What is Your Translation Metaphor?

A classic article in communication studies is “The Conduit Metaphor: A Case of Frame Conflict in our Language about Language” by Michael J. Reddy (1979). In our way of thinking about language, we seem to have an image in mind of packaging our thoughts into words and then sending those words across to someone else who unpacks them to get the meaning. Reddy shows how pervasive this conduit metaphor is in our speaking and thinking about language. He is shocked (shocked!) that we so easily give ourselves over so completely to something so insubstantial and illogical as a metaphor to shape how we conceive of linguistic communication. If we really understood the nature of meaning and language better, we wouldn’t say things like “He can’t get across very well what he is thinking,” or “Let me give you an idea of what I have in mind,” or “I can’t find anything of significance in this essay,” or “Why don’t you put your thoughts down on paper?” George Lakoff adds an interesting commentary in his own article in the same volume (Metaphor and Thought, Second edition, edited by Andrew Ortony): “Reddy showed… that the locus of metaphor is thought, not language, that metaphor is a major and indispensable part of our ordinary, conventional way of conceptualizing the world, and that our everyday behavior reflects our metaphorical understanding of experience.” Shortly thereafter (1980) Lakoff, along with Mark Johnson, more completely described the significance of conceptual metaphors in Metaphors We Live By. [I’m probably using the conduit metaphor all over the place here without even realizing it.]

I think this is a fair way of putting this conceptual metaphor concept: In the way we think, the analogical is just as important as—if not more important than—the logical. Well, it’s probably WAY more important, actually. But for those of us who are more analytical, it is good to be aware of our metaphors. Which brings us to metaphors for translation. What is translation? Etymologically-speaking, it is “carrying across.” Isn’t that a metaphor? [Come to think of it, what is metaphor? At its etymological core, isn’t “metaphor” a metaphor as well? How can we escape this!?]

I like how the King James translation says, “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Col. 1:12-13), and, “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God” (Hebrews 11:5). Which use of “translate/translation” is metaphor here, and which literal?

I was once privileged to hear the Translation Studies scholar Andrew Chesterman give a presentation on metaphors used to conceptualize translation, and to have a chance to discuss it with him afterwards. He invited his listeners to analyze and tell what metaphors they use in thinking about translation. As I recall, there was not any one answer that was supposed to be correct, nor did Chesterman sniff at the whole idea of conceptualizing metaphorically. He just wanted to get us to think—and I’m trying to get you to think. What about an image of translation as someone carrying something across to someone else, as the Latin suggests? What about translation as giving someone a gift? What about translation as bridge building? That’s cool. See this picture I took of a poster that says, Chi traduce costruisce ponti,” or, “Who translates builds bridges.”

A well known metaphor associated with translation is to think about the language you are translating into as the “target” language. I suppose if you translate well, that means you have hit the bullseye. If we talk about a “receptor audience,” I guess we’re using that conduit metaphor that Reddy wrote about. I have to confess that I use this kind of language all the time. J.K. Gayle outed me in his comment when I wrote in my last blog post about “pinpointing” a target audience. That probably was a poor choice of words. I think I was trying to avoid using a word as ordinary as “determining.” And thanks to Gayle at the same time for pointing out (not pinpointing) that from a Chinese perspective, translation involves “host” and “guest” languages. Another metaphor.

I see interpretation and the reading of a text as having an important connection with translation. In Truth and Method (1975) Hans-Georg Gadamer described the reading of a text in terms of a widening of horizons, and a fusion of horizons between author and reader: “Gadamer said that a text has its own horizon, or vantage point and all that can be seen from that vantage point, and a reader brings his own horizon to the text. Meaning is the result of the reader’s horizon being altered or widened by exposure to the horizon of the text.” This image of horizons coverging brings to my mind the horizon controls I have seen in small airplanes. Paul Ricoeur uses the image of musical compositions and their performance: “Another metaphor Ricoeur uses is that a text is like a musical score that only provides for the potential for music—or meaning—until it is performed—or read. You can either analyze a text (like analyzing a musical composition), or you can try to absorb what the text has to say (like performing a musical piece). A reading of a text is a performance of it, and not all performances will be the same.” (Note that both of these quotes are my own words and interpretation, from an unpublished paper presented at a conference in 2009.)

Back to Italian, we’re all familiar with the saying, based on a play on words in Italian, that “The translator is a traitor.” There seems to be a widespread sentiment among some people in relation to Bible translation to the effect that thinking about what the source text means and expressing those ideas in the garb of another language amounts to betraying the text, and the least offensive solution is to give a word for word literal translation and force the reader to try to see the text from the viewpoint of the speakers of the original language. Maybe the idea here is of someone from one culture, while in another country, dressing himself as a member of the host culture and illegitimately passing himself off as one of them, perhaps for subversive reasons. If you are in another country, maybe the only honest thing to do is to stand out as a foreigner. Or what about the metaphor that a language or a text “resists” translation? I get the picture of the French underground resisting the Nazi occupation. Or a body at rest resisting being put into motion. If resistance is variable, perhaps it can be measured, as in an electrical circuit.

As I understand it, developments in the European Union challenge the basic ideas of source language and target language in translation. In European Union legislature, there is not supposed to be any primary or privileged language, and so when a law appears, it is supposed to show up in all the different languages simultaneously, without there being any particular source language. I get the picture of scattered seeds all growing into plants simultaneously.

When it comes to Bible translation, my guiding metaphor is that of the incarnation: The Word became flesh. I see the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us in a lot of different shades of flesh and a lot of different sounding languages, to speak to, and act on behalf of, a lot of different people.

Well, this essay is too long. I should have packaged my thoughts into fewer words.

115 Comments

  1. Posted July 9, 2011 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    Hi David,

    You have hit perhaps without knowing it on one of the sources of the translation theory I espouse: the “French” part, as in Paul Ricoeur. He uses the metaphor of resistance in more than one way with respect to translation. Unfortunately, his short book is not available for free online anymore (I have it on my Kindle), but if you haven’t read the book and want to get a first look at R’s theory of translation conceptualized in terms of the resistance in terms of the resistance of “the foreign text” and the “resistance on the side of the reader,” go here:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=oNKyJioBYC4C&q=resistance#v=snippet&q=resistance&f=false

    Will it surprise you that Ricoeur makes many of the same points I have been making – he even depends on the same authors (we both depend on Antoine Berman)? Will it surprise you that he also speaks about the need for a TL to show “linguistic hospitality” for an SL? Will it surprise you that he also emphasizes some of the same things you emphasize? I suspect not; it doesn’t surprise me.

  2. Posted July 9, 2011 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

    R’s “On Translation,” pp. 4-5:

    [The} resistance on the side of the reader must not be underestimated. The pretensions of self-sufficiency, the refusal to allow the foreign [to] mediate, have secretly nourished numerous linguistic ethnocentrisms, and more seriously, numerous pretensions to the same cultural hegemony that we have been able to observe in … Latin … French … and in English today.

    End quote. R might well agree that lingua francas, literary and otherwise, are more prone than vernaculars to lord it over a source text.

    The pretensions Ricoeur pinpoints work themselves out in Bible translation in a variety of ways.

    For example, the assumption that a translation of the Bible is better if it disambiguates metaphors (a common approach in functional equivalence translations). Another example: the pluralizing of singular constructions in the name of gender sensitivity.

    In the first instance, a metaphor for metaphor translation technique has more in its favor. In the second instance, the use of a generic singular masculine is preferable, and as a rule was followed in the New American Bible – Revised Edition (2011), notwithstanding the translation committee’s commitment to gender-inclusive language.

  3. Posted July 9, 2011 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    R on “linguistic hospitality” – note his use of the faithfulness / betrayal metaphor:

    Bringing the reader to the author, bringing the author to the reader, at the risk of serving and of betraying two masters: this is to practise what I like to call linguistic hospitality. It is this which serves as a model for other forms of hospitality that I think resemble it: confessions, religions, are they not like languages that are foreign to one another, with their lexicon, their grammar, their rhetoric, their stylistics which we must learn in order to make our way into them? And is eucharistic hospitality not to be taken up with the same risks of translation-betrayal, but also with the same renunciation of the perfect translation? I retain these risky analogies and these question marks…

    Ricoeur, Paul (2009). On Translation (Thinking in Action) (pp. 23-24). T & F Books UK. Kindle Edition.

  4. Posted July 9, 2011 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

    R’s openness to translations like that of Alter in English and Buber-Rosenzweig in German is well-known, though of course he quoted from the most successful equivalent in French, since he wrote [usually] in French:

    [M]eaning is extracted from the unity it shares with the flesh of words, that flesh which we call the ‘letter’. [Of late t]ranslators gladly removed it, so as not to be accused of ‘literal translation'; translating literally, is that not translating word for word? What shame! What disgrace! Now excellent translators, modelled on Hölderlin, on Paul Celan and, in the biblical domain, on Meschonnic, fought a campaign against the isolated meaning, the meaning without the letter, contrary to the letter. They gave up the comfortable shelter of the equivalence of meaning, and ventured into hazardous areas where there would be some talk of tone, of savour, of rhythm, of spacing, of silence between the words, of metrics and of rhyme. Undoubtedly, the vast majority of translators rush to oppose this, without recognizing that translating the isolated meaning means repudiating an achievement of contemporary semiotics, the unity of meaning and sound, of the signified and the signifier, in opposition to the prejudice one still finds in the early Husserl: that the meaning is complete in the act of ‘conferring meaning’, of Sinngebung. Husserl treats expression (Ausdruck) like an article of clothing external to the body, which really is the incorporeal soul of meaning, of the Bedeutung.

    Ricoeur, Paul (2009). On Translation (Thinking in Action) (p. 38). T & F Books UK. Kindle Edition.

    I concede that Henri Meschonnic’s translation of the Old Testament and his theory of translation are virtually unknown among English language Bible translators. Go here for a bibliographic overview:

    http://henrimeschonnic.blogspot.com/

    The premier French translator of the Bible of the “literalist” school is Andre Chouraqui. Ricoeur, when he quotes from the Hebrew Bible, quotes from that translation.

    For excellent starting points in the sec lit on Buber-Rosenzweig and Chouraqui, I recommend the essays by de Vries & Verheij and Francine Kaufmann in the Traductio volume edited by Dirk Delabastita.

  5. Posted July 9, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    1) “R might well agree that lingua francas, literary and otherwise, are more prone than vernaculars to lord it over a source text.”

    This would depend surely on whether the vernacular you are talking about is a national language outfitted with a lexicon to serve as a host language to materials translated from ancient languages. However, translators today often work in communities where sheep, linen, palm trees, etc are unknown.

    I would like to see an example of a text translated into a vernacular language, and the same text translated into a lingua franca, and then see a comparison. At this point, it still appears to me that a lingua franca will have more resources at hand to tailor a translation, and provide the medium for a wide range of translations.

    2) “In the first instance, a metaphor for metaphor translation technique has more in its favor.”

    There will always be a boundary, a line, where the translator has to say “this metaphor cannot be translated word for word.” Here is an example,

    for behold, the wicked(A) bend the bow;
    (B) they have fitted their arrow to the string
    to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart; ESV

    For, lo, the wicked bend their bow, they make ready their arrow upon the string, that they may privily shoot at the upright in heart. KJV

    And in the LXX, Exodus 6, the Greek could not bear the metaphor of uncircumsized lips, while Latin could.

    There is always a metaphor that cannot be translated. It is a matter of degree.

    3) “Another example: the pluralizing of singular constructions in the name of gender sensitivity.”

    The most pressing problem here is that a text which uses the masculine in English for what was clearly gender neutral in Greek, removes certain key texts from the domain of women, and provides a Reader’s Digest version of the Bible for women (key texts removed forever.)

    For example, 2 Tim. 2:2 does not apply to women. Women are not part of the mentoring and passing on a knowledge from one Christian to another. Each one teach one, does not refer to women.

    More importantly, 1 Tim. 5:8 is used to impress on women that men only provide, and thus men only are responsible and make decisions. For women of my age, women who are your friends and mine, this is our most pressing task in life at the moment, to provide and fulfill our obligations to our families, and then to our fellow human beings. But we have a gutted text, unless we use the KJV, NRSV or NIV. We have had our connections to the text severed in a painful and abrupt fashion.

    I have not only heard this from the pulpit, but I have read this on women’s blogs. They are cut adrift from the original text in an unprecedented manner.

    I read recently a word to men,

    “Work hard for your family. Men ought to provide for and take care of their families. (1 Tim. 5:8) Don’t make your wife work overtime to pay the bills; sacrifice yourself and put in the extra work so that she doesn’t have to. If things need to get done around the house, volunteer to do it yourself instead of waiting for your wife to get it done. Be a servant leader and give yourself up for the good of your family.”

    The sentiment seems worthy, but the wife is trained early that getting things done is not a shared responsibility. She can either become the tyrant, as one woman I know who kept a two foot long list on the fridge of jobs for her husband; or she can become entirely disabled and withdrawn into helplessness, where she can no longer envisage making a decision and carrying out a task.

    Not to digress, but women my age have no use at all for any of this. If your husband has Alzheimers, is long gone, or whatever, you still have to care for your own parents, children, neighbours and the like. The financial and social burdens do not pack themselves up for lack of a husband.

    I could no longer bear to call a text which causes misinterpretation on this scale a Bible.

  6. Posted July 9, 2011 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    Wikipedia still refers to Church of England bishops being “translated”, meaning they are moved from one appointment to another. So this KJV usage is not completely obsolete, although probably only used by groups like the church which like to use archaic language.

    To go back to the etymology behind the metaphor, it is interesting that the English “translate” comes from “carry across”, Latin transfero/translatum, whereas the Latin, Italian and French equivalents come from “lead across”, tra(ns)duco/tra(ns)ductum. Do English speakers think of a text as more of an object to be carried, and Romance ones think of it as an animate being to be led? Or am I falling into the Sapir-Whorf fallacy?

  7. Posted July 9, 2011 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

    Suzanne,

    I will not comment on the last part of your post, except to say that Proverbs 31:10-31, which praises the mistress of the house loudly and clearly for, among other things, her role as a provider, is found in all Bible translations, not just the three you prefer (KJV, the new NIV, and NRSV). The problem here is not Bible translation, but inadequate theology, the incipient Marcionism of great swathes of Christianity, liberal no less than conservative. So long as Christians persist in being New Testament-only Christians, I wonder if they will ever manage to be Christians at all.

    Relative to your first question, the advantages of a vernacular-to-vernacular translation, the point was made with exemplification by David Curzon in a review essay I highlight here:

    http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2011/06/the-importance-of-reading-the-bible-in-a-vernacular.html

    I’ll get to your second question later.

  8. Posted July 9, 2011 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

    There are metaphors in the Bible which, as far as I know, no one has ever tried to translate literally into English, such as the repeated one that says literally that God has a long nose, usually rendered non-metaphorically as “slow to anger”.

  9. Posted July 9, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    John,

    Do you deny that the masculine pronoun has caused confusion for these preachers and theologians.

    “So long as Christians persist in being New Testament-only Christians, I wonder if they will ever manage to be Christians at all.

    So you approve of the RDVW, Reader’s Digest Version for Women, as long as women read the Old Testament as well?

  10. Posted July 9, 2011 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

    Regarding Anglo-Saxon, you are looking at a cultural similarity between two tribal cultures. Many years ago, I introduced Anglo-Saxon translations to a group working in a Cree culture. There are many striking points of similarity. In fact, I had also written up a proposal to study the similarity between Anglo-Saxon translations and translations into Canadian tribal languages. So I am familiar with this literature

    I simply did not perceive that this is what you were referring to when you appeared to suggest that certain English translations are in English as a vernacular and certain others are in English as a lingua franca.

    For Anglo-Saxon, that is the language the people understood, the language of their own culture, using metaphors that resonated. But I don’t see how using a KJV style text today, can possibly be compared to these Anglo-Saxon translations at the time that they were translated. Nor are they particularly literal either. I don’t see how this supports the choice of the RSV, ESV type of translation today.

  11. Posted July 9, 2011 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

    Peter,

    I favor a “metaphor-for-metaphor” translation technique. When that is combined with a “literal as possible, free as necessary” philosophy (which I also espouse), there are occasions in which a literal transfer has to be avoided.

    For the example you give, Suzanne, so far as I know, is the only one to offer a translation of the Greek equivalent that is Hebraizing, literal, and metaphorical, all at the same time:

    “love is long in both nostrils at once”

    I have reservations about this kind of translation, though I admit that on occasion the attempt is successful and becomes productive in turn in the TL. The expression “the way of all flesh” is an example.

    A metaphor-for-metaphor translation offered by Carl Conrad for (horror of horrors!) biblish Greek makrothumeô: “waits out the storms.” That works in 1 Cor 13, but not in general.

