Wednesday 28 March 2012

Should translations be easy to read?

Mike at BBB has teased that blog back into dialogue with a post or two on idiom.

There is a little note re 'effort'.
So, the comprehension of the text was a two step process for you, and not simply the normal, one step, reading effort.
It seems to me that the easy yoke is a great effort. I think our reading should not be easy, but disciplined. It is far more than one or two steps. How do we learn that?

One thing I remember from my youth was my certainty that I could wrap up 'the truth' on every verse, turn the word into a coat of many colours, clothe myself with the word, and rejoice in the word made flesh that reflected every turn of phrase in the Bible, that I could learn to reduce or conform my readings to the new words I was learning every day about this or that doctrine, and my (poorly learned) doctrine to my (all to quick) readings filled (unknown to me) with the uncritical assumptions of culture. (Don't let new converts be teachers, someone said.) I can scarcely wrap my hand around a pencil these days let alone say anything useful about doctrine! I know - I've been asked to read about it.

Yet I still leave comments - not to be complete in a word, but as part of that long conversation that develops relationship. Just as a marriage partnership requires work, so also we, in the Holy One, are in a long-term disciplined relationship. Without losing anything, I could have exercised a little more caution about what was natural to me in my youth.  Some of my speed, of course, arose from fear. Perhaps the flight impulse was of some use.

How then do we unlearn the speed reading and speedier misunderstanding that we absorbed in our youth?

Saturday 24 March 2012

A New PhD in Physics - Open String Field Theory (OSFT)

One of my former employees has just completed his PhD. Here is an early sentence in his two part thesis paper.
We work in bosonic string theory in 26 dimensions and focus on cubic OSFT in the presence of two parallel D24-branes extended in X0,: : :,X24 directions and separated in the X25 direction, studying solutions to this SFT as a function of the separation of the two D24-branes
My highlighting. I thought 7 or 11 dimensions might be enough. How many buses could you drive through 26 dimensions that would be invisible and unmeasurable to us mortals?

Now he is looking for a job. There aren't many in the field of open strings. He is a very fine programmer so I am sure he will not have any problem transferring his skills to another field.

Monday 19 March 2012

Limits to conversation, the role of scholarship

I am so appreciative of Bayard.
- Look, here I have written a book, and I so want to read it.
- What! You wrote a book you haven't yet read?
- That's the truth of it. I have written the book I wanted in my hands to learn Hebrew poetry. Now perhaps I can read it and learn more of the poetry and cohesive memory that is the Psalter.

I received an article on psalms scholarship recently and I was challenged as to why I was not approaching the psalms in the form and fashion of the researchers in the first 70 years of the last century.

Remember I said I must be prepared to change (two posts ago) and I could have listened (last post). (Count that as prophetic - telling the truth about my reality).

The article is The Psalms and Israelite worship by J. H. Eaton in Tradition and Interpretation, Essays by Members of the Society for Old Testament Study Ed. G. W. Anderson, Clarendon Press 1979.

What do I think I am doing forming a book about the psalms as I have these past 6 years without more interaction with the scholars reviewed by Eaton?

I cannot be independent of scholarship. On the contrary, I am quite dependent on it. I am as dependent on scholarship as I am on science. I use a car to get places, but when I write about a journey, it is to recall it to mind, not to justify the science that allowed my trip. I am grateful that there is elemental calcium in broccoli and cheese, but when I eat, I am grateful to enjoy the flavour and texture. Similarly, when I write on the psalms, I enjoy them and the recalling to mind that they accomplish. I don't necessarily interact with an area of specialization about which I might not know much. I am grateful for the scholars but there are things scholars do that I am not interacting with.

But I listened and I am grateful for the article and the challenge. Reading it reminded me of many paths I chose not to follow when I began to work through a close reading of the psalms. I read Gunkel, Mowinkel, Dahood, and Weiser among others early in the project, but when I read Craigie who was responding in part to Dahood (Word Biblical Commentary Psalms 1-50), I saw as I had seen before that some suggestions of scholarship are not received by all scholars. Craigie (from whom I learned in Calgary before his untimely death) and others I have talked to feel that Dahood was a bit over the top in his assessments of Ugaritic influence. And I admit that I could not spend the time anyway to master this subject area.

