene and Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty [both a verse translation and also a translation for the stage] (1989), Edward Wright Haile (1994), Peter Burian and Alan Shapiro (2003), and George Theodoridis (2007). And I’m not trying to give the exhaustive set of translations, only the few that I found on a single shelf of the library today:

And what of husband-slaying wives?
That blood bears not the blame of kindred violence.

What of the wife that murdereth her lord
That is no blood of kin by kindred shed.

But what about a wife who kills her husband?
That would not be murder of a relative by blood.

What if it be the woman and she kills her husband?
Such murder would not be the shedding of kindred blood.

And what of the wife who strikes her husband down?
That murderer would not destroy one’s flesh and blood.

What of the woman who has killed her man?
She is no murderer of blood kin with the murdered.

What of the woman who has killed her man?
She is not of blood kin, not of blood kin.

And what about the wife who quells her husband?
That would not be an act of killing kindred.

And what about a wife who kills her husband?
That isn’t killing one’s own flesh and blood.

And what if a woman kills her husband?
That would not be murder of the same blood and kin.

So how might Campbell (1890), Way (1908), Smyth (1926), Lattimore (1973), Fagles (1984), Grene and  O’Flaherty (1989), Haile (1994), Burian and Shapiro (2003), and Theodoridis (2007) consider the Greek of Paul written to Timothy in I Tim 2:12? Or how might we, if we’re not so hung up on “complementarianism,” on the hierarchical authority issues of so-called “biblical manhood,” a manhood that would have a man always and only in church exercising his authority over a woman to keep her kept and shut up and silenced from all teaching?

Perhaps Paul and Timothy went together to see they play The Eumenides (or Εὐμενίδες, or The Kindly Ones) together. Perhaps they read the Septuagint together. Well, in either case, we might render the following Greek of Paul to Timothy in the following way:

διδάσκειν δὲ γυναικὶ οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω,
οὐδὲ αὐθεντεῖν ἀνδρός,
ἀλλ’ εἶναι ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ.

The teaching, however, is not to be just handed over to a wife;
nor is, of course, the murdering of her husband; (Oh, Timothy, remember The Kindly Ones?)
rather, it is to be done in calmness.

Lauren F. Winner’s worrisome decision to ignore God (as a rapist, in the Bible)

June 5, 2015

My favorite book by Lauren F. Winner so far is her newest one, Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God. When it’s all over, she writes “A Short Note from the Women’s Prison” to confess this fact:

There is a chapter missing from this book.

The chapters are worth reading. The note goes on for several pages and is worth reading. Here are four paragraphs from one of those several pages, and you be the judge of their worth:

Well, you see what Winner is doing. She’s really ignoring very little at all. And neither should we when reading (about) all the various images of God in the Bible. The question begged is our response.

Ça marche comme ça: The Humanity of Google Translate

June 4, 2015

Today, one of my French colleagues teaching French in Montpellier, France, sends me this quick reply to an email I sent her yesterday:

Merci, Kurk.
Ça marche comme ça.

Running that through Google Translate to get an output into English, we get this:

Thank you, Kurk.
It works like this.

You need more context, you say.

Of course you do, I respond.

We are trying to decide together whether one of the English learners in the university program I run might serve her French learners well in the French House of our institution. I’ve been in touch with the student a bilingual native speaker of French from the former Francophone nation of Rwanda, and she’s with the native English speaking students there in France.

You need more context, you say about my colleague’s reply.

And I agree with you again. Google Translate has given only so much to say, “It works like this.” To “know” French, and to communicate it into English, the machine translator would need to know a bit more than just the usual translations of this phrase done by humans. We could find a collection of them at a website like this one:

This is somewhat how the human programmers of the machine translator “Google Translate” have created the algorithms for such translating. (Here at BLT, we’ve discussed Google Translate and its ways here, here, here, and here – if you’re interested.) The lack of context — even with all the different ways humans might move from French to English with “Ça marche comme ça” as shown in the link above — points to the lack.

