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Monday, February 28, 2011

ambiguity, metaphor: the doctrine of scripture & revelation

The inferential nature of natural language and semantic indeterminacy appear to raise a problem for the classical protestant doctrine of scripture and revelation. The reformed concept of perspicuity[1] of scripture combined with the doctrine of propositional revelation create problems in bible translation when dealing with metaphor and other forms of semantic indeterminacy in biblical language. In my thinking on this, it isn't the doctrine of perspicuity alone that causes difficulty. It is the combination of perspicuity and propositional approach to translation which is not just an Aristotelian model of truth but also a key component in E. A. Nida's implementation of early Chomsky where the translation model involved reducing the surface structure of the of source language text (SL) to a propositional deep structure from which it was rendered in the surface structure of the target language (TL). This three phase translation process assumed that biblical language can be reduced to propositional form. That, in my thinking, is the crux.  

K. A. McElhanon[1] claims that an Aristotelian approach to metaphor continues to have a impact on translation strategy.
The belief that scripture must be clear has had a lasting impact on interpretation and translation. It was readily combined with an Aristotelian concept that metaphors are deviant, ornamental forms of language that serve to embellish language. The result has been that clarity is often regarded as dependent upon literal, propositional statements. Callow (1998:154-55) writes,
A proposition represents the simplest possible thought pattern, the weaving together of several concepts in a purposive way…. [P]ropositions are cognitively based, not word based; one proposition underlies the various expressions in different languages.4 The concepts, therefore, which combine to form the proposition, are at a cognitive level which relates to experiences not to words. Words follow later.
Moreover, propositions are generally regarded as expressing pure thought, and so truth is also associated with words that are understood literally. Thus Geisler (1999:742) writes,
Communication depends on informative statements. But correspondence to facts is what makes statements informative. All communication ultimately depends on something being literally or factually true. We cannot even use a metaphor unless we understand that there is a literal meaning over against which the figurative sense is not literal. So, it would follow that all communication depends in the final analysis on a correspondence to truth (italics added). 5

To be continued. (I don't like long posts).

[1] reformed doctrine of perspicuity according to CRI and L. D. Pettegrew (TMSJ 15/2 (Fall 2004) 209-225) who cites from Old Princeton:

Definition of Perspicuity
What does the assertion, “the Bible is a plain book,” mean? In further explanation, Hodge writes, “Protestants hold that the Bible, being addressed to the people, is sufficiently perspicuous to be understood by them, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit; and that they are entitled and bound to search the Scripture, and to judge for themselves what is its true meaning.” [6]    His son and successor at Princeton Seminary affirmed, “[T]he Scriptures are in such a sense perspicuous that all that is necessary for man to know, in order to his salvation or for his practical guidance in duty, may be learned therefrom, and that they are designed for the personal use and are adapted to the instruction of the unlearned as well as the learned.”[7]    Even more clearly, Callahan explains,
Scripture can be and is read with profit, with appreciation and with transformative results. It is open and transparent to earnest readers; it is intelligible and comprehensible to attentive readers. Scripture itself is coherent and obvious. It is direct and unambiguous as written; what is written is sufficient. Scripture’s concern or focal point is readily presented as the redemptive story of God. It displays a progressively more specific identification of that story, culminating in the gospel of Jesus Christ. All this is to say: Scripture is clear about what it is about.[8]
[6] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology 1:183.
[7] A. A. Hodge, A Commentary on the Confession of Faith (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of
Christian Education, 1926) 63.
[8] Callahan, Clarity of Scripture 9.

[2] Kenneth A. McElhanon, From Simple Metaphors to Conceptual Blending: The Mapping of Analogical Concepts and the Praxis of Translation
Journal of Translation, Volume 2, Number 1 (2006)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

the Jesus road: conceptual metaphor & propositional truth

In his treatment of scenario and schema, K. A. McElhanon, toward the end of From Word to Scenario[1] talks about conceptual metaphors and immediatly wanders into contentious territory[1]:

The biblical concept of truth is integrated with the concept of life, in particular a life characterized by faith. This is true of both testaments of the Bible. The life of faith is grounded in the conceptual metaphor EXPERIENCING LIFE IS A GOING ON A JOURNEY.[2]
 4.2.2 Truth as expressed by propositions
We have already noted that in the Aristotelian tradition truth is regarded as a property of sentences, so that what a sentence states has to correspond to reality. It is important to note that those who hold to the correspondence theory of truth can find biblical support. When Jesus indicates that what he is about to say is true, he uses the phrase ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ‘I tell the (solemn) truth’, with the reduplicated form, usually in John’s gospel, indicating emphasis (Louw and Nida 1988:I:673). In all cases the phrase is immediately followed by the statements regarded as true. In what follows we will further elaborate upon the biblical concept of truth. What we will see is that the biblical concept represents the notion of truth as primarily experiential rather than as rational. In particular we will see that it concerns more about how we ought to live rather than what we ought to know or say. Along with these elaborations we will reveal how the English translators have consistently misconstrued the biblical concept. [3]
McElhanon is not presenting us with an absolute either/or concerning the biblical concept of truth. However, he does consider the western preoccupation with propositional truth a source of frequent mistranslation and he makes a general claim which will not go down well[4] with some  who continue to support the Chicago Statement[5]: "the biblical concept represents the notion of truth as primarily experiential rather than as rational"[see above].

McElhanon claims that the Aristotelian notion of truth as a property of sentences, propositional truth, is often imposed by western translators and exegetes on biblical texts where the scenario/schema is constructed using a conceptual metaphor of truth as a road within a larger conceptual metaphor life as journey.

I find interesting that an author who doesn't have any problem with cultural substitutions such as bamboo tubes for wineskins obviously is very very concern about the substitution of truth as an object (a property of sentences) for a conceptual metaphor truth as a road embedded within another metaphor life as journey. I certainly do not deny that these conceptual metaphors are real features of the biblical text. On the other hand McElhanon's propositional statement "the biblical concept represents the notion of truth as primarily experiential rather than as rational" is a truth claim formulated after what he calls the Aristotelian notion of truth.

There is overwhelming evidence that most, if not all, translators of the New Testament into English have unwittingly substituted the English conceptual metaphor TRUTH IS AN OBJECT for the Greek TRUTH IS A ROAD. It is important to recognize that the examples which follow are not simply cases of the nuanced meanings of isolated words. Rather, the substitution of the English conceptual metaphor for the Greek one is so consistent that it is likely the translators were unaware that they were doing so. If that is indeed the case, it testifies not only to the tacitness of the metaphor, but also to its power to structure our thoughts along certain lines rather than along others. Of many examples, I will present only a few of the most revealing. [6]
Both truth as an object and truth as a road are metaphors. Does the substitution of a conceptual metaphor in translation make the translation not true in the Aristotelian sense? Are conceptual metaphors a nonnegotiable semantic component in the text such that an alteration or replacement of a conceptual metaphor distorts the intended meaning? Once again, we cannot even pose the question without assuming the Aristotelian truth metaphor. If according to the New Testament truth is a road and life is a journey then what were the church councils leading up to Chalcedon all about? Apparently the early church went down the wrong road in regard to truth.

[1] From Word to Scenario: The Influence of Linguistic Theories Upon Models of Translation,  Kenneth A. McElhanon, Journal of Translation, Volume 1, Number 3 (2005), pp. 55-62.

[1] note the travel metaphor. 
[2] ibid, p. 56.
[3] ibid, p. 59.
[4] note the eating metaphor.
[5]  The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy  1978.
[6] From Word to Scenario, p.60.

providing English translations

In my posts to biblical language forums over the last decade or so I have ceased providing English translations unless the translation illustrates some point I am trying to make. I have had to rethink this policy in regard to blog posts. The English translations are bulky, interrupt the flow of thought and often don't contribute much of anything to the argument. However, the readership in the blogsphere is diverse and Hebrew/Greek readers are a small minority. For that reason I now usually include the RSV/ESV as an aid for readers. I don't like doing this but it seems to be the normal practice on other blogs dealing with linguistics and exegesis. I have noticed that SIL technical publications often provide interlinear text which even includes parsing information. This actually makes the the biblical citations more difficult for me to read, not easier. You will need to search hard and long to find any interlinear text in my posts. Once in a blue moon there is a reason to do this, not often. 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

... leaving Nida behind — part three

Reading on in K. A. McElhanon  From Word to Scenario[1], when a scenario in the SL culture has no counterpart in the TL culture, some translators will  swap out the scenario in source text with one from the target culture. This is a controversial procedure.  McElhanon gives an example from Lk 5:37[2]:    

Consider, for example, Lk 5:37. Jesus says, “No one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.” 