I was intrigued with Gunkel's form and genre suggestions, because I like taxonomies. But I was not able to see a sufficient precision to this approach. Classification and decompositional techniques, I knew from my experience in programming, are not completely reliable explorations of a complex problem space. But analysis is satisfying, so in my work translating Psalms, Job, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Qohelet, and a few other bits and pieces of TNK, I chose to analyze by word. I try also to imagine sound and rhythm (e.g. Psalm 44 with its many first person plurals, or Psalm 145 with the repetitive kaf). In this I was following Rabbi Jonathon Magonet - little knowing where I was going at first, but confident that there was an end point for my learning. Magonet (A Rabbi reads the Psalms) particularly pointed me to word recurrence as the means of finding the frames for meaning. He illustrated this at Oxford with Psalm 137 in 2010.

I also chose not to follow a theological interpretation as Terrien does in his posthumous commentary (2003). His strophe structures are different from mine as are some suggested by Gunkel (e.g. Psalm 69 discussed by Leslie Allen in JBL Vol. 105, No. 4 Dec., 1986, The Value of Rhetorical Criticism in Psalm 69.) They diverge because I am looking first at word recurrence as a means of framing and reading the poems. I am assuming that word recurrence is a measure of the poem's coherence. I think this is a reading strategy that anyone, scholar or non-scholar, with a feel for form in language can follow. (Terrien unfortunately does not contain the Hebrew text so there is no possibility of seeing the why of some of his decisions.)

Perhaps my approach borders on the literary approaches to the Bible taken by Frye, Bloom, Fisch, and Alter. I have in my work responded occasionally to Alter's detailed notes. I find him frustrating at times when he writes "The Hebrew is crabbed here" and doesn't say why. Though I admit that, as do Rosenberg and Zlotowitz, Alter also says - "whoever is translating this Hebrew is guessing". And I appreciate just how difficult this is - as Eaton points out on his first pages -"it is often doubtful whether a verb refers to past, present, or future". And there are plenty of other things about the ancient language that one might doubt.

I read through Eaton's paper with some care. In it I see the discussions and changes of mind that have taken place as scholars consider possibilities for original usage of the psalms. In my work, I am not considering ancient rituals, festivals, and liturgies because they don't reveal why I read the psalms - or even why the psalms were so loved (as is evidenced by their usage in the NT and the many manuscripts found of the psalms among the Dead Sea scrolls. In the NT, the psalms are more often alluded to than any other part of Scripture. There are more manuscripts of the Psalms in the DSS than any other book of TNK.) No one falls in love with the reconstruction of an ancient liturgy - especially when it is, as Eaton notes, "speculative". There is, he writes "little coherent information about the rites of the Temple preserved..." and "the psalms will not yield all their secrets to this systematic classification" (As an expert in systems, I am also suspicious of the adjective systematic).

But I have looked at Neale and Littledale to see reception history from the 4th to the 19th century in Christian liturgy and comment. Liturgical performance is important to me, but again, it is not the subject matter of my writing.

I was sympathetic to Eaton's concluding meditation on the individual psalms though I have drawn a different conclusion in that I think the Psalter is written for the creation of community in a covenant of mercy. The reason I note this is from a sequential reading culminating in the use of the term xasidim in Book 5, repeated three times in Psalm 149.

I also think there is a more than accidental reason that there are 4 acrostics in Book 1 and 4 in Book 5 and 4 in Lamentations, including the tension between the individual and corporate identity. Rashi notes this tension when he considers Psalms 42-44 as one Psalm. (Rashi appears not to be on Eaton's horizon.) Eaton raises this question for me: when did Messiah appear as a hoped for individual in the tradition. And there is a corollary - how do we avoid imposing our understanding of the individual as over against the community's voice. I know this is controversial and I can be moved to and do write about some analogical interpretations. But this is also not my direct reason for writing, but it is closer.