Without my showing you the email thread, or without my telling you about it a bit, there’s no way you could really ascertain why my colleague would reply to me this way. And Google Translate has a hard time knowing and then showing you much either, in this case.

In this case, my colleague presumes I know what is deeply profound for her. Or she just says what she says without presuming my familiarity with her mother tongue. As it happens, she grew up speaking French in a French speaking home and going to schools in which French is the language of instruction in France. And as a little girl, she heard and sang and perhaps even moved her body to a song with this phrase in it. With some help for the monolingual English speakers, here are a couple of examples:


Chemins de Fer (from here)

For me the context of my thinking about this today is what Gideon Lewis-Kraus wrote in an article in today’s New York Times. The title implies a binary: “Is Translation an Art or a Math Problem?” The essay is a brilliant and wonderfully insightful look at translation running from the Enlightenment through Star Trek through “the principles of Chomsky’s ‘universal grammar’” through “’traduttore, traditore,’ a common Italian saying that’s really an argument masked as a proverb” and through its meanings in English (i.e., “literally, ‘translator, traitor,’ … semantically on target [if without an English phonological] match [to] the syllabic harmoniousness of the original [Italian], and thus proves the impossibility [of full translation to English] it asserts”) and through the “wonderful survey of the history and practice of translation, ‘Is That a Fish in Your Ear?’ [by] the translator David Bellos [who] explains that the very idea of [translator betrayal or] ‘infidelity’ has roots in the Ottoman Empire…. [in] a hereditary caste of translators, the Phanariots.”

Lewis-Kraus then brings us English readers to “a new Phanariot class, … native speakers of C++, … not particularly loyal to any language at all.” He’s describing the programmers for Google Translate. He says they only know C++ and, well, only English. In other words, some of these “translators” or C++ Google Translate coders assert that it is better to be English monolinguals. He laments that translation can be so divorced from, well, from languages, from bilinguals, from linguists, from translation artists and translation scientists. Translation, he laments, seems now married to, or at least is having illicit affair with, mathematicians. He quotes Susan Bernofsky:

As the translator Susan Bernofsky put it to me, “They create the impression that translation is not an art.”

He opposes that with his quotation of a computational linguist:

One computational linguist said, with a knowing leer, that there is a reason we have more than 20 translations in English of “Don Quixote.” It must be because nobody ever gets it right. If the translators can’t even make up their own minds about what it means to be “faithful” or “accurate,” what’s the point of worrying too much about it? Let’s just get rid of the whole antiquated fidelity concept. All the Sancho Panzas, all the human translators and all the computational linguists are in the same leaky boat, but the machinists are bailing out the water while the humans embroider monograms on the sails.

I like the metaphor of the boat, of the common place of the math machinists who get at translation and the humans who translate. I reject the binary, nonetheless. What would happen if a bilingual linguist translator human knew C++ and French and English?

And I love the concluding sentences Lewis-Kraus crafts in English to end one of his well-constructed paragraphs:

In a sense, their machines aren’t actually translating; they’re just speeding along tracks set down by others. This is the original sin of machine translation: The field would be nowhere without the human translators they seek, however modestly, to supersede.

He is confessing, conceding, that the would-be mathematicians-only never ever get away from the also-artistic humans translating.

Roll as we walk,
as we walk.

It works like this.

Ça marche comme ça.

When Aristotle is Greece and Greece is The West

May 24, 2015

I just read in Business Insider online an article by Drake Baer, “The fascinating cultural reason why Westerners and East Asians have polar opposite understandings of truth.”

Now, would you please read it and think about whether Baer (or his editor) has learned anything from his “13 months straight in East Asia, teaching English and traveling through South Korea, Japan, and China”?

Is Baer more like his conception of Aristotle or his conception of Confucius?

And “dialectical” is Chinese? When Aristotle wrote (or said), ἡ ῥητορική ἐστιν ἀντίστροφος τῇ διαλεκτικῇ, was he pitting himself against Confucius? Or are we in The West just confused? Can we please just talk this through?