... the translators made a cultural adjustment that involved the whole scene in order to maintain the necessary coherence. A widespread Papua New Guinean method of cooking fresh vegetables is to pack the vegetables into a freshly cut bamboo tube. The tube is made from a 5 inches in diameter by 30-inches long section taken from a species of a large bamboo that has a thick wall with nodes about every twelve inches. All nodes but the bottom one are punched out, the food is packed in, and the open end is plugged with banana leaves. To cook it, a person places it on an open fire and turns it frequently. As the fire cooks the food, it dries out the bamboo which becomes brittle and is only useful thereafter as firewood. Thus the translation reads, “No one takes a used bamboo cooking tube, fills it with fresh vegetables, and places it on the fire. For if they do, the fire will consume the bamboo tube, the vegetables will be ruined, and the tube will be lost as well.”
The reductio ad absurdum of this approach was circulating among some people I knew who were working in East Africa roughly forty years ago. The story involved the biblical scenario of the sacrificial lamb being replaced by a sacrificial pig, e.g. the Pig of God John 1:29. Most obviously, the lamb was loaded with extensive inferential associations from religion of ancient Israel. The pig, as a unclean pagan sacrificial animal, was arguably the worst possible cultural substitution that could have been supplied. I have heard bible translation people vehemently deny that anyone working in their field would commit such an abomination. The story may be an old urban legend from Nairobi. I new a bunch of people who were working out of Nairobi. 

Someone might object that the lamb/pig substitution is not on the same order with the wineskins/bamboo substitution. The bamboo container for roasting vegetables being a completely different scenario from wine and wineskins. I somewhat agree. However, the lamb in the ancient Jewish culture invoked a highly complex religious scenario which was unique to the history of Israel. Anything involving a pig in a pagan culture would be a more or less total cultural substitution. The target culture might or might not have sacrificed pigs but the inferential associations with regard to the Exodus would have been missing.

[1] From Word to Scenario: The Influence of Linguistic Theories Upon Models of Translation,  Kenneth A. McElhanon, Journal of Translation, Volume 1, Number 3 (2005).

[2] ibid, p. 51.

... leaving Nida behind — part two

Kenneth A. McElhanon has written a brief history of translation theory since 1950[1]. He claims that Relevance Theory has not really escaped from the clutches of the Code Model of Communication (CMC)

In practice, many RT translators have chosen to reintroduce the contextual effects in footnotes. In effect the footnotes become a kind of catechism or study Bible. In most cases, the footnotes typically add (1) implicit SL information so that the TL readers can access the SL message or (2) TL contextual information to smooth the transference of the SL message. Removing the contextual effects from the text and placing them in footnotes does not enable RT translators to free the translation from the influence of the CMC. Rather, a copious use of footnotes is a clear indication that the CMC is implicit in the application of RT. The greater the use of footnotes, the stronger the implication that the CMC underlies the translation. [2]
So perhaps we have no need to overhaul or replace the Chicago Statement  since the CMC apparently isn't dead, not yet. I was thinking about a conversation that took place over forty years ago with a young woman named Sue Jackson (fictitious name) who was the daughter of  a successful businessman, a casualty of the late 60s cultural revolution, a heroin addict and a convicted felon. I had just made some comment about Richard Nixon, Henry A. Kissinger and the bombing of Cambodia. Sue Jackson replied with one word: Really. I remember my amazement at how much Sue Jackson could pack into that one word. It wasn't just an affirmation, or even an exclamation. It was delivered in monotone with only a slight stress on the first syllable. It communicated her entire worldview. And all of this information was inferential. None of it was in the code. The word and the flat enunciation was simply an indicator that she had an attitude. It was your problem to discover what that attitude involved.

A translator working within the CMC when confronted with the word Really in reported dialogue will be without recourse for solving the problem. On the other hand, a footnote might help for some readers, but I doubt very much that Sue Jackson's Really could be made intelligible to a reader born around 1990 in Kazakhstan using a foot note.    

[1] From Word to Scenario: The Influence of Linguistic Theories Upon Models of Translation,  Kenneth A. McElhanon, Journal of Translation, Volume 1, Number 3 (2005).

[2] ibid, p. 41

getting over Chomsky and leaving Nida behind

On February 19th of 1979 I flew to Chicago with a small team of training developers to work with the First National Bank of Chicago on a computer based teller training system for the banks initial transition from paper to electronic teller transactions. One of the members of our team was a woman who had done PhD work in linguistics at the Univ. of Washington. She was a Chomsky disciple and we heard a lot about him in the next several months. I have a nasty habit of picking up other peoples interests, sort of like catching a virus. Back in Seattle, we shared an office with another Chomsky devote so the linguistic dialog was in the background while I was writing teller training modules, an incredibly boring task.

I don't remember reading much of Chomsky directly. I went to the Seattle library and picked up the Cambridge text book on Generative Grammar and worked through it at my leisure. Chomsky wrote for geeks and I was working with geeks and trying to fit into the world of geekdom which was very very difficult since I was a literature, arts, religion and philosophy type with long term social connections to left wing-nuts and an assorted collection of pseudo-intellectuals who at that time (1979) wouldn't be caught dead in the same room with a computer.    

While reading Chomsky I was also reading semantic theory. Dabbling in Lyons, and others the names have left me. All this had a very real day to day usefulness in the world of computers which was my day job. Five years later I started working through the Language of the New Testament by E.V.N. Goetchius. I was bored to death with Generative Grammar's preoccupation with English sentences. I read Goetchius for the syntax and more or less ignored morphology. I gradually picked up a little morphology by exposure but my primary interest was syntax. After a couple of years I picked up a UBSGNT3-Cor. at the SPU book store for $10. I was using their library since alumnae have lifetime privileges and they had a good biblical studies collect, best in Seattle at that time, probably still is. I found in the stacks a bunch of books by E. A. Nida from his early work up to the present. I read most of them. My initial impression was not favorable. Sounded a lot like anthropology and sociology, subjects which I had more than my fill of as an undergraduate. Nida's translation model had all those familiar flavors of cultural relativism. As a hard core disciple of Francis Schaeffer a decade earlier, I had strong feelings about cultural relativism.

Right now I am reading a paper by Kenneth A. McElhanon which leaves Chomsky and Nida behind. I can remember back in the late 1990's making a comment on b-greek forum about Nida's use of Chomsky. Micheal Palmer, the linguist, assured me that Chomsky & Nida were like elaphants and bananas. A bible translation professional (not-SIL) Paul Sellmer(?) joined the discussion and took issue with Palmer. I didn't get much out of it other than what I already new, linguists are eclectic and seldom understand one another unless they have worked together for long periods of time like Randall Buth and Stephen Levinsohn. Anyway, after all these years of exposure to cultural relativism I am now reading a paper which takes language theory to a whole new level of cultural relativism, makes Nida's framework look like just another variant of the Code Model of Communication (CMC) which of course it is. Why am I not upset about this? Primarily because I have abandoned the Chicago Statement approach to the doctrine of scripture. That approach is completely bound up with he Code Model of Communication. If CMC  goes then the Chicago Statement goes with it.

I don't think that God intended us to be afraid of progress in language understanding. The bible still communicates the Divine Author's intended meaning. It just doesn't work they way the teach it in Texas. More on this later. Please ignore the errors, its after midnight, I clean it up tomorrow.

[1] From Word to Scenario: The Influence of Linguistic Theories Upon Models of Translation,  Kenneth A. McElhanon, Journal of Translation, Volume 1, Number 3 (2005).