I expect a critical reading of my glosses and notes from my reviewers. (Some of them are really jarring.) I also expect to do more research, but the painting is largely laid out on the canvas, and I will be limiting my changes to corrections within the bounds of my constraints, removing or adding comments, and a few short essays to negotiate an odd to an even page. If you are interested further ...- I know it is too much work and too much to ask anyone, but the canvas is available, if you are interested. (Send me an email or leave me an email on the comments of this post and I will point you to a review copy.)

So what am I doing? I am doing some things that I have not seen in my survey of the literature. I may well have missed them - but that's the situation. I have focused on the text and the internal connections between and among words, letters, and phrases. I have found this an exercise that is valuable to me as an English reader and also as one who learns Hebrew slowly.

Where are the publications on the psalms that show the internal structures of the poetry in Hebrew and English? They may be there, but I have not found them. Mechon-Mamre and books like the Comparative Psalter (Kohlenberger) come closest for me - both being diglots. But neither highlights recurrence or prosody. I have looked at Fokkelman, O'Connor, Kugel, and recently, Fishbane - and I probably would benefit by rereading the first three since I looked at them when I was an infant.

I will certainly listen to conclusions about philology, rhetoric, structure, history, and theology that are somewhat less than 'tentative' or 'speculative'. (I will even listen to the tentative, for such must be my conclusions.) But there is only so much time, as Bayard reminds us, and at least I have the beginnings of a virtual bookshelf where I can place the polemics, articles, and books on the psalms or poetry that I skim, read in part, or not read, or read and forget.

For the record, my critic said that I was not 'dead on arrival' as are some 'articles that are aimed only at tenure' (those were his words, not mine). I don't need tenure. I am not writing for any external purpose save the love that has been shown to me in this remarkable poetic history, and I continue to have fun - because God likes this poetry too. I think that is a good motivation for sharing the fun I am having.

Mind you, there is always the possibility that having spent my life in database and systems analysis, I am writing in the wrong field, and engaging in special pleading.  But that's the way with poetry and religion. I could not help earning a living, and I could not help being inflicted with the same problems as everyone else who lives, scholar, cloth, or lay, including the need to discover who and what I am. It is through the psalms that I continue in this walk.

Books, authors, and articles referred to in this brief:
Allen, Leslie C. (JBL Vol. 105, No. 4 Dec., 1986) The Value of Rhetorical Criticism in Psalm 69.
Alter, Robert (2007) The Book of Psalms, A Translation with Commentary.
Bayard, Pierre. (2009). How to talk about books you haven't read
Bloom, Harold. (1988) The Song of Songs, The Book of Job... and others.
Craigie, Peter C. Word Biblical Commentary, Psalms 1-50.
Dahood, Michael. (1968). Psalms 1-150 Anchor Bible Commentary (3 volumes).
Eaton, J.H. (1979). The Psalms and Israelite Worship. In Anderson, G.W. Tradition and Interpretation.
Fisch, Harold. (1988). Poetry with a Purpose.
Fishbane, Michael. (1995). Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel.
Fokkelman, J. P. (2000). Major Poems of the Hebrew Bible, Vol II Psalms and Job 4-14.
Frye, Northrope.  (1982) The Great Code: The Bible and Literature.
Gunkel. (1998). P.S.A.L.M.S. completed Begrich translated Nogalski.
Kohlenberger, John R. III. (2000). A Comparative Psalter (Hebrew, RSV, NETS, LXX).Kugel, James L. The Idea of Hebrew Poetry.
MacDonald, D. R. (Bob). (2013 in process) Working Title: Seeing the Psalter, Patterns of Recurrence in the Poetry of the Psalms. (500 pages)
Magonet, Jonathon. (2004). A Rabbi reads the Psalms.
Mowinkel, Sigmund. (1962, 2004). The Psalms in Israel's Worship.
J.M. Neale and R.F. Littledale. Commentary on the Psalms from primitive and mediaeval writers: and from the various officebooks and hymns of the Roman, Mozarabic, Ambrosian, Gallican, Greek, Coptic, Armenian, and Syriac rites.
O'Connor, M. Hebrew Verse Structure.
Rosenberg, Martin and Zlotowitz, Bernard. (1999). The Book of Psalms.
Terrien, Samuel. (2003). The Psalms, Strophic Structure and Theological Commentary.
Weiser, Arthur (1955-62), The Psalms, Translated by Herbert Hartwell.