  12. Posted July 10, 2011 at 12:09 am | Permalink

    Suzanne,

    I’m glad you have now had a chance to read my followup post in which I exemplified what I think of as vernacular to vernacular translation. David Curzon, Robert Alter, and I pursue this in our translation work by dispreferring Latinate words and preferring Anglo-Saxon word stock. Of course the results are partial, but as Ricoeur said so well about translation, we live under the sign of hope, not despair.

    Re: the use of the generic masculine singular pronoun

    I have long experience in field testing generic masculines. Over more than a decade, I have watched reactions to generic masculine language in three different congregations with diverse demographics. The translation of choice of the parishes (all United Methodist, which means a mix of liberals, evangelicals, pietists, and unaffiliated): ESV; 1984 NIV; and RSV.

    Not once, and I say that literally, has anyone, male or female, come up to me and said they thought the generic masculine language excluded women. True, Wisconsin women, Democrat or Republican, tend to be independent-minded (think Michele Bachmann, a WELS Minnesotan, the same culture more or less). I *was* corrected by a woman once for *not* calling her a fireman (I called her a firefighter).

    Everyone seems perfectly capable of reading a text like Proverbs 1:8-19 as well, in which male-specific language is retained in all but the most politically correct translations. They make adjustments on the fly if they are daughters rather than sons, whether or not they feel the same attraction to the thrill of violence a gang of hoods offers.

    [White-collar crime is ubiquitous; I don't think the rates among men are that much higher than they are among women. The word at the water cooler is that the latter are better at not getting caught.]

    I don’t what it is. This *is* Lake Wobegon country, where “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”

    Of course there are a few preachers who get confused about these things, especially if they have certain predispositions. You are not going to solve their issues by imposing a gender-neutral translation on them.

    The people in my context who think like you do about generic masculine language are limited to some of my colleagues in ministry, many of them excellent pastors, who self-identify as feminists and sometimes refuse to speak of God the Father as well. This is one reason why gender-neutral language in Bible translation is sometimes thought of as portending a vast set of extra-textual changes – all the way to same-sex marriage. The reason is simple: in a context like my own, those who insist on doing away with generic masculine language (something the new NIV, thankfully, does not eliminate altogether) are the same individuals who think highly of John Shelby Spong and want to bless divorces and same-sex unions. There are exceptions to this rule, but it is the rule.

  13. Posted July 10, 2011 at 3:02 am | Permalink

    “David Curzon, Robert Alter, and I pursue this in our translation work by dispreferring Latinate words and preferring Anglo-Saxon word stock.”

    I noted a difference in the use of Latinate terms between the Tyndale and the KJV on this blog back in April of 2006 writing,

    “Propitiation is one of the many Latinate words that appears in the KJV but not in the Tyndale version.”

    I don’t think that it is some kind of exclusive club which disprefers the Latinate terms, as you suggest. The Latinate terms are one feature, ie using propitiation, that truly irritate me about the ESV, and that dates back to the first day I posted on this blog. But the issue is complex because the ecclesiasitical terms tend more towards the Anglo-Saxon, ie “church” instead of “congregation,” and my Brethren origins and literalness demand “congregation.” So the issue is always multifaceted. Anyway, when I was blogging about the Anglo-Saxon I don’t remember if you were around.

    Now on the second issue – the generic masculine – let us compare two groups of people. The first group are those who have taken the time to address you personally on this matter, most of them living in Wisconsin.

    The second group includes the well-educated minister of my children’s church, coming directly to us from London, England. He said that although he knew that the Greek of 1 Tim. 5:8 actually referred to the male, today women also should apply this verse to themselves. He managed to display his total ignorance of Greek at the same time as presenting a message that was true to the Bible. All because he was not aware that the masculine generic in English does NOT always reflect a masculine of any kind in Greek.

    Other people in this class include some sincere women bloggers (unnamed), Russell Moore, John McArthur, Owen Strahan, and Mark Driscoll, for starters. Perhaps if they all spent the summer in Wisconsin, you could teach them that a masculine generic does not necessarily reflect an underlying masculine in the Greek. However, in the meantime, ….

    I can add to this list if you do not consider these people sufficient. Perhaps you could comment on Michael Patton’s having to explain after writing a post, that a “fellow” is by definition male, while a “monk” may be female.

  14. Dannii
    Posted July 10, 2011 at 3:18 am | Permalink

    “love is long in both nostrils at once”

    This is nonsense to me, sorry.

    As to the generic masculine… I think I’d be willing to accept that there are many people for whom this it is still okay, for who “he” has not become restricted to solely the masculine. I’m one of them.

    The problem I have with it is that I cannot think of anyone I know who would naturally choose to use “he” as their normal indefinite 3sg pronoun. In the 21st century we use another word.

  15. Posted July 10, 2011 at 3:18 am | Permalink

    “There are exceptions to this rule, but it is the rule”

    Everything you have to say on this matter relates to your personal context. And everything I say relates to my context. Here are a few thoughts.

    1) We should both equally be allowed freedom of speech.

    2) Any advertising which suggests gender inclusive translations veil the original languages should always be balanced by equal advertising on how masculine translations veil the original languages.

  16. Posted July 10, 2011 at 3:22 am | Permalink

    Dannii,

    I think I understand the masculine generic also. But I have sat through more than one sermon, and I have been in more than one conversation, where clearly the other person believed that a masculine generic in English in the Bible, meant that the underlying Greek was masculine and intended to refer to a male, and only if the woman was represented by a male, could the passage possibly relate to her. However for those who regard 1 Tim. 5:8 as a “headship” verse, they do not believe that a generic masculine is generic at all.

  17. Posted July 10, 2011 at 3:29 am | Permalink

    Here is the typical analysis of 1 Tim. 5:8 that you will find on the internet,

    “1 Tim 5:8: The Faithful Provider – A Father Characteristic. God has given fathers wisdom and ability to be providers for their families. All that fathers need to do is diligently seek god’s will and do what is right in the Lord. Key Bible Verse: 1 Timothy 5:8 advises that men of faith shall be good providers for their family.”

    http://access-jesus.com/1_Timothy/1_Timothy_5.html

    I admit, you can find anything on the internet, but why should all those people not have access to a gender accurate Bible? Why not? What is the reason for denying people access to what the Greek actually said?

  18. Posted July 10, 2011 at 4:35 am | Permalink

    Suzanne,

    The trouble with Tyndale is that it translates the “propitiation” passages every which way (Romans 3; Hebrews 2; 1 John 2 and 4). Speaking for myself, I prefer NABRE’s across the board translation: “expiation.” A case can be made for a Latinate expression in this case. “Expiate” and “expiation” are words that often turn up in native explanation of Yom Kippur, and with excellent cause.

    Re: generic masculines

    Of course I was joking when I intimated that only people in the upper Midwest understand generic masculines. The reality is that, generally speaking, generic masculines are understood everywhere, except by extremists on the feminist side and the anti-feminist side. Ideology makes for strange bedfellows.

    As for your list of male misinterpreters of generic masculines, I might assume, as you do for the women whom you leave unnamed, that they are sincere in their error. If so, a summer in Wisconsin would do the trick.

    But suppose for a moment that they, or at least some of them, have an axe to grind, not unlike the one gender-sensitive proponents occasionally seem to have (more on this in a moment). In that case, your attempt to set them straight by way of a gender-sensitive translation like the new NIV is bound to backfire.

    Do the people behind the new NIV have an axe to grind? It is better to assume, I’m sure, that they sometimes fall victim to what is known in German as “Systemzwang” = conformity to a system of thought without regard for the particulars of a specific case. This would also explain why people as excellent as Mark Driscoll, Michael Patton, and the others you name go astray now and then.

    How else to explain NIV 2011 Revelation 3:20, if not on the grounds of Systemzwang?

    Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

    As Rick Mansfield pointed out, this is awkward. Rev 3:20 is a key verse in the theological imagination of hundreds of millions of Christians. It is hard *not* to remember it in KJV dress:

    Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

    Like many others, I memorized it in RSV=ESV dress:

    Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

    Most translations, from Darby to NASB to NABRE, differ as little as possible from the KJV translation tradition in this instance, which of course goes all the way back to Tyndale.

    But what, pray tell, are we to do with NIV 2011 Rev 3:20? Who will ever memorize it? NIV 2011 shoots itself in the foot in this verse. Gender over-sensitivity is the culprit.

  19. Posted July 10, 2011 at 4:57 am | Permalink

    And the NIV 2011 was constrained by a bunch of pedants who could not bear I will come in and dine with them (meaning that person singular.)

    It appears that there is a contingent of people who do not wish the Bible to be undestood and in the case of Rev 3:20, I suggest, although it is strong language, that the translators were bullied out of the singular they, and were bullied out of a masculine generic, and did not have much left.

    Bullied out of a masculine generic because of the book “The TNIV and the gender neutral ….. ” I can’t remember. However, one thesis of this book is that a masculine generic serves to make the hearer/reader picture a male in their mind. That male, then in his turn represents the female reader/hearer. She then undestands that it is through male headship that she comes to Christ. She has a picture of a male (not Christ, but a generic male) in her mind. I won’t do it. I repudiate the entire and total ball of wax as firmly as you seem to repudiate God our mother. But neither the NIV 2011 or me, ask you to accept God our mother. We ask that women have a complete Bible.

  20. Posted July 10, 2011 at 5:05 am | Permalink

    Here is Grudem on this topic,

    “He” includes both men and women, but does so using a male example as a pictorial starting point. In a subtle way, this use brings along with it an unequal prominence to men and women. Thus feminism attacks it as “unfair’. But in doing so, feminism relies on an egalitarian standard antagonistic to the Bible, for the Bible maintains some gender-based differences between men and women, and, in particular, it uses many male examples and male sample cases to express general truths. Of course, it also uses female examples, though not with the same frequency. And we must emphasize again that the Bible does teach the dignity of all human beings. Men and women alike are created in the image of God, and all have fallen into sin. But the Bible also indicates that there are differences in the gifts that God gives them and the roles that he assigns to them in this life. Feminism and egalitarianism fight against those differences.’

    The fact is that in Greek, neither Rev. 3:20 nor 1 Tim. 5;8 is using a male example as a pictorial starting point – and I will not bow to a Bible that asks me to take the generic human male as a pictorial starting point to approaching God, or having God approach me.

  21. Posted July 10, 2011 at 5:07 am | Permalink

    “A headship verse” – exactly. Another example of Systemzwang. There are plenty of passages in the New Testament which endorse a hierarchical understanding of marriage, but the 1 Tim 5 passage is not one of them.

    I submit that translations like ESV (2001), NASB (1995), HCSB (1999), and NABRE (2011) are *gender-accurate* at Rev 3:20- all make use of the generic masculine.

    NIV 2011, on the other hand, is *gender over-sensitive* at Rev 3:20.

    NIV 2011 makes use of the generic masculine elsewhere, at Rom 14:22 for example:

    Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves.

    So do all the translations mentioned above. For fluency of diction, ESV is superior:

    Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves.

    It is unusual for ESV to outdo NIV in fluency, but ESV Rom 14:22 is an exception to the rule. On the other hand, ESV is excessively wordy in this locus.

    Is it possible to produce a translation of the Bible that is gender-accurate but not gender over-sensitive? I think so.

    Like NIV 2011, it would use the generic masculine – more often, I’m convinced. It would not shy away from phrases like “God and man” and “man and beast,” which are perfectly good examples of high register English. It would probably use “brothers’ in places like Acts 3:17, as does NABRE (2011). That’s how I see it anyway. But I’m from Wisconsin.

  22. Posted July 10, 2011 at 5:28 am | Permalink

    “I submit that translations like ESV (2001), NASB (1995), HCSB (1999), and NABRE (2011) are *gender-accurate* at Rev 3:20- all make use of the generic masculine.”

    If you are suggesting that the Greek uses a generic masculine, you are giving grammatical gender far more weight than anyone I have ever heard. If the English must follow the original languages in grammatical gender then the spirit must be feminine or neuter. I actually am not aware of a translator who feels that grammatical gender must be translated for accuracy. But I am interested in hearing this position defended.

    I suggest that “tis” “autos” does not create a male pictorial starting point, whereas “anyone” “he” does. I suggest that the grammatically masculine pronoun autos is NOT a direct and simple equivalent for “he” in English. I suggest that there are now many readers who are, in any case, incapable of reading the generic masculine in English, and believe that every time the passage refers to some responsibility or gift, only males are the intended referents. I submit that this creates a RDVW, Readers Digest Version for Women, which is what some people want.

  23. Posted July 10, 2011 at 5:33 am | Permalink

    PS I am aware of the alternatives Tyndale uses instead of propitiation. Here is my post from 2006.

    http://betterbibles.com/2006/04/28/is-traditional-literal/

    All I wanted to say is that there is not some special club that includes “Alter, Curzon and Hobbins.” There are also a few others interested in these topics.

  24. Posted July 10, 2011 at 5:58 am | Permalink

    Suzanne,

    No one has to bully me into staying away from “Here I am! If anyone … I will dine with them …” No one talks that way in the 21st century, *except for* the “anyone … them” sequence. You insist on 21st century-fying a single detail of the source text, and leave the rest in non-21st century dress. I find that odd.

    No one I know expects Jesus who appeared to John in a vision two thousand years ago to sound like someone today. But if that is what you want, a paraphrase, and *only* a paraphrase, will achieve it.

    “Don’t you get it? I stand at the door. I knock. If you open the door, I’ll come right in and share supper with you.”

    I just made Mike Sangrey proud.

    Why is the above translation contemporary? No generic masculines, which are avoided, thought not pedantically, in colloquial English. No singular theys *either*: they are confusing in a passage that is focused on a one-on-one relationship.

    You also say:

    “I will not bow to a Bible that asks me to take the generic human male as a pictorial starting point to approaching God, or having God approach me.”

    Neither will I. But none of the Bible translations on the literal end of the spectrum I have been citing ask me or you to do anything of the sort. They certainly do not ask you or me to think about “a generic human male,” as a stand-in for you or for God. Not even your favorite theologian, Prof. Grudem, asks you to do that.

    Two points here. (1) Translations, like children, need to be judged apart from their parents’ wishes for them, what their parents tried to make them be. (2) A translation is not a nanny. It cannot make up for readers who are ideologically driven, morally crude, or incapable of putting themselves in the shoes of the Other, including others who lived thousands of years ago in a faraway place.

    For the rest, if an expression like “brothers” in Acts 3 truly sets you off, I am not going to argue with you. I remain convinced that very few people are set off by such expressions when they read them in the Bible, a very old book after all.

    But if “brothers” bother you so, thank God – and I do – there must be a congregation near you where you can hear a woman preach from the new CEB Sunday after Sunday. CEB is the most consistent translation, I believe, in eliminating “the generic human male” in translation.

  25. Posted July 10, 2011 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    Re: a special club made up of “Curzon, Alter, and Hobbins.”

    No, it is not a club, though we have corresponded back and forth.

    Note that Susanna Morton Braund in “Mind the Gap: On Foreignizing Translations of the Aeneid” (Joseph Farrell and Michael C. J. Putnam, eds.; A Companion to Vergil‘s Aeneid and its Tradition. Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World; Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010; 449-64) reviews translations which seek to convey the source text’s alienness to the point of privileging close translation for close reading at the expense of immediate intelligibility. Among these Ahl (2007) prefers Anglo-Saxon roots.

    It’s part of a larger trend which goes beyond Anglo-Saxon word stock. I think the world of Sarah Ruden and her translation of the Aeneid: you will enjoy this interview:

    http://my-nepenthe.blogspot.com/2008_07_01_archive.html

    Re: gender representation in gendered languages

    A very complex topic. David E. S. Stein has been working on this; he has some provocative ideas with respect to Hebrew; we’ll see how the debate develops. I am not going to wade into that conversation here. David first of all deserves a fair hearing.

    But I stand by what I said:

    “ESV (2001), NASB (1995), HCSB (1999), and NABRE (2011) are *gender-accurate* at Rev 3:20- all make use of the generic masculine.”

    In exactly the same way, NIV 2011 at Romans 14:22 is gender-accurate. On the other hand, there is always CEB Romans 14:22:

    People are blessed who don’t convict themselves by the things they approve.

    Anyone who has read much of what I have written over the years will divine what I think of CEB, here and in general, so I won’t belabor the issues.

  26. Posted July 10, 2011 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    1) “Why is the above translation contemporary? No generic masculines, which are avoided, thought not pedantically, in colloquial English. No singular theys *either*: they are confusing in a passage that is focused on a one-on-one relationship.”

    Yes, of course, “they/them” is necessary when introduced by anyone. If I said “If anyone knocks on my door, I would invite him in for tea” I am excluding all women. That is a fact. I would never understand it any other way. Why should I restrict my relationships to males only just for the sake of the little word “he.” People have got to get over this. “He” has the effect of restricting the transaaction to males. This is why the CBMW theologians that I cited do not undestand so much of the Bible. They honestly believe that women are not included in many passages.