The Hellish Southern Baptist Obligation

May 21, 2015

My parents were career missionaries with the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention of the United States of America. While the US military went to Vietnam to save it from Communism, my parents joined forces with other FMB missionaries to go to this country to save its people from Hell. These were core components of belief that fueled my parents and that drove their daily lives. The Other was lost, and they bore the Obligation to rescue as many as individuals possible.

A few things have changed.

After 150 years of hanging on to their White race supremacy, the majority in the SBC conceded, in the American Deep South, the following:

Our relationship to African-Americans has been hindered from the beginning by the role that slavery played in the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention [of us White Christian Americans].

After referring to non-American non-Christian people as “Foreign” the SBC renamed its Mission Board and begin to call the lost without Jesus who were going to Hell “International.”

After the number of IMB missionaries saving the Internationals from Hell began to decrease the organization hired a young preaching pastor of a megachurch as President.

At John Piper’s blog, this new IMB President makes very clear the mission, the obligation, the hermeneutical framework:

But my aim is to show you not simply why we must give, but also why we must go . . . however, whenever, and wherever God leads. I use the word must in light of Romans 1:14, where Paul speaks of his eagerness to preach the gospel:

I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.

Did you hear that? Paul said he is obligated to preach the gospel to all peoples. Literally, he owes the gospel to all peoples — to Greeks, to barbarians, and to the people of Rome. What a remarkable statement. Apparently, Paul’s ownership of the gospel creates an obligation with the gospel. Because he knows this good news of what God has done in Christ, he must spread this good news of what God has done in Christ.

This is what I’m praying might become a reality in our hearts: that you and I might realize that we must do everything we can to get the gospel to people who’ve never heard it. That we would realize that our ownership of the gospel creates an obligation with the gospel. That we would see that saved people this side of heaven owe the gospel to lost people (and peoples) this side of hell.

Now, the doing of “everything we can” do includes making sure that the mission force stays bigger in number than one’s megachurch. Notes Bob Smietana, quoting the new IBM President last week, in Christianity Today:

In 2009, there were about 5,600 IMB missionaries. Today, there are 4,734, a drop of 15 percent.

“We are pretty fast on the way to 4,200 missionaries,” said Platt.

Last August 2014, when David Platt became the new IMB President, Erich Bridges for the Baptist Press noted this:

The author of the bestselling books “Radical” and “Follow Me,” among others, Platt has been pastor of The Church at Brook Hills, which counts about 4,500 members, since 2006.

Last February 2015, Anne Harman in the Baptist Press quoted President Platt, outlining his Strategy with a focus on the shrinking numbers:

“Right now our funnel is really small … such that we’re turning people away,” Platt said. “And what I’m saying, what we know, is that we need to blow open this funnel and create as many pathways as possible for Christians and churches to get the Gospel to unreached people.”

IMB must creatively consider how to leverage the avenues God has given for limitless men, women and families to join together on missionary teams to make disciples and multiply churches among unreached people groups, Platt said. Since his election in August 2014, Platt has stated his five biblically based desires for IMB are to exalt Christ, mobilize Christians, equip the church, facilitate church planting and play its part in completing the Great Commission….

Platt said the changes are intended to be reproducible through the IMB’s national partners around the world: making disciples among unreached people and seeing churches established, then seeing those churches, in turn, send Christians to unreached people, training them and supporting them as they engage the world with the Gospel.

“We want to fuel movement like this all over the world!” Platt said. “But let me be clear. Strategy and structure are not the ultimate answer to seeing Christians and churches engaging unreached people with the Gospel…. What that means is that more than we need a streamlined strategy or a simplified structure, we need the power of God to do what only He can do.

“This is why I am calling everyone across our IMB family — from trustees to personnel or otherwise — to fast and pray, because only God can do this work…. Let’s get down on our knees, then get up from our knees and do whatever it takes, no matter what that means, to set the sails for God to empower limitless missionary teams who are making disciples and multiplying churches among unreached people for the glory of His name.”

