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  1. August 29, 2013 11:07 am

    What an odd decision by the French translators. It seems that it’s not only the translators for La Bible de Jerusalem but also the translators for La Bible du Semeur, Nouvelle Edition de Genève, and Segond 21. Are they all just simply merely following Louis Segond?

    At least La Bible du Semeur adds footnotes respectively in Col. and Eph. that seem to help some:

    Jeu de mots: le Christ est à la fois la tête et à la tête de son Eglise.

    Le même mot grec désigne la tête et le chef.

    Where it gets really tricky in the French is when the Greek written to the Greek-reading Corinthians includes kephale (κεφαλη) 9 different times in a very short context (I Cor 11:3-10).

    At v3, La Bible du Semeur adds this footnote to explain that the French loses much:

    Dans tout ce passage, Paul utilise un mot qui signifie à la fois tête et chef.

    And at v11, there’s this explanation for going with “la tête” and not “le chef” even when the text is presumably about a sign of authority, or “un signe de son autorité”:

    Cette traduction semble préférable à la compréhension traditionnelle: un signe de l’autorité dont elle dépend.

  2. krwordgazer permalink
    August 29, 2013 11:42 am

    Thanks for the additional research, Kurk. So it seems that the translators of all these texts believe “tete” and “chef” were both signified by the word “kephale” in ancient Greek, even though there is a lot of evidence to the contrary (particularly in the choices the translators of the Septuagint made when using the word). I’m definitely seeing a bias here. . .

  3. August 29, 2013 12:23 pm

    There may be bias. It is interesting, nonetheless, to read what French blogger Yvette Mailliet le Penven has written on this. She seems to have good familiarity with the Septuagint, she claims that Classical Greek is of no help (with it’s meaning of “source” for kephale), and she explains the etymologies of the French, trying to connect the two French phrases out of the Latin ambiguities (and maybe from the Greek ambiguities of kephale); and from the LXX and from more common Hebrew, she tries to justify the ambiguity. Is she biased? I think her penultimate point is probably the most important one here, as she explains that Paul is playing with his language and that he clearly had other phrases to choose from to make things much clearer, more perspicuous, for readers of what is now the Christian scripture:

    Verset 18.
    καὶ αὐτός ἐστιν ἡ κεφαλὴ τοῦ σώματος, τῆς ἐκκλησίας· ὅς ἐστιν ἀρχή, πρωτότοκος ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν, ἵνα γένηται ἐν πᾶσιν αὐτὸς πρωτεύων,
    Il est la tête du corps, de l’Église; il est le commencement, le premier-né d’entre les morts, afin d’être en tout le premier.
    • ἡ κεφαλή – la tête:
    • Ce mot κεφαλή képhalē signifie, selon le contexte, “tête” ou “chef” (n’oublions pas, d’ailleurs, que notre mot “chef” désignait en ancien français la tête; il était en effet un dérivé de formation dite populaire du latin “caput, capitis” – voir le mot “couvre-chef” pour désigner un chapeau – comme le mot “capitale” en est un dérivé de formation dite savante).
    Certains, soulignant qu’en grec classique (mais le grec biblique n’est pas le grec classique!) le mot κεφαλή ne désigne pas le “chef”, le traduisent par “source”, ou “origine”. Certes ces sens existent en grec classique pour parler de la source ou de l’origine, d’un fleuve par ex., mais il n’est jamais employé dans ce sens dans le cadre des relations humaines.
    En revanche, la LXX traduit bien le mot hébreu ראש rô’sh (que l’on retrouve dans le nom de la fête du Nouvel An juif: ראש השנה – Roch Hachana, littéralement “Tête de l’année”), désignant selon le contexte la “tête” ou le “chef”, par κεφαλή dans l’un et l’autre cas.
    • Paul emploie généralement ce mot de préférence à d’autres mots grecs exprimant l’autorité – sans doute pour éviter la connotation d’autoritarisme qui leur est attachée.
    • En outre ici Paul joue sur les mots: le Christ est “le chef” dans les deux sens du terme, à la fois “la tête” et “à la tête”, de son Église. Voir 1Co11,3.

  4. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    August 29, 2013 2:53 pm

    “En revanche, la LXX traduit bien le mot hébreu ראש rô’sh (que l’on retrouve dans le nom de la fête du Nouvel An juif: ראש השנה – Roch Hachana, littéralement “Tête de l’année”), désignant selon le contexte la “tête” ou le “chef”, par κεφαλή dans l’un et l’autre cas.”

    I could not agree with this, except with one qualification. Rosh did mean both “head” and “leader” in Hebrew, but when translated into Greek, when it meant “leader” it was usually translated as “archon” or some such other word. Only in the case of one isolated individual is rosh ever translated as “kephale” and that individual is Japheth. Otherwise, rosh is never translated as “kephale.” So, is Le Penven unaware of this?

    In all likelihood, the confusion derives from the Latin caput, which like rosh, means both “head” and “leader.”

