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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.

the invisible American English erasure of the Jews

April 26, 2015

Now, one has to ask, however, whether one actually comes into contact with “Jewish culture” when one reads “ἀσπάσασθε ἀλλήλους ἐν φιλήματι ἁγίῳ. ἀσπάζονται ὑμᾶς αἱ ἐκκλησίαι πᾶσαι τοῦ Χριστοῦ” or “Berilah salam satu dengan yang lain dengan cium kudus. Semua jemaat Kristus di sini mengirim salam untukmu,” since the effects of the intercultural process, at first, at least involve constructing the Other either in terms of “vulnerable insider” to be welcomed and defended or “outsider” to be ignored or even defended against.
Yancy Smith

Nevertheless, when English is invisible, the key is to make it visible and, as you are doing, query the translation choice for its implied habitus.
Yancy Smith

[this Death is ein Meister aus Deutschland his eye it is blue] It seems that the concept of translation and the inadequacy of language is at the heart of [Paul] Celan’s work, so that a translation OF Celan has to be even more conscious of itself as translation than is typical even for good “translations” (insofar as they exist as such) of poetry.
Courtney Druz

Juis-je juive ou fuis-je femme? Jouis-je judia ou suis-je mulher? Joy I donna? ou fruo filha? Fuis-je femme ou est-ce je me ré-juive? // Am I enjewing myself? Or woe I woman? Win I woman, or wont I jew-ich? Joy I donna? Gioia jew? Or gioi am femme? Fruo.
Hélène Cixous

When I was a little “American” boy growing up in South Vietnam the last ten years of the war there, the nation of my father and mother was also there saving the world from Communism and the Vietnamese people from the Viet Cong and the Viet Minh. And my parents themselves were there also, Southern Baptist Protestant Christian Americans, saving the world from Hell and the South Vietnamese people from Roman Catholicism, Buddhism, animism, and the veneration of the dead.

The classifications were key.

None of us talked in our English much about the Jews.

The Old Testament was the backdrop for the New Testament, if necessary then but a mere pretext for the main Christian text.

My siblings and I were allowed to watch the big American films in which, it is true, the actor Charlton Heston did play a Judah Ben-Hur and a Moses. But we saw him also as John the Baptist, whose cousin, Jesus, looked like this:

Jesus has blue eyes and a straight nose and white skin, like ours, and speaks English, like we do. Even the black-and-white “more-biblically-accurate” films my father would show in his evangelism efforts had Jesus speaking our language (quite literally “invisible”), with the Vietnamese subtitled in, a visual subtext. Even these made our hero, and our savior, more one of us than an Other unlike us. Even these accurate films did what The Greatest Story Ever Told did.

According to Stephenson Humphries-Brooks in Cinematic Savior:


When Jesus comes up from the waters of adult baptism, the white dove rests on him, the Father, God Himself, speaks in our American tongue. This is not a Mikvah. We don’t need to know what that is. We are Christians (not even among Jews, who might oppose us).

The classification has given way to the “rendered unidentifiable.” These things happen in stages, in steps, from classification, says Gregory Stanton, watching (for) genocide.

As an adult (still growing up), I read what Yancy Smith and Courtney Druz and Hélène Cixous have written (above).

Does the Christian English-Bible reader “come into contact with ‘Jewish culture’ when one reads “ἀσπάσασθε ἀλλήλους ἐν φιλήματι ἁγίῳ. ἀσπάζονται ὑμᾶς αἱ ἐκκλησίαι πᾶσαι τοῦ Χριστοῦ”?

Can translators make this visible?

Might it be the case that “a translation OF [a Christian Saint Paul or of a Christian Saint Peter] has to be even more conscious of itself as translation than is typical even for good ‘translations’” for the holy kiss of peace?

Wasn’t the LXX translator playing with the Hellene rending of the Hebrew when writing this of what we know as the Holy Prophet kissing the first pre-Christian Christ of the Jews (what we call the Septuagint version of 1 Samuel 10:1)?

καὶ ἔλαβεν Σαμουηλ τὸν φακὸν τοῦ ἐλαίου
καὶ ἐπέχεεν ἐπὶ τὴν κεφαλὴν αὐτοῦ
καὶ ἐφίλησεν αὐτὸν
καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ
οὐχὶ κέχρικέν σε κύριος εἰς ἄρχοντα ἐπὶ τὸν λαὸν αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ Ισραηλ
καὶ σὺ ἄρξεις ἐν λαῷ κυρίου καὶ σὺ σώσεις αὐτὸν ἐκ χειρὸς ἐχθρῶν αὐτοῦ κυκλόθεν
καὶ τοῦτό σοι τὸ σημεῖον ὅτι ἔχρισέν σε κύριος ἐπὶ κληρονομίαν αὐτοῦ εἰς ἄρχοντα

Isn’t the kiss of peace pre-Christian or at least not only a Christian ritual from Paul’s and Peter’s writings? Why does Menachem M. Brayer in The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature say so?




And could this get erased? What and who have been erased? Why would Michael Philip Penn in Kissing Christians: Ritual and Community in the Late Ancient Church suggest this?


What does translation matter when the stereotexts become one-tracked and one language and one culture? And what if that language stays invisible, erasing all Other?

the invisibility of English

April 19, 2015

Bible translator Yancy Smith (and a dear friend of mine, who I first met in the classroom and then again online) has posted his published academic essay, “The Mystery and Mirage of Equivalence: Bible Translation Theory and the Practice of Christian Mission.”

It is written in English. It is not written in Mossi nor in Dyula or Jula or Dioula or Bobo or Samo or Marka or Fula or Gourmanché or Bissa.