Friday 9 March 2012

Book Review - from inspiration to understanding

This is a second post on the subject book. The title is from inspiration to understanding, reading the bible seriously and faithfully. It is written by Edward W. H. Vick, and sent to me for review by Henry Neufeld of Energion Publications.

I have received some critical feedback in my lifetime about books I have written. My first was called that book (1987, Intuition to Implementation, Prentice Hall). It had a very long subtitle and a very nice cover, Fish and Scales by M.C.Escher. But inside, as a treatise on systems analysis and design, it was quickly dated.

My second, Peleyah, is a children's story about a donkey. Written in 2001 or thereabouts, I received my first royalty cheque of $1.37 just a week or two ago. I was really quite surprised. The criticism from someone at Christianity Today indicated I should not have written this for 'children'. Maybe 20-80 year old children. It was too complex (according to them). "Go back to the drawing board", she suggested - and I could have listened.

My third book is in preparation. It is under review by 7 of my friends. I am confident they will remain so, but I am prepared for negative responses. (Or so I hope.)

I have just mastered the Scripture index! What a job. Be warned, you need to prepare the text to avoid double indexing (or e.g. Psalm 111 will give you an index entry on Psalm 1, 11, and 111). And you need a table of what you want indexed that corresponds to your annotated text. So for the above, Psalm 1 is Psalm ~~1 and Psalm 11, Psalm ~11 etc. The table then has entries like this:
Text to Index -
be sure to be unambiguous
Hierarchy Level 1 ; sequence 1 : Level 2 ; sequence 2 : Level 3 ; Sequence 3
(Level 3 and Sequence 3 can be extended to accommodate sorting by chapter and verse.)
Genesis ~1Torah;1:Genesis;01:1;001
Genesis ~2Torah;1:Genesis;01:2;002
Joshua ~1Prophets;2:Joshua;06:1;001
Joshua ~2Prophets;2:Joshua;06:2;002
Psalm ~~1Writings;3:Psalms;26:1;001
Psalm ~~2Writings;3:Psalms;26:2;002
Psalm ~11Writings;3:Psalms;26:11;011
Psalm 111Writings;3:Psalms;26:111;111
And for the NT e.g.
Matthew ~1New Testament;4:Matthew;01:1;001

The left hand column is a complete list of all chapters in sequence in the TNK and NT. The right hand column is a hierarchy. The final index will look something like this: 
1, 63, 73, 75, 129, 222, 328, 348
1.2, 336
2.4, 123, 222
6.38, 258
1 Samuel
1-2, 358
3, 153
9.1, 33
Psalms ....
1.3, 79
1,8 and 15, 88
New Testament
Matthew ....

- but only after you have done a lot of work. I am not finished with my 2000 or so references. You can even do bold, italics etc - after you have done the work. You have to love it. The automark feature of Word 10 only gives you an index by chapter. (And remove the squiggles in your text after you have done the automark.) You need to add manually the idiosyncrasies you have allowed yourself in the text. Like a reference to Psalm 1 verse 1 or Psalm 11:4  or Psalm 111 verses 5 and 6 - and so on. And you can't use colons in the body of the index entry - they interfere with the hierarchy, so I used the period.  There is no further shortcut that I have found.

Moreover, if you make mistakes, the hierarchy fails. If e.g. by accident you have an extra space in the right hand column, or you give the wrong sequence (as I have), then you will have a terrible time finding where you went wrong. Or if you copy a reference and forget to change the sequence, all subsequent references will fail to gather correctly. But don't buy a program to do it. They are worthless because they can't read your text or mark the entries or add the verse numbers. 

All this preamble is marginally relevant to the subject of my review. But while I have been spitting nails at Microsoft Word 10 for not doing my job for me, I have also been thinking about how to approach a book to review it without being unnecessarily critical.