    It boils down to this in my view. In Hebrew, Latin and English, “rosh” “caput” and “head” mean physical head, and leader. In Greek, French, and German, there is a different history.

  5. krwordgazer permalink
    August 30, 2013 12:21 pm

    Suzanne– I agree. I was reading a quote of Tertullian that showed him going through a long explanation of why “kephale” could be understood as talking about “authority” in Eph. 5:23– which means that it wasn’t just a given meaning of the word when Tertullian was writing in Greek (about 200 AD, I believe).

    Kurt– I thought I might mention that it’s probably hard for readers who don’t read French to follow our conversation; perhaps if you have time, you could give a brief translation or summary of your quotes?

  6. August 30, 2013 5:13 pm

    Kristen — a pt by pt summary of what Yvette Mailliet le Penven writes is below. — Kurk

    She first quotes Col 1:18 in Greek and in the Louis Segond translation of the early 20th century.

    • That makes the Greek phrase ἡ κεφαλη (he kephale) in this one verse likely just the French phrase la tête (which is, in English, something like “Head”), just as in your old La Bible de Jerusalem.

    • Whether the Greek phrase is more generally like a bodily “Head” or like an authoritative “Chief” depends on the context. (And, she says parenthetically, that the French words — the two nouns you discuss — both derive from the Latin words caput, capitis.)

    She claims that a third meaning of κεφαλη (per your quotation from Gilbert Bilezikian, or “source, origin, sustainer”) is not used in human relationship contexts (as the NT and LXX has them).

    She concedes that the LXX (aka the Septuagint, or the translation of their sacred Hebrew scriptures by the Jews living in Alexandria, Egypt around 250 BCE according to legend) uses the Greek noun for the Hebrew word ראש (rosh – as in Rosh Hashanah) with the ambiguity in both languages. HERE SUZANNE PROTESTS.

    • My favorite point that le Penven makes is that Paul could have used with absolute perspicuity other not-ambiguous Greek words for “authority” or “leader.” Instead, he leaves to the reader of the Greek to decide which meaning(s) of ἡ κεφαλη (he kephale) he means.

    • 1 Corinthians 11:3 is yet another instance, she claims, where Paul is playing with a single word that has multiple meanings.

  7. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    August 30, 2013 10:32 pm

    Le Penven wrote,

    “la LXX traduit bien le mot hébreu ראש rô’sh, désignant selon le contexte la “tête” ou le “chef”, par κεφαλή dans l’un et l’autre cas.”

    “The LXX does indeed translate the Hebrew word rosh, meaning, according to the context, either “head” or “leader,” by kephale in both cases.”

    That is simply not the case. The LXX does not usually translate rosh into kehpale when it means leader. That is very rare, and restricted to only Jephthah.


    Thanks for mentioning the Tertullian passage. I will try to find it.

  8. August 30, 2013 11:14 pm

    Thanks for the translations, folks! I was able to pick up the gist of the French, but missed some of the detail.

    Suzanne, the book Daughters of the Church: Women in Ministry from New Testament Times to the Present mentions this Tertullian passage on page 105, and the citation they give is Against Marcion, V 8 (ANF 3:445). I hope that helps.

  9. August 30, 2013 11:27 pm

    Le Penven wrote,

    “la LXX traduit bien le mot hébreu ראש rô’sh, désignant selon le contexte la “tête” ou le “chef”, par κεφαλή dans l’un et l’autre cas.”

    It seems Yvette Mailliet le Peven is counting as the person writing the following web page does — i.e., “sixteen (or even eight) instances … of kephale meaning authority over in the Septuagint”:

    Let me just add that whoever the writer is (writing against the views of Berkeley and Alvera Mickelsen, Philip Payne, and Gordon Fee), that person cannot be clear about the count. He or she says that there may be eight (as Fee counts them) LXX uses of the Greek kephale as “leader” for the Hebrew rosh, with some one-hundred-seventy-two other non-leader uses. He or she then lists sixteen. (Arguably only Judges 11:11 has the only one. Is this the passage, Suzanne? If so, this is interesting because there are two major different LXX textual variants, with a total of three different Greek words meaning “leader.” I believe there’s even an argument to be made that when kephale is used, it does refer to rosh but does not mean there “leader” but rather “head” in the sense of the top part of a body. There’s another Hebrew word, for leader, in the verse that the two different Greek Judges texts translate differently.)

    To me, the critical thing to note is that kephale is ambiguous, that the LXX translators had access to other words to disambiguate, and so did Paul.

    French, as you point out Kristen, does not help to carry the ambiguity. In fact, in Juges 11:11 (whether in La Bible de Jerusalem or La Bible du Semeur or Nouvelle Edition de Genève or Segond 21 or Louis Segond) the word tête and also the word chef are used for Jephthah. How does tête refer to him as “leader” there?

  10. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    August 31, 2013 12:32 am

    Thanks Kristen for the reference.