And yet early on in his article, Dr. Smith includes the following from John Morton:

God wanted to possess the earth so much that he sent his only son so that whoever was deceived by him would not perish but would become a wandering ghost forever.
— John 3:16 (First draft, local translator, Ziga translation, Burkina Faso)

Morton has written the above in English. He has not written or even quoted in Mossi or in Dyula or in Jula or in Dioula or in Bobo or in Samo or in Marka or in Fula or in Gourmanché or in Bissa.

Neither Smith nor Morton give the language of the translator. Morton only specifies that the person is “a local translator” who “did [this translating] with John 3:16” with absolutely “no theological education” and while distantly “working from a trade language—not the original Greek” as but a “new believer” who “didn’t have the opportunity to work alongside trained Bible translators.” And Morton also adds:

We don’t mean to knock his work. He wanted to translate God’s word, which is a great endeavor. He just didn’t have the training.

And Morton gives the fact that he himself has made this “Strange Bible Translation” or “Ziga first draft” into something “translated back into English.”

Notice that English user Morton is writing to English readers (presumably including those English users who are

1. the most theologically educated and are

2. those who work directly from the original Greek as both those who are

3. the most mature believers and also those who are

4. the best trained Bible translators).

Morton is having with his English readers, a “Fun Look” in English only. He and they do not intend to “knock” the “work” of this Other, who is Not.

Smith uses this “back into English” translated John 3:16 to talk about “translation” as Eugene Nida conceived of it. “Equivalence” is a critical term for him, for Smith, that is.

He brilliantly asks questions, in English, like this to assert what “we know,” which is, rather, what, in English, we don’t know by any means or other language:

Perhaps both the Creole and French translations are “equivalent” to the Greek text; however, neither translation is equivalent to the other. If the original text is equivalent to two translations not equivalent to themselves, the notion of equivalence becomes problematic. This is true even if we accept a careful caveat about “equivalence”: that perfect equivalence is impossible. What we really have is polyvalence with a certain correspondence. Is the text’s ambiguity the point? Would an ambiguous translation of the passage, then, be an equivalent translation? We have no way of knowing.

He troubles, or critically thinks through, Charles Kraft’s and Eugene Nida’s English understandings of “equivalence”:

Both Kraft’s and Nida’s practical ideas about audience-oriented translation have been robust and proven in the field. Yet, the theory of equivalence is a stone of stumbling. One suspects that Nida’s introduction of “equivalence” was a tactical move against literalists. Equivalence claims authority over against literal translations. Since that time, so-called literalists matched dynamic equivalence with a formal “equivalence” of their own.

One of my favorite English sentences of Smith is the one in which he starts to get outside of English by using our loan word “meta-phor” and another one “math-e-matics”:

Nida himself did not believe perfect equivalence was achievable. Rather, he recommended “the closest natural equivalence” or “functional equivalence.” The first indicates that equivalence must always remain approximate—more or less equivalent. The second phrase suggests that equivalence might depend upon the assumed purpose the equivalence is to achieve. In either case, borrowing the word equivalence from mathematics as a metaphor for translation has the effect of creating the expectation of a more dependable kind of outcome than translation can achieve.

When I say “our” loan words, I’m talking about us as English speakers, writers, listeners, and readers of English. We also borrow into English the word “translation.” We act like this is a stable and grounded word. We neglect how it was used in Latin. We, using English, don’t much think about how Chinese conceive of what we in English call translation. We don’t think about, in English, how women might differently conceive of this English. And I’m thinking, in English, of what Lydia He Liu might think in English or in Chinese, yes, and in Chinese:

What’s Your Translation Metaphor?, David Frank once asked, in English.

Why not speak less of translation and more of interlation? What is the difference in English between international and transnational? Between transexual and intersexual? Between translingual and interlingual? I think we have these English words and coinages or possible neologisms.

But we rarely think in some Burkino Faso language without actually “translating” it “back” first and always and only into English. As if English is invisible. As if English is our necessary air on which we depend for life.

“And Phillis Wheatley, the first African American poet,” Steven Kellman once observed for us, “switched languages, from Fulani to English, under duress, after being abducted from West Africa and sold to a Boston merchant at about the age of seven.” Kellman, of course, and we too, of course, and that man from Boston, of course, all speak English. Kellman writes, in English, of translingualism. What are the implications?

And what if Phillis Wheatley, or this untrained new believer translating John 3:16, could read Smith’s article in Fulani?

Odd Gospel Greek: Jesus Wept (like a silly little spoiled girl?)

April 19, 2015

None of the synoptic gospels says Jesus wept. The sophisticated Luke, writing latest of the three-in-agreement, does have him sweating in agony in the garden drops of blood. But the sophisticated Greek gospel writer reserves tears for some strange women (in Luke 7) –

And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears [δάκρυσιν], and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. [38]

And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears [δάκρυσιν], and wiped them with the hairs of her head. [44]

This sort of display of emotions, the show of wetness, the exhibition of drops of tears from the eyes is what, in Homeric Greek, a silly little spoiled girl would do. For example, there’s this longer passage in the epic Iliad, the opening lines of Book XVI (Englished by Samuel Butler):

Thus did they fight about the ship of Protesilaos. Then Patroklos drew near to Achilles with tears [δάκρυα] welling from his eyes, as from some spring whose crystal stream [κρήνη] falls over the ledges of a high precipice. When Achilles saw him thus weeping he was sorry for [ποδάρκης] him and said,

“Why, Patroklos, do you stand there weeping like some silly [δεδάκρυσαι] child that comes running to her mother, and begs to be taken up and carried- she catches hold of her mother’s dress to stay her though she is in a hurry, and looks tearfully up [δακρυόεσσα] until her mother carries her – even such tears [δάκρυον], Patroklos, are you now shedding. Have you anything to say to the Myrmidons or to myself? or have you had news from Phthia which you alone know? They tell me Menoitios son of Aktor is still alive, as also Peleus son of Aiakos, among the Myrmidons – men whose loss we two should bitterly deplore; or are you grieving [ὀλοφύρεαι] about the Argives and the way in which they are being killed at the ships, through their own high-handed doings? Do not hide in your mind anything from me but tell me that both of us may know about it.”