The impending changes are not about IMB employees or trustees in specific roles, but about the billions of people who die without a relationship with Jesus Christ, Steverson noted during his finance report.

The numbers are to be limitless to save the billions of people who die without Jesus Christ.

Accordingly, no longer will the IMB limit its force to those who have never divorced, or those who have teenagers with them, or those who continue to practice speaking in tongues.

The numbers dictate that interpretations of the Christian scriptures surrounding divorce and household codes and glossolalia, like the scriptures surrounding slavery of African peoples by white Americans, be reset. This is the obligation of the Mission. The numbers focus is somewhat Hellish.

You can learn more about David Platt by listening to him answer John Piper’s questions here. And Dee Parsons blogs on Platt here. And Russell Moore likes him here. (And Christena Cleveland says of Moore and others of the SBC, “I’m absolutely skeptical,” here.) And Platt speaks out on speaking in tongues here. And the initial IMB “biblical” hermeneutic on speaking in tongues, the yet to be “reset” prohibition thereof, is here.

Islamic feminism: entry point for renewal of Islamic discourse

May 9, 2015

I think that Islamic feminism is actually going to be the entry point for this whole renewal of Islamic discourse…. So it will be up to the Muslim women themselves who are not willing to let go of their religion, but at the same time, they are not willing to accept being treated as second class citizens because of a certain version of religion.
— Marwa Sharafeldin, Muslim family law reformer, Cairo, Egypt

Listen to Ms. Sharafeldin and others speak on “Understanding Islamic Feminism.”

Whose Vietnam War? Mine, Yours, Theirs?

April 30, 2015

Today, on this the 40th anniversary of the fall of Sài Gòn, I’m reading Where the Ashes Are: The Odyssey of a Vietnamese Family by Nguyễn Quí Đức. There is a wikipedia entry on him, in English only (not yet in Vietnamese).

Fittingly, in English only (so far, and not yet in Vietnamese), in the Washington Post for today, he writes; the question is “Whose Vietnam War?”

To this day, the Vietnamese government celebrates its victory on April 30, and throughout the country grand official celebrations have been orchestrated for this year’s 40th anniversary. Yet few Vietnamese are paying attention, and for those who are, the regime’s attempt to glorify its past only seems to underline its failures at present.

In America, I used to have to explain that “Vietnam” wasn’t just a war, but a country with a history, a culture and a people. Here the Vietnamese accuse me of being obsessed with the war — the American War, as they call it. It’s true that for me and many Americans, “Nam” is still on in some ways, with stubborn questions about what went wrong then and how the same mistakes are still being made, in Iraq and Afghanistan. But most Vietnamese I know look on the war as an important moment in their history that has been usurped as a propaganda ploy.

You can find the rest of his important thoughts here.

deracination: What’s a Bible translator to do?

April 29, 2015

Two decades ago, in 1995, translator Willis Barnstone lamented:

The most notorious and successful means of deracinating the Jews from their own Bible has been to change the very name by which they are addressed there.  They are called Hebrews (with reference to a language) or Israelites (with reference to a place).  They are often referred to as “the ancient Hebrews” as we speak of ancient Greeks, thereby further distancing them, as a mythic, legendary, or symbolic people, from any real association with the Jews of the Christian Scriptures and thereafter.  But the Jews of the Christian Scriptures are also presented as a deracinated people, separated from their biblical ancestors.  They are never Jews, and certainly not “the ancient Jews,” which might identify the prophets and partiarchs more closely with them….  The Jews do not appear as Jews until the Christian Scriptures, when the word Jew uniformly means “unfriendly,” “unreformed,” “unrepentant,” and much worse.  It is used to designate all the implicit enemies of the sect that is being born, which will later be called Christianity.  Yet again through magical transformation, the participants in these first moments of the foundation are themselves exempt from their heritage.  They are just there, with no designation of race or religion (later they will anachronistically be called the first Christians), and Jesus, his family, and his entourage are not Jews, ancient Jews, or even Hebrews or Israelites (which might at least link them to worthy ancestors), but simply unaffiliated people.