    2) You write “(1) Translations, like children, need to be judged apart from their parents’ wishes for them, what their parents tried to make them be.”

    First, you suggest that translations need to be mediated to the general public, such as those who don’t understand the generic masculine, but now you say that they should not be mediated by their own editors. But you forget that I attended church with one of the editors. I watched others being told that one could not preach the gospel very well without the expression “sons of God.” Down with Luther and the reformation, I would guess.

    3) “For the rest, if an expression like “brothers” in Acts 3 truly sets you off,”

    I did not comment on that passage at all. Are you trying to put words in my mouth – again!

    I think you know very well that “brothers” are male. That is not in dispute is it? Are you trying to pretend that I am a brother? Or are you saying that clearly men were referred to in Acts 3? Which is it?

  27. Posted July 10, 2011 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    I agree with you on Anglo-Saxon word stock. That was my point. Thank you.

    I follow David Stein’s work and he has corresponded with me in this regard.

    As for Rev. 3;20, I see that you defend grammatical gender. That is an unusual position to take. I agree that grammatical gender has metaphorical and rhetorical value in some passages, and there are times when it should be translated. But I disagree with the suggestion that “tis” “autos” is the same as “anyone” “he.”

    In any case, I have provided evidence that it is very common for readers and theologians to misread the generic masculine, as seen in 1 Tim. 5:8 and so great swaths of people do not understand the Bible. I don’t see how you can defend this.

    First, the generic masculine in English is not an exact translation for the Greek. And then many people don’t understand it as generic. I see this as a problem. On top of this, the editors themselves wish to prevent women from applying many passages of the Bible to themselves. They translate this way in order to exclude women from leadership, and from making decisions or taking responsibility in the home and in church.

  28. Posted July 10, 2011 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    By contrast, no translator of the NIV 2011 has asked you personally to address God as your mother. So I don’t know why you don’t want women to have a Bible that can be understood.

  29. Posted July 10, 2011 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    Well, Suzanne, we succeeded in having a civil conversation for quite a stretch.

    I even fancied for a time that you were not implacably opposed to generic masculines. Not too long ago, after all, you were less dogmatic.

    With your last comment in particular, it seems to me that you have begun to read me against the grain more often than not.

    Perhaps you feel that I have begun to do the same with you.

    This is probably a good time to say au revoir for the moment. Though we disagree about a lot of things, it is sometimes worth trying to understand each other.

  30. Posted July 10, 2011 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    I see interpretation and the reading of a text as having an important connection with translation.

    David,
    Thanks for this post. Now the comment thread so far is very interesting, and notice our meta-language (our meta-phors, our linguistic carry-ers as if our terms are pregnant, are bearing some baby, or have birthed some child that must be parented) for these “connections.”

    And in the LXX, Exodus 6, the Greek could not bear the metaphor of uncircumsized lips, while Latin could.

    the English “translate” comes from “carry across”, Latin transfero/translatum, whereas the Latin, Italian and French equivalents come from “lead across”, tra(ns)duco/tra(ns)ductum. Do English speakers think of a text as more of an object to be carried, and Romance ones think of it as an animate being to be led? Or am I falling into the Sapir-Whorf fallacy?

    I favor a “metaphor-for-metaphor” translation technique.

    I think I’d be willing to accept that there are many people for whom this it is still okay, for who “he” has not become restricted to solely the masculine. I’m one of them.

    German as “Systemzwang” = conformity to a system of thought without regard for the particulars of a specific case. This would also explain why people as excellent as Mark Driscoll, Michael Patton, and the others you name go astray now and then.

    Bullied out of a masculine generic because of the book “The TNIV and the gender neutral ….. ”

    feminism relies on an egalitarian standard antagonistic to the Bible

    translations like ESV (2001), NASB (1995), HCSB (1999), and NABRE (2011) are *gender-accurate*

    If the English must follow the original languages in grammatical gender then the spirit must be feminine or neuter.

    No one I know expects Jesus who appeared to John in a vision two thousand years ago to sound like someone today.

    (1) Translations, like children, need to be judged apart from their parents’ wishes for them, what their parents tried to make them be. (2) A translation is not a nanny. It cannot make up for readers

    First, the generic masculine in English is not an exact translation for the Greek. And then many people don’t understand it as generic. I see this as a problem. On top of this, the editors themselves wish to prevent women from applying many passages of the Bible to themselves. They translate this way in order to exclude women from leadership, and from making decisions or taking responsibility in the home and in church.

    don’t want women to have a Bible that can be understood.

  31. Posted July 10, 2011 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    I see interpretation and the reading of a text as having an important connection with translation.

    Thanks, David, for bringing into your post Lydia He Liu’s (“Chinese”) emphasis on “host” and “guest” languages. I should probably nuance a little more carefully what she’s hoping for. Rather than just a politeness, a civility, a welcoming that the metaphors “guest” and “host” convey in English, Liu is wanting to show the agonism, the cultural clashes. Furthermore, those who read her works get the fact that she’s writing not only from the perspective of a “Chinese” scholar not in China (but in the West, in USA academia) but also from the perspective of a “woman” and even a “feminist,” in a world dominated by men and predominate and ubiquitous masculinist metaphors and power in language.

    Here’s just one more little quotation from Lydia:

    “Meanings, therefore, are not so much ‘transformed’ when concepts pass from the guest language to the host language as invented within the local environment of the latter. In that sense, translation is no longer a neutral even untouched by the contending interests of political and ideological struggles. Instead, it becomes the very site of such struggles where the guest language is forced to encounter the host language, where the irreducible differences between them are fought out, authorities invoked or challenged, ambiguities dissolved or created, and so forth, until new words and meaning emerge in the host language itself. I hope the notion of translingual practice will eventually lead to a theoretical vocabulary that helps account for the process of adaptation, translation, introduction, and domestication of words, categories, discourses, and modes of representation from one language to another and, furthermore, helps explain the modes of transmission, manipulation, deployment, and domination within the power structure of the host language.”
    Translingual Practice: Literature, National Culture, and Translated Modernity-China, 1900-1937, page 26

  32. Posted July 10, 2011 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    I see interpretation and the reading of a text as having an important connection with translation.

    Now to the Bible. What do we make of this language in Ezra 4, of the hapax legomenon in verse 7, of תרגם? Many just conveniently transliterate that into English the way we do hapax legomenon, as if the fact that we “letter” the sounds somewhat literally or transliterally as targum we’re able to squeeze meaning out of some turnip of a word.

    For help, English translators usually turn to how others have translated it. It’s context, of course, conveys or carries the very ideaS of translation that we like. There’s one language being interpreted, getting “read,” into another.

    And we like to go to the Greek and the Latin:

    The Septuagint translators bring in ἡρμηνευμένην (from which we transliterate our English word, hermenuetics). The LXX translators put this verb at the very end of the passage, the final word of the verse. To me, this suggests not a finality so much but sort of a call for a reversal of meanings. If you “read” the Encomium of Helen by the sophist Gorgias (whom both Plato and Aristotle railed against as a “rhetorician”), then you know his final word is such a wordplay, a call to the reader to reconsider everything already. At any rate, most readers of the Septuagint don’t get the allusions of this Greek word (which we tend to think of only as “interpretation”). Aristotle wrote an entire treatise around this word. He was trying to abstract it, to render it away from the theological notions of Hermes, from which the Greek word derives. Hermes, of course, is the god of interpretation, of language. So this very word, in the context of Ἔσδρας Βʹ (Ἔσδρας – Νεεμίας), in Alexander’s city, Alexandria (in Egypt again) is full of meanings, of “renderings” (i.e., a tearing from and also a representation of) a struggle over language that comes before and that has already come between languages.

    The Vulgate translators and editors bring in legebatur. Sure, it’s a Latin borrowing from the Greek. But in Latin, the word has come to mean something like we mean for “read.” And is that so straightforward? “Read” in English also has come to mean both to “get the author’s singular and original intention” and also to “interpret meanings in a text for ourselves.” Why this Latin word for תרגם? for ἡρμηνευμένην?

    So let’s come back to English (translation). The translators and English Bible revisers for King James some 400 years ago translated, or rendered, or interpreted, or read the text (or texts in Hebrew, then Greek, the Latin, and then earlier Englishes if not also in German and in French) this way:

    And in the days of Artaxerxes wrote Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of their companions, unto Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the writing of the letter [was] written in the Syrian tongue, and interpreted in the Syrian tongue.

    How does this impact better translation of our better bibles? Maybe it’s useful for us to consider. How and why?

  33. Posted July 10, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    “I even fancied for a time that you were not implacably opposed to generic masculines. Not too long ago, after all, you were less dogmatic.”

    I am more aware now of how often it is misunderstood and used to exclude women. It also does not translate the Greek literally.

    “Perhaps you feel that I have begun to do the same with you.”

    Not in this conversation, but the sting of the many bold and untrue statements that you have made about me over the years endure.

    I wish to summarize my concerns as follows. The gender inclusive translations strive for gender accuracy overall but fail in some specific verses. Neither the editors nor the translation itself, ask the reader to address God as mother.

    The masculine generic translations fail overall to translate the semantic gender of the original languages. They succeed in a few specific verses, and fail overall by translating anthropoi as “people” when salvation is in view, and as “men” whenever positions of responsibility are in view. They translate according to a certain interpretation of other verses of the scritpure, and not literally . The editors of these translations ask women to exclude themselves from certain key verses, and ask women to include themselves elsewhere by means of a male pictorial starting point. These translations can be used to deprive women of human dignity as well as prevent women from knowing what was in the original Greek.

  34. Posted July 10, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    What is my metaphor for translation? Great question, David, and stimulating responses. I varied over the past two days thinking about this – my first thought was of a razor’s edge that the word might slip between the excuses and explanations that we put in our ways.

    Then I thought of the bloody-minded blunderbus – and realized that a razor might produce blood too, but a sharp and clean cut might not disable the subsequent pleasure of completeness. Let us not be too bloody-minded.

    This morning I noted what seemed a hapax in my database on the psalms – but it wasn’t. I had the root wrong. So in correcting a word I have seen rendered as hope, or confidence, I was amused – though whether it is humour in the Psalms or not I cannot tell, that the root is not hope but stupidity or folly. Psalm 78:7 – that they might set their folly on God and not forget the prodigality of אֵל. Prodigality or wantonness – it’s a verse about our being taught about being translated.

    And there’s a third metaphor – rendered. How often I think of the glue factory when I use this word for translating!

  35. Posted July 10, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Kurk, for the Liu cites.

    I differ with you about how creative the LXX translators were, but you know that already. The “Toronto school” takes a different approach. In a recent monograph, Ron Troxel patiently debunks the premises of the “translation-as-a-window-into-Hellenistic-Judaism” stance: LXX-Isaiah as Translation and Interpretation: The Strategies of the Translator of the Septuagint of Isaiah. Leiden: Brill, 2008. You might want to take a look at it if you plan to peer-review your online assertions on the topic.

    Suzanne,

    I reject your accusations but I am not asking that they be removed from this thread. I prefer that they stay up. They help establish a context for everything else you say. They say more about you than they do about me.

    Thank you, however, for the summary of your stance. I disagree with both poles of the gender representation debate; the more you have moved to one extreme of the spectrum, the more I find reason to challenge your statements. My reservations about the gender-neutral language of NRSV, CEB, and now NIV 2011 stand.

    In my view, the imposition of gender-neutrality onto the Bible in translation damages the cause of healthy gender construction, something which our so-called egalitarian society sorely lacks. The addition of “and sisters” to “brothers” solves exactly nothing and is in fact counter-productive, since it contributes to masking the degree to which the Bible reflects a culture both similar and dissimilar to our own.

    Having distanced myself from those like you who think that NRSV, CEB, NIV 2011’s approach to gender in translation is “necessary,” I also wish to distance myself from those who think the gender over-sensitivity of NRSV, CEB, and NIV 2011 is s matter of status confessionis. It is not. For example, the following statement, an Eastern Orthodox point of view, goes too far, though it is true enough on some levels:

    The NRSV has cut itself off from this ancient tradition, has cut itself off from Christianity itself some would say, in preference for the allaying of individual neuroses over Tradition. The RSV, however, does not suffer from any such accomodation, and so is still perceived as a non-ideologically motivated and useful reference, and is indeed used in Orthodox Bible studies in parishes throughout the English-speaking world. – Kevin Edgecomb. See his posts:

    http://www.bombaxo.com/blog/?p=701

    http://www.bombaxo.com/blog/?p=708

    There is a sense in which the RSV was the last great common English Bible. It is already clear, should anyone have thought otherwise once upon a time, that NIV 2011 will not be common English Bible of the future, not even of the evangelical world or a large part thereof. It tries too hard to accommodate the concerns, however deeply felt, of a small number of Bible readers, but thereby alienates a far larger number of Bible readers.

  36. Mike Sangrey
    Posted July 10, 2011 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    John Hobbins wrote:
    No one I know expects Jesus who appeared to John in a vision two thousand years ago to sound like someone today. But if that is what you want, a paraphrase, and *only* a paraphrase, will achieve it.

    “Don’t you get it? I stand at the door. I knock. If you open the door, I’ll come right in and share supper with you.”

    I just made Mike Sangrey proud.

    Well, I suppose that’s a valiant effort to see things from my perspective, but it misses on a few important details.

    Getting back to metaphors and incarnational translation….

    The metaphor (as David Frank was using the term) in that passage has everything to do with a vastly wealthy and capable person– Jesus, the Christ himself–standing at a door, requesting to be given an audience to the person inside the house–a stark naked, profoundly blind, utterly poor person–a pitiful person. And, more, if there could possibly be a way of pushing the metaphor further, the one painted as absolute authority through narratives to six other churches–get this!–asks to come into the house and share a meal–that’s personal, close, touching contact. The reader, modern or ancient, should be surprised by such a dignified and honest and profound humility.

    The translation should bring that model to mind. The translation should not make Jesus sound like me. But, nor should it make Jesus sound irrelevant to me, and to people like me. To illustrate the sense of irrelevancy, certain bygone laws of yesteryear come to my mind, like the forbidding of driving without a shovel (think horse drawn coach). We understand this law just fine (once we are given the context not in the text), but having become trivia, it is then easily dismissed.

    I would suggest the following:

    Please hear me! I’m at the door and I’m knocking. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I’ll come in. And the two of us will share a meal with each other.

    I don’t think that sounds foreign to today’s people. Nor does it make someone like Jesus sound foreign to who he is. I believe this translation produces in our language what I’ll call a very close analog to the metaphor expressed with the original’s text.

    I’ll probably be “accused” of paraphrasing the last clause. However, δειπνήσω μετ’ αὐτοῦ καὶ αὐτὸς μετ’ ἐμοῦ is a very purposeful way of indicating a mutuality, and a closeness, even an equality, in the action expressed by the verb. The translator needs to find a way to convey the same thing in our language when our culture doesn’t have the same sense of intimacy and fellowship as provided by a meal in the ancient context. The expression δειπνήσω μετ’ αὐτοῦ καὶ αὐτὸς μετ’ ἐμοῦ was a bit surprising to them. When I read “eat with him, and he with me” I’m not surprised; I simply think, “that’s just verbose.”

    To me, this conceptual model of translation is what David is getting at when he says, “my guiding metaphor is that of the incarnation”. It’s the translator taking a trip back to long, long ago and expressing an understanding of the text to those people such that they would respond with, “Yeah, you got it.” That is exegesis–it’s the accurate formulation within the mind of a concept. And then, making the trip forward to now and expressing the text to today’s audience in such a way that the hearers can make that same trip back and get the same response when they express their understanding to that long ago audience. That’s the translator incarnating the concept into a translation.

    Lastly and as an aside, I noticed the ESV has I will come in to him…. That sounds weird. It illustrates how literalness makes the text sound foreign and thereby drives the reader toward dismissing the text as irrelevant. Frankly, it says in English something other than what the Greek says in Greek. And, it’s not English to begin with (which is probably why it sounds foreign). Have you ever noticed that a Sci-Fi script conveys foreignness without sounding foreign? Might I suggest that those are two different types of foreignness which should be kept separate? I think we need two different words so the distinct concepts can be kept separate.

  37. Posted July 10, 2011 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    Mike,

    Am I right that you are using “metaphor” to refer to the whole scene projected by Revelation 3:20? If so, you are not far from the kingdom of God in terms of metaphor theory, the theory of Benjamin Harshav, to be precise.