    Just wild really. There are several references to “head and tail” in Hebrew, but to say that the “head” in this expression is a leader is a bit much. There is an assorted list of uses of rosh in Hebrew that have some metaphoric meaning and are translated as keyhole, but none refer to a tribal leader over his people, a father, or head of a family, or the king of a nation, or anything like that. They are all of them situations in which it is hard to understand the Hebrew at all, and so an over literal translation has been made.

  11. August 31, 2013 1:40 am

    The argument that Paul could have used an unambiguous word for leader/authority figure, but didn’t, is interesting because it makes one think about the reasons for choosing ambiguous words.

    What might those reasons be? Wordplay, either with meaning or sound. Poetic metaphor. Allusion to some other text that used the ambiguous word. Any others?

    Which do you think could reasonably describe what Paul was doing here?

  12. August 31, 2013 1:59 am

    Kristen, are you familiar with the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series? I did an extensive project on Paul last summer that involved working with twelve commentaries on Romans from different traditions, and the S&H commentary by Charles Talbertreally impressed me, not least for its handling of word studies.

    I see there are volumes for Colossians and Ephesians in the series now, so you might want to take a look.

  13. August 31, 2013 9:23 am

    Which do you think could reasonably describe what Paul was doing here?

    Well, the point that we have to make, over and over and over again, this late in human history is that it has been a few misogynist men (i.e., a few of the early Church fathers) who rather consistently read Pauline texts very narrowly. We have the history of textual interpretations based on fear that needs constantly to be exposed. And there are good places to start on that, like with Karen Armstrong’s The Gospel According to Woman: Christianity’s Creation of the Sex War in the West.

    Men not so mired in the “sex war” don’t necessarily feel compelled to figure out why Paul’s writings are not absolutely perspicuous, but they at least do try to acknowledge the serious, seemingly-intentional ambiguities and wordplays.

    Here are some:

    C. S. Lewis reflects (in Reflections on the Psalms, page 113):

    [Jesus] uses paradox, proverb, exaggeration, parable, irony; even (I mean no irreverence) the “wisecrack”. He utters maxims which, like popular proverbs, if rigorously taken, may seem to contradict one another. His teaching therefore cannot be grasped by the intellect alone, cannot be ‘got up’ as if it were a ‘subject’. If we try to do that with it, we shall find Him the most elusive of teachers. He hardly ever gave a straight answer to a straight question. He will not be, in the way we want, ‘pinned down’. The attempt is (again I mean no irreverence) like trying to bottle a sunbeam.

    Descending lower, we find a somewhat similar difficulty with St. Paul. I cannot be the only reader who has wondered why God, having given him so many gifts, withheld from him (what would to us seem so necessary for the first Christian theologian [albeit a formidable Jew]) that of lucidity and orderly exposition.

    George Steiner observes (in Grammars of Creation, page 96):

    Jesus’ discourse in parables, his statements of withdrawal from statement–of which the episode in which he writes in the dust and effaces his writing is the emblematic instance–give to linguistic verticality, to the containment of silence in language, a particular impetus. As do the constantly polysemic, stratified techniques of semantic motions in the Pauline Epistles. It is these parables and indirect communications, at once more internalized and open-ended than are the codes of classical rhetoric, which beget the seeming contradiction of enigmatic clarity, the “comprehendit imcomprehensible esse” celebrated in Anselm’s Proslogion. In turn, from these dramatizations of manifold sense, evolve the instruments of allegory, of analogy, of simile, of tropes and concealments in Western literature (though here also there are obvious and indispensible classical sources).

    Willis Barnstone suggests (in The Restored New Testament, pages 114 – 115):

    The letters to the Romans (probably his last letter) and the Corinthians show Paul at the peak of [Greek] thought and rhetorical magic. He achieves language magic in a 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, his own less inflected tongue. To repeat my argument about the glory of Mark’s Greek, Paul’s work is not less effective for being composed in a vernacular development of Attic Greek any more than Michel de Montaigne is less for writing in French, the regional vernacular of Cicero’s Latin. Indeed, in terms of change, Paul’s Greek is closer to Plato than E. M. Forester’s English is to Shakespeare.

  14. August 31, 2013 12:32 pm

    Oops, I’d meant to link to my review of Talbert’s commentary.

  15. August 31, 2013 4:28 pm

    These quotes about the deliberate un-clarity of Jesus, and the ambiguity of Paul– and Dr. Lewis’ question of “why?” leads me to answer: Perhaps the last thing God wanted for the Bible to be, is the very thing fundamentalists insist it has to be: a clear, unambiguous statement of facts and rules by which to live. God wrestled with Jacob and hid from David; God gambled with Abraham and refused to give Job a straight answer. Why do we expect that God wouldn’t want us to wrestle with this text and play hide-and-seek with the divine?


  1. Biblical Studies Carnival: August, 2013 | NEAR EMMAUS

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