Friday, February 25, 2011

Jesus reveals & conceals his divinity: Phil.2:5-11

For an adequate understanding of the incarnation Phil.2:5-11 is an important  text. A serious exposition of this difficult passage would be hundreds of pages.

Phil. 2:5 Τοῦτο φρονεῖτε ἐν ὑμῖν ὃ καὶ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ,  6 ὃς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ,  7 ἀλλὰ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν μορφὴν δούλου λαβών, ἐν ὁμοιώματι ἀνθρώπων γενόμενος· καὶ σχήματι εὑρεθεὶς ὡς ἄνθρωπος  8 ἐταπείνωσεν ἑαυτὸν γενόμενος ὑπήκοος μέχρι θανάτου, θανάτου δὲ σταυροῦ.  9 διὸ καὶ ὁ θεὸς αὐτὸν ὑπερύψωσεν καὶ ἐχαρίσατο αὐτῷ τὸ ὄνομα τὸ ὑπὲρ πᾶν ὄνομα,  10 ἵνα ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ πᾶν γόνυ κάμψῃ ἐπουρανίων καὶ ἐπιγείων καὶ καταχθονίων  11 καὶ πᾶσα γλῶσσα ἐξομολογήσηται ὅτι κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς εἰς δόξαν θεοῦ πατρός. — NA27

Phil. 2:5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,  6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  8 And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.  9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name,  10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. — RSV
Jesus Christ in the preincarnate state was ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ in the form of God and possessed equality with God (inferential)[1] but did not cling to his divine prerogatives. In verses seven and eight we see the mystery of the incarnation, God the Son becomes humble and a servant, sharing the woes of humanity even as far as death. Did Jesus Christ cease to be God in his incarnate state? No, but he did restrain the manifestation of his divine δόξα καὶ δύναμις power and glory to the extent that he could be treated and mistreated by men as any other man. The ultimate climax of the kenosis[2] was the crucifixion. The power and the glory ἡ δόξα καὶ ἡ δύναμις were mostly hidden but there were brief glimpses, like raising Lazarus from the dead and the transfiguration.   
[1] The statement  οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ is difficult. I read ἁρπαγμὸν something to be forcibly retained Louw & Nida 57.236. This cleary implies Christ's preincarnate possession of equality with God. 

[2] kenosis:  ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν he emptied himself

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

bearded bill of asheville

Back when I was newbie on the b-greek forum there was an iconoclast poster form Asheville NC who left some long winded but somewhat fascinating diatribes. I managed to track down his posts and will publish here one of them with absolutely no editing. It should not be assumed that I share any of his views on any subject whatsoever. Here is the post:

epistolary aorist
Mon, 28 Apr 1997 07:01:43 -0400 (EDT)

i'm a lurker who waited to see if anybody'd cite any epistolary aorists from papyri, cause i saw request a couple of days ago.

don't have time now to speak of who i am or to explain my shape-based plus time honored latinate equivalent transliterations (and wil never argue the point).

will preface remarks with something that may rile up a good many. if ancient understanding of xpovoc aopictoc = chronus ahoristus had been kept, namely, that use of the tense ignores definite time (so that to put it in terms most of you may buy into: such forms really offer no N O 'aspect' other than being chronus indefinitus, meant otherly than infinitivus). so. punctiliar, if it have any validity as a term, could refer only to the ignoring of perfectivity, progressivity, or anything else that the setting suggests.

let's see if i can risk this generalization: a-horistus 'without boundaries' leaves it open to be used in a setting that might be clearly imperfective, perfective or plu = plus quam = more than perfective (e.g. the way i -- surely not most of you -- reconcile john's piercing with sinaiticus of matthew: a soldier had done it. aorists for ppf. is very frequent in ogr and johannines).

now with that almost sure to be rejected, but probably reasonably correct background, let me state that in speaking of 'epistolary aorist' i'm really playing along with what i consider to be mammoth philological mistakes: if you posit that some kind of punctiliarity inheres in a form (a notion easily exploded by thousands of instances). i'm an old man and talk the way i want to and if you get anthing from me, you might let age of fingers suffice as grounds to ignore typos. wwhere was i?

if you posit. cross that out. if you presuppose the such and such forms of themselves express punctiliarity or time of this or that kind, then you have to invent category after category -- like the silly constantive, inchoative, iterative &c. &c. ad nauseam & ad nauseam -- to cover your tracks. now those are not bad descriptions of ideas that can be inferred from the settiings, but only from he settings. the only reason it can be used in such a wide, wide variety of settings will have been that it was per se indefinite.

now with that rather stuffy pedagogical looking down my nose, and justly so, at so-called greek as taught in many seminary and bible school settings, let me point out a couple of papyrological items:

oops. forgot generalization that legal documents offer opportunity to show other verbs than forms of gpafw = grapho as 'epistolary', e.g. at end of legal instruments papyrological it's frequent to have wmologhca = [h]omologesa as in 'i so-and-so openly declared/agreed' and occasionally other terms like wmwca = omosa 'i swore' or die0emhv = diethemen 'i made this here will/testament'.

some respective exempla: & i ain't givin line numbers just the key to the document. look normally at end for the terms:

poxy 8,1121 has a common thing where who actually did the letters claimed "i done it for so-&-so who cout'n write." also phamb 1,4 (3s stad of 1s)

plond 3,992 wmologhcamev 'we submit our formal acknowledgement' +poxy 14,1626 pthead 8 also (that's p. jouguet's collection in cairo)

poxy 16,1881 wmocamev 'we put our solemn oath to this'

the hamb supra was hamburgensis, which yuou might not've recognized.

more for egpaya = egrapsa bgu 1,300 poxy 1,67

there're also lots of monographs on such legal documents, as those of C. B. Welles.

i'm quittin while i'm ahead. if i keep on, i'll get to liking this stuff and
won't have any time left at all to sail or to tell folks about the risen Jesus.

wasn't some of this material translated by those princeton semi-philologists whose work was edited by pharr for texas press, known as something like ancient roman statutes? reason i refer in such a snide way: i remember that the work that came to texas when i was there in the 50's looked like something some playboys had done. real scholars had to take so much time correcting, they might have worked it up from scratch and had their names on it.

don't believe all the stuff you read in thayer's translation of grimm and wilke or the arndt &c. translation of bauer.

bearded bill of asheville
unca not having approved either whom or thereof.
****end of citation from b-greek archives, 
read more of bearded bill of asheville 

in some subtle ways bearded bill's writing reminds me of certain poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti or even lines from the Ezra Pound & R. Flemming translation of Electa.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

John 1:18 ἐκεῖνος: christology — part three

In the first post we presented a question about Christology raised by Edgar Foster:

The text: Θεὸν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακεν πώποτε· μονογενὴς θεὸς ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο.
Assuming that the reading above is to be preferred, how would you understand the referent of ἐκεῖνος? Is it God with respect to his essence (in view of the anarthrous Θεὸν) that μονογενὴς θεὸς "explained" or is it more strictly speaking, the Father that was explained? It could be the Father specifically since John writes about εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς

Who did the Son likely explain? Was it God in his essence (since Θεὸν is anarthrous) or was it the Father more specifically?
The whole Gospel of John is an exposition on the this question. Jesus repeats in many places using various metaphors that he was sent by the Father to do the Father's will, to acomplish the Father's works and to speak the Father's words. In John 14:8 Philip raises the question:   

John 14:8 Λέγει αὐτῷ Φίλιππος· κύριε, δεῖξον ἡμῖν τὸν πατέρα, καὶ ἀρκεῖ ἡμῖν.  9 λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς· τοσούτῳ χρόνῳ μεθ᾿ ὑμῶν εἰμι καὶ οὐκ ἔγνωκάς με, Φίλιππε; ὁ ἑωρακὼς ἐμὲ ἑώρακεν τὸν πατέρα· πῶς σὺ λέγεις· δεῖξον ἡμῖν τὸν πατέρα;

John 14:8 ¶ Philip said to him,  “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.” 9 Jesus said to him,  “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say,  ‘Show us the Father?