Then, O horseman Patroklos, with a deep sigh [βαρὺ] answered,

“Achilles, son of Peleus, foremost champion of the Achaeans, do not be angry, but I feel grief [ἄχος] for the disaster that has now befallen the Argives. All those who have been their champions so far are lying at the ships, wounded by sword or spear. Brave Diomedes son of Tydeus has been hit with a spear, while famed Odysseus and Agamemnon have received sword-wounds;…”

The pathos in both stories deserves much more study. In both Luke’s and Homer’s accounts the femininity of tears gives way to their valorization by grown men. The familial is something the Iliad plays on more as the next lines unfold. There’s the play on the name Patroklos as he begins to move Achilles with his emotions, as he challenges who his mother is and who is father is. And the lack of the familiar, the strangeness of this woman crying, is stressed in the Luke passage.

The odd gospel Greek, the Hellene of the writer called John, attributes to Jesus such tears. Are they tears of sympathy, of empathy, of self pity perhaps, of somebody spoiled and young and wanting her mommy to hold her? What are we readers to make of this?

In an earlier post (in a series of related posts), I tried to suggest that the Hellene in the story of Jesus weeping had us readers hearing him: snort. In this post, the issue is of what we readers are to see, with the tear drops, in verse 35 of John 11. Are (we) Greek readers to see gender, little-girl-like-ness and stranger womanliness, in such weeping?

In a post I wrote yesterday, on rediscovering some intertextuality, I suggested that it is okay, quite human, to cry like Jesus. But was I not being textual enough, not literal enough, not literary enough, not tied enough to the text, to the Greek, as odd as it so obviously is?


Rediscovering “a” Textuality

April 18, 2015

Yesterday morning I read “a” chapter of “a” book of “a” gospel in “a” few versions of “the” Bible. One of my own children had just experienced a profound tragedy the day before, and she was grieving. And so was I. Upon awaking the next day, I was using the occasion of solitude to connect in private somehow with others who’d experienced deep loss and nearly unimaginable disappointment. I turned to the story of individuals named Jesus, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, the most familiar of family members and the closest of friends. Of course, you now recognize this from your sitting-in-church days or perhaps your Sunday-school days or from some other likely Christian context as the story found in a”book” called John, in a chapter numbered 11. I read it in Greek first in a set of manuscripts called “SBL Greek New Testament 2010”; next in an English translation called The Restored New Testament where “Miryam came to where Yeshua was” expressing regret for his inaction and where “Yeshua saw her weeping” and others “with her” also weeping and where this protagonist of that “book” then “raged at his own spirit, harrowed himself” and then where “Yeshua wept.” I read it next in the King James Version and again, then, in the Stephanus Textus Receptus 1550.

My wife, by that time, was awake and came and sat with me, and we two together talked and wept. I think I brought up the text. We had read it before together when our daughter was much younger and had received a death sentence of sorts from a team of expert scientists called pediatric oncologists, who informed us in the gravest of terms that they did not know how to cure her or to heal her since the disease in her was so very advanced and presented in ways that was not found in any of the published research or in any textbook.

Yesterday morning we were experiencing new grief and had returned to an old text of grief we had “read” many times before. She also had grown up going to Sunday School. And so my spouse was tolerant of me, as I spouted off the fact that the Greek phrase used for the weeping of the agonized Jesus in this context is expressive of wetness falling from his eyes, of his body giving way to drops of tears. I remarked how he turned his head, his face, those eyes “up,” skyward, and called out something to someOne else, higher, above while he acknowledged in his comments skyward his dear friends and their family members around. She sighed. It was not really the time to talk of texts. Texts and Greek terms and the book, the βίβλος. We sat a few moments together, in silence. In shared grief.

I tell this personal true story to talk about another day. I got up this morning and after moments in solitude and in reading texts and in turning my head and my face upward, I went back to texts. This time I turned on the computer. There I read what Bob MacDonald had written. A friendly note recalling many moments of interacting as people, as friends, through the internet. And I read this textual comment written by David Ker, noticing he had already been awake:

What’s strikes me this morning reflecting on TBWWTY is that I grew up with the idea that the Bible was a thing. It was Latour’s object. But “The Bible” has almost completely disintegrated for me in the way that I interact with it, how it is consumed. I no longer have “a” Bible. I no longer even read “a” book from the Bible. The proliferation of translations in our era is part of that. And the new medias which favor distraction. I’m not saying it’s necessarily a negative but it is easy to get caught up in a nostalgia for the days in which the Bible had a more monolithic role in our families, churches and culture at large (speaking as an American, here). So now with the Bible largely an unknown book in American culture, it could potentially be rediscovered as a subversive and revolutionary text.

I read Bob’s and David’s comments after I had read another comment at a different blog I had discovered while looking for the question of whether Yeshua, as in the gospels of the Christian Bible, might have been a third culture kid. Never mind why I was looking for that except I’d heard somebody suggest the day before that the TCK experience shatters textuality and so do the gospels. (TCK refers to “a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture.”) Maybe I’ll think about that more, and write some about that here. For now, let me repost here a bit of text I found at that other blog. It goes like this:

Although the title of the blog may seem somewhat arbitrary, I assure you that it is not. As it turns out the lived experience of third culture kids (TCKs) immersed in what is supposed to be their society is remarkably similar to that of a woman under a patriarchal society. In both situations it is quickly made clear by those who enforce the rules of conformity that you simply don’t fit. Furthermore any consequences suffered by virtue of your inability or unwillingness to fit (the powers that be do not really care which it is to be honest) are clearly the fruits of your labour. You are deviant.

If you’ve been able to track with me this far, then please know how subjectively I’m almost raging and harrowing and weeping over texts. This may not be your experience. Grief is very individual, my wife told our daughter the day before yesterday as she encouraged her and consoled her, as she wept.

