Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Is concordance useful or necessary?

When it comes to concordance, what is important and why? In what follows, I explore some of the thoughts I have when reading in a foreign tongue.

I'll start with the word for word, thing, or matter, דבר. I wonder how important this 'thing' is. The stem -d-b-r- occurs four times in the 69 verses of Deuteronomy 28 (a long chapter). Is it word, thing, or matter, or some other gloss here (like pestilence as in Psalm 91)?

  • Word is dark and sombre sounding, serious, recalling the word of Yahweh in which the heavens were made, and in parallel the wind, breath, spirit of his mouth. 
  • Thing is lighter, lesser perhaps, recalling Dr. Seuss's thing1 and thing2. With green hair if I remember. I read דבר as thing in Qohelet frequently. 
  • Matter is material, sensible, touchable, incarnate. Strangely, I have used it rarely in Psalms, and once in Ruth 4:7. But these are all the same three-letter stem in Hebrew. 
  • And there is also the Hebrew homonym rendered as pestilence - and surely words can be pestilence also.
Maybe it doesn't matter? Matter! Here in Deuteronomy, it is usually Moses' plural words that are referred to. I varied the gloss in this chapter, things in one case and words in two, and pestilence where it seemed apt. (verse 21)
Yahweh will make the pestilence cling in you until he consumes you from off the ground toward which you, yourself, are coming to possess.
But hang on a minute, is it the word of instruction which clings negatively? People might notice this - the word sticks in your throat, as it were. Or is it an allusion to Psalm 91? Would this be important in that Psalm 91 responds to Psalm 90 and Psalm 90 is inscribed as of Moses?

Such concordance is more important in poetry for the similar sounds. So is a treaty poetry? (No, it's a legal document). And it might be dramatic rhetoric and it might be hopeful and on other matters (words).

Here's another example. The word I have rendered infirmity occurs in this form only here and in Deuteronomy 7:15. Is this possibly a frame in the book? Yes, it is. This is an objective aspect of repeating words. And this is a rare root, used only half a dozen or so times in the Bible. To have it used exactly twice near the beginning of Deuteronomy and near the end marks this book as having some single intent whoever wrote it or redacted it. I am a long way from any firm conclusion on these matters. I'll be looking for more frames eventually. But where it occurs in Job, I will try and link it to Deuteronomy since Job seems to have some literary dependency on Deuteronomy.

Now I have come across faithful in this chapter? You would recognize the Hebrew. It is amen, אמן.
אִם־לֹ֨א תִשְׁמֹ֜ר לַעֲשׂ֗וֹת אֶת־כָּל־דִּבְרֵי֙ הַתּוֹרָ֣ה הַזֹּ֔את הַכְּתוּבִ֖ים בַּסֵּ֣פֶר הַזֶּ֑ה
לְ֠יִרְאָה אֶת־הַשֵּׁ֞ם הַנִּכְבָּ֤ד וְהַנּוֹרָא֙ הַזֶּ֔ה אֵ֖ת יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶֽיךָ
58If you do not keep and do all the words of this instruction written in this record,
to fear this glorious and fearful name, Yahweh your God,
וְהִפְלָ֤א יְהוָה֙ אֶת־מַכֹּ֣תְךָ֔ וְאֵ֖ת מַכּ֣וֹת זַרְעֶ֑ךָ
מַכּ֤וֹת גְּדֹלוֹת֙ וְנֶ֣אֱמָנ֔וֹת וָחֳלָיִ֥ם רָעִ֖ים וְנֶאֱמָנִֽים
59then Yahweh will make your defeats and the defeats of your seed extraordinary,
great and faithful defeats and evil faithful sicknesses.
וְהֵשִׁ֣יב בְּךָ֗ אֵ֚ת כָּל־מַדְוֵ֣ה מִצְרַ֔יִם אֲשֶׁ֥ר יָגֹ֖רְתָּ מִפְּנֵיהֶ֑ם
וְדָבְק֖וּ בָּֽךְ
60and he will return within you all the infirmities of Egypt whose presence you were afraid of,
and they will cling within you.
The element of surprise for me in this is faithful applied to defeat and sickness. My current solution is to use a synonym for faithful like dependable: so great and dependable defeats and evil dependable sicknesses. Then I can mimic depend on in verse 66.

Of course it is not traditionally translated as faithful, so such a connection is missed in other translations. REB has for example,
the LORD will strike you and your descendants with unimaginable plagues, virulent and chronic, and with lingering and severe sickness.
JB has
Yahweh will strike you down with monstrous plagues, you and your descendants, with plagues grievous and lasting, diseases pernicious and enduring.
These translations do not consider repeating words significant. (And sometimes I don't either). Both use the derived noun (מכה from נכה) as a verb (that's often necessary). Both have rendered 'faithful' with synonyms related to time: enduring, lingering, chronic, or lasting, following the 'long continuance' of the KJV, suggesting for me words like עלם or נזח, which might also have called up words like everlasting or enduring, or persistent. While the inventive translation is fine and modern in its 'dynamic equivalence', here it misses the semantic domain of faithful and misses the link with verse 66, which I haven't read yet. But it's close enough that some link might be appropriate. REB has that word in verse 66 rendered as 'security', KJV as 'assurance', JB as 'certain'. Emotionally, semantically, and legally we are all over the map with these renderings. We have to have some sort of map, perhaps not as rigid as mine currently is, but equally not so flexible that we lose an important link in the thought behind the words. For example, REB has already anticipated the detail of verse 61 (below) in verse 59, thus missing the rhetorical climax and legal catch-all.

Then in this passage in verse 61, I find the root עלה, which I have rendered in several ways, burnt offering, offer up, ascend, brought up (and bring/brought is a word that I use with various prepositions, up for עלה, out of for יצה, and probably some others for various Hebrew roots - one of the unavoidable compromises in my readings). What will I use here? Already in this chapter I have used ascendancy in various guises, so I will repeat it here - including in this treaty every imaginable failure or disease whether mentioned or not.
גַּ֤ם כָּל־חֳלִי֙ וְכָל־מַכָּ֔ה אֲשֶׁר֙ לֹ֣א כָת֔וּב בְּסֵ֖פֶר הַתּוֹרָ֣ה הַזֹּ֑את
יַעְלֵ֤ם יְהוָה֙ עָלֶ֔יךָ עַ֖ד הִשָּׁמְדָֽךְ
61Furthermore all illness and all defeat that is not inscribed in the record of this instruction
Yahweh will make ascendant over you until you are exterminated.
What I read into it in this passage is that God does not even consider the possibility of failure of the words of this instruction (Torah) in the long term. Such a failure will be taken as a return to the infirmities of Egypt, a backwards move into slavery. The words of the covenant inherit the faithfulness of the Holy One. They cannot then fail. Is this again where Paul is stretching to in Romans 9-11?

Do you see how subject you are to the whims of the translator? And imagine the arguments if there is a translation committee? (Fortunately I am too old to be considered for one of those.)

It is very hard to talk about. I hope it is useful preparation for my third run at Job. I have so many thoughts while reading, I can scarcely keep them from running into each other.

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