Now we could raise a different question. Did Jesus during his life on earth reveal the transcendent creator and sustainer of the cosmos?

Heb. 1:3a ὃς ὢν ἀπαύγασμα τῆς δόξης καὶ χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ, φέρων τε τὰ πάντα τῷ ῥήματι τῆς δυνάμεως αὐτοῦ

Heb. 1:3a He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power.
One could draw a distinction between ἐξηγήσατο in John 1:18 and the wording in Heb 1:3a, but all of these are metaphors, ἐξηγήσατο is a metaphor. 

Col. 1:15 ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου, πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως,  16 ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη τὰ πάντα ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, τὰ ὁρατὰ καὶ τὰ ἀόρατα, εἴτε θρόνοι εἴτε κυριότητες εἴτε ἀρχαὶ εἴτε ἐξουσίαι· τὰ πάντα δι᾿ αὐτοῦ καὶ εἰς αὐτὸν ἔκτισται·  17 καὶ αὐτός ἐστιν πρὸ πάντων καὶ τὰ πάντα ἐν αὐτῷ συνέστηκεν,

Col. 1:15   He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation;  16 for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities — all things were created through him and for him.  17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

These texts don't actually answer the question raised. Did Jesus of Nazareth as he walked on earth ἐξηγήσατο the creator and sustainer of the cosmos? For that question I will need some more time.

Randall Buth counting coups on Stanley E. Porter

Highlights from today's biblical greek forum, Randall Buth, once again, strikes his coup-stick[1] against S.E. Porter.
You should probably avoid Porter until trying to study how not to define tense and aspect, especially with Porter's skewing of discourse terminology and application in the opposite direction from the rest of the field of textlinguistics and discourse.

Randall Buth, PhD 
Of all the biblical greek grammar authors, Porter and Wallace are in a close race for having published the most nonsense. It took most of us nearly a decade to penetrate the fog of Porter's framework only to discover there wasn't much there once it was demystified.

[1] Crow Indians counted coups to demonstrate their bravery in combat. Killing an enemy isn't brave; but, striking an enemy with a coups-stick and living through the event, showed courage. Counting coups was one of four things a warrior had to do to becaome a chief: count coups, take a horse from an enemy, lead a successful raid, and take a weapon from an enemy. The warrior that had done the most of the four qualifiers was head chief.

Monday, February 21, 2011

John 1:18 ἐκεῖνος: christology — part two

The first post presented Edgar Foster's brief foray into christology on b-greek. I think his question is worth exploring but before we get started on theology there are some linguistic issues that need some attention.

Foster's First post included:
Is it God with respect to his essence (in view of the anarthrous Θεὸν) that μονογενὴς θεὸς "explained" or is it more strictly speaking, the Father that was explained?
Foster approach to the anarthrous Θεὸν will probably have some supporters but recent developments in NT linguistics take a different approach. θεὸς is always "hearer old" in the NT therefore ὁ θεὸς is the unmarked form and the anarthrous θεὸς is a marked form. In John 1:18 Θεὸν is "hearer old", discourse-old and discourse-recent: 
... if a Discourse-old and Discourse-recent item lacks the article it marks salience ... [1]
John 1:18 Θεὸν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακεν πώποτε· μονογενὴς θεὸς ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο.

Iver Larsen (SIL, Africa, Denmark) is somewhat famous in the world of NT Greek for his promotion of fronted[2] salient constituents.  Θεὸν in John 1:18 couldn't be more fronted. So we have two different frameworks within NT linguistics that confirm each other. Θεὸν is marked for salience. We really don't need to go looking for another reason for the anarthrous state.

[1] Hoyle, Richard A. Scenarios, Discourse, and Translation  ©2008 SIL International, p.155.

[2] Word Order and Relative Prominence in New Testament Greek
Earlier version published in Notes on Translation Vol. 5 No. 1 (1991): 29-34 (© SIL Int.) This version is revised by the author in February 2001 Iver Larsen.

John 1:18 ἐκεῖνος: christology — part one

The founding fathers of the b-greek forum didn't want to have people arguing about christology or any other theology for that matter. So for going on 20 years the moderators have been shutting down discussions that take a theological turn. Today, Edgar Foster[1], who is certainly no stranger to b-greek,  showed up with a christology question. It should be no surprise to anyone that he was politely answered and then the thread was more or less terminated. Here is Foster's first post[2]  

Greetings to all,

The text: Θεὸν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακεν πώποτε· μονογενὴς θεὸς ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο.

Assuming that the reading above is to be preferred, how would you understand the referent of ἐκεῖνος? Is it God with respect to his essence (in view of the anarthrous Θεὸν) that μονογενὴς θεὸς "explained" or is it more strictly speaking, the Father that was explained? It could be the Father specifically since John writes about εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς



This is Foster's second post, a clarification:

Carl and B-Greekers,

My apologies for asking the wrong question. I should have paid more attention when typing this email. Of course, you are right about the referent of ἐκεῖνος. What I should have asked concerns the implicit object of  ἐξηγήσατο in John 1:18. The text states that μονογενὴς θεὸς "explained" [understood "him"].

Who did the Son likely explain? Was it God in his essence (since Θεὸν is anarthrous) or was it the Father more specifically? I hope my question is worded properly this time around.

Thank you,

Edgar Foster

Here is the text again:

John 1:18 Θεὸν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακεν πώποτε· μονογενὴς θεὸς ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο. — NA27

John 1:18  θεον ουδεις εωρακεν πωποτε· ⸂μονογενης θεος⸃ ο ων εις τον κολπον του πατρος εκεινος εξηγησατο. — SBLGNT M. Holmes.

John 1:18  θεον ουδεις εωρακεν πωποτε ο μονογενης υιος ο ων εις τον κολπον του πατρος εκεινος εξηγησατο — Robinson-Pierpont

John 1:18 No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known. — RSV

John 1:18  No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.    — ESV

The b-greek answers (not christology) are found here: Carl Conrad  and George Somsel  followed by Carl's closing comments. The christology question is going to take a little work and will appear in part two. Meanwhile your welcome to leave comments. Moderation is turned on so it might be a little while before your comment shows up.

[1] For those who do not know Edgar Foster, try a google on Greg Stafford and Edgar Foster, that should get you headed in the right direction.

[2] The b-greek transliteration has been replaced.

Luke's account of the Transfiguration - part one

In the synoptic accounts of Jesus' transfiguration Matthew and Mark are generally similar with some disagreement in detail but Luke is an independent version.

28  Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray.

Luke 9:28  Εγενετο δε μετα τους λογους τουτους ωσει ημεραι οκτω ⸀και παραλαβων Πετρον και Ιωαννην και Ιακωβον ανεβη εις το ορος προσευξασθαι. — SBLGNT M. Holmes

The time reference is different. Both Matt. and Mark have Καὶ μετὰ ἡμέρας ἓξ παραλαμβάνει ὁ Ἰησοῦς And after six days Jesus taking with him. Luke introduces the story with reference to the forgoing words μετα τους λογους τουτους  after these sayings and he attaches a hedge word ωσει about to the number ωσει ημεραι οκτω about eight days. Matt. and Mark have no hedge word, a different number, and they do not anchor the story to the previous speech μετα τους λογους τουτους  after these sayings.

Both Matt. and Mark use a full noun phrase  ὁ Ἰησοῦς Jesus to indicate the agent/subject with the participle. Jesus taking with him παραλαμβάνει ὁ Ἰησοῦς. Luke[1] omits the full noun phrase. The participle is left hanging out there all alone with nothing to help it. The lack of a full noun phrase is significant because it requires a backwards look in the immediate context to find out who is the agent. This produces textual cohesion. Luke provides a strong clue about the agent with the phrase μετα τους λογους τουτους after these sayings. The reader needs to ask, who was speaking just now and that will supply an agent for the participle. This feature of Luke's account makes the transfiguration story less portable by anchoring it to the preceding pericope.