If you’ve been tracking, then you know that friends online, like Bob and like David, for me (and maybe not so much for you, or differently for you perhaps), can be valuable to me. My access to them, and theirs to me and to one another, happens much over texts. We use English although we “talk” by text about other languages when we “converse.” Bob and David speak other languages besides English. And so do I. My point is that our friendship often gets reduced to writing, and to written English of a particular, peculiar sort of text.

If you’ve tracked, you may have gathered (whether you care or not) that my experience is one of a TCK. My parents took me to a war zone that Americans call Vietnam when I was three years old. I grew up there into adolescence until the war ended and they were forced to move our family. We first moved to the United States for a year, and then they went to live on the island of Sumatra and moved me to the island of Java for a few years. I grew up hearing my father preach every Sunday, as an American missionary, in Vietnam. On the big event Sundays, when he would invite US military personnel to church, he would preach in English and ask one of his lay pastors to interpret in Vietnamese. My siblings and I heard and overheard that (bi-lingually), and I’ve written about it here. I didn’t think about that until this morning reading the bit of text that David had written this morning. My old text describing what occurred in my childhood experience goes like this:

Mikhail Epstein (who coins stereotexting) calls this interlation. Missionary kids (like me and my siblings and “cousins”) live with interlation. MKs live without choice among peoples of at least two cultures, and MKs live without any effort at all in mastering two languages at least. MKs live with hints of what’s at stake on both sides for the rhetorical adult choosers of cultures and languages and texts. In the simultaneous translation of a sermon, for instance, the preacher and the interpreter are up to things! Bilingual listeners (like the MKs) get the issue. Call it literal or dynamic equivalence or something else too. What really is most interesting, and most dangerous perhaps, is how adults in the act of translation or in the inevitable practice of interpretation insist on “text” alone, by pretending that pretext, subtext, metatext, and context are lesser if important at all. (The stereotexting deconstructs this pretense. And the deconstruction of the “text-is-everything” pretense transforms – or translates — the speaker, the listener, the reader, the writer, the translator, or the interpreter).

When I first wrote that, I was first beginning to blog. I think I didn’t yet know the term Biblioblogger (i.e., somebody who blogs incessantly about “the” Bible). I certainly at the time did not at all think of myself as one of those. This morning what David wrote got me recalling what I’d written so long ago about what I’d grown up experiencing evening longer ago. And so did Anthea, blogging as a TCK and as a woman. “You are deviant,” she experiences. Her text de-scribes this. Well, I clicked on the link in that text above, the hyperlink over the word interlation. The page, “the” text where the link once pointed to had disappeared.

I found that text, and I’ve retrieved it below, because Mikhail Epstein, who wrote it says in that text some pretty de-script-ive things, I think. And you’ve tracked so far here, I thought you yourself (whatever your experience with text) might appreciate it.

Now, as many do with narrative text, please allow me to conclude a bit here. You have surmised that my little daughter whose experience with the grave disease for which a cure could not be found in the expert texts is alive today. This morning, after a morning in which she experience a young adult grief, she is also very much alive. We have texted and emailed and phoned and wept and prayed. Figuratively and literally, I write to you readers here, to announce that the clouds have begun to part and the sun has begun to shine down on her, on us. We are different places on this planet. And yet we share many experiences.


M I K H A I L    E P S T E I N


The globalization of cultures radically changes the role of languages and translation. It presupposes translingualism, or what Bakhtin called “polyglossia.” “Only polyglossia fully frees consciousness from the tyranny of its own language…” 1

With the spread of multilingual competence, translation will come to serve not as a substitution but as a dialogical counterpart to the original text. Together they will comprise a multidimensional, multilingual, “culturally curved” discourse. Bilingual or multilingual persons have no need of a translation, but they can enjoy an interlation, a contrastive juxtaposition of two or more apparently identical texts running simultaneously in two different languages—for example, a poem of Joseph Brodsky in the Russian original and in English autotranslation. Interlation is a multilingual variation on the same theme, where the roles of “source” and “target” languages are not established or are interchangeable. One language allows the reader to perceive what another language misses or conceals.

Robert Frost said that poetry is what gets lost in translation. By contrast, interlation increases, indeed doubles the benefits of poetry. In addition to those metaphors that connect words within one language, a new layer of imagery emerges through a metaphorical relationship between languages and provides a surplus (rather than loss) of poetic value.

For instance, Joseph Brodsky’s poem “To Urania” contains the line, “Odinochestvo est’ chelovek v kvardrate”–literally: “Loneliness is a man squared.” Brodsky’s own translation of this line into English reads, “Loneliness cubes a man at random.” It would be irrelevant to ask which of these expressions is more adequate to Brodsky’s poetic thought. They together represent the scope of its metaphoric meaning. A stereo effect is produced, not by Russian or English lines as such but by their figurative relationship. The English “cube” amplifies and strengthens the meanings of the Russian “square,” as a lonely man self-reflects and self-multiplies, growing multidimensional as a compensation for his losses. English “cube” and Russian “square” both serve as metaphors for loneliness, but in addition they are metaphors to each other and thus build up the next level of figurative relationship between languages. Thus bilingualism makes this poem a work of special verbal art that can be called “stereopoetry,” which has more metaphorical layers in it than “monopoetry.”

