Saturday, June 28, 2008

Where is the word?

As part of a long discussion on holy texts, a comment from David Ker spurred this note on the liberating possibilities of translation as commentary from Iyov.

There is advantage in reading the original tongues. What it exposes is not something more holy, but rather the myriad of decisions that are made on our behalf by translators. And even if we think we can read in the original tongues (no easy task), we can still impose our own commentary and judgment on our reading.

Moses writes (Deuteronomy 30:14) that 'the word is very near you, in your mouth, and in your heart, that you may do it.' Look at that - the text says, 'It is not in me'. Paul appropriated this verse on behalf of the Gentiles (Romans 10:8). Paul's point also is about where the word of faith is and how it speaks - in our mouth and in our heart. God has put it in our hearts and in our mouth - so it is not necessary to find it in a 'wilderness of words' (to borrow a copy of that apt phrase from E. Edwards).

In the same letter (2:15), Paul speaks of the Gentile: 'They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts.' And in chapter 15, he shows that boundaries between peoples that might be implied by other parts of the text are broken down as the Psalms and the Prophets foretold. 'Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you.' And 'Rejoice, O Gentiles with his people.'

So does God need a text in a particular language? Must it be Hebrew or Greek or Aramaic or Arabic? These seem to be several means among many for the Holy One to make himself known. But equally, it could be that for some, the language of creation is sufficient: 'Their sound is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.'

The holy message in the text is thus more universal and less in need of translation than we give it credit for. What is in need of translation is the cultural and parochial bias of our readings.

Lest I feel that I am gradually going out to lunch on this philosophical topic. I am glad to see that I can find in other students and teachers words that help me see the intuitions I am implying in this post and my prior one on the conundra posed by Irshad Manji. So Phil writes: 'This reality is not to be identified with either scripture or tradition, it is rather the reality to which scripture and tradition witness.' And the teacher he is currently reading, Hägglund says,

It is not dependent on the letters or the wording of the [Baptismal] Confession, but rather on the reality which is behind it, which is presented in the sentences of the Confession. It is evident that the various formulations can change, without the truth being changed in the process.
And I add - it is us who need changing, not the truth.

So, fearful as I am to suggest that the Spirit is available everywhere in all traditions - on all flesh, and the Word is in each person's mouth and heart, I think I must say it, for any other conclusion is intolerable. It doesn't mean I agree with everyone. On the contrary, I and everyone else need to come to agree with the truth that is not far from us.

1 comment:

ElShaddai Edwards said...

Thanks for this post - it echoes many of the thoughts that I've had with respect to the relationship between "the Bible" vs. "God's message". This quote from Hägglund summed it up for me:

It is evident that the various formulations can change, without the truth being changed in the process.

The truth is God's message; the formulations are anchored in languages and traditions throughout history, from Hebrew to English. Somehow we get those confused.