[1] The name of Jesus occurs statistically [per 1000 words] less often in Luke than the other gospels. John's gospel is at the other end of spectrum with the highest level of occurrence.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Ancient Near Eastern Parallels to the Bible

I am reading a book[1] by a Professor of OT at Gordon-Conwell which I picked up yesterday at the library. This post is not a review or a critique of that book. I have had an active interest in ANE Parallels to the Bible for a long time.

While reading about the Egyptian connection to OT theology I started  thinking about how parallels are identified in ancient primary sources. How many OT Professor's read ancient Egyptian texts directly? Hebrew, Aramaic yes and perhaps a little dabbling in Ugaritic but Pyramid texts? That is an esoteric field within an esoteric field which makes it exponentially esoteric.

So this is what actually happens; some Egyptologist spends a lifetime deciphering some collection of texts and publishes them in a modern language. The OT professor reads the standard editions, perhaps more than one but all in a modern language. A hundred years ago you could assume that the any Egyptologyist from Europe would have been very thoroughly familiar with the contents of the bible. So what we have here is a translator who's mind is saturated with the bible trying to make sense out of some very difficult material. The cultural framework of the translator always interferes with the translation.

When I was looking over some of the alleged Egyptian Parallels to the Bible, some of it seemed too good to be true. If the translator is predisposed to look for biblical parallels then they will be found. Otherwise, if the translator has expressions from the bible as active idioms in his native language then they may be used without regard to biblical parallels.   
The OT professor is not going to be able or willing to check the translation. If there are several translations done by scholars working within radically different frameworks then perhaps there is a little safety in numbers. But not much.

[1]Niehaus, Jeffrey J., Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology, Kregal 2008

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

ambiguity & irony in Sophocles' Electra — part 3

Electra has thrown open the doors and the body of Clytemnestra, ostensibly the body of Orestes, is visible but wrapped in a shroud which conceals the identity.  The meaning and reference of Aegisthus' speech Soph. El. 1466-1467 is once again ambiguous.

O' Zeus. I see clearly an omen which has fallen not without the jealousy of the gods ...  

What Aegisthus sees is not a body wrapped in a shroud but a φάσμα, a portent, omen, vision, which is attributed to divine agency, the retribution of the gods. This involves a mixed metaphor, the jealousy/wrath of the gods has fallen resulting in death but the shrouded body is a vision or an omen. Aegisthus' statement also has a double a double reference. The first is applied to Orestes in light of Aegisthus' misunderstanding of the scenario and the second applies to Clytemnestra. The contrast between Orestes and Clytemnestra as referent produces irony.
Soph. El. 1466-1467
Ὦ Ζεῦ, δέδορκα φάσμ' ἄνευ φθόνου μὲν οὐ
πεπτωκός· εἰ δ' ἔπεστι νέμεσις, οὐ λέγω.
Aegisthus' second sentence is prophetic:
εἰ δ' ἔπεστι νέμεσις, οὐ λέγω
If nemesis is present, I will not speak.
νέμεσις nemesis:  the impersonation of divine retribution,  distribution of what is due; but in usage always retribution, esp. righteous anger aroused by injustice — LSJ.

ἔπεστι: to be attached ... esp. of rewards and penalties ... ἔπεστι νέμεσις S.El.1467; — LSJ.

ἔπεστι νέμεσις need not imply direct personal intervention of a deity. The level of divine agency is left somewhat vague. In other words, we might translate: "If this was an unlucky statement I will retract it."

Barthian error: Trueblood & Baillie

Elton Trueblood[1] and John Baillie take issue with K. Barth:
The powerful influence of Karl Barth has made some believe that knowledge of God is limited to the Christian revelation as found in the Bible, but this is unbiblical. The Barthian error, of course, is not Barth's insistence on the centrality of Christ, but his virtual denial of the idea that in pre-Christian ages God "did not leave himself without witness" (Acts 14:17). Though the revelation in nature is manifestly incomplete, it is nevertheless real, and a man can have some knowledge even before he meets Jesus Christ. John Baillie took great pains to make this clear in the Gifford Lectures which he wrote but never delivered.
I had, of course, always believed that there is no ultimate salvation for mankind save in Jesus Christ, but when I began to read Dr. Barth's books, what struck me at once as unfamiliar was his insistence that mankind had no knowledge of God save in Jesus Christ. This is new teaching and it is precisely what I have never been able to accept.
John Baillie, The Sense of the Presence of God (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1962), p. 255.

[1] A Place To Stand,  David Elton Trueblood Harper & Row 1969 page 54.  

Saturday, February 12, 2011

ambiguity & irony in Sophocles' Electra — part 2

Once again we see Electra using vague language which will be [mis]understood by Aegisthus who in his six line speech commands silence and to have the gates thrown open so that the public can see the dead body of Orestes and put away vain hope of being delivered by Orestes from tyranny of Clytaemnestra and her consort Aegisthus. Electra's response sounds uncharacteristically docile. Aegisthus reads her remarks as a capitulation to his demands. But the audience knows better. Electra has done her part, deceiving Aegisthus. She is now turning over the lead to those who have the upper hand, Orestes and Pylades. This double sense of Electra's lines illustrates how scenarios function to constrain the interpretation of an utterance. Up to this point Electra has helped reinforce Aegisthus' misunderstanding of the scenario by saying things that could be construed to support Aegisthus' view of the situation. At the same time her language also fits the true scenario understood by the audience and other dramatic participants.   

Sophocles Electra  1456-1465
You've given me reason to rejoice, not typical of you.
What ever turns you on.
Shut up bitch and open the gates
so every Myckenaian and Argive will see
and not entertain vain hopes of deliverance
from this man [Orestes], seeing his body
they will take the bit and finding good sense
I will not need to use force against them.
My part in this is complete [opens the gates]
for in time I have learned the good sense
to cooperate with those who have the upper hand.

Friday, February 11, 2011

David Berlinski on the new atheism

I went to the library today and was browsing 200s and picked up The Devil's Delusion by David Berlinski. This is a real treat to read, so far. A secular Jew deconstructing the pseudo religion Scientism.  I now know what is new about the new atheism. I suspect that a careful reading of C.S. Lewis That Hideous Strength might turn up several of the features that make the new atheism new. Anyway, I now see why these nasty pretentious super-secular narrow minded bigots need to be shut down by the intellectual brain trust of biblical theism. Berlinski's approach is a massive  reductio ad absurdum, my favorite form of argument and that coming from a confessional secularist.

I am just in the process of discovering what the shouting is all about. Four decades of totally ignoring popular culture has left me disconnected from all this. 

added later:

What I am liking most about David Berlinski's The Devil's Delusion is the humor; heaping scorn on these fellows. They do not deserve polite  deferential treatment. C. S. Lewis in his novel  That Hideous Strength followed a similar strategy against the  Scientism of his day, exposing it as incredibly evil, but also ridiculous. We need more of this sort of writing.

apologetics & paganism

Why is it that so much of christian apologetics is focused on atheism, secularism, naturalism, materialism and so forth. The people on the street don't pay much attention to debates between loudmouthed intellectual superstars, atheist, theist or whatever. Atheism is a rare bird where I live in ecotopia aka the left coast, what I call the end of western civilization. I know exactly two atheists and one I'm not really sure about, I think he may be pantheist. He hates organized religion but that doesn't make one an atheist. The other one is the genuine article, a lesbian public school biology teacher and a confessing, evangelistic atheist. She preaches atheism. On the other hand (neo-)paganism is everywhere. You cannot walk on the streets anywhere in Seattle without a neo-pagan in view. The public library is stuffed wall to wall with neo-pagan literature of all sorts. It is orders upon orders of magnitude more popular than atheist literature. You have to really look to find a novel by a confessing atheist. neo-Pagan novelists fall off the shelf in front of you as you walk down the isles. 

So why do christian apologists spend so much energy on such a small culturally out of touch collection of misfits as the confessing atheists? They really don't matter that much.

abusive use of the second person pronoun

In Sophocles Electra 1445-1447 Aegisthus addresses Electra using intentionally disrespectful language. The repetition of the second person singular pronoun Σέ ... σὲ ... σὲ ... σοι demonstrates his disdain for Electra. 