    Harshav objects to theories of metaphor which limit it to a quality of words, sentences, or other linguistic units. Metaphor is rather the result of textual interpenetration of two or more frames of reference. Metaphor is grasped in a reader’s processing of a text (not a linguistic unit, which is too limiting a concept). It is more than an inherent quality of a text – and its occurrence is not a linear process. Metaphor occurs with an interactive feedback loop. A text projects characters, settings, and “worlds,” the reader (re-) constructs on that basis; in that context, semantic integration occurs across multiple frames of references. The usual examples of metaphor in the literature, Max Black’s “man is a wolf” or John Searle’s “Sally is a block of ice,” are misleading. In real life, metaphor is an infinitely more complex phenomenon.

    Benjamin Harshav, “Metaphor and Frames of Reference: With Examples from Eliot, Rilke, Mayakovsky, Mandelshtam, Pound, Creeley, Amichai, and the New York Times,” in idem, Explorations in Poetics (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007) 34-75.

    Your paraphrase of Rev 3:20 – and I don’t mean that as an accusation or even a criticism – reminds me of NLT Rev 3:20:

    Look! I stand at the door and knock.
    If you hear my voice and open the door,
    I will come in,
    and we will share a meal together as friends.

    MST:

    Please hear me! I’m at the door and I’m knocking.
    If anyone hears my voice and opens the door,
    I’ll come in.
    And the two of us will share a meal with each other.

    It’s true that your rewording of the original allows you to come closer to natural English, but your version is still a third Biblish, a third neither fish nor fowl, and a third natural English. Greater works than these will you have to do to create a facsimile in natural English of the one painted as absolute authority inviting himself over for dinner.

    Though Jesus is the guest, and the one who hears his voice is the host, the authority lies entirely with the guest. This, too, is a metaphor of Bible translation (unless we do not believe that the Bible is the Word of God, in which case we are free to co-author the text from our side).

    A few random comments. If the goal is to put Rev 3:20 in natural English, *neither* a generic masculine *nor* a singular they is appropriate.

    Thus NRSV, NLT, the Message, and CEV switch to “you.” You retain the diction of the SL in this case – “anyone” – but avoid an awkward singular they following (against NIV 2011 and CEB). Thus far you are right and you are also right that KJV=ASV=RSV=ESV, NASB, and HCSB “I will come in to him,” while perfectly understandable, is not natural English. People don’t talk like that. And that is what you are after: how people talk today.

    “Please hear me! … If anyone hears my voice” is of course an infelicitous redundancy. More to the point: whereas it is natural to say “I’m at the door and I’m knocking” in current English, it is not natural to say right after, “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door.” It just isn’t. “If you hear me and open the door” is natural. The Message comes close, and is equally natural: “If you hear me call.”

    I have a theory as to why proponents of natural English keep the Biblish phrase “hear my voice” in Rev 3:20. It’s that the diction of John 10:27 rings in their ears:

    My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.

    But in natural English, *that* would be:

    My sheep hear me call, I know who they are, and they follow me.

    But none of the natural English translations that I have at my electronic fingertips read like that. Why? The cadences and diction of Johannine lit cast a spell over almost all translators, with just cause. Talk about a guest with authority!

    Bottom line: it would be great to have a translation of at least the New Testament in natural English. *It has never been done.*

    I would continue to prefer a Biblishy translation for worship, study, and devotion, a translation in the King James tradition, ESV or RSV CE2 [with the syntax cleaned up]; NABRE and HCSB are close competitors, kissing cousins of the same family. This has to do with a concept of the communion of saints that I consider fundamental.

    But I would to be able to compare a traditioned translation with a translation in pure, natural English.

  38. Theophrastus
    Posted July 10, 2011 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    There are metaphors in the Bible which, as far as I know, no one has ever tried to translate literally into English, such as the repeated one that says literally that God has a long nose, usually rendered non-metaphorically as “slow to anger”.

    There are literal translations of Exodus 34:6; for example Propp’s translation in the Anchor Bible. I am not necessarily arguing for a literal translation here, but something is lost when the idiom is not literally translated. By synecdoche, ארךְ אפים refers to God’s face, and the issue of God’s face is largely the theme of of Exodus 34-35. Part the elegance of this famous passage (the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy) is lost when “slow to anger” is used.

    On another note: the name-dropping in this thread is over the top.

  39. Posted July 11, 2011 at 12:13 am | Permalink

    David ended:

    I should have packaged my thoughts into fewer words.

    Perhaps, but then we couldn’t have feasted on such a nice spread.

  40. Posted July 11, 2011 at 12:19 am | Permalink

    The Cheyenne for ‘He is translating’ is Ehoxovenestse, literally, “he-across-carry.” There’s that “across” metaphor again, independent of Indo-European influence, unless the Vikings carried the metaphor across on their ships. :-)

  41. Posted July 11, 2011 at 4:07 am | Permalink

    John, you write,

    “The addition of “and sisters” to “brothers” solves exactly nothing and is in fact counter-productive, since it contributes to masking the degree to which the Bible reflects a culture both similar and dissimilar to our own.”

    Are you claiming that you would address Cleopatra and Electra as “brothers?” Is “brothers” an equivalent for adelphoi?

    I say that it is not close enough. And I provide a rationale, male and female siblings together were normarlly called adelphoi. But this is not possible in English. You cannot write “brothers” on a gravestone and expect people to understand that this includes all children, male and female. You cannot say that my brother and I are “brothers” and expect to be understood. This is my rationale.

    I await a rationale for you position.

    I have expressed my view as well that the NIV 2011 would not become a common Bible, and this has been hotly (but amicably) discussed on Peter’s blog. In any case, I remain as concerned as you are about the lack of a common Bible.

  42. Posted July 11, 2011 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    “I will come in to him…” yes, this is strange. Sadly, many do not know the difference from “in to” and “into”. This compounds the problem.

    Sci-fi scripts don’t sound foreign because they are futuristic with regards to technology, but not so foreign with regards to grammar. New lexical items, e.g. lightsaber, may appear, but how much would one understand of Star Wars from only reading a novel and never seeing the films? Precious little. The sci-fi genre is a contemporary genre about a story in a future setting. The genres of the Bible are ancient genres in an ancient setting. I’m unsure if the attempt to separate the two foreignesses helps.

    Dreams of the future seem relevant to us. It’s part of our culture to look into the future and be “progressive”. If the Bible is viewed as “irrelevant” for sounding ancient, then the problem, I say, is with our culture’s under-appreciation of the past. We’re not particularly versed in literature, at least in American public schooling. As a product thereof, I can say from experience that there was very little attempt to make us understand cultural differences or even see other cultures as a fascinating source of insight in any way. History was simply a list of dates, declarations, and battles.

    And literature? Well, we don’t exactly read translations of ancient texts in schools very frequently, anyway. Beowulf in 12th grade was the only one I remember studying, unless Shakespeare counts as ancient. We can worry that Johnny can’t read hyperbole (I can do all things through him who strengthens me) or why Jane can’t read a generic masculine, but a former US president properly summed up my concern: “is our children learning?”

    “The expression δειπνήσω μετ’ αὐτοῦ καὶ αὐτὸς μετ’ ἐμοῦ was a bit surprising to them. When I read “eat with him, and he with me” I’m not surprised; I simply think, “that’s just verbose.”” That redundancy (emphatic restatement) might be distracting to us. Would the audience of Revelation have found the redundancy odd? They might could, I guess. Or perhaps, much like the double-modal “might could” in southern English, one can simply become accustomed to redundancies in common usage. See also: PIN number (Personal Identification Number number).

    Why don’t we include in our educational system the occasional exposure to literature that is *not* proofread ad nauseum? “That’s just verbose” sounds like something an editor would say in a culture with widespread literacy and the luxury of affording to reproduce multiple paper drafts of any given writing before publishing — and with the luxury of making that a customary practice! Redundancy is not always a mistake, despite what English teachers claim. Sometimes it denotes emphasis, or perhaps is humorous.

    So long as our education for our children omits an appreciation for cultures and cultural texts of the past which challenge, and sometimes clash with, our own, translating it the “right” way in English will simply strike us as wrong. [You see, when you trans-late an item carelessly, it can be painful for the recipient.]

    Wayne: thank you for that joke! That will carry me through the night.

  43. Posted July 11, 2011 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    “why Jane can’t read a generic masculine,”

    The question is this. Why can’t Mark Driscoll, Russell Moore, John McArthur, and many others read a generic masculine? This question has not yet been answered, but the fictitious “Jane” is held up as an example. The sidebar asks commenters to support claims with evidence. Let’s discuss first why seminary educated men cannot read a generic masculine and then prehaps we may have some clue as to why various ministers and bloggers, male and female, cannot read it.

  44. Posted July 11, 2011 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Here is evidence that adelphoi meant “sibling.”

  45. Dannii
    Posted July 11, 2011 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Hi Sue, can you start by revisiting the mistakes those guys have with generic masculines? You gave their names before, but didn’t show exactly what problems you were referring to (or link to where you’ve done so before.)

  46. Posted July 11, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    It *is* difficult, next-to-impossible work to translate biblical texts into pure, natural English. Rev 3:20 is an excellent case in point.

    Another case in point, a pivotal phrase from Shimon Kepha’s sermon to his co-religionists one fine Shavuot:

    Καὶ νῦν, ἀδελφοί, οἶδα ὅτι κατὰ ἄγνοιαν ἐπράξατε,
    ὥσπερ καὶ οἱ ἄρχοντες ὑμῶν

    What would that look like in pure, natural English?

    I don’t know, but let’s have fun with it for a moment.

    A golden-oldy translation:

    And now brethre I wote well that thorow ignorauce ye did it
    as dyd also youre heddes

    A wordy “brothers all are we” translation:

    Now I know, brothers, that neither you
    nor your leaders had any idea what you were really doing;

    A literal “brothers all are we” translation:

    Now I know, brothers, that you acted out of ignorance,
    just as your leaders did

    Jennifer Anniston’s preferred translation:

    Friends, I realize that what you
    and your leaders did to Jesus was done in ignorance.

    A philologically correct translation:

    Siblings,…

    A let’s-avoid-the-problem translation:

    Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance,
    as did your leaders.

    A politically correct translation:

    Brothers and sisters, I know you acted in ignorance.
    So did your rulers.

    The dialect-of-my-teenage-daughter translation:

    Guys, I know you didn’t mean it.
    Neither did the people who run things.

  47. Posted July 11, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Key to the above list:

    Translation #1: Tyndale; #2: New Jerusalem Bible (1985); #3: New American Bible Revised Edition (2011); #4: NLT; #5: see preceding thread; #6: NIV 2011; #7: CEB; 8: patterned after phrases I hear my daughter say.

  48. Posted July 11, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    What a great question.

    I have a related answer.*

    One analogy I’ve kept in mind for translation in this. I once told one of my friends who’s deaf that she’s lucky that she has a pleasant voice, which, I told her, frequently isn’t the case.

    “What does that mean?” she wanted to know.

    I happen to know what it means, both in terms of the physical attributes of the acoustic signal and the mental impact of that signal. But I don’t think that’s what she was asking.

    “It’s like walking into a well-decorated room,” I told her.

    Disregarding the question of whether I’m right or not (which I think of as parallel to whether a translation is right or not), was I on the right track to substitute a visual experience for an auditory one? And, if so, how is that like translation?

    -Joel

    (*) I think I learned the trick of offering a related answer from politicians: “Thank you for your question. It reminds me of an answer I wanted to give.”

  49. Posted July 11, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    The problem with “brothers and sisters” as a translation in Acts 3:17 is that
    it sounds as if Peter is singling out “sisters” not just “brothers” in his captatio benevolentiae (a device of speech meant to secure the goodwill of the listener) to his call for repentance (3:19). Of course, he did nothing of the sort.

    The old NIV captures the register of the source text reasonably well:

    Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.

    Per the usual, NIV 1984 is fluent on the level of syntax whereas ESV, otherwise very similar, is not.

    And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.

    ESV and the recent Catholic translations noted above, as well as NIV 1984, one of the most popular translations of all time, are “brothers all are we” translations.

    In Acts 3:17, such a translation works fine for men and women unless they have been catechized to object to generic masculine language on the grounds that it “excludes women.”

    What would Acts 3:17 look like in pure, natural English? That question remains unanswered.

    It is Biblish to address co-religionists as “brothers.” It is politically correct Biblish to address them as “brothers and sisters.”

    There isn’t a natural English equivalent to adelphoi in Acts 3:17.

    Difficulities of this nature are more common than is usually admitted.

  50. Posted July 11, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    There isn’t a natural English equivalent to adelphoi in Acts 3:17.

    John,
    I think you could as easily say, “There isn’t a natural Greek equivalent to ach (אח) in Deuteronomy 18:18.” It’s Moses quoting G-d, speaking of “their fellow Israelites” (NET, NLT, NIV); of “an Israelite” (GOD’S WORD®), of “their brethren” (KJV, ASV, RSV, Young’s “literal,” etc.), of “their countrymen” (NASB).

    Of course, the LXX has adelphoi (or at least the genitive case of this Greek phrase). Is the emphasis on the male-ness of these people, on some fact that the one whom God himself is prophesying about only comes from men, from brothers, and NOT from sisters? Would that be natural in the Greek?

    I’m bringing up the LXX of Deut. 18:18 because it’s more or less directly quoted in the Greek of Acts 3:22. There, it’s Peter quoting Moses quoting God. And they’re all using Greek now. And it follows right from what Luke writes that Peter says in Greek in Acts 3:17 (i.e., adelphoi).

    If all are using Greek, for Peter’s Hebrew Aramaic, and for Moses’s and God’s Hebrew once spoken but now written down, if all are now using Greek, then is this Greek translation a “natural equivalent”? And does one language erase the “sisters” from the “brothers”? Do our English translations help if they only now make it “brothers” for Deut. 18:18, Acts 3:17, and Acts 3:22, which quotes only the Greek of Deut. 18:18, although Peter, presumably, was not speaking Greek or Hebrew?

    I strongly believe that God, Moses, Peter, the LXX, and Luke are all using a plural male noun inclusively. “Brethren” once was good English for that. “Brothers and sisters” is now good English. “Brothers” alone just fails.

  51. Posted July 11, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    Hi Kurk,

    You say:

    “‘Brothers’ alone just fails.”

    Not in my experience. People get “brothers” just fine in Acts 3:17.

    If they know their Bible well, and if they read their Bible in one of the following translations: NABRE 2011: (Catholic); NIV 1984 (moderate evangelical); HCSB (Southern Baptist); ESV or NASB (Conservative Protestant),

    “brothers” in Acts 3:17 in a link in a chain which starts with “Where is your brother [philologically correct: sibling] Abel? … Am I my brother’s keeper?,” “Don’t do this evil, my brothers! ["gender-accurate": brothers and sisters - no one to has yet dared to be gender-inclusive here; but see Crumb's illustrated version, which is faithful to the passage], down to “you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers” and beyond.

    I remain of the opinion that “brothers” in Acts 3:17 works better than the alternative you suggest. Note that NRSV also avoids your solutions. It has Jennifer Anniston’s preferred translation. But this severs the lexical chain to which I refer.

  52. Posted July 11, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Let me note that “siblings” is philologically correct. Anyone who wants to use a term which excludes women is sacrificing accuracy. Why would that be done? Why are women prevented from knowing that “siblings” is an accurate translation?

    Up until the 1950’s women were included in “brethren” and since then until the 1980’s women were excluded by the term “brothers.” This was always a term of exclusion. Then in the 1980’s women were included again, and some people went ape – they could not accept reincluding women in the Bible and have treated women who want to be included in the Bible (which is how this women was reared) as some kind of pariah, a person who is best treated by name-calling, by calling her a radical feminist, by saying that she rejects all of traditional Christianity, by exluding her from the male club.

    All I ever wanted was accuracy, but apparently that is not to be born. (yes, Kurk, I have done it again and used birthing as my main metaphor.)

  53. Posted July 11, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    Just because there are one or two verses where “bothers and sisters” may not work, does not mean that “brothers and sisters” as a phrase should be excluded from the Bible. There is no need to sidetrack everything for one example. Let’s not forget how often another preferred translation inserts the word “man” into the text, just to make sure that women will not be honoured.

    “So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men.” ESV

    But that could be tolerated, if overall, women did not have to have that pictorial starting point of the male for every other verse.

    If, all because of Acts 3:17, women are asked to exclude themselves completely (accept of course for a woman with a man in her head) then let’s not pretend that women are included.

    Dannii,

    Mark Driscoll, John McArthur, Russell Moore, and many more lesser luminaries, ministers I have heard preach, and bloggers both male and female, have used 1 Tim. 5:8 as proof of male headship and men only as providers. This is sometimes the only verse cited to prove that men are the providers of the family and therefore ultimately responsible, and there for the “head” and therefore to be submitted to.

    But 1 Tim 5:8 does not include any masculine in the Greek at all. Women in the Bible work, sometimes at the same things that men work at, and they do support their families, and they are the “heads” of their families.