His solution to the problem of Christian Antisemitism and of Christian Bible translator racism, that de-races the Jews, was to re-store the Jewishness of Jesus and his entourage as written in the New Testament Greek.

As the solution, Barnstone eventually produced his (2002) New Covenant translation and then his more complete (2009) Restored New Testament and his later more focused (2012) Poems of Jesus. For the Greek of Luke 2:26, Barnstone has this English:

It had been revealed to him by the holy spirit that he would not see death until he saw the mashiah of the lord.

Now for this particular Lucan line of Greek, and for its particular Barnstonian English translation, there doesn’t seem to be much new. There’s not much new, that is, when the English alphabetic transliteration of the Jewish-Hebrew language is “restored” from the English alphabetic transliteration of the Jewish-Greek language translation. In other words, if Messiah (i.e., “mashiah”) is restored from Christ, then Barnstone here has done nothing new, nothing more than a few other Christian translation teams had done for the Christian Scriptures. For example, in 1995 when Barnstone was dreaming of his own translation, the NIV, the NRSV (which Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Z. Brettler adopted for their 2011 Jewish Annotated New Testament), the Good News, and God’s Word had already used Messiah, not Christ, for Luke’s Χριστὸν (and eventually the NLT and the Holman and the Messianic Christian Jewish translations – the Complete Jewish Bible and the Orthodox Jewish Bible – also did for this English-lettering of the Hebrew phrase as the more-Jewish translation of the Greek phrase in Luke).

Some time ago, my BLT co-blogger Theophrastus commented on Barnstone’s project, asking:

How are Christians to react to statements like Barnstone’s…. How are Jews are supposed to react to statements like Barnstone’s.

I had already posed my own questions:

Does this restorative translation … require belief for membership among either Christians or Jews? Has the translation rendered ineffective the millennia of deracination and implication of Jews as enemies of the sect that was being born as Christianity? Has it brought any attention to antisemitism?

I think we still have these questions.

I’ve already shown a bit of what Barnstone wanted to do and eventually has done and some questions about it. What I’d like to propose today is to move a bit into and then beyond a critique of the Barnstonian English. In the title of this post today, my additional question is “What’s a Bible translator to do?


The focus here is on the Septuagint, by translators of both the Hebrew Bible and the Greek New Testament.

Let me first bring in a couple of things Barnstone says about the Septuagint in the Introduction to his Restored English translation of the Greek New Testament:


  1. Clearly, Barnstone assumes that the Jews writing the Greek “New Testament had bypassed the Hebrew scripture by relying exclusively on the Greek Septuagint translation of the Tanak.”
  2. Likewise, Barnstone believes “readers of other languages” such as English exclude the “meaning ‘the Anointed who is Messiah'” from “Christ,” for example, as an English loan word, a mere “transliteration” and not a “translation” of the Greek χρίστος, which is most clearly not a Greek alphabetic transliteration of the Hebrew מָשִׁיחַ.

Let’s notice the binaries implicit in these assumptions:

  • Hebrew scripture / NOT HEBREW, or the passing by of that scripture (i.e., the Septuagint Greek Bible in Greek of the Jews in Alexandria)
  • the later authors of the letters and of the epistles of the Greek New Testament to “Christian Jews and the Greek converts” to very new Christianity mostly outside of Alexandria understanding a clear translation of Hebrew into Greek / NOT GREEK LITERATES, or the much later and more recent Christian readers of other languages (such as English) who reduce the Greek to its mere transliteration “Christ,” not the translation “Anointed One [of the Jews]” (and who begin to de-race the Jews by by-passing this translation χρίστος, as the most meaningful match for that Jewish Hebrew phrase מָשִׁיחַ).