Sophocles Electra 1442-1449
Τίς οἶδεν ὑμῶν ποῦ ποθ' οἱ Φωκῆς ξένοι
οὕς φασ' Ὀρέστην ἡμὶν ἀγγεῖλαι βίον
λελοιπόθ' ἱππικοῖσιν ἐν ναυαγίοις;
Σέ τοι, σὲ κρίνω, ναὶ σὲ τὴν ἐν τῷ πάρος
χρόνῳ θρασεῖαν· ὡς μάλιστά σοι μέλειν
οἶμαι, μάλιστα δ' ἂν κατειδυῖαν φράσαι.
{ΗΛ.} Ἔξοιδα· πῶς γὰρ οὐχί; συμφορᾶς γὰρ ἂν
ἔξωθεν εἴην τῶν ἐμῶν γε φιλτάτων.

Sophocles Electra 1442-1449 R. C. Jebb 1894
Which of you can tell me where those Phocian strangers are,
who are said to have brought report for us that Orestes
passed away amidst the shipwrecked chariots?
You, you I ask, yes, you, who were in former
days so bold. It seems to me that this concerns you most,
so you must know best, and can best tell me.

I do know. How could I not? Otherwise I would be
an alien to the fortune of my nearest kinsmen

Thursday, February 10, 2011

ambiguity & irony in Sophocles' Electra

This is the part of the final exchange between Electra and Aegisthus. It illustrates how the hearer's assumptions control his understanding of an utterance. Sophocles brings Aegisthus back to the royal house ignorant of what is going on inside. Aegisthus has been told that two unidentified foreigners  arrived with news of Orestes' death in a chariot accident. He is elated at the news and arrives at the house bursting with optimism about his future. The avenger of Agamemnon's murder is dead, so he assumes. Electra, who intends to deceive, plays on the ambiguity of certain expressions which Aegisthus in his current frame of mind is bound to misunderstand.

Sophocles Electra 1442-1449
Τίς οἶδεν ὑμῶν ποῦ ποθ' οἱ Φωκῆς ξένοι
οὕς φασ' Ὀρέστην ἡμὶν ἀγγεῖλαι βίον
λελοιπόθ' ἱππικοῖσιν ἐν ναυαγίοις;

Sophocles Electra 1442-1444 R. C. Jebb 1894
Which of you can tell me where those Phocian strangers are,
who are said to have brought report for us that Orestes
passed away amidst the shipwrecked chariots?

The lines above are cited to show Aegisthus' understanding of the current scenario. He assumes that the two foreigners have brought news of Orestes death in a chariot wreck. Electra will take advantage of this misunderstanding. Her comments will leave out certain specific information which will allow Aegisthus to supply that information from his [miss]understanding of the scenario. Leaving out that which is obvious, whatever can be assumed, is a normal practice in human dialogue. In the following lines Electra's statements are ambiguous. She omits certain details to keep Aegisthus in the dark about his immanent fate but her wording is also aimed at the audience which knows the whole story. 
S.El. 1450-1457
{ΑΙ.} Ποῦ δῆτ' ἂν εἶεν οἱ ξένοι; δίδασκέ με.
{ΗΛ.} Ἔνδον· φίλης γὰρ προξένου κατήνυσαν.
{ΑΙ.} Ἦ καὶ θανόντ' ἤγγειλαν ὡς ἐτητύμως;
{ΗΛ.} Οὔκ, ἀλλὰ κἀπέδειξαν, οὐ λόγῳ μόνον.
{ΑΙ.} Πάρεστ' ἄρ' ἡμῖν ὥστε κἀμφανῆ μαθεῖν;
{ΗΛ.} Πάρεστι δῆτα καὶ μάλ' ἄζηλος θέα.
{ΑΙ.} Ἦ πολλὰ χαίρειν μ' εἶπας οὐκ εἰωθότως.
{ΗΛ.} Χαίροις ἄν, εἴ σοι χαρτὰ τυγχάνει τάδε.

Aegisthus [1450] 
Where, then, are the strangers? Tell me.
Electra [1451]
Inside. They have κατήνυσαν our beloved hostess/patron.
Aegisthus [1452] 
Did they actually report that he truly died?
Electra [1453]
No. Not in words only. They brought evidence. 
Aegisthus [1454]
Is it possible to show me the evidence?
Electra [1455]
It is certainly possible, but it's not a pretty sight.
Aegisthus [1456]
You've given me reason to rejoice, not typical of you.
Electra [1457]
What ever turns you on. 

Line 1451 is somewhat tricky. The referent φίλης ... προξένου "beloved hostess/patroness[1]" is Clytaemnestra. She is a hostess to the two foreigners and a patroness [very sarcastic] to Electra and possibly even Aegisthus. There is no possessive pronoun so the question who's patroness/hostess is left open. The best solution might be to have the hostess/patroness belong to Electra and Aegisthus but the direction of her hospitality at this moment directed at the the two foreigners. All this intended for Aegisthus' picture of the scenario.

The second difficulty at 1451 is the meaning of the verb κατήνυσαν [2] which includes: transitive accomplish, perpetrate and intransitive arrive at a place. Sophocles appears to intend both meanings, one for Aegisthus arrive ... which fits into his understanding of the scenario and another perpetrate for Electra and the audience who know that the two foreigners have just murdered Clytaemnestra.

At first glance Electra's response in line 1453 appears to be a reference to the urn of ashes, ostensibly Orestes remains. But that reading doesn't makes sense with Electra's following comments. There isn't anything gruesome about an urn of ashes. Electra is ad-libbing, fabricating a story about Orestes physical remains, she leaves the nature of the evidence vague but implies that it is more substantial than an urn ashes. Aegisthus supplies the missing information based on his [miss]understanding of the scenario.      

[1] LSJ: ... patron, protector, A.Supp.420 (lyr.), al., Ar.Th.602; φίλης γὰρ π. κατήνυσαν at the house of a kind patroness, i.e. Clytaemnestra, S.El.1451;

[2] LSJ κατ-ᾰνύω, Att. καθ- (q.v.) (κατ-ύτω [ῠ] X.Cyr.8.6.17):—Pass. (v. infr. 11):— bring to an end; esp.
accomplish, cover a certain distance, τὸν προκείμενον δρόμον Hdt.8.98; νηῦς -ανύει ἐν μακρημερίῃ ὀργυιὰς ἑπτακισμυρίας Id.4.86; δυοῖν ἡμέραιν ὁδὸν ἐν μιᾷ X.HG5.4.49, etc.; then,
intr., arrive at a place, νηῒ κατανύσας ἐς Αῆμνον Hdt.6.140, cf. X.HG5.4.20: c. gen., φίλης γὰρ προξένου (sc. ἐς οἶκον) κατήνυσαν they have come to a kind hostess's, S.El.1451: metaph., πρὶν σᾶν . . κατανύσαι φρενῶν before thou arrivest at thy purpose, E. Hipp.365 (s. v.l., lyr.).
accomplish, perpetrate, τάδε Id.El.1163 (lyr.); αἷμα γενέθλιον κ. Id.Or.89:—Med., πολλὰ τῇ πατρίδι κ. IPE 12.40.10 (Olbia, ii/iii A.D.):—Pass., to be fulfilled, τὸ τέρας αὐτῷ εἰς τὴν ὑπατικὴν ἀρχὴν κατηνύσθη Dam.Isid.64.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

the transfiguration - cultural assumptions (part 4)

Our reader is Jane Studdok from C.S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength. It is now later in the novel and her persistent dreams have been eroding her worldview. Her naturalism has run up against certain new “facts” which have been troubling her. The world has turned out to be a dangerous place. Jane has just narrowly escaped imprisonment by Fairy Hardcastle, the head of the new Gestapo/KGB. She is now at St Anne's, it is late morning and she is killing time in the library waiting to talk with Ransom, The Pendragon. Her mind drifts back to the transfiguration in Matt 17. She finds in the library a commentary by Alfred Plummer. She sits down by a window and finds the place where the transfiguration is discussed. The first paragraph opens with a defense of the historicity of the transfiguration narrative. A short while back she would have rejected that notion out of hand. Her recent experiences[2] make her more cautious now.  