Stereo effects may be intended by an author or produced in the reading experience–for example, if we take Vladimir Nabokov’s autobiography as a stereo text in two languages and three consecutive versions: Conclusive Evidence (1951), Drugie berega (Other Shores) (1954), and Speak, Memory (1967). Nabokov himself empasized that these versions relate not merely as a translation, but as a metamorphosis . “This re-Englishing of a Russian re-vision of what had been an English re-telling of Russian memories in the first place, proved to be a diabolical task, but some consolation was given me by the thought that such multiple metamorphosis, familiar to butterflies, had not been tried by any human before.”2

Born at the crossroads of languages is a new work of stereo prose, which may be characterized in Bakhtin’s words:

[I]n the process of literary creation, languages interanimate each other and objectify precisely that side of one’s own (and of the other’s) language that pertain to its world view, its inner form, the axiologically accentuated system inherent in it.3

Translation as the search for equivalence among languages has dominated the epoch of national cultures and monolinguistic communities, which needed bridges of understanding more than rainbows of cocreativity. In the past, the mixture of languages was called “macaronic” and used mostly as a comic, a parodic, technique. When languages were enclosed within monoethnic cultures, their combination was perceived as artificial — a device. With the globalization of culture and automatization (on the Web) of literal translation between languages, it is untranslatability and non-equivalencies among languages that reach the foreground. A work written in parts, English, some French, and some Russian, can now find an audience able to savor precisely the discrepancies among languages.

More fundamental questions follow on the recognition of stereotextuality. Can an idea be adequately presented in a single language? Or do we need a minimum of two languages (as with two eyes or two ears) to convey the volume of a thought or image? Will we, at some future time, accustom ourselves to new genres of stereo poetry and stereo philosophy as we have become accustomed to stereo music and stereo cinema? Will the development of translingual discourses (or, in Bakhtin’s words, “the mutual illumination and interanimation of languages”) become a hallmark of our century?

back to issue one


1 Mikhail Bakhtin. The Dialogic Imagination , ed. By Michael Holquist, trans. By Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin : University of Texas Press, 1992, p. 61.

2 Vladimir Nabokov, preface to Speak, Memory , pp.12-13.

3 Mikhail Bakhtin. The Dialogic Imagination , p. 62.

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The above is excavated from an archaeological dig, from the following site:

David Ker: The BLT Interview

April 17, 2015

I had the great privilege this week of sitting down with David Ker to interview him for BLT. Well, we were virtually sitting down. Actually, I’m not sure whether he was sitting down or not. We did the interview via the internet. And I only at first saw digital images of animals that pressed me to imagine lips on an anthropomorphic cat (see his answer to Question 3 of 12) and Lingamish looks at a golden hippo (see Question 1) and a Little Zebra once a Red Zebra (again Q1). Since we’d met in real life, once upon a time, I did finally recognize his face in this menagerie of sorts (see his answer to Question 11). Please know that he’s offered to reveal even more, if you like (see his answer to Question 12 of 12).

JKG Q1 – Many readers at BLT first learned of you and your work when Theophrastus posted “David Ker on literacy vs. Bible Translation.” And others of us knew you and of you from what Theophrastus mentioned: your fame and your “Lingamish,

Future Bible, Kanyimbe,

and Red Zebra fame.”

In your comment after that BLT post, you said:

“My graduate research (currently on hold) is based on my time sitting in a classroom and watching kids forced to do school in Portuguese. They fail, the teachers fail and there is general misery all around.”

Is there any update on that research?

DK A1 –

I was happy to see the responses to that post, especially Suzanne’s comments on Cree in Northern Quebec. Her comments on liturgical language choices and my observations of the language of education in Mozambique point to the importance of what Bourdieu calls “authorized language” which derives and reinforces its authority from the institution. Accurate, clear and natural materials are irrelevant if they are not acceptable to those in power.

JKG Q2 – Did you say all you needed to say about literacy vs. Bible translation in your comment here

DK A2 –

Latour in his essay Interobjectivity asks, “Must sociology remain without an object?” And for this topic I think that question can be rephrased, “Must Bible translation remain without an object?”  The Word was made flesh. I have come to see that the Word must also be made paper. There is huge symbolic power in “reducing” language to writing to the extent that the resulting object can secure a place in the entrenched rituals of institutions. That is just as true for the classroom as it is for the church.

JKG Q3 – What is the future of Bible translation?


When I think about Hello Kitty (and I think about Hello Kitty a lot), I find a potent lesson on identity. She is cute and feminine and her lack of a mouth allows the sympathetic viewer to project on to her kawaii their own identity and emotion. But in the process of projecting our identity on her we also can tweak her identity. Wearing Hello Kitty, like wearing a rock t-shirt (or a Lingamish t-shirt)


allows us to take on that persona and have some of the ways people react to her spill over on us. When the wearer tweaks Hello Kitty, by adding geek glasses or piercings or whatever, she (and sometimes he) is saying something about her identity as well. I’m not just cute and pink!


Bible translation can certainly be argued to be a similar case of identity projection. It will always be highly reflective of the culture of those who are doing it. And that is as it should be. However, to quote Bourdieu one is “condemned to looking within words for the power of words that is, looking for it where it is not to be found.” In other words, communication/truth/Scripture are entirely social and thus, unfortunately, the work of blogs like Better Bibles and BLT is really in vain. Or to paraphrase Paul, our battle is not against meaning but meaners.

JKG Q4 – Catch us up on where you are now and what you’re doing. What is making David Ker tick these days?

DK A4 –

I am trying to be a boring old Dad. I think that’s what my kids need most at this point.

JKG Q5 –You once made the rather (in)famous, Nietzschesque proclamation – at your blog Lingamish — that “blogging is dead.” There are artifacts in the blogosphere (still here in this old site, for example) that prove you said this, of course. Why does blogging interest you so much? Or did it interest you, once upon a time?

DK A5 –

I mourn the loss of those heady days. Three of the BLT gang brought me much joy and intellectual torture. It is good to see Theophrastus still gushing about beautiful books and literature. And I’m happy to see Suzanne carrying the egalitarian torch. JK has enlarged his tent pegs recently to tackle race, more so than I think he did before but perhaps that’s just because of recent events. And I’m glad that there are people like NT Wright who can still get your knickers in a binary twist.