    But when do I and countless other women, who provide for our families, ever get included in the honour that is given to men on this account. It is as if we do not exist in conservative Christianity. It is as if a woman supporting her parents, and children, a woman being responsible, is an egalitarian ( an perhaps by association) unhealthy thing.

    For women my age, gender roles are simply a useless frill. Life is pressing. Life is hard. We provide – and in some kinds of Christianity we are insulted.

  54. Posted July 11, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    your family – Eugene Peterson (Acts 3:22, for adelphoi, for ach)

    fellow believers – Ann Nyland (Acts 3:22, for adelphoi, for ach)

    our own people – Willis Barnstone (Acts 3:22, for adelphoi, for ach)

    your own people – NRSV (Acts 3:22, for adelphoi, for ach)

    their own people – NRSV (Deut 18:18, for ach)

    their brethren – JPS (Deut 18:18, for ach)

    Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! – JPS (Ps 133:1, for ach)

    How good and how pleasant it is
    when kindred live together – Nyland (Ps 133:1, for ach, for adelphoi)

    See now! what is so good or what so pleasant as for brethren to dwell together? – Lancelot Brenton (LXX Ps 132:1, for adelphoi)

    Look now, what is good or what is pleasant more than that kindred live together? – Albert Pietersma (LXX Ps 132:1, for adelphoi)

    —-

    Seems to me that the NRSV team of translators is in a pretty good family of translators, rendering adelphoi and/or ach as more than just “brothers.” Again, Acts 3:22 quotes LXX Deut 18:18, which translates the Hebrew of Moses as he quotes God. And adelphoi of Acts 3:17 leads right into all of that. Is Luke translating Peter as referring to the kindred, as Moses and God referenced them? Is it necessary to close down “adelphoi” to a male-only, exclusive referent? Doesn’t “brothers” do this?

  55. Posted July 11, 2011 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    Joel,

    You ask, “[W]as I on the right track to substitute a visual experience for an auditory one? And, if so, how is that like translation?”

    I’m not sure how I’d answer. What does your friend say? Does she “speak” American Sign Language? My own daughter, who must wear hearing aids for deafness, does communicate via ASL. And notice her “word” for “translate” is “Both hands have the F-handshapes [aka the 5 hand shapes] touching and twisting back and forth.” If you click the following link and scroll down to “Sign Language Videos,” then you get her visual experience for our auditory one.

    http://www.answers.com/topic/translate

    But isn’t reading some like this, especially in Chinese or even in Biblical Hebrew, where there’s much visual for what’s been spoken? (C.S. Lewis would call this “transposition” [in his essay / sermon on glossolalia by that title], but I’d say it’s more like “F-handshapes touching and twisting back and forth” invoking and hearkening to the world of sounds.)

    Suzanne,

    You say, “I have done it again and used birthing as my main metaphor.”

    That’s wonderful! May I quote Nancy Mairs quoting Julia Kristeva, just on pre-translated language by a like metaphor?

    [A]s Julia Kristeva points out, female subjectivity, traditionally linked to cyclical and monumental time rather than to linear time, lies outside “language considered as the enunciation of sentences (noun + verb, topic – comment, beginning – ending).” Possessing an “irreducible identity, without equal in the opposite sex and, as such, exploded, plural, fluid,” a woman may be driven “to break the [male only] code, to shatter language, to find a specific discourse closer to the body and the emotions, to the unnamable repressed by the social contract.” The difference that emerges here is not the polarity intrinsic in the dominant discourse, which reduces “woman to man’s opposite, his other, the negative of the positive.” No, this is an absolute and radical alterity that enfolds the other, as in pregnancy a woman’s immune system shuts down in such a way that she shelters and nourishes, rather than rejects and expels, the foreign body within her: “Cells fuse, split, and proliferate; volumes grow, tissues stretch, and body fluids change rhythm, speeding up or slowing down. Within the body, growing as a graft, indomitable, there is an other. And no one is present, within that simultaneously dual and alien space, to signify what is going on.” Feminine discourse is not the language of opposites but a babel of … attachment and empathy.

  56. Mike Sangrey
    Posted July 11, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    [W]as I on the right track to substitute [for a deaf person] a visual experience for an auditory one? And, if so, how is that like translation?

    What a great question.

    I have a related answer.*

    When an author or translator accurately reflects his/her meaning in a way such that the audience understands the meaning, it’s the right track to be on.


    * See Joel’s comment above. LOL

  57. Posted July 11, 2011 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    My brethren and sistren:

    I suggest we realize that every preacher and seminarian is, or at some point was, a generic Johnny or a plain Jane. What applies to the generic applies to the specific.

    There are Greek students who mistakenly think τοῦτο is a “demons” pronoun (whatever that means), simply due to not knowing categories of pronouns and not understanding the abbreviation for “demonstrative?” Why should we ignore this deficiency at the root and only look at the adult seminarians when they mis-blossom?

    When explaining to a peer several years ago that she needed to avoid the passive voice, she protested, “but this is past tense!” as if past tense and passive voice were mutually exclusive categories.

    I’ve given you anecdotes of a generic Johnny and a plain Jane there. I don’t think translations need to be foolproofed; we need to foolproof our education system as best we are able.

  58. Posted July 11, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    It is gratifying to see how many comments this post and my previous one spawned (a metaphor). But it is humbling to realize that most of the comments had nothing to do with what I had written, and that the comments section of my essay has served as a playing field (another metaphor) where long-simmering debates (another metaphor) could boil over (mixing my metaphors horribly). Ah, well.

    I do appreciate those who have tried to engage with the ideas contained (to use the conduit metaphor) in my essay. For those who wanted to continue your debates about something else, such as gender, you could at least have couched your arguments in metaphorical terms. (Or should I say clothe your arguments in metaphorical attire.)

    One thing I want to make clear is that I don’t think there is only one proper metaphor for translation. In fact, one person could entertain (is that a metaphor?) several metaphors at the same time (or juggle them?), either to complement each other or to keep them in tension (I suppose that’s a metaphor). Consider how Jesus used one metaphor after another to describe what the Kingdom of God is like. Maybe those aren’t metaphors in a narrow sense, in that they might use the word “like” (e.g., “With what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like a mustard seed…”), but they are metaphors in the broader sense that I mean to discuss the concept.

    So we’re not holding a contest here to see which metaphor wins, but the point is that people tend to have a metaphor in mind when they think about translation, and their dominant metaphor says something about how they conceive of translation.

  59. Posted July 11, 2011 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    David,
    Fun use of metaphors in your comment! Thank you again for your post! Yes, we do try to stay “on track” (to use one of Mike’s). But isn’t one of the points you’re making here that there isn’t one single correct or best metaphor for translating?

    Then you say, gender, you could at least have couched your arguments in metaphorical terms. And so I ask, didn’t Suzanne (and didn’t I also) come right out and talk of gender, argue for it, as a metaphor for translation. She used “birth” and I had the audacity to let these women speak up for womanly approaches to and metaphors for translation and language: Lydia Liu and Nancy Mairs and Julia Kristeva. What I like most of what you just said is that you want us to consider Jesus. If we do, then we see him using all kinds of different sorts of language (as you mention), metaphors even, metaphorical stories, analogies, parables, hyperbole. And so do his translators. And in one of their histories of Jesus, he’s listening to a woman, speaking a different mother tongue from his own. He’s turned by her turns on his metaphors: “but the dogs… ” she agrees/ protests. And then he agrees to her request. Now, that’s argument couched in metaphorical terms indeed. Jesus and his disciples had disagreements, and often it was to them a matter of who wins, but the conversations flowed like a river in ultimately and often good ways. Thanks for tolerating ours!

  60. Posted July 11, 2011 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    David,

    Thank you for moving the thread back on track.

    I was wondering what you think of Paul Ricoeur’s take “On Translation” (for those without access to it, see the quotes I reproduce above). He uses a number of the metaphors you touch on in your original post in a masterful way.

  61. Mike Sangrey
    Posted July 11, 2011 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

    [P]eople tend to have a metaphor in mind when they think about translation

    There’s a trackback (see below) that points to a different metaphor that I think bears some….ummmmm….fleshing….out from a translation perspective. It’s a participation metaphor. I immediately thought of κοινωνία.

    I’m wondering (out loud) whether it would be better to think of the incarnation as providing the bedrock upon which one builds a participatory metaphor. In this case, the translator participates (κοινωνία) with God (as author) and the audience (as those one serves). Would the metaphor then provide a sense of shared responsibility?

    I don’t think we can set the incarnation metaphor aside. The aspect of God speaking human language is too important.

    As an aside, conceptual metaphors are extremely difficult to avoid. Trackback is a sign pointing the way to one. As does points, bears and fleshing. And that was just my first sentence.

  62. Dannii
    Posted July 11, 2011 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

    “Kindred” seems like a particularly good option.

    Or, for the next generation, “bros” might be a good option too. It’s not actually restricted to males, check the bro code for that. http://www.thebrocode.co.uk/thecode.cgi?article=22

  63. Posted July 12, 2011 at 12:37 am | Permalink

    Dannii,

    We should move to email if you want to continue this discussion.

  64. Posted July 12, 2011 at 2:47 am | Permalink

    Ricoeur writes, “… the foreign text towers up like a lifeless block of resistance to translation.”

    Some time ago I wrote a series on the tower of Babel. I wrote about the translation of Gen. 11,

    “The first striking thing is that in Hebrew there are two words for language, sefat, or lip, and lashon or tongue. Here is the first verse.

    Erat autem terra labii unius, et sermonum eorumdem. Vulgate

    Erat autem universa terra labii unius, et verborum eorumdem
    Pagnini

    And the whole earth was of one lip, and of one sermon/word.

    But in verse 7 working from the Greek OT, the Vulgate surrenders the “lip” and writes,

    et confundamus ibi linguam eorum, ut non audiat unusquisque vocem proximi sui. Vulgate

    and confound there their tongue, that they may not hear each one the voice of their next one.

    And Pagnini translates,

    et confundamus ibi labium eorum ut non exaudiunt singuli labium proximi sui.

    and confound there their lip, that they may not hear each one the lip of their next one.

    And so we begin to establish Pagnini’s transparency to the Hebrew. The Vulgate broke down and refered finally to “tongue” in fidelity to the Septuagint in this case, Pagnini stayed with the “lip” the foreignizing element.”

    One of the metaphors for translation then is the tower of Babel itself, the breaking up of communication between each one and the next, the very difficulty of translating this text, with lip and not tongue, the fact that the text is replete with alliteration, which requires not just “sonority” as Ricoeur puts it, but the body itself, the feeling of lip and tongue. The translator first experiences alliteration with the body and not the ears or even the voice, but with the touch and feel of tongue and lip.

  65. Posted July 12, 2011 at 2:49 am | Permalink

    Maybe I should point out that Pagnini retains the “lip” in verse 7, while Jerome uses tongue and voice. But that is the point, it is lip against lip, but this is resisted, and replaced by tongue and voice.

  66. Theophrastus
    Posted July 12, 2011 at 3:35 am | Permalink

    I think that this discussion (including the part that is supposedly off-track — but which I think is point-blank on-track) points out a very basic truth that I’ve wanted to mention for some time: that for most Christian (and perhaps some Jewish) readers, translation of the Bible is unlike other literature. In the examples below, I will contrast the Bible with Homer, but you can substitute you favorite foreign literature here.

    The Bible is unlike Homer (or other foreign literature):

    (a) The Bible is read by a much broader (and thus, on average, less sophisticated) readership than Homer. I suspect that vast majority of readers of Homer in translation either have a college degree or are students who will eventually earn a college degree. That is not true of average Christian readership of the Bible.

    (b) The Bible is actively regarded (by dogma) as sacred and immediately relevant literature. Thus, we have editions like The Life Application Bible; it seems unlikely that we will soon have an edition of The Life Application Odyssey.

    (c) Further, there seems to be a widely-held Protestant principle that a translation is just as good as (or nearly as good as) the original languages. In some ways, a translation is even better, because it can use an eclectic reconstructed text, and a text that has been revised by text-critical principles. As I understand the basic assertion of Luther, a person who can read Greek and Hebrew may be regarded as more learned than one who only reads a vernacular language, but he or she is not necessarily regarded as more holy or more connected to God.

    (d) Portions of the New Testament, such as the “Sermon on the Mount” or Pauline Epistles appear to be personally addressed to the reader. While one can find similar passages in Homer, they are fewer and appear to be directed to a more elite audience. (I will deliberately omit the more controversial question of the extent to which the Hebrew Bible is personally addressed to the reader, except to note that legal commandments given in the Torah do not necessarily apply to Christian readers.)

    (e) The Bible enjoys ritual use (for example, recitation of the Psalms) in a way that other literature does not.

    (f) Because relatively few Christians read the Bible linearly, starting at Genesis 1:1 and proceeding verse-by-verse, individual sections of the
    Bible need to be self-contained. For example, despite the relatively clear explanation of the Israelite legal code in the Torah, it appears that few readers of the New Testament understand that code to the degree assumed by the original text.

    ——-

    I think this distinction in literature at the root of major misunderstandings throughout this discussion. For example, it is clear that some people are talking about a literary translation of the Bible, while others are talking about a translation suitable as a holy-guide-to-life.

    While I would not blanch at a mention of the generic “man” in a translation of Homer (indeed, the editions I have use this term frequently), I can fully understand why it is a central issue for many readers; they are looking for literature that is personally relevant (as per point (b) above) and thus the issue of whether a particular attribute is applicable to men only or to everyone is relevant.

    Similarly, when someone points out the Bible is from a different culture and milieu (an undoubted truth), he or she is taking a more sophisticated approach than a reader who is looking for God to personally speak to her. Like it or not, for many Christians the Bible is supposed to be accessible even without a formal study of Judaic origins and Ancient Near Eastern culture.

    ——-

    It seems that the Bible’s sacred (and personal) nature to Christians demands that different principles be adopted in Biblical translation than in translations of Homer. Because the Bible (at least in parts) is expected to “speak to” the reader, Protestant translations tend to focus on the perceived “meaning” of the Bible rather than on its form or literary status.

    Further the sacred nature of the Bible adds incredible constraints to the translator. The question of whether a Bible “corrects” likely transcription errors in the original manuscripts, or whether it is based on an eclectic text or a single manuscript become hot-button issues. Now, there was a minor controversy over translations of Tolstoy’s War and Peace (some, such as Bromfield, were based on Tolstoy’s first draft; others, such as Pevear/Volokhonsky, are based on a composite of several editions), this pales in comparison to the angery fights over eclectic reconstructions of the Hebrew Bible or different source manuscripts for the New Testament.

    ——-

    The final oddities to me revolve around the fact that different rules seem to apply to talking about Bible translations than literary translations.

    Thus many critics of particular Bible translations focus on a few tiny issues. To some, the RSV is a great translation and the NRSV is a horrible translation — primarily because of the treatment of gender. Others criticize translations based on only a few passages — as if a translation is not acceptable unless it be perfect in every single verse.

    It particularly amuses me that many who argue vociferously over different translations have not even read those translations in their entirety. Merely hours after the NIV11 was published online, reviews of it appeared. We have seen the same phenomenon with the CEB — which has yet to actually appear in full on the printed page. (Sure, in theory, one could sit down and read the whole thing online; but it seems awfully unlikely that most of those expressing opinions have actually done that.) It seems to me that many of those expressing opinions on particular translations (including some of the loiterers here at BBB) are basing their opinions either on brief fragments or on second-hard reports. Somehow this is acceptable when talking about the Bible and its translations, although we would immediately shun a self-proclaimed scholar of Shakespeare who had not actually read “Hamlet.”

    ——-

    On a separate note to Gary — while some men may regard women as a “cistern,” that does not describe my opinion.

  67. Posted July 12, 2011 at 4:11 am | Permalink

    I want to get back to John Hobbins’ comments on Ricoeur. I thought those comments were relevant, and I just haven’t had the time to follow up properly, but I’m not ignoring them.

    Theophrastus, again, an excellent analysis. You said some things that surprised me, but they make sense. What you wrote as a comment deserves more prominence. My default position would have been that Bible translation and literary translation are not distinct, but you had some good points about the distinctiveness of Bible translation.

    Recently in an online discussion I read where a highly educated Bible translation consultant said that he didn’t think Bible translation had much in common with literary translation, but he didn’t elaborate and I was puzzled by his remarks. You have done a good job of explaining it to me.

    I think there is some degree of truth in each of these three different statements: 1) Bible translation is literary translation, but it is a special kind; 2) Bible translation has much to learn from the world of literary translation; and 3) There are some things that make Bible translation distinctive, so it should not be considered the same as literary translation.

  68. Posted July 12, 2011 at 4:33 am | Permalink

    I think this distinction in literature at the root of major misunderstandings throughout this discussion. For example, it is clear that some people are talking about a literary translation of the Bible, while others are talking about a translation suitable as a holy-guide-to-life.