One of the details of the transfiguration narrative which troubles Jane is the cloud that envelops the scene. Matthew mentions that the cloud is full of light φωτεινὴ [3]. Plummer notes that Mark and Luke lack this particular detail. Matthew was written for a Jewish audience. The cloud full of light is immediately identifiable in the ancient Jewish culture as a reference to the Shekinah glory, the visible representation of the presence of YHWH at Sinai, in the desert, in the tabernacle and in the temple. Most gentiles would not have made this connection. However, pagan storm theopanies with lightning and thunder were also associated with mountains. Reading Matthew's account, the gentiles might have substituted a cultural equivalent, perhaps Zeus. 
[1] Plummer, Alfred. An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to S. Matthew.

[2] Jane Studdok's confrontation with spiritual evil and the real dangers involved shocks her out of her secular materialism. This reminds me of a colleague many years ago who had fallen in with the occult while bumming around Europe and middle east in the late 1960s. The reality of spiritual evil was a wake up call for someone who had drifted into a vague form secular materialism. The confrontation with the spiritual realm is not a sure cure for secular materialism. The move from materialism into neo-paganism is the dominant pattern of the last half century. For an early account,  Read The Other Side: An Account Of My Experiences With Psychic Phenomena by James A Pike & Diane Kennedy. 

[3] Matt 17:5 ἔτι αὐτοῦ λαλοῦντος ἰδοὺ νεφέλη φωτεινὴ ἐπεσκίασεν αὐτούς, καὶ ἰδοὺ φωνὴ ἐκ τῆς νεφέλης λέγουσα· οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός, ἐν ᾧ εὐδόκησα· ἀκούετε αὐτοῦ.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

the transfiguration - cultural assumptions (part 3)

Our reader Jane Studdok is a little vague when it comes to knowledge of the Old Testament. When she reads Matthew's account of the transfiguration the  elements of the story do not ring any bells for her. The mountain, the cloud, the voice, Moses, Ἰησοῦς Joshua/Jesus are all found in Exodus 24:12-18, The Sinai theophany.

Ex. 24:12 καὶ εἶπεν κύριος πρὸς Μωυσῆν ἀνάβηθι πρός με εἰς τὸ ὄρος καὶ ἴσθι ἐκεῖ καὶ δώσω σοι τὰ πυξία τὰ λίθινα τὸν νόμον καὶ τὰς ἐντολάς ἃς ἔγραψα νομοθετῆσαι αὐτοῖς  13 καὶ ἀναστὰς Μωυσῆς καὶ Ἰησοῦς ὁ παρεστηκὼς αὐτῷ ἀνέβησαν εἰς τὸ ὄρος τοῦ θεοῦ  ... 15 καὶ ἀνέβη Μωυσῆς καὶ Ἰησοῦς εἰς τὸ ὄρος καὶ ἐκάλυψεν ἡ νεφέλη τὸ ὄρος  16 καὶ κατέβη ἡ δόξα τοῦ θεοῦ ἐπὶ τὸ ὄρος τὸ Σινα καὶ ἐκάλυψεν αὐτὸ ἡ νεφέλη ἓξ ἡμέρας καὶ ἐκάλεσεν κύριος τὸν Μωυσῆν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ ἑβδόμῃ ἐκ μέσου τῆς νεφέλης  17 τὸ δὲ εἶδος τῆς δόξης κυρίου ὡσεὶ πῦρ φλέγον ἐπὶ τῆς κορυφῆς τοῦ ὄρους ἐναντίον τῶν υἱῶν Ισραηλ  18 καὶ εἰσῆλθεν Μωυσῆς εἰς τὸ μέσον τῆς νεφέλης καὶ ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος καὶ ἦν ἐκεῖ ἐν τῷ ὄρει τεσσαράκοντα ἡμέρας καὶ τεσσαράκοντα νύκτας
Ex. 24:12   The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.”  13 So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. ... 15   Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain.  16 The glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud.  17 Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel.  18 Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights. — NRSV
One detail that jumps out in the Septuagint is Joshua Ἰησοῦς standing beside Moses Ex. 24:13 καὶ ἀναστὰς Μωυσῆς καὶ Ἰησοῦς ὁ παρεστηκὼς αὐτῷ ἀνέβησαν εἰς τὸ ὄρος τοῦ θεοῦ. This is normally understood figuratively to mean that Joshua was Moses' right hand man. I am not sure what to make of this. In Ex. 24 Joshua is Moses' subordinate but he plays a very significant role later in the story. In Matthew 17 Jesus Ἰησοῦς is conversing with Moses and Elijah. This minor detail would have been obvious to any Hellenistic Jew who had knowledge of the Septuagint Exodus.

Assuming Jane Studdok discovered the link with Ex 24, as an English literature scholar she might be oblivious to the storm theophany imagery in the Sinai revelation. However, storm gods are fairly common cross-culturally and we should find echos in English literature borrowing from either biblical or pagan sources.

Once again, Jane Studdok would read the Ex 24 text as a fantasy, not an historical narative. In her worldview clouds don't talk. Tables of stone are not inscribed by deities. Jane might see some elements of magic in the text and associate it with occult literature of medieval Europe. All of this might be entertaining to read but not to be taken seriously. Jane's assumptions about what she calls the “the real world” control her reading of the text.

Monday, February 07, 2011

the transfiguration - cultural assumptions (part 2)

Focusing on Matthew's account of the transfiguration, what sort of problems arise for the “modern” reader because of differences in cultural frameworks? First of all we need to situate our modern reader. We shall assume that she is a naturalist. In other words, she looks at the cosmos as a place where the uniformity of natural causes operate in a closed system. This would distinguish her from a neo-pagan. We will give her a name, Jane Studdok, after the leading character in C.S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength. Jane's husband is a sociologist. She is a literary scholar who got married and didn't complete her dissertation. At the beginning of the story Jane is a naturalist[1].  Jane the naturalist is our “modern” reader for Matthew's account of the transfiguration.

The transfiguration narrative is full of obstacles for a naturalist:    
 Matt. 17:1 Καὶ μεθ᾿ ἡμέρας ἓξ παραλαμβάνει ὁ Ἰησοῦς τὸν Πέτρον καὶ Ἰάκωβον καὶ Ἰωάννην τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀναφέρει αὐτοὺς εἰς ὄρος ὑψηλὸν κατ᾿ ἰδίαν.  2 καὶ μετεμορφώθη ἔμπροσθεν αὐτῶν, καὶ ἔλαμψεν τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ ὡς ὁ ἥλιος, τὰ δὲ ἱμάτια αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο λευκὰ ὡς τὸ φῶς.  3 καὶ ἰδοὺ ὤφθη αὐτοῖς Μωϋσῆς καὶ Ἠλίας συλλαλοῦντες μετ᾿ αὐτοῦ.  4 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Πέτρος εἶπεν τῷ Ἰησοῦ· κύριε, καλόν ἐστιν ἡμᾶς ὧδε εἶναι· εἰ θέλεις, ποιήσω ὧδε τρεῖς σκηνάς, σοὶ μίαν καὶ Μωϋσεῖ μίαν καὶ Ἠλίᾳ μίαν.  5 ἔτι αὐτοῦ λαλοῦντος ἰδοὺ νεφέλη φωτεινὴ ἐπεσκίασεν αὐτούς, καὶ ἰδοὺ φωνὴ ἐκ τῆς νεφέλης λέγουσα· οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός, ἐν ᾧ εὐδόκησα· ἀκούετε αὐτοῦ.  6 καὶ ἀκούσαντες οἱ μαθηταὶ ἔπεσαν ἐπὶ πρόσωπον αὐτῶν καὶ ἐφοβήθησαν σφόδρα.  7 καὶ προσῆλθεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ ἁψάμενος αὐτῶν εἶπεν· ἐγέρθητε καὶ μὴ φοβεῖσθε.  8 ἐπάραντες δὲ τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς αὐτῶν οὐδένα εἶδον εἰ μὴ αὐτὸν Ἰησοῦν μόνον.  9 Καὶ καταβαινόντων αὐτῶν ἐκ τοῦ ὄρους ἐνετείλατο αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς λέγων· μηδενὶ εἴπητε τὸ ὅραμα ἕως οὗ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐκ νεκρῶν ἐγερθῇ. — NA27
Matthew 17:1  And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2  And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. 3  And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4  And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5  He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 6  When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. 7  But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” 8  And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. 9  And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” — ESV
Matthew's narrative slips back and forth between the “normal world” and the supernatural without making a big fuss about it. When Jane Studdok reads the Greek text, μετεμορφώθη transformed in verse two is her first indication that something outside of “normal world” is going on in this story. Jane makes a genre adjustment and assumes she is reading a fairy tale. In the “real world”[2] people are not μετεμορφώθη transformed. The fairy tale notion is reinforced by the description of Jesus' appearance, the arrival of Moses and Elijah, the cloud, and the voice from the cloud. All of these elements fit into Jane's notion of a fairy tale. 