Bible blogging should be happening right now but not in tired old carousels of aner vs anthropos but rather in tackling the huge issues of late modernity. The Gospel calls us to shine like lights in a crooked and perverse world. Sadly, Christians I know on Facebook seem mostly concerned about rainbow cakes and Obama’s birth certificate.

captured from

JKG Q6 – What is the future of blogging, books, and social media? Which medium impacts literacy most positively and productively in your view?

DK A6 –

We are alone on the beach. There is only one set of footprints. They are your own. You must choose to do something good not for the world but for someone. Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. Our family has never owned a television. And our relationships have been enriched as a result. At some point we will come to see that social media is a relational cancer and take back our humanity.

JKG Q7 –  Who did you write your book The Bible Wasn’t Written to You to? What do you want us at BLT to know about it? Where can we get a copy?

DK A7 –

I was just showing off in the laziest way possible. I liked the idea of writing a book without actually doing any hard work. There are a lot of good ideas in there but it feels like juvenalia now. I’d like to rewrite it since people keep buying it on Amazon. I don’t think I would disavow anything I’ve written there but I would like to clean it up. However, still being lazy to my marrow I’ll probably leave it alone.

A special deal for BLT readers. You can download TBWWTY for free using coupon code YA52D at this link:

I’m a one-hit wonder of Bible blogging and the opening essay is that hit. It’s a fun read.

JKG Q8 –  What is the good, the bad, and the ugly of Bible blogging? What lessons have you learned by blogging on the Bible? Which posts and/or interactions have impacted you, if any, and why, and how?

DK A8 –

It was a play ground for the sort of feedback loop that we still see on Facebook or Twitter. Someone commented on my post. I am validated as a human being. Buzz wears off. Write another post. Nowadays we have, post something stupid. Somebody clicked like! I can live to face another day. Certainly the level of interaction was more intense and rewarding.

After a while the criticism and argumentation became emotionally debilitating for me. I began to dislike my persona as a brash out-spoken sensationalist, aka “jerk”.

JKG Q9 – I’ve overheard you say to somebody that “BLT is still cooking.” Unless you might embarrass us here, would you be willing to elaborate? What might you advise us as bloggers on the Bible, on literature, and on translation?

DK A9 –

BLT is the Internet at its best: A small band of rabid enthusiasts discussing arcania.



JKG Q10- Why is the occasion of this BLT interview good timing for you? Is there anything in particular, any driving message, that you’d like bloggers or us human beings in general to be (more) aware of?

DK A10 –

Well, I think I was testing the waters for a possible rewrite of TBWWTYDK


but in the end it has been affirming by this interview to reconnect with JK.

JKG Q11- I think we might start another mutual admiration society, DK! If BLT were to nominate you and one other blogger to join us as co-bloggers, who should we invite (given we already have the three you’ve mentioned here and also Craig, Kristen, and Victoria)?

DK A11 –

Well there’s no question that I would be happy to co-blog on BLT if and only if my co-blogger was/were McGyver. I know I’d feel safe with him around. Here’s a promo shot for that new blogging duo.

JKG Q12 – I was going to ask you a final, 12th question, just to round it out to a dozen. I’m afraid, however, I completely lost my train of thought after your 11th answer….

Ok. Let’s see.

Uh. Ok. Would you mind subscribing to comments once this interview posted live at BLT? Would you interact with more of us at BLT here?

DK A12 –

No. And Yes. And I’ll try to keep the conversation spicy and or dicey.

The Psalm Rendered by the Strange, Furious Tongues of the Goyim

April 17, 2015

Kurk, this [Englishing of the Greeking of the Hebrew Isaiah] is in many ways brilliant, particularly in its conveying so much information in so little space, and being simultaneously a translation of the Hebrew (crossed out) and the Greek. It does capture the strangeness and fury of the prophetic experience.

This translation will certainly be of interest to people who already know a little bit about this passage in Isaiah. At the same time, I wonder if it might not be too difficult for someone who is reading Isaiah for the first time.


Though at times the translator [of the Tehillim as the Psalmoi] might be charged with throwing at his reader the Hebrew text in Greek guise, to call him a hack would be unfair. Instead, as has been suggested, his translating… informs his task. Indeed, from that perspective it clearly makes little sense to charge him with inadequate knowledge of Greek and lack of stylistic sensitivity…. [H]e at times introduces an interpretive spin…. [And] it is clear that the translator often puts the form of the text above its meaning…. Indeed, one can even find some literary sparks….

Albert Pietersma

Let’s say the original Septuagint texts had two audiences, an insider Jewish readership (who studied the Hebrew Bible and knew it by heart) and an outsider readership (who could only read the Hellene, or Greek, and didn’t have a clue about the Hebrew). The insiders would have known at least a little bit about the passages of the scriptures. The outsiders would have found the reading slightly difficult, as a text suffering perhaps from translationese and suffering most definitely from the strangeness and the fury of the threatening Other.

The Hellene (or that Greek) to convey the Hebrew (or those Jewish) meanings would give way to something else. The insider translators would not only be speaking to their own on the inside. The insider translators would also be displaying how facile they were, also, by speaking and by writing using the tongues of the Goyim, the ethnicities and the especially-dominant nations outside of the heart of Israel. This might have been somewhat unnerving to those Goyim. The Royals in Alexandria, Egypt, for example, whose mandate from Conqueror Alexander the Great had been to conquer, even by the Logos, would have been unnerved when The God (reigning Supreme in the minds of the Jews over all Greek gods, even Lord Alexander Himself) was being referred to by this minority of people in their Majestic Polis as, The Theos, The Kyrios. In English, of course, this would be something like God-And-None-Other, Master-and-Lord.