    Yes, this was the intent of my comment on the original post in this series. I wrote,

    “I studied translation in several different contexts, and over and over again, the guiding principle was the function of the translation. An instruction booklet to be used by English as a second language speakers to assemble equipment had better be simple, simple, simple – and a lingua franca all the way. Laws translated from English into French have to be developed using the terminology and concepts of the French civic code. It is a very complex process requiring harmonization between Quebec law and federal Canadian law.

    The necessary function of the translation is the ruling element – always. So, if the function of the NT is to tell people how to get to heaven then “simple, simple, simple – a lingua franca.” If the function of the translation is to communicate how strange and other the Hebrew concept of God was, then “literal, literal, literal” and nativistic. If the function is to set up a rule of faith for our day, then what?”

  69. Posted July 12, 2011 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Similarly, when someone points out the Bible is from a different culture and milieu (an undoubted truth), he or she is taking a more sophisticated approach than a reader who is looking for God to personally speak to her. Like it or not, for many Christians the Bible is supposed to be accessible even without a formal study of Judaic origins and Ancient Near Eastern culture.

    This is a good turn in the conversation, Theophrastus. We may want to be careful, however, not to fall into our own culture of binaries: cultural v. personal; majority Jewish v. Christian (and some Jews); literary v. communicative; etc. Nonetheless, the contrasts really are there because so many of us default to the one v. the other. It’s always instructive to go outside of one’s own comfort zone, and more, to come to appreciate an-Other’s perspective, and you’re doing an excellent job of reminding us of how culturally determined our metaphors can be.

    What if a Muslim used her language to translate a dear and important U.S. novel that much references the Bible as its cultural backdrop? What does translation look like then? Does it look like Bible translation does (if we would concede that “the Bible is from a different culture and milieu” than any Christian translator’s)? These are questions I was asking when writing, “Whose Mockingbird? A Parable for Bible Translators

    In the comment thread of that blogpost, we did get into “theory” of translation some. Mainly, we noted the need for it, the difficulties with a very culturally narrow theory or set of theories. For example, we discussed the Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies. In the first edition, Eugene Nida was asked to write the entry on “Bible translation,” in which he outlined his theory (i.e., dynamic equivalence) and provided at the end a very limited set of additional readings, all supporting only his theory. In the second edition of the Routledge Encyclopedia, the editors asked Lynnell Zogbo to write a wonderfully comprehensive entry (for an encyclopedia entry) that would replace the earlier entry by Nida; Zogbo’s entry is on translation of the “Bible, Jewish, and Christian.” She has a section importantly giving “a history of Bible translation” and outlining the various major “translation theory and approaches” (reviewing missionary theorists such as Nida and mentioning Kenneth Pike); and she does not neglect the critical issues of “gender” and “language.”

    Since Zogbo mentions Pike, let me remember him (and Evelyn Pike and Eunice Pike). In contrast to Nida’s DE, Pike (and Pike and Pike) devoted their life work to an understanding of language and its translation that first took into account difference, cultural difference. Pike marked the linguist as the other, as the outsider, as etic. He considered language to be only N-dimensional (that is, infinitely dimensional) and constrained more by persons (cultural insiders) than by formal rules abstracted by a logic-chopping platonic would-be scientist of language who was, because of a western take on his religion, interested primarily in things like “reducing a language to writing so as to get the Bible into that now-written language quickly and ubiquitously.” After Pike passed away, the organization he’d worked with so long turned quickly to communication science, to pragmatics, to Relevance Theory, to get back on the Nida track. The “message” of the Bible, as something singular that needs spreading, has become in that organization more prominent again than the cultures of either the Bible or of the “targeted” cultures. I am not trying to be harsh here. I’m trying to give a general history, a trajectory, a metaphorical flow of perspectives. (I know that not all will agree with Naomi Seidman’s Jewish-Christian Difference and the Politics of Translation, but I do think it’s important that she has some strong opinions in the book about Eugene Nida’s approach to Bible translation, that she uses him as her understanding of “Christian politics of translation.” If there’s a flaw in her book, that in my mind is one of them. And yet Nida, and DE, and the theoretical metaphorical underpinnings of his goals have dominated “Christian” translation of the Bible.)

  70. Posted July 12, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    oops, sorry to comment again so soon. I need to correct a mistake: Seidman’s title in full is Faithful Renderings: Jewish-Christian Difference and the Politics of
    Translation (Afterlives of the Bible)
    .

  71. Posted July 12, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    I need to get back to Ricoeur, but first I will respond briefly to both Suzanne McCarthy and to J.K. Gayle. Suzanne, do you follow skopos theory? I wouldn’t be surprised if you are aware of that literature, but if not, you should be. I have been developing my own sociolinguistic approach to translation that has a lot in common with what has been developed in the skopos school.

    J.K., there are some good insights in what you say. You and I both greatly appreciate Pike (and Pike and Pike), and my approach to translation is closer to Pike’s approach to language and human behavior than is any other translation or communication theory than I am aware of. But I want to clarify one thing. I don’t think the introduction of relevance theory into Bible translation takes us back in the direction of Nida and dynamic equivalence. I think DE, RT and the Pikean “multiple perspectives” approach are three different things. The most ardent followers of RT would be horrified to think that someone might see RT as a step back in the direction of dynamic equivalence. They would say that dynamic equivalence is based on the code model of communication (which apparently is a term coined by RT theorists), and that the unique insights of relevance theory are in the direction of freeing us from that code model. RT doesn’t appeal to me because it is highly structuralist, based on the binary distinctions that both you and I (and Pike) have a problem with. DE is based on a form-meaning dichotomy, but it doesn’t rely on binary distinctions to the extent that RT does. Let’s not talk about kernel sentences in connection with Nida (not that you did), because that is really dated, based on a linguistic theory that was prominent in the sixties. My own view of translation is neither exactly dynamic equivalence or RT, but is more like skopos theory and Pike. I have also been gaining in appreciation of cognitive semantics. But I will have to continue to develop these ideas about translation theory elsewhere, and not in the comments section of a blog that was not about that. I just wanted mainly to say that I don’t see RT as taking us in the direction of dynamic equivalence, and (most) RT supporters that I know would be horrified to think that is the case.

  72. Posted July 12, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    John Hobbins, I am in agreement with you on the general principle of translating metaphor as metaphor, or, as I think you put it, metaphor for metaphor. There may be a few extreme cases where translators are quick to abandon metaphors in translation, and substitute non-figurative language to make the meaning clear, but I believe most translators see the value of trying to preserve (this is a metaphor, I suppose) the literary qualities of a text in translation. What’s more common is tweaking the metaphor, perhaps changing it to a simile, or making an implicit element of the metaphor more explicit, to adapt it to the needs of the target audience.

    I’ve actually, again, written a paper on this topic, co-authored with a St. Lucian colleague. It is not one of my better papers, and any faults in the paper are my own, not my co-author’s. This paper, entitled “Translating Poetry and Figurative Language into St. Lucian Creole,” was presented at a conference in 2000 and has been available on the web nearly that long. If you look at my paper, please be gentle in critiquing it. I have developed a lot in my thinking since we wrote that one. But I still agree with the idea stated in that paper that it is best to figure out how to translate figurative language as figurative language. We described it as a danger, “that in an attempt to make a translation natural-sounding and clear in meaning, the translator might reduce the somewhat cryptic, figurative language, to its literal meaning, to the best of his ability. He might, for example, seek to make all information that was implicit explicit, turn all metaphors into similes or abandon them completely, or translate poetry as normal, everyday sentences. This is called over-translation. The result might be clear enough, and using only natural constructions, but at the same time be dull and lifeless.”

    We all have to recognize that sometimes the source text metaphor just doesn’t work in the target language and for the target audience, as in the “long nostrils” example that Peter Kirk cited from Nehemiah 9:17 and Nahum 1:3, translated in the RSV as “slow to anger.” Or sometimes a metaphor has to be translated as an analogous analogy, like where the KJV has it literally as “My bowels boiled” in Job 30:27 (sounds like diarrhea) but the RSV puts it more appropriately for a modern audience as “my heart is in turmoil.”

    How to translate metaphors has to be decided on a case-by-case basis, with the resources of the target language and the requirements of the target audience in mind. But I agree with the general principle of translating metaphor as metaphor.

  73. Posted July 12, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    I don’t see RT as taking us in the direction of dynamic equivalence, and (most) RT supporters that I know would be horrified to think that is the case.

    Fair enough, David. Outsiders to SIL/ Wycliffe BTs may tend unfairly to overgeneralize all missionary translation theory of the organization as under Nida’s umbrella. It seems Naomi Seidman has. (After getting an M.A. in Linguistics from UTA, with coursework at SIL Dallas too; and after having a meeting at SIL much more recently with a leading professor of RT to get his thoughts on the theory; I’m making claims that may more square with the naive outsider, I’m afraid. The platonism of DE and of RT is what, in my mind, brings them together. This really may be an unfair view on my part. The general neglect of Pike is what also makes me see the RT supporters and teachers as more retreaters to Nida’s DE. And the neglect is not really only from SIL, I’ll admit. The Routledge Encyclopedia has 1 entry that mentions Pike, 6 that reference Nida or his DE, 6 that discuss RT, and 9 that elaborate on SKOPOS. Christina Schäffner writes most on SKOPOS in “Functionalist approaches” pp 115-21. Of tagmemics, SKOPOS, DE, and RT, I tend to think of the latter two as being much more focused on “what is meant” v. “what was said.”)

    And yet, it’s great that the Routledge Encyclopedia, thanks to Lynnell Zogbo, will acknowledge some diversity in Christian Bible translation beyond Nida; in the penultimate paragraph of her entry “Bible, Jewish and Christian,” (pages 26-27 of the Encyclopedia, she writes:

    Today the field of translation is alive with discussion and debate, and there is more communication between theoreticians of Bible translation and those dealing with translation theory in general. Theorists and Bible translation practitioners are giving more thought to literary theory (Wendland 2006), discourse (‘top-down’) analysis of both source and target languages (Longacre 1989; Grimes, 1972; Bergman 1994; Levinsohn 1987, 2000; Wendland 2002), pragmatics and communication theory, in particular relevance theory (Gutt 1990, 1991/2000, 2005; Hill 2006). Theorists writing from a non-Western perspective have further enriched our understanding of the impact of biblical translation on a wide range of socieites (Wickeri 1995; Rafael 1998; Naudé and van der Merwe 2002; Lai 2007, among others). Consideration of the SKOPOS or function/ goal of a text within its community has become a main focus of discussion. The question of whether it is possible, necessary or desirable to reconstruct the source author’s intent, in order to reflect this in translation, remains a much debated issue to this day.

  74. Posted July 12, 2011 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    Metaphors are Paul Ricoeur’s bread and butter (!). As far as I can see (metaphorically speaking), Paul Ricoeur and George Lakoff have the most original insights about metaphor since Aristotle. (I better be careful about getting J.K. Gayle going on that.) Ricoeur certainly isn’t afraid of dealing with metaphor, and uses multiple metaphors to explain things, and uses metaphor as a foundation for talking about meaning in general. My familiarity with Ricoeur was mostly with things he has said about authorial intent, meaning and interpretation, and I have to admit that I hadn’t read his small book On Translation. Now that something I should have read has been brought to my attention, I’m working on getting a copy. I don’t have a Kindle and I don’t prefer reading books on a computer, so I have to decide what to do about that.

    Ricoeur can be very difficult to wade through, so to speak. I have the feeling that if he had a better translator, like Bonhoeffer’s, it would be easier. In looking up Ricoeur’s On Translation on Amazon, I ran into another book I probably need, entitled Ricoeur: A Guide for the Perplexed, by David Pellauer. But I really do value Ricoeur and his unique way of thinking. I’ve learned some important things from him.

    All this to say that I was not aware of Ricoeur’s use of a “resistance” metaphor to describe translation, though I should not be surprised. After all, Ricoeur’s specialty is bringing together ideas that resist coming together, with value-added insight. In the snippet I have seen from this book, he says he is borrowing the term “resistance” as a psychoanalytical term, and he applies it from several different angles, including the resistance of the reader to the foreignness of the text, and the resistance of the translator to get involved in creating a text that will surely be inferior to the original.

    I still haven’t read enough of On Translation to know if resistance is a dominant theme in Ricoeur’s view of translation, or whether it is just something he throws into the mix, so to speak. But I will work on getting a copy and digesting it.

  75. Nemo
    Posted July 12, 2011 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    This talk about “long nostrils” is absurd. Doesn’t anyone here know Hebrew?

  76. Mike Sangrey
    Posted July 12, 2011 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    This talk about “long nostrils” is absurd. Doesn’t anyone here know Hebrew?

    LOL

    There’s a number of people here who know Hebrew. The difficulty is having a good nose for English. :-)

  77. Nemo
    Posted July 12, 2011 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    The difficulty is having a good nose for English

    The difficulty is poor linguistics. One might as well claim that when we say someone is “mad” we are “literally” calling him “insane,” when we say someone is “happy” it “literally” means that he is “fortunate,” or when we call someone “sinister,” we are “literally” calling him left-handed. The fact is, most people use the words “mad,” “happy,” and “sinister” without any thought of insanity, good fortune, or left-handedness. In cases like this a linguist will speak of polysemy, not metaphor. Likewise “anger” is obviously just the ordinary meaning of the Hebrew word ‘AF in the Bible (see a concordance), and it would not have been used with any thought about the “nose,” except where the context clearly excludes the meaning “anger.” There is no metaphor here, and certainly no idea about “long nostrils” behind the Hebrew expression translated “slow to anger.”

  78. Posted July 12, 2011 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    Nemo, the issue here is surely whether the metaphor ‘appayim is a live one or a dead one. If the latter you would be right, this would be polysemy. But that is very hard to determine in a dead language. A similar issue in the Bible is with “member” in 1 Corinthians 12 etc: a dead metaphor to us in English, where “member” has almost lost its old sense “body part”, but probably a live one to Paul. I suspect that ‘appayim was not a completely dead metaphor either.

    As evidence I would suggest uses like in Exodus 15:8, the ruach ‘appayim of YHWH referring to a literal wind, where the sense of ‘appayim could be either “nostrils” or “anger”. I don’t think this is a word play. It is a very early poem, and the metaphor may have died later. But then the description of YHWH as ‘erek ‘appayim is so widespread in the Hebrew Bible that it probably also has an early origin, and a basis in the rather anthropomorphic thought that destructive winds were blasts from God’s nostrils.

  79. Nemo
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 1:57 am | Permalink

    But that is very hard to determine in a dead language.

    I think the best guide would be frequency of use. As I said, “Anger” is the ordinary meaning of ‘AF and its plural in Hebrew. In only a few places should it be taken otherwise, and in most of these, the translation “face” seems more suitable than “nose.” We can’t suppose that the ordinary meaning of a word would be seen as metaphorical. Also, this “long nose” interpretation of yours involves the notion that ‘EREK would be understood as “long” in space rather than in duration, so that a big honker somehow stands for patience, which is unlikely. And it is blasphemous, if the intent is to make people laugh at the thought of a “long nosed” God.

  80. Theophrastus
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 2:08 am | Permalink

    There is even a book for children entitled How Long is God’s Nose? (published by Zondervan).

    ———

    — Nay, you need not to stop your nose, sir; I spake but by a metaphor.

    — Indeed, sir, if your metaphor stink, I will stop my nose; or against any man’s metaphor

    ———

    Que je m’enorgueillis d’un pareil appendice,
    Attendu qu’un grand nez est proprement l’indice
    D’un homme affable, bon, courtois, spirituel,
    Libéral, courageux….

  81. Theophrastus
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 4:21 am | Permalink

    Nemo: אפים is in the dual; definitely implying it means nostril here (which by synecdoche means nose/face).

    See Proverbs 30:33 in Hebrew for a stunning example of this word play.

    כִּי מִיץ חָלָב יוֹצִיא חֶמְאָה וּמִיץ־אַף יוֹצִיא דָם וּמִיץ אַפַּיִם יוֹצִיא רִיב

  82. nemo
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    which by synecdoche …

    Rather, by usage.

    Usage prevails over every other consideration, even over grammatical form, in determining the meaning of a word. Hebrew has many words which have acquired singular meaning in plural and dual forms. The dual form in itself does not imply anything definitely. And paranomasia does not reveal or abide by the ordinary meaning of words. It plays with words, and puts unusual twists on their meaing.

  83. Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Nemo, I have no “intent … to make people laugh at the thought of a “long nosed” God”. My intent is to point out that there is no such thing as a literal translation, which would claim to render every word consistently according to its primary meaning. If, as you argue (but I disagree), the primary meaning of ‘appayim is “anger” rather than “nose”, then Proverbs 11:22 would have to start something like “Like a gold ring in a pig’s anger”, but I’m sure no version does that.