In verse nine Jesus commands the three disciples μηδενὶ εἴπητε τὸ ὅραμα  Tell no one the vision ... which is the narrator's first explicit indication of how this story is to be understood. We might think of τὸ ὅραμα vision as both a type of event and a story genre. For Matthew's audience the content of the story indicates that something special is taking place. Beginning with  μετεμορφώθη transformed in verse two, all the elements that Jane used to support her reading the story as a fairy tale, are elements that fit  τὸ ὅραμα vision as a type of event.

Jane reading is wrong headed because she assumes as a naturalist that this story is filled with features that don't actually happen in the “real world”. Her framework is alien to the framework of the text where an ὅραμα vision is something that happens in the “real world”. Jane's system of categories for “real world” events distorts her reading of the story. If you have read the novel, That Hideous Strength you will know that Jane's framework changes as the plot develops.

[1] for the purpose of this argument Jane is a naturalist in opening of the novel. It is quite conceivable that someone could argue that point from the text of That Hideous Strength but we will assume she is a naturalist a prior to her first dream.

[2] real world  is code word for naturalism as a cognitive framework.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

high mountains & theophany: cultural assumtions

I am still mulling over the question of cultural frameworks and hermeneutics. I decided to look at the transfiguration of Jesus and ask a few questions about the imagery in the story. The setting in Mark & Matthew is a  ὄρος ὑψηλὸν high mountain.  I am going to completely ignore Luke since he uses ὄρος without a modifier. First question, what is a  ὄρος ὑψηλὸν high mountain? Well were not dealing here with Tibet in this story so we can rule out the 8,000 meter peaks. I looked for the superlative ὕψιστος most high with ὄρος mountain and didn't find it. However in Matt. 4:8 we do see ὄρος ὑψηλὸν λίαν very high mountain and in Rev. 21:10 ὄρος μέγα καὶ ὑψηλόν mountain great and high which sounds somewhat similar.

The text does not say that Jesus took the tree disciples to the summit of the mountain.  ἀναφέρει αὐτοὺς εἰς ὄρος ὑψηλὸν, here  εἰς in the phrase εἰς ὄρος ὑψηλὸν marks the goal of ἀναφέρει. It is very easy to supply the notion of summit from my cultural framework because similar language in my framework would imply  an assent to the summit.  

Matt. 17:1 Καὶ μεθ᾿ ἡμέρας ἓξ παραλαμβάνει ὁ Ἰησοῦς τὸν Πέτρον καὶ Ἰάκωβον καὶ Ἰωάννην τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀναφέρει αὐτοὺς εἰς ὄρος ὑψηλὸν κατ᾿ ἰδίαν.

Mark 9:2 Καὶ μετὰ ἡμέρας ἓξ παραλαμβάνει ὁ Ἰησοῦς τὸν Πέτρον καὶ τὸν Ἰάκωβον καὶ τὸν Ἰωάννην καὶ ἀναφέρει αὐτοὺς εἰς ὄρος ὑψηλὸν κατ᾿ ἰδίαν μόνους. καὶ μετεμορφώθη ἔμπροσθεν αὐτῶν,

Matt. 4:8 Πάλιν παραλαμβάνει αὐτὸν ὁ διάβολος εἰς ὄρος ὑψηλὸν λίαν καὶ δείκνυσιν αὐτῷ πάσας τὰς βασιλείας τοῦ κόσμου καὶ τὴν δόξαν αὐτῶν

Rev. 21:10 καὶ ἀπήνεγκέν με ἐν πνεύματι ἐπὶ ὄρος μέγα καὶ ὑψηλόν, καὶ ἔδειξέν μοι τὴν πόλιν τὴν ἁγίαν Ἰερουσαλὴμ καταβαίνουσαν ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ἀπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ

In many ancient cultures all over the world divinity is associated with mountains. For that reason it isn't much of a surprise that this theophany transpires on a mountain. We don't need to go hunting for cultural parallels or assume that the NT author is borrowing ideas from Tibet, China, Peru, Native Americans, or Eskimos. 

Saturday, February 05, 2011

the flowers are dead

  A quarter of a century ago a few of us began to say that faith in the possibility of a cut-flower civilization is a faith which is bound to fail.[1] What we meant was that it is impossible to sustain certain elements of human dignity, once these have been severed from their cultural roots. The sorrowful fact is that, while the cut flowers seem to go on living and may even exhibit some brightness for a while, they cannot do so permanently, for they will eventually wither and be discarded. The historical truth is that the chief sources of the concepts of the dignity of the individual and equality before the law are found in the Biblical heritage. Apart from the fundamental convictions of that heritage, symbolized by the idea that every man is made in the image of God, there is no adequate reason for accepting the concepts mentioned.
[1] My own contribution to this theme appeared in The Predicament of Modern Man (New York: Harper & Row, 1944), pp. 59 ff.

In 1968 the most explosive year of the 20th century, Elton Trueblood published "A Place to Stand." This is one of those books which doesn't age. You can read it here.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

not a review: My Search for Absolutes by Paul Tillich

My sister came over for dinner tonight. We talked about the past. When you get to a certain age, the past is all you've got to talk about. I asked her if she could remember all the theologians that were standard fare when she attended Whitworth College in mid 1960's. The big names that were in the news, Harvey Cox, John A. T. Robinsion, Thomas J. .J Altizer, and Paul Tillich. I told her I had just finished reading My Search for Absolutes by Paul Tillich. She remembered all of them. Cox, Altizer and Robinson were at center of a storm of controversy and back then Whithworh College was just the kind of school where these authors would be taken very seriously. 

I though about titling this post: what do C. S. Lewis, Paul Tillich and Elton Trueblood all have in common, but that is too long a title. They all wrote books that focused on the theme of absolutes: A Place to Stand, Elton Trueblood, The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis,  My Search for Absolutes by Paul Tillich.

I found Paul Tillich's concern in regard to the pervasive relativism in western culture somewhat surprising. His conclusion that one thing that cannot be relativised is existence, or being. What a soothing thought. Toward the end of the book he suggests that the Absolute Being itself is beyond being relativised. I not sure if this a code word for some kind of deity, he seems to hint at that but one must be very cautious not read anything that hints at orthodox theism back into Tillich. We don't want to do to Tillich what has been done to Bonhoeffer, where every theology student sees in Bonhoeffer a reflection of the students need for a hero theologian supporting the students worldview.

So we see Tillich concerned about relativism but the solutions he offers — not sure he really offers any — don't seem to have stood the test of time.  But that probably wasn't his purpose in speaking or writing on this issue. I can't picture Tillich as a sort of radio talk host "the theology answer man" handing out shrink-wrapped, canned, one size fits all, answers to solve the existential crisis that confronts post-modern[1] man.  

[1]Ruth Nanda Anshen who wrote the introduction to this book uses the term post-modern in book published in 1967.