Today, then, when reading the Greekified versions of Isaiah and of the Psalms, we English readers would do well, I think, to note all that the translator left out, especially the elided Hebrew. Again, the insiders would have known the Hebrew that gets replaced by the Hellenisms. And these insider readers would also have known what the outsider readers realized: that in Egypt the Jewish scriptures signaled a Politic that would resist re-enslavement or any sort of domination of the Jews there by the Greeks. If anyOne is to be dominant, according to the Greeked Jewish Bible, it would be The Mono Theos, The Mono Kyrios. All the Goyim, all the Ethnē, would do well to understand.

To help us get a sense of what it might have been like to read the Hebraic-Hellene Bible so bi-focally, I like to try to bring across in English both (1) the elided Hebrew and (2) the resistant Greek, or (2a) the Hebraisms-through-the-Hellene and also (2b) the politics-through-the-Greek-tongue. My English, then, is Greeky, or Greekish [with the Hebrew erasures shown as winks and sounded as whispers]. (If I had more time, I would go on and on talking about the Greekishness being not the Pure UnAmbiguous Greek that Aristotle taught his students including Alexander the Great. If we had more time, I would say much much more about how the Greek of the Jews in Alexandria around 250 BCE sounds much more Homeric, much more Sophistic, much more Sapphic and poetic than the dialectic of Plato’s Socrates and than the syllogistic logic and prosaic reasoned rhetoric of the Aristotle who followed Plato.)

For now, below, please just find my attempt to English the Greeked Hebrew of what we refer to as Tehillim 117 (or in the Septuagint, Psalm 116). Below that, please find Paul’s slightly twisted, paraphrase as excerpted for his Jewish and Greekish and Barbarianish readers in the Polis of the Empire called Rome. (If you’d like to peek at the originals, they are here with some additional commentary.)

A translator’s LXX version —

Hail to The Kyrios [YaHWeH]
Oh Pan-Ethnics

Epic Hails to Him
Oh Pan-Laity

For Extra-Kratic have been
The Elisions, His own, Effects on us,
And the Hailing AletheiA,
Of The Kyrios [YaHWeH],
Remains for-Ever Hailing

Paul’s slight NT re-vision —

Hail, Oh Pan-Ethnics, to The Kyrios
Epic Hails to Him Oh Pan-Laity

How (non-) Jewish the Ψαλμοὶ?

April 15, 2015

First of all, this must be noted:

  1. The very shortest of all the Hebrew Tehillim is the one that seems to include all peoples, Jewish and not.

And then let’s note three other things:

  1. The Hebraic Hellene of the Septuagint version called the Psalmoi includes what Albert Pietersma might see as “literary sparks” and “interpretive spins.”
  2. Paul writing an Epistle — to fellow Jews first and then to Greeks (if also to Roman Barbarians) in Rome — quotes the 2 and 1/2 century old Septuagint version of this very short Ψαλμος, and he quotes it with a bit of a syntactic twist.
  3. Finally, English language translators are consistently inconsistent in translating the Hebraic phrase we might transliterate as Goyim (and its Hebraic Hellene counterpart transliterated Ethnē).

1. Now, more on that first point.

Robert Alter very succinctly brings into English this 117th “Psalm.” As he translates, he often refers to the Greek rendering called the Septuagint to correct and/or to clarify the ostensible original Hebrew from the so called Masoretic Text. And as he translates, he avoids what he notes to be “the heresy of explanation,” or “the use of translation as a vehicle for explaining the Bible instead of representing it in another language, and in the most egregious instances… explaining away the Bible.” Alter refuses to join most other “translators in their zeal to uncover the meanings of the biblical text for the instruction of a modern readership”; thus, he does not (as they tend to do) “lose sight of how the text imitates its meanings — the distinctive, artfully deployed features of ancient Hebrew prose and poetry that are instruments for the articulation of all meaning, message, insight, and vision.” That said, he does provide helpful, explanatory footnotes. The following, for example, is both a distinctive, artful deployment of Hebraic features of “meaning, message, insight, and vision” in English and also a clear set of notes on the initial clause and the final phrase of the first line:



I’d like us to focus initially on “all nations.” In his footnote, Alter explains that the reference is to “not Israel but all nations.” He does not say whether “nations” is his English rendering of the Hebrew Goyim or of the Hebraic Hellene concordant phrase of the Septuagint Ethnē. Alter does not need to say. Both the Hebrew and its Jewish-Greek translation say the same thing: “nations.” That brings us to the Jewish-Greek, or what I’ve been calling the Hebraic Hellene.

2. Let’s look at the original text and its original translation:


Pardon my formatting (above). I’m trying to illustrate some of the changes made (below).



One of the changes, most obvious, is in the syntax. I’m using this word syntax loosely or broadly and liberally to suggest that the translator(s) in Alexandria, Egypt decided to start this Psalm with a Greek-alphabetic transliteration of the final Hebrew phrase. In other words, the הַלְלוּ-יָהּ that ends the original is the αλληλουια that begins the translation.

This Hebraic Greek allows the readers to sing the Hebrew. And those Hebrew sounds resonate, then, alliteratively and meaningfully through the short Hellene Psalm.

αλληλουια αἰνεῖτε αὐτόν αὐτοῦ λήθεια αἰῶνα

The opening Alpha (α) matches the opening (ה) of the Hebrew and vocalizes that opening with the most open of all human vowel sounds. It’s the sound that we all make as babies when first calling for our Mama. It’s the sound of a baby nursing. It’s the sound physicians and medical practitioners around the globe ask patients to make when trying to get the tongue out of the way to look down the throat. It’s the sound symbolized by the International Phonetic Alphabet’s /a/.

And the very next Hebraic phrase is the Hellenic command that is also as vocalic: αἰνεῖτε. This second word, in the Greek, is the translation of that first phrase, in the Hebrew. It means “Praise” or “Speak openly and aloud.” The shape of the mouth in speaking the word is the meaning of that word. /aineite/.