    Theo, thanks for the link to the book. It looks like someone is taking the metaphor seriously.

  84. Posted July 13, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    A few notes on ‘af.

    It’s helpful to make a distinction between primary and extended senses.

    In the singular, the primary sense is nose (of a person) or snout (of a crock: Job 40:24; of a pig: Prov 11:20. The famous phrase “vayyichar ‘appo be” is, literally, “His nose burned against” = “He lost his temper with,” “He became incensed with.” “Anger,” a typical gloss for ‘af, is not, strictly speaking, an extended sense thereof. Rather, “temper” is. A translation of the operative phrase that captures this might be “He became hot-tempered with.” True, “temper” -> “anger,” as in English, “temper-tantrum.”

    Quite of few body parts in Hebrew are “seats” of things, as is “heart” in English.

    In the dual, ‘appayim, the primary sense is nostrils. It is not clear that an extended sense of the dual, by synecdoche, is face, as in vattippol ‘al ‘appeha “She fell on her face.” “On his/her nostrils,” because they would be the first to touch, may simply be a fixed expression. Compare Gen 3:19, where we, instead, of “sweat of [dripping from] your nostrils,” say, idiomatically, “sweat of [dripping from] your brow.”

    A person may be short-tempered or, by analogy, long-tempered. God is long-tempered. That is the sense of ‘erek ‘appayim.

    God is also *not* gobah ‘af “high of nose” = snooty. According to Ps 10:4, a wicked person is a snoot; to be honest, that verse is not particularly clear.

  85. Nemo
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    I have no intent … to make people laugh at the thought …

    Your argument is a crude reductio ad absurdum. Its effectiveness depends upon the manifest absurdity of the God who has “a long nose.” (Very funny.) But you do not interact with any real-world position, because no one is proposing that ‘af or any other words be translated with absolute consistency.

    In this case, you seem to end up destroying your own position by arguing that ‘appayim really does mean “nostrils” in the idiom ‘erek ‘appayim. You even deny the polysemy of the word (which is acknowledged by all the lexicographers) and try to explain the idiom as a metaphor.

  86. Posted July 13, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    Nemo, you are breaking the posting guidelines by “question[ing] [some]one’s intelligence, spirituality or motives”. But it is not mine, because I have never “den[ied] the polysemy of the word”. Did I miss some comment in which someone else did this? And there certainly are people who claim that words should be translated consistently – but conveniently forget examples like this which show how ridiculous their principles are.

    John, thanks for clarifying my point, that “nose” or “nostril” is the primary sense of the word and “anger” or “temper” is a secondary sense. At least I think that is what you are saying.

  87. Posted July 13, 2011 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    Nemo, synecdoche is a particular kind of usage, so there is no need to correct Theophrastus. You asked whether this particular Hebrew word for “long” could be used to refer to physical length, and I did find one example in Ezekial 17:3, which in the RSV is “A great eagle with great wings and long pinions.”

    It is interesting that you say that a literal translation might be blasphemous. My understanding is that such metaphors are examples of idiomatic usage that don’t sound silly in Hebrew but which might sound silly if translated literally into English. What we’re really talking about is the distance between Hebrew and English, and the distinctiveness of Hebrew when it comes to certain metaphorical usages. Hebrew uses “arm” to talk about God’s strength, “bowels” to talk about God’s compassion, and “nose” to talk about God’s anger. The same images apply to people as well as to God, and my understanding is that none of this was silly in Hebrew, though it might sound silly or strange if translated literally into English. For Jeremiah 31:20, the Authorized Version said “Is Ephraim my dear son? is he a pleasant child? for since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still: therefore my bowels are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the LORD.” Whether or not the word “bowels” communicated effectively in English four hundred years ago, I cannot say, but modern translations such as the RSV recognize that it sounds silly–or maybe blasphemous–to refer to God as having troubled bowels, so they adjust the figure to something like “Therefore my heart yearns for him” (RSV and NIV) to communicate the same thing. This could be an example of translating metaphor for metaphor. See also Isaiah 63:15, which talks about the sounding of God’s bowels (KJV). Is this blasphemous?

    Intestines (bowels), noses, and even hearts, had different cultural meanings in ancient Hebrew culture than they have for us Westerners today. A translator has to understand the meaning of the source text, even when it comes to figures of speech, and translate appropriately, making sure that the wrong meaning, or something ridiculous-sounding, is not communicated. It is a matter of going from what communicates in one language to what communicates the same thing in another language. In this case, if the references to intestines or noses doesn’t sound silly in the Hebrew, it shouldn’t be translated in such a way that it sounds silly in English. That may mean that figures of speech sometimes cannot be translated word for word, though it may be possible to translate metaphor as metaphor, using a target language metaphor that is judged to communicate the same thing as the source language metaphor.

    Back to the image in Nahum 1:3, the Translator’s Handbook on the Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah (1989:7) explains, “The opening words say literally that the Lord is ‘long of nostril.’ In Hebrew the nostrils are associated with anger, and to be ‘long of nostril’ means to be slow to anger.”

  88. Nemo
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    John, I would say that “His nose burned against” does not make sense. It does not even work as a metaphor, because the nose does not burn. So I cannot think that there is any notion of burning noses behind the expression. It is His anger which burns. That is the real metaphor here (anger = fire, not nose = anger). We must acknowledge the reality of polysemy in this case. I am sympathetic to your tendency to value metaphor, and to notice the semantic coloring which may be contributed by word-associations, through “primary” senses, and so forth. These associations are important to the understanding and appreciation of poetry in any language. But I think you are stretching it too far now. The “long nostrils” idea is ludicrous, and involves some pretty questionable linguistics.

  89. Nemo
    Posted July 13, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    David Frank writes: the Translator’s Handbook on the Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah (1989:7) explains ..

    Right. And you could also quote other sources that make the same assertion. But you are relying on authority now, and not interacting with my argument. I am saying that this is not a metaphor. I am saying that it is polysemy.

  90. Posted July 13, 2011 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    Nemo, I am interacting with your argument by saying that I think you are wrong. I will acknowledge, however, that there is no clear dividing line between extended meanings of a word (polysemy) and metaphorical extensions of a word. Over time and through usage, what starts off as a metaphorical usage of a word can end up being an extended meaning of the word. This can happen when the metaphor “dies.” It is hard for us at a distance to know whether this “nose” metaphor had already died such that the word for “nose” took on an extended meaning of “anger,” without speakers being conscious when they used the word that its primary meaning was “nose/nostrils.” That’s what your suggestion of polysemy would imply, but I don’t know of any evidence that such is the case, except for your intuitions as to what is reasonable and what is not. Your intuitions as a non-native speaker of Hebrew might not be a reliable authority in this case, being colored by your English intuitions.

    Or, rather than polysemy, did you mean homonymy? I don’t suppose you are saying that there are two completely different words that happen to share the same phonological form, are you? If we really are talking about polysemy, then the different senses of the word would all have to share some core of meaning. Since the primary meaning of the Hebrew word in question is “nose/nostrils,” if we say it has an extended meaning of “anger,” for this to be polysemy we would have to be able to explain what the connection is. If there is no connection in meaning among the different meanings or senses of a single word, then we couldn’t say it is a matter of polysemy. But if there is a connection in meaning, then I am saying that the connection has to do with body parts being culturally associated with different emotions, as in the examples of the heart or bowels, which are more clear.

    Yes, I do rely on scholarly authority in coming up with my conclusions, in that I don’t have a Hebrew native intuition to guide me, and I can’t interview native speakers of ancient Hebrew. I confess that I am not a Hebrew scholar myself. (Are you?) I put what Hebrew scholars have found about Hebrew words and usages together with my own expert knowledge of translation and lexicography.

  91. Posted July 13, 2011 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    This more recent part of the back-and-forth nostril metaphor/ polyseme conversation reminds me of some lines from “Miles Gloriosus” by Titus Maccius Plautus [or "The Braggart Captain," as trans. into English blank verse by Bonnell Thornton in 1769] (or “The Braggart Soldier,” as translated for theatre by Erich Segal in 1963) –

    MILPHIDIPPA: Quid astitisti obstupida? cur non pultas? [Why stand you stupefied? --Why don't you knock?] (You’re standing stupefied — why don’t you knock?)

    ACROTELEUTIUM: Quia non est intus quem ego volo. [Because he's not within here, whom I want.] (The man I love is not inside.)

    MILPHIDIPPA: Qui scis? [(How do you know?)]

    ACROTELEUTIUM: Scio pol ego, olfacio; nam odore nasum sentiat, si intus sit. [I know it: --If he were, my nose would scent him.] (I smell. My nose would sense it if he were inside)

    PALAESTRIO: Hariolatur. [She divines:] (A prophetess!)

    PYRGOPOLINICES: Quia mé amat, propterea Venus fecit eam ut divinaret. [Because she loves me, Venus has bestow'd upon her the gift of prophesy.] (She loves me, therefore Venus gave her powers of prophecy.)

    ACROTELEUTIUM: Nescio ubi hic prope adest quem expeto videre: olet profecto. [I know not where he is whose sight I long for, -- but I know he's not far off, -- I smell him.] (He’s near — somewhere — the man I long to see. I smell him!)

    PYRGOPOLINICES: Naso pol iam haec quidem plús videt quam óculis. [Why, she sees more with her nose than eyes.] (She sees more with her nose than with her eyes.)

    PALAESTRIO: Caeca amore est. [(She's blind with love.)]

    One of the funniest things about this is that it’s Greek characters speaking Latin using Greek phrases (having earlier quoted Sappho), Greeky expressions (goddesses and love and all of that), and Greekish word play (pardon the pun). The metaphorical sense (and the scents — pardon the pun) is carried over pretty well into English also. Yes, it’s the Erich Segal of Love Story fame. But see (or listen, can you smell?) how much of the Latin phonological play is lost on English ears.

  92. Posted July 13, 2011 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    Peter,

    You understood me well.

    Nemo,

    re: his af burned

    As I understand it, a metaphor is involved, as in “her face burned with anger.” A red nose results from a rapid reddening of the face in response to strong emotions, such as embarrassment, anger, or high excitement.

    re: long of appaim

    We have:

    long/short of nefesh / ruah = patient/impatient (cf. Syriac)
    long of appaim = patient

    What does that tell us? Since we also have ruh appo (e.g. Ps 18:6), it is probably:

    long of ruh of appaim.

    I only say “probably” on the supposition that appaim refers to nostrils, not face. This is supported by appi in Isa 48:9, singular, which cannot be face (always plural).

    The data from Aramaic complicates things, where the plural of ‘af means “face” (like Hebrew panim) occurring in some of the equivalent idioms:

    ma’arik appeh = long [relaxed?] of face = patient
    nefal al anpeh = fell on his face

    Are you going to claim that af in Aramaic means “anger”?

    I doubt it.

    To the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Syriac idioms, one must compare the Akkadian idiom

    ikka araku/karu of temper be long/be short

    The problem with your x not y approach (“anger” not “nose”) is that it does not fit the data above.

    A puzzler is Isa 48:9 (previous discussion in Gruber and Tawil). I wonder whether the vocalization should be appay, not appi. Either way, a metaphor for metaphor (not a literal) translation of vv 8-9 might be:

    You didn’t hear,
    You didn’t understand:
    since forever your ear has not been open.

    Because I know you are a traitorous traitor,
    rightly called an offender from the womb,

    for the sake of MY name
    I will keep my temper on a leash;

    to the redounding of MY praise
    I will put a clamp on it
    as far as you are concerned
    so as not to cut you down.

  93. Posted July 13, 2011 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

    Nemo,

    By the way, I never once suggested that “long nostrils” or “long of nose” are implied. I agree with your pars destruens. It’s your pars costruens I take issue with.

    Reread my comments in case of doubt.

  94. Nemo
    Posted July 14, 2011 at 12:30 am | Permalink

    John writes: We have: long/short of nefesh / ruah = patient/impatient (cf. Syriac) long of appaim = patient

    I think this is a good analogy. But surely קצר־רוח in Proverbs 14:29 is not referring to people who are “short of wind,” anymore than ארך אפים refers to those who are “long of nostrils.”

    The problem with your x not y approach (“anger” not “nose”) is that it does not fit the data above.

    John, I honestly don’t see how your view can fit the data. But apparently you are suggesting that, in some way, all the meanings are intended.

  95. Nemo
    Posted July 14, 2011 at 12:51 am | Permalink

    I never once suggested that “long nostrils” or “long of nose” are implied.

    Thanks for that clarification!

    I don’t aim to develop a pars construens here. I am merely arguing that this “long of nostrils” interpretation is erroneous, and it sheds no light at all upon the meaning of the Hebrew phrase, because there is no metaphorical usage here. The attempt to make it into a literally translated metaphor yields an absurd result.

  96. Posted July 14, 2011 at 1:48 am | Permalink

    Nemo,

    Apparently you are having trouble with the notion that a metaphor has a double-decker semantic structure (tenor and vehicle in some terminologies).

    I can’t pinpoint your problem. You are going to have to be a little more “long of wind” as in long-winded.

    You seem to want to rule out metaphorical expressions that are not as logical or transparent as you would like them to be. The trouble is, language is full of figurative expressions whose inherent logic is dimly understood or not understood at all by the average user thereof.

    Examples in English: knucklehead; happy as a clam; mealymouthed. Yet the meaning of these expressions is perfectly clear, and in these expressions, “knuckle” apparently means “knuckle,” “head,” “head,” “clam” “clam.” Presumably mealymouthed refers to the effect “meal” can have when in a moving “mouth” from a certain point of view. But no one normally analyzes these expressions, since the meaning thereof is grasped *independently* of proper/improper analysis.

    We don’t know for sure how to analyze expressions like “short of wind” and “long of nostrils” but there is relatively little doubt (pace Nemo) what the elements within the figure, taken singly, mean.

    Your polysemous solution has less in its favor, on account of the arguments I made previously which you left unanswered. Perhaps you realize that your solution is in hot water (a figure whose meaning is, as often, language-specific: time to get used to that), since you ceased defending it.

    “Short of wind” (meaning impatience in Hebrew) doesn’t work in English. We can render abstract for concrete, such as “short-tempered.” “My liver burns” (meaning “I am angry to the core” in Akkadian) doesn’t work. We can substitute “my heart burns with anger” – “with anger” may be required in some contexts because of interference from another coin.

    The *only* thing you are saying, so far as I can see, is that, for example,

    “testa di nocca” (head of knuckle) is ridiculous in Italian,
    though of course “testa di cazzo” makes perfect sense.

    To go back to ‘af = anger. The standard idiom hori af ‘burning of nose’ does not *necessarily* mean that on an analysis of components. But there is no reason it couldn’t, since people do get red in face and nose when they get angry. In fact, it is quite possible to conceive of a nose burning with anger.

    On this understanding,

    haron af gets shortened to af by a very well known linguistic trope.
    *erek ruh appaim [unattested] gets shortened to erek appaim by the same procedure.

    These explanations are not certain but they are plausible. Pace Nemo, they fit the larger set of data I presented.

  97. Posted July 14, 2011 at 1:54 am | Permalink

    To be clear, by your “polysemous solution” I mean your “x not y” (“anger” not “nose”) proposal.

  98. Posted July 14, 2011 at 2:10 am | Permalink

    I think I see where you went astray: by assuming that the *glosses* in a concordance are a reliable guide to the semantics of word-in-context being indexed. (see comment of July 12, 9:21 pm)

    It is not so. That would be as misguided as supposing, on the basis of a concordance of a corpus on Italian in which the phrase “avere sangue blu” occurs, and is glossed with “have a noble pedigree,” that sangue blu is no longer a figure in which the terms still mean “blood” and “blue” – as in English “blueboods.”

    Once again, it is not essential to understand why “blueblood” means what it does (the historical explanation is a bit disgusting). We know what it means, and we know that, somehow, blue blood is involved. And it is.

  99. Theophrastus
    Posted July 14, 2011 at 3:03 am | Permalink

    On a different thread (but still relevant to this post, I think), Peter recently noted:

    While we are on the subject of computational detection of language style, see this Huffington Post article: Bible’s Different Authors Revealed By New Language Software…. I guess that on these tests an ideal Bible translation would show the same authorship differences as the original text….

    The chief author of the study cited in the mentioned article was disturbed by the press coverage of his work, and wrote a response that clarifies what his view of the study is. Here is how he concludes:

    In short, our results seem to support some findings of higher Bible criticism regarding possible boundaries between distinct stylistic threads in the Torah. These results might have some relevance regarding literary analysis of the Torah. Taken on their own, however, they are not proof of multiple authorship. Furthermore, there is nothing in these results that should cause those of us committed to the traditional belief in divine authorship of the Torah to doubt that belief.