What I’d like to show here is that it is possible, and perhaps preferable, to see the Hebrew and its Greek translation together as Jewish, the later not simply only always some by-passing of the former. The Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint can both be read as of the Jews. Robert Alter, for example, uses the Septuagint Greek to give a more correct English translation of the Psalms and even sees the Greek as better than the Hebrew of the Masoretic Text in many instances. And Adele Berlin asserts, “The Septuagint is a window onto how Greek-speaking Jews of the early pre-Christian centuries read and understood the story of Esther.” She also allows that “we may conclude that the Septuagint is, on one hand, more biblical than the Masoretic Text, but on the other hand it is more Hellenistic, both in respect to Jewish identity and practice and in respect to Hellenistic storytelling.” Both are Jewish.

Isn’t there an analogy we might make with English-language Jewish Bibles of this century, that plurality of specifically “Jewish” English Bibles? Yes, there is a varied Jewishness in the English that gives a window into the ways the Hebrew is read in our century. For example, here within “Exodus,” within the “decalogue” or the “The Ten Commandments,” there is both Jewish English translation and Jewish English transliteration:

“keep it holy,” “sanctify it,” and “hallow it” are translations for לְקַדְּשֽׁ֗וֹ.

tasks,” “work,” and “[creating] work” are translations for מְלָאכָ֡֜ה.

Sabbath is the consistent transliteration for שַׁבָּת.

God your Lord” and “God, your God” and “HASHEM, your God” and “YHWH your God” and “the LORD your God” and “the Lord thy God” are the translations and the transliteration for לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ.

The Septuagint has, respectively for the Hebrew noted above, the following Greek translations and transliterations: ἁγιάζειν αὐτήν, τὰ ἔργα, σάββατα, κυρίῳ τῷ θεῷ σου.

And the Septuagint translators at various points in the Pentateuch and beyond have regularly used both translations and transliterations. Below, for example, is what English translator of the Greek Septuagint, Bernard A. Taylor, sees and says:


What I’d also like to illustrate is that the writers of the New Testament practiced Jewish-Greek variations on the Jewish Hebrew. The writer of the gospel of John used both translation and then a transliteration of Hebrew:  χριστός is μεσ[σ]ίας. And Paul would sprinkle into his Greek epistles Hebrew words spelled with Greek letters, or transliterations when he translated.

When Christian English-language translators of the Greek New Testament de-race, they have to make their English not Jewish by ignoring the Jewishnesses of this Hebraic Greek. The Hellene of the New Testament, like the Greek of the Septuagint, is inclusive of a combination of Greek translation of phrases the Hebrew scriptures and of Greek lettering (or transliteration) of phrases of the Hebrew scriptures. The de-racinating Christian Bibles ignore this fact, in fact.


When a translator of, say, the gospel of Luke renders the Greek into English, then the cultural mix should not be ignored. The message of God ostensibly to the unbelievers (to the not yet Christianized) should not trump the medium of the message. The Greeky rhetoric of Luke and the Jewish literary of Luke should not be lost in favor of clear English.

Luke’s opener needs to be read in light of Greek-reader understanding of classical rhetoric. Luke’s beginning with a Hannah validating the little baby Joshua and his making the little boy, Joshua, grow in favor, needs to draw the reader back to Hannah and to the baby and then boy Samuel, who are described in both the Hebrew version of I Samuel and its Greek translation (with Greek transliterations of the Hebrew). Luke’s Jewish Greek relies on the Jewish Hellene and the Jewish Hebrew of the earlier Jewish stories.

“Christ” in Luke needs to be understood in light of “Christ” in the Greek translation of I Samuel. The holy kiss of peace of the prophet there in I Samuel (the Hebrew and its Jewish Hellene translation), needs to enlighten what Greek readers, Jewish readers, of Luke read when seeing how a sinful woman kisses and Anoints Jesus.

When the Greek literary and rhetorical as the Jewish literary and rhetorical come through an English translation, then that translation will not de-race. And, moving beyond Barnstone’s binaries, when the New Testament is seen with the Septuagint as inclusive of both translation and also transliteration of phrasing in the Hebrew scriptures, then the Greek texts are not de-raced. Then these texts may be read as rich, Jewish Hellene and as wonderfully Greekish Jewishness.


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