I said in my previous note that there is some real finesse in the text. But if you start at the beginning, you may get discouraged. The opening chapters are approaching the problem of escaping from the bondage of confessional fundamentalism of one kind or another. The author has learned his lessons from life and from school. But I did not find the writing particularly coherent in the first few chapters. This is, I think, because the thought world of fundamentalism of whatever stripe is a long way from the world of historical criticism and formulating a strategy to get from one to the other is a very complex problem. He does get there - at times - though I would wish for even greater boldness, but the beginning is not as promising as parts of the middle sections.  I recognize that in my third book, I will have some of the same problems. How do you grasp the process of summarizing what you have learned over 60 years with all the twists and turns that might be better left out? Or even in the past two weeks!

The answer is in the audience you are writing for - the question is: "what can you assume"? For one who is labouring against the bonds of convention in an assembly - let us cast away their bonds from us - this book will be very helpful. The one who is under such duress, whether of creationism, or Adventism, or Anglicanism, or Catholicism, or Orthodoxy or whatever other name one subsumes oneself under, will be happy to find another who is qualified, as Vick is, to begin to explore the various bits of incoherence in the assumptions one has accepted without question. Vick approaches the questions with care. You can read the care into his words. The questions might have been mine 35 years ago, but I would not have listened. There's the problem. Can you grab a fundamentalist by the scruff of its neck? No. Will its rejection of fundamentalism result in the rejection of all aspects of its faith? That is a question that the young earth creationist or inerrancy crowds (for there are many) cannot face. They like their bonds and haven't yet learned that a little revolt is a good thing. 

This review is incomplete as is my reading of the book at this point. But I just opened to page 240-241 to a section of striking beauty: the reasoning from "the term 'tradition'  is used of both beliefs and practices, good and bad" to a conclusion that the "New Testament sources now available to us represent a selective remembering of the events to which they refer."

He could not have said that on page 1. He had to begin with the acceptance of a 66 book canon (p 17), and so on. So Vick gently encourages questions about these assumptions. Mercy and gentleness are within the scope of his writing. I can identify him with that hand of mercy that is spoken of in Psalm 149 whereby the royals (the enemies, the kings) are bound in fetters of iron, as Joseph (Psalm 105) was bound by Pharaoh, ultimately leading to the resurrection and glorification of Joseph in a figure. Vick thus joins the ranks of those who use the canonical text to build a community of the merciful. 

Physically, I have some minor concerns with this book. 1. Avoid black covers. They have a newsprint problem. (Note to self - your working cover will not work). 2. Don't hide your Scripture references. The real use of such an index, for one who wants to learn the Teaching (Psalm 1), is to get directly to the text and confirm that the reader grasps the book. For the student of rigidity and self-sufficiency, such as binds the confessional fundamentalist, the Scripture references need to be seen in the text, not hidden in chapter end notes. And for both audiences, I think Vick need more references.

He does have a Scripture Reference Index (roughly 150 references for a 350 page book). It is not extensive nor is it easy to follow the cross references since one must look in three places in the book (the index, the end notes, and the chapter). Many of the assertions and discussions in the text could bear Scriptural support for those students of the Teaching who want to begin to exercise their judgment about what our shared canon represents.

As an example, from page 240, in discussion of Jude 3-4, Vick writes "There is no suggestion here that the teachings are true or the practices commendable because they are old. Nor conversely, are they to be rejected because they have been handed down. Whether they are the one or the other we must decide on other grounds."  A few pages later, I read his list of supports for Scriptural interpretation based on the texts of Scripture. Here I also read his struggle with the NT use of the OT. So with Paul on the meaning of muzzling oxen (p328), Vick writes that "we may not permit ourselves to do with the biblical texts what the New Testament writers did with the Old Testament text" . This is an area where I would wish for a greater boldness on the subject of interpretation. I think we must do, in Christ, what the NT authors do with Scripture (the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms, as Jesus referenced them). And historical criticism seeks just that power. So the myth of the conquest of the Canaanites needs to be interpreted both historically (as myth in every sense of the term - i.e. both fiction and powerful image for motivation) and as capable of analogical and allegorical interpretation. (I am indebted to Bill Morrow of Queen's University for this insight.)