  100. Nemo
    Posted July 14, 2011 at 3:35 am | Permalink

    John says: Your polysemous solution has less in its favor, on account of the arguments I made previously which you left unanswered. Perhaps you realize that your solution is in hot water (a figure whose meaning is, as often, language-specific: time to get used to that), since you ceased defending it.

    Good heavens, John. I did not mean to slight your arguments, but I must say they are rather opague, and sometimes not easy to follow. Perhaps you are too bright for me, and leave me in the dust. But I am not at all conscious of being in “hot water,” because I know that my argument rests squarely on a commonplace of linguistics: Polysemy is possible without ambiguity because the context in most cases immediately suggests which sense of the word is intended. Ambiguity raises its head only when two or more senses fit the context. This is not to say that there are no connotations and overtones which are sometimes attached to senses of words because of their association with other senses of the same word. I freely admit that. One thinks of the kinship terminology in the New Testament. But this is not always the case. Not every sense of every word has some metaphorical relationship to the other senses of the word, and even when they do have such a relationship originally, it often goes unnoticed by the speakers of the language, until the metaphorical relationship is brought into view by some verbal finesse. (Paranomasia in the Proverbs often does this deliberately.) Metaphors proper are a special case, and they do demand recognition of a “double-decker” meaning, as you call it. This is not a problem for me at all. So I do not think we really disagree about these matters. It is not that I have some attitude against metaphors in general. But here the question is, are we looking at a metaphor in ארך אפים, or not? And I think it is very unlikely. I also doubt that any “nasal” connotation comes into play in this idiom.

  101. Posted July 14, 2011 at 4:46 am | Permalink

    Nemo,

    You are not easy to follow yourself.

    Judging by your last comment, you simply wish to point out that phrases with potential metaphorical value are often comatose or semi-comatose in practice, in Hebrew as much as the next language. For example, if someone says, “we need to start things off with an icebreaker,” the metaphoricity of the smash will go unnoticed on the fly; it will be activated by recursive reflection only, for example, in response to a come-back question, such as, “Can you paraphrase that?” To which one might reply with another semi-comatose figure of speech: “We need to warm things up.”

    If that is what your comments are about, then fine. It means you can agree that ארך אפים is a figure of speech, the meaning of whose components is “long” and “nostrils.” But the figure of speech in your opinion (against LXX translation tradition for example, which mimicked the figure as best it could) is comatose such that it is misleading to translate a (dead) metaphor with a (live) metaphor.

    In that case, the bit about ‘af meaning “anger” was a red herring. Rather, you are saying that the figure of speech, “his nose burned against” is unlikely to be a live metaphor.

    I don’t buy it, but at least I understand you now. I feel you are taken by a sensation analogous to that some of the LXX translators seem to have experienced when they came across “my rock” in reference to the one Lord. Or other -morphisms that rubbed them the wrong way. They ran for a non-metaphorical equivalent because they found the metaphor grating or unpleasant.

    I prefer nonetheless to translate the text without making concessions to our sensibilities. If the text talks about a six-armed goddess, let the translation show it.

  102. Nemo
    Posted July 14, 2011 at 5:56 am | Permalink

    John, I also prefer to translate the text in a straightforward fashion, without making concessions to modern American sensibilities. It seems to me that our difference is not about principles of translation, but on the level of semantic theory, and Hebrew philology. I say that “anger” is the ordinary meaning of אף, and that in the idiom ארך אפים there is no figure of speech. I think any attempt to create a “nose” metaphor out of this phrase in translation or commentary is misconceived, not because it offends English readers, but because there is no “long nose/nostrils” metaphor in the Hebrew. It is just a figment of faulty semantic analysis.

  103. Posted July 14, 2011 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Theo, thanks for the update about stylistic differences and software. Perhaps I should have written “an ideal Bible translation would show the same STYLISTIC differences as the original text”, without prejudging matters of authorship which cannot be determined by the software. I’m sure it is possible for the same author to write in different styles, deliberately, in such a way that the software would not recognise the common authorship. Also we can’t rule out a ghost writing or stylistic tidying up in biblical writings, especially in the New Testament some of whose purported authors were not mother tongue Greek speakers.

  104. Posted July 14, 2011 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Nemo, for the conversation. I appreciate it.

    I too will take the opportunity to summarize my position (in pars destruens mode, the style you prefer). If “anger” is the meaning of af in an expression like erek appaim, you have to explain (1) the dual, (2) the related set of idioms across several languages which scholars have, independently of one another, understood as figures of speech; (3) at least take a stab at explaining the putative non-figure of speech “long of angers (dual).”

    You have not done any of the above.

    The relevant bibliography is voluminous. For starters, one might look at the relevant entries in Hayim ben Yosef Tawil, An Akkadian Lexical Companion for Biblical Hebrew (Jersey City: KTAV, 2009).

  105. Posted July 14, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Nemo: Hi! Thanks for contributing to our discussion! I’m always interested in seeing more discussions of Hebrew and linguistics.

    I would question your choice to use frequency of meaning to determine a word’s primary meaning. How often does someone get angry in the Hebrew Bible? And then, how often does the nose (apart from any alleged metaphorical connection between nose and anger) appear in the Bible?

    Obviously, the occurrences of anger will outweigh the occurrences of nose (in a straightforward sense). But this is due to the context of the Bible, which speaks more of people getting angry than of picking their noses, rather than due to the word’s actual semantic range. Is this based off an assumption that the Bible’s usage of words represents an ideal bell curve of a given word’s “primary” usage(s)? I will allow you to affirm or deny that, but if that is the case, I would find it a rather strange assumption.

  106. Posted July 14, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Gary,

    That’s a great point you make. It is unfortunately the case that statistics are misused rather often among exegetes, just as they are among social scientists and (mirabile dictu) linguists.

    I do wish to note a point of agreement with Nemo: an analysis of the combination “long of appaim” in terms of a “long nose” or “long nostrils” has nothing going for it.

    In light of a series of analogies, I propose a different analysis above (which may also be incorrect; an alternative is to understand erek to mean relaxaton and appaim “face” [so Mayer Gruber if I remember correctly].

  107. Nemo
    Posted July 14, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    John wrote: If “anger” is the meaning of af in an expression like erek appaim, you have to explain (1) the dual …

    I might compare this situation to the English word “cheeky,” which is apparently related to “cheek,” but used with no reference to the cheek of the face. We also have the word “cheek” itself used in the sense of insolence. The semantic relationship can only be guessed at. An online “etymological dictionary” says that the “sense of ‘insolence’ is from 1840, perhaps from a notion akin to that which led to jaw ‘insolent speech,’ mouth off, etc.” But this pretty weak, and it contributes nothing to our understanding of the meaning of word. It throws no light upon the meaning of “cheeky” when we try to make the connection with other senses of “cheek,” and it would be pointless to speak of the facial “cheek” as if it were in some way the “literal” referent of the word even when it is being used in the sense “insolence.” That is how I see this nose/anger business. When the Hebrew word is used in the sense “anger” it is misleading to try to draw a connection with the “nose.” The connection is not alive in the language, it is an artifact of philological analysis, from the distance of several thousand years.

    By way of explaining the apparently “dual” form, I will mention that plural forms in Hebrew are often used as semantically intense or “grand” forms of the noun (i.e. “man of bloods”), without any specific thought of plurality, and the dual is just a special kind of plural. The form ‘appayim may only be apparently dual. There are several of these in Hebrew. There is shamayim, for instance–which I suspect is a sort of “grand” dual. ‘Appayim “angers” (=”great anger”?) might even have arisen by morphological assimilation to the dual form of ‘af in the sense of “nostrils,” without any real semantic connection with “nostrils.” This kind of merely formal assimilation often happens in language.

    Gary wrote: I would question your choice to use frequency of meaning to determine a word’s primary meaning.

    Hi Gary. Concerning the “primary” sense — This is a problematic concept, and it needs to be defined carefully. I understand the “primary” sense as being the most concrete and presumably the earliest sense. It is a useful concept in philology. But the “primary” sense is not necessarily the most common sense. And in an established idiom like ‘erek ‘appayim it is not helpful to talk about primary and secondary senses. Once an idiom is formed and becomes current, it has a meaning of its own. There is something fallacious about trying to break it up now and analyzing it according to the “primary” senses of the constituent words.

  108. Posted July 14, 2011 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    To lighten things up a little, see James McGrath’s take on Limits of Literalism: The Bible’s Sexy Metaphors.

  109. Rick Ritchie
    Posted July 14, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    “When it comes to Bible translation, my guiding metaphor is that of the incarnation: The Word became flesh.”

    Very promising.

    Now we can start asking whether different people have different pictures of what Incarnation is, many corresponding to the other translation metaphors. The conduit is one. Is Jesus a conduit of God? It isn’t an altogether bad picture. Though the living water starts to well within us. What kind of translation produces that? Or the horizon metaphor. Does he bring divine and human horizons together? Does this work in two directions? A high priest who knows our weaknesses is a picture that suggests he does.

    I wonder if Jesus could be a translation standard? How would we get a translation to do what he does, or approach that in some way?

  110. Posted July 14, 2011 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    David said: there is no clear dividing line between extended meanings of a word (polysemy) and metaphorical extensions of a word.

    Nemo said: But I am not at all conscious of being in “hot water,” because I know that my argument rests squarely on a commonplace of linguistics: Polysemy is possible without ambiguity because the context in most cases immediately suggests which sense of the word is intended. Ambiguity raises its head only when two or more senses fit the context.

    Has anybody read Marina Rakova’s The Extent of the Literal: Metaphor, Polysemy and Theories of Concepts? She has a chapter in her book entitled, “The ‘Hot’ Polysemy.” Here’s from her first three paragraphs:

    Have you ever wondered why you call chilli peppers hot? Of course, you might say, because your mouth feels hot when you take a bite. Yes, but why does it feel hot? What makes you describe chillies as ‘hot’? Why do you use the same word as in ‘hot stove’ or ‘hot day’?

    This chapter is about the polysemy of the word ‘hot’…. The word ‘hot’ is polysemous between ‘of noticeably high temperature’ and ‘spicy’…. [T]he connection between these two senses of ‘hot’ is not arbitrary; in fact, … there are good physiological reasons for calling chilli peppers hot.

    …. We do not have words and concepts just because it is nice for us to have them. Words and concepts are the devices that connect us to the external world. Without the body and the brain with its perceptual machinery we would not hvae the concepts that we have.

    Who is deciding all of this? If you read Rakova, she’s looking at hard science stuff and also stuff done by George Lakoff and by Nelson Goodman and so forth and so on. They’re not being “hardnosed” here. But even in trying to step back from the Bible on the question of “long nostril,” each one of us is deciding just how we use language, just how we keep our concepts straight and unmingling.

    So here was Gary: When explaining to a peer several years ago that she needed to avoid the passive voice, she protested, “but this is past tense!” as if past tense and passive voice were mutually exclusive categories.

    I’ve given you anecdotes of a generic Johnny and a plain Jane there. I don’t think translations need to be foolproofed; we need to foolproof our education system as best we are able.

    Oops! Need to be foolproofed by whom?! Ouch. The passive voice should have been avoided there. Ha!

    Nemo said: Ambiguity raises its head only when two or more senses fit the context. This is not to say that there are no connotations and overtones which are sometimes attached to senses of words because of their association with other senses of the same word.

    No connotations and overtones attached by whom? And “ambiguity raises its head only,” raises it only in any case ever, only by itself?

    John said: language is full of figurative expressions whose inherent logic is dimly understood or not understood at all by the average user thereof.

    Who fills it so full?

    I’m interested in the body, in the personal, in the fact that metaphors and polysemy and any connections that can be creatively made or dogmatically denied by anybody are very personal. We get them and deconstruct them precisely because *we* make them and de-create them. And, lest somebody levels the accusation of “postmodernism” at me, I’d ask us all to get back to where the body is. What’s at stake for any of us starts and usually ends there somehow, doesn’t it? When we don’t like a particular translation, isn’t it usually because it doesn’t carry enough of what’s at stake for us, for what’s “Hot” to us? (Yes, I know “hot” can mean “cool,” even in the same sentence. But for whom does it “mean” that, and why, and how?)

  111. Posted July 15, 2011 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

    Kurk,

    In terms of translation, I am opposed to what Harold Bloom refers to as a “strong misreading” in which “the mighty dead return,” but “they return in our colors, and speaking in our voices.” The phrases in quotes are from Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973) 141.

    Let the ancients speak in their own voices. Let us not strip them of their own clothing – an act of violence – and dress them up in ours.

    Ancient translations such as the LXX and the Vulgate may have erred on the side of literalness in their attempt to respect the voices of the original authors, in order to leave the veils of clothing of the source text in place, rather than uncover the nakedness thereof.

    But modern translations tend to err in the other direction. They sometimes modernize in ways that make the text say what some want it to say, not what it actually says.

  112. Posted July 16, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Let the ancients speak in their own voices. Let us not strip them of their own clothing – an act of violence – and dress them up in ours.

    Ancient translations such as the LXX and the Vulgate may have erred on the side of literalness in their attempt to respect the voices of the original authors, in order to leave the veils of clothing of the source text in place, rather than uncover the nakedness thereof.

    I confess, John, that I haven’t read the Vulgate much. The Septuagint, on the other hand, it seems to me, deserves much study. The persons doing the translations into Greek, their context, how they influenced the Greek translators and writers of the New Testament — all Jews dealing with their own issues as goyim threaten with Antisemitism all around them — deserve much more study. Aren’t you glad, with me, nonetheless, how Suzanne notices much like this:

    “And in the LXX, Exodus 6, the Greek could not bear the metaphor of uncircumsized lips, while Latin could. ”

    She rightly notes that there’s not uniform metaphors, in the Hebrew, in the Greek translation, and in the Latin translation. Suzanne also gets us looking at contrasts between Pagnini and Jerome and the Vulgate variants. She has us comparing the LXX also with the modern Greek Vamva translation.

    Yes, let’s respect the choices of the LXX transators, as if they also were respecting the ancients before them. But not uniformly so. Variation in translation may be called for. We should at least notice what’s going on in the Septuagint, that it’s varied, that it could be with some intent given the translators’ insidernesses that we can only imagine, can never presume to share.

    But modern translations tend to err in the other direction. They sometimes modernize in ways that make the text say what some want it to say, not what it actually says.

    Funny, just yesterday, I just blogged on others blogging on this very thing. Notice how modern the gendering, the sexism, can be. We’re still on topic here, talking about metaphor for translation, I’m sure:

    http://speakeristic.blogspot.com/2011/07/junia-psst-that-apostle-has-mustache.html

  113. Posted July 16, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Kurk,

    Thanks for the link. I am in agreement with Suzanne, and with you, on the probable gender of Junia. Here is the relevant link:

    http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2011/02/what-the-new-testament-has-to-say-about-women-in-ministry.html

    As the “Toronto school” argues and James Barr demonstrated (The Typology of Literalism in Ancient Biblical Translations), most translation units in the LXX
    are so literal that they might be termed interlinears. But you are right that a few metaphors were not carried over.

  114. Stephanie Wong
    Posted October 19, 2011 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    What an intriguing question! I imagine effective metaphors for translation abound, as every culture and subculture is interested in communication and has its own descriptive metaphor. At the Bible Translation Conference that just finished, Maxey elaborated hospitality as a metaphor, inadvertently agreeing with Ricoeur, it seems! This idea of participating in divine hospitality (described by Henri Nouwen as providing a safe place for people to rest and then change) stimulated my mind and resonated with a lot of people. Now see, even in this previous sentence, I have already evoked 3 metaphors for the translation of meaning: hospitality, activation of the brain, and the physics of sound.

  115. Posted October 20, 2011 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    Thank you, Stephanie Wong, for adding to the discussion. Yes, we should take into consideration the metaphors for translation from different languages and cultures. After I wrote this essay, a book was brought to my attention entitled Thinking Through Translation with Metaphors, ed. by James St. Andre, 2010. I believe you heard me tell James Maxey about the metaphor of host and guest languages that J.K. Gayle mentioned in this discussion, except that off the top of my head I got the name wrong: it should have been Lydia He Liu.

    In talking with Dr. Maxey after his presentation I found out that he is quite aware of the work of Paul Ricoeur.

    Metaphor has become an important theme in this Bible translation conference we are attending. Different theories may (or may not) help explain translation, but it is the metaphors we use that really help us understand it, and we should not be afraid of using metaphor to present what translation is. Besides, as Max Black (1962) points out, supported by Paul Ricoeur (1976) and Lakoff and Johnson (1980), What is a theory but an extended metaphor?


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  1. [...] · Leave a Comment · In Bible Translation David Frank recently blogged about various Bible translation metaphors over on the Better Bibles Blog. He concludes by saying,When it comes to Bible translation, my [...]

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