The next Hebraic alpha word, repeated, is the pronoun for Him: αὐτόν αὐτοῦ. Again the mouth is open initially, open in reference to the one spoken aloud about and given open praise to.

The final Hebraic alpha-Hellene phrases both begin and end as does the Hebrew Hellene, αλληλουιαThe phrase λήθεια is a word for truth, for an un-covering or a dis-closing or an un-veiling; it is a phrase that both starts and stops with the speaker’s mouth open:  /a-lethei-a/.

And the final word is for forever, the endless age, the eon that goes on and on and on and does not stop; it also leaves the singers of the Psalm with their opened mouths open: αἰῶνα. /a-ion-a/.

So the first and the last thing to notice is that the Hebraic Hellene translator(s) punctuates the beginning of the Psalm and its end with spoken Hebrew (or is it Hellene?) praise.

A second thing to see is how two other Greek letters, one consonant and another vowel, run through the Psalm. The consonant is π (Pi) as in πάντα and παινέσατε and πάντες. The sound is the one we English speakers use to say “purple” and “pappa.” Our lips purse and pucker together to form this sound: /p/. The repeated Hellene word roughly means The Complete, Comprehensive Plurality. Translators usually use “all.” Pan-Hellenic stands for all that is Greek, for example. The other word with this sound is a repetition and prepositioned paraphrase of the translated word for Praise: αἰνεῖτε = π-αινέσατε. The other vowel sound that runs through this Hellenic/Hebraic Psalm is ε (Eta). I’m not going to say as much about it. Please only just see how it starts the critical, inclusive word in question: (“Ethnē”θνη

And that brings us to how Paul writes the Psalm in what we call Romans 15:11.

3. Paul is a Roman, by citizenship. He is literate and proficient in both written and rhetorical Greek. He is an expert in the Bible, a Hebrew of Hebrews by his own actions, his body, his confession. He does not write in the official language of the Empire, not in Latin. He writes to fellow Jews first and then to Greeks – Ἰουδαίῳ τε πρῶτον καὶ Ἕλληνι – He is in debt, he writes as a Jew first, both to the Greeks and also to the Romans (quite transliterally “to the Hellenes and to the Barbarians”) – Ἕλλησίν τε καὶ Βαρβάροις. His audience is rather universal. His distinctions, his classes of humans, are these three national or ethnic or religiously and linguistically distinctive groups. His own Greek language, or Hellene writing, is decidedly a nod to all three sets of peoples. It alphabetizes Latin names, proper nouns like Romae, Iuniam, Iuliam, Gaius, and Quartus, transliterating them (perhaps as Greek loans) with Hellene letters. Likewise, it makes Hebrew names written in the Greek alphabet and generally follows the Greek language of the Hebraic Hellene translation (i.e., lexicon, syntax, referents, meanings) when it comes to the Christo-Judaism propagated by Paul.

When he excerpts Psalm 117:1, here is how the Jewish Paul does it for his Hellene readers in Romae:

αἰνεῖτε – πάντα τὰ ἔθνη – τὸν κύριον


ἐπαινεσάτωσαν – αὐτὸν – πάντες οἱ λαοί

His syntax, his ordering of the phrases, places those who are addressed by the Psalm – πάντα τὰ ἔθνη – before the Person to be worshiped – τὸν κύριον. This is not the rendered Hellene reading out of Alexandria, Egypt by a Jewish translator of the Hebrew Tehillim some centuries earlier. Rather, it is saying that “all nations” or “all ethnicked groups” or “all goyim” or “all gentiles” or “all non-Jews” are the ones commanded here to speak open praises to Kyrios, The Master, The Lord (aka YHWH or HaShem or Adonai or G-d), and by all means not to Lord Caesar. The emphasis, made by the syntax fronting this phrase, is clear. What is not as clear is which of these meanings does Paul intend his readers to mean?

And that brings us to our final observation of how English translators interpret, and whether or not they commit any heresy of explanation in their interpretative English translations of both the Hebraic (Hellene) Psalm and the Hebraic Hellene Epistle.

4. Most Bible translation teams have “nations” for Goyim (and/or for Ethnē) in the Psalm. Some, like the Holman Christian Standard Bible translator(s) even tip the reader off with a heading to signal that this particular Psalm – presumably because of the Hebrew (or Hebraic Hellene) phrase – is a clear “Universal Call to Praise.”

Inconsistently, the same Bibles will then have “Gentiles” for what Paul writes in the 15th chapter of Romans. Click here to start comparing some of these. Even those that have “nations” for what Paul quotes of the Hebraic Hellene Psalm will resort to “Gentiles” or to “non-Jews” or “non-Jewish people” later in the chapter. It’s as if Paul is more discriminating of classes of ethnicity and of religion and so forth. Is that really his emphasis in the text?

Some of my favorite, and individual, translators will do what The Names of God Bible editors do with, say the GOD’S WORD® Translation. For the Psalm, they write the unspeakable Hebrew name transliterating with their English letters Yahweh or YHWH or Jehovah as the Person to be praised by the “nations.” For the Greek Epistle quoting or directly paraphrasing the Psalm in Greek, they use “the Lord” or “God.” I’m thinking of Ann Nyland, who’s translated both the Psalms [from both the Hebrew and the Greek versions] and the New Testament; and of Craig R. Smith, who’s translated the Inclusive Bible; and of Julia E. Smith, who’s translated the complete Christian Bible.

Smith and Smith both use “nations” for the Goyim in Psalm 117:1 and for Ethnē in Romans 15:11. Nyland does what most translation teams have done with this, inconsistently translating the former phrase as “nations” and the latter as quoted by Paul as “non-Jews.” And even Craig Smith has the “Gentiles” for Paul’s Greek word in Romans 15:16 (whereas Julia Smith retains “nations”).

The question is whether Paul’s writing changes the Septuagint translating sufficiently.

And Just How (non-) Jewish are the Ψαλμοὶ in this instance?


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