It took me a little time to find Vick's section on interpretation of Scripture by Scripture.  Note 54 on p243, points to endnotes on p263, a chapter reference given, requires a scan of the book, in this case forward rather than backward. This is unduly difficult design. Part of it is the result of using chapter end notes. Part is the hiding of information that should be on the surface. Such surface information aids in transparency of the contents of the book.

What does the book contain? The high level chapters are well laid out in the Table of Contents:
Ways of Approaching the Bible (subdivided into 5 subsections)
Canon (8)
Authority: Influence and Acceptance (10)
Authority: a Series of Mistakes (6)
Inspiration: the Doctrine (10)
Inspiration and the Contents of the Bible (6)
Revelation: what it means (8)
Revelation and the Knowledge of God (8)
Tradition and Scripture (18)
Interpreting the Bible: Figure Form and Content (8)
Interpreting the Bible: Text and Revelation (13 subsections)
then an index of Biblical references as noted, and of names, and a brief Bibliography (Anderson, Baillie, Dodd, Von Rad are a few that would have come from Vick's studies in the 50s and 60s I expect.)

I think I can see potential for considerable overlap in discussion points in the text of the various chapters. I confess I do not know how I would approach such a subject area.

Sunday 4 March 2012

On change, with a touch of language

I must be prepared to change. And to be changed. It is all too easy to live into one's prejudices and avoid uncomfortable subjects. I am looking at a book about reading the Bible. The title is from inspiration to understanding, reading the bible seriously and faithfully. It is written by Edward W. H. Vick, and sent to me for review by Henry Neufeld of Energion Publications.

One of my prejudices is that I do not want to enter this meta-theological and meta-philosophical area. I did read both theological and devotional books in the past, but lately (in the past 20 years), I tend to take words more for granted and try and avoid getting distracted by polemics over authority or interpretation. [Recall Doug's delightful presentation of the authority of 'story' from yesterday here.]

But now, having held this 300 page book for a day or two, and having tested its layout (chapter end notes, a small but accurate index of Biblical references), and having sampled a few passages, I find some rather delightful writing in Vick's approach to a topic where disagreements often reveal fear and abuse of power. Name calling and condemnation are frequent among the religious. It is not the case here, but rather teasing out the ambiguity of language - such as sola scriptura - with some skill.

I recall a taxi ride along Sherbrooke Street in Montreal more than 40 years ago, when even prior to my engagement in the faith, I discussed with the cabbie some aspect of Christ Jesus. At the end of the ride, as I was paying my fare, maybe $1.15 - a very good lunch in those days, he said to me "Oh but I didn't get to tell you about the horrors of Catholicism". I think I knew immediately that this would have been driving the wrong way on this particular street. Eventually, after some years of confusion in the piazza of life, I just stayed away from these streets of parochial attitude. But the attitudes have to be addressed, and Vick, it appears, is stepping into such a difficult area of explanation with some finesse, and I have found myself smiling that he might be giving words to my spirit that saw the one way, sens unique sign on the cabbie's street.

I am not without attitude today - I just may not be aware of it. I expect to have more interaction with this book - and contrary to Oscar Wilde's comment that he never reads books he has to review, I do intend to give this a faithful read and I will report further when I do.

[With thanks to Sens Unique for the sign.]

Saturday 3 March 2012

A Brilliant Post - like a shining light in a dark place of distraction

Here it is - read and learn. O I will use this again for I have to review a book on this subject which in many words (as per my initial scan a la Bayard) does not appear to have captured the essence of this distracting subject of who's the boss.

Friday 2 March 2012

Biblical Studies Carnival

I am honoured (oh those Canadian spellings) and grateful that Duane at Abnormal interests would mention my somewhat random but useful semantic domains post. This is an interesting carnival with lots of posts - in fact, Blogging is looking up this past month - more nonsense on tombs.  Maybe I will even do some more. But today I had to work!