Friday, October 28, 2011

Peggy Pascoe: Referring a Manuscript

(Shameless purloin from Edge of the American West) is this marvelous piece about reviewing a manuscript. Something none of us were taught, for sure, but what a gift, if done well!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

This week we are having the Paddock Lectures at the seminary and alumni/ae week. Today was the Alumni/ae Memorial Eucharist at which Dr Minka Sprague preached and Professor Emeritus Richard Corney read the prayers.

Dr Sprague's sermon was a wonderful reflection on the embodied and lived meaning of the prayer of Jesus in John 17 in the course of attending decades of these services at the seminary. What a treat to hear one of the best preachers in the Episcopal Church!

After the service, several generations of biblical faculty at GTS and NYTS (where Minka taught for years) met outside the sacristy of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. We took the opportunity to discuss a history of how biblical courses have been taught and configured at the seminary as a basis from which to engage in future discussions around curricular review and reform. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

James Romm, Ghost on the Throne, Nov 2nd, NYPL

James Romm, author of Ghost On the Throne: The Death of Alexander the Great and the War for Crown and Empire (just published from Knopf) about the successors of Alexander, will be at NYPL on Nov 2nd at 7.pm. Here's a link to the book with author interviews and a podcast. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

David Bellos, "Is That A Fish in your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything" (FSG 2011)

Lots of people have noticed and are reviewing Davis Bellos' new book Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything (FSG, 2011). For example, Maureen Freely in the Daily Telegraph (UK) thinks the book "witty and erudite." Michael Hofman in the Guardian calls the book "brilliant (and) a disquisition of remarkable freshness on language, speech and translation...written in short punchy instructive chapters." For him, Bellos has "a wonderful, Scotch-educated temperament..He doesn't accuse, lament or gripe." The Economist says that while the book is ostensibly about translation, it is in fact a "richly original cultural history...of the effects of language and translation" starting with the Greeks who ignored other languages and the Romans who made everyone learn Latin. Frederic Raphael in the Literary Review writes a longer assessment and concentrates on Bellos' focus on best-practices of translation. He concludes:

Is That a Fish in Your Ear? is spiced with good and provocative things. At once erudite and unpretentious, Bellos saves his best trick for last, when he concludes that language is not necessary for communication, as theorists insist (other species communicate without it). He sees it as a way 'to establish rank or declare hostility' (or friendship?). Speech has more in common with the sociable rituals of eating - hence the polite rule against doing both at the same time - than with some Pentecostal notion of universal mutual understanding. The practical deposit of Bellos's scintillating bouillabaisse is that if you want your children to have a safe job in tomorrow's world, have them learn Arabic and/or Chinese, always assuming they come out of the current education system able to speak and spell comprehensible English.

Across the pond, Kirkus Review calls the book "erudite and occasionally dense but ultimately illuminating even transformative." PW helpfully notes that the title is a riff on Douglas Adam's "A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" in which a "Babel fish" (think: Tower of Babel) when inserted into one's ear could translate any language. There's even a video in which the author gives us a flavour of his book and challenges our cultural presuppositions. (I note with delight that he sounds a little like Michael Kitchen).

You get the picture. Everyone likes the book and it's being reviewed positively in all sorts of places. And I too enjoyed reading the book and found it entertaining and engaging.

However, I want to describe one chapter in the book, "Bible and Bananas: The Vertical Axis of Translation Relations." Since reviews like those mentioned above are mostly brief, many note that there is a chapter on bible translations, but only a few delve into it. Frederic Raphael in the Literary Review is one who thinks about this issue.

Raphael notes that Bellos is no advocate of literal translation. Here's why. In a chapter called "The Myth of Literal Translation" Bellos cites Jerome's Letter to Pammachus (346CE) as perhaps "the first full formation of the lopsided dispute between translations that are "literal" and those that are "free."" Bellos renders Jerome's formulation of the issue:

Thus, I not only confess but of my own free voice proclaim that apart from translations of sacred scriptures from the Greek, where even the order of words is a mysterium, I express not the word for the word, but the sense for the sense.

Bellos notes that we don't know what Jerome's word "mysterium" means and so he leaves it in Latin. Maybe Jerome was describing a problem engaging every translator, namely, what to do with words you don't understand. In this rendition of Jerome into English, we don't translate the word but instead render it pronounceable in the target language. In the above paragraph Bellos leaves it in Latin. But is that enough?

Bellos next cites an alternative rendition of the passage from Jerome by a (mysterious) canon of Canterbury Cathedral:

For I myself not only admit but freely proclaim that in translating from the Greek (except in the case of holy scriptures where even the order of words is a mystery) I render sense for sense and not word for words.

Jerome is explaining, Belos says, what translators have always done. They transmit the sense and where the sense is obscure, they render the words of the original. So transmitting sense in a non-literal way is normative except when the original is obscure.

Here's my point: when we come to a subsequent chapter on bible translation, readers are already suspicious of a literal translation. Now in this chapter there are only two methods of Bible translation surveyed--a) adaptive translation used by an early Dutch missionary in Sumatra and the later American Bible Society under Eugene Nida and b) a more literal approach used by Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig to render the Hebrew Bible into German. The Buber-Rosenzweig version favors keeping closely to the Hebrew and using obscure (I would say "arresting") German words occurring more regularly in stories like Grimm's fairy tales. (I know this because I spent a happy morning in the reading room of the New York Public Library locating Buber and Rosenzweig's German words in dictionaries of old German). By the end of the chapter we haven't heard of a useful or even good way of translating the Bible. Those translations mentioned and the approaches they employ--well-intentioned missionaries using cultural substitution replace the fig tree of Matthew's gospel with bananas since there are no figs in Sumatra; Buber's "foreignizing" is described as incomprehensible--are critically assessed and implicitly dismissed.

Bellos would reply that his is not a book about how to translate but about what translation does. Fine. But when it comes to bible translations, we can't avoid assessments. And it is disingenuous not to mention up to date translators who use the method of Buber and Rosenzweig successfully: Everett Fox in the Schocken Bible for one.  

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Week of Music and Ancient Art

Last week was all about seminary events: the dedication of the new Christoph Keller Jr. Library on Friday, Convocation and the conferral of honorary degrees on Thursday, and the Board Meetings on Friday and Saturday. This week for me is going to be about musical events and an exhibit of ancient art in the city.

The chapel service for the dedication of the Christoph Keller Jr. Library included a moving address by Polly Keller from the altar steps ("Think of this chapel as the heart of the seminary and the library as it's head") and a sermon from the Dean of Candler School of Theology at Emory University, Jan Love. We have much to thank the Keller family for. And we thank Candler for access to the digital collections of Emory University as the result of a new agreement. There will be much more about the event on the seminary website soon.


It was wonderful to see so many seminary friends and graduates in chapel for the library dedication. I saw people whom I hadn't seen for a very long time and it was good to rejoice with them. 

And so on to this coming week. Tomorrow we are going to the new production of Don Giovanni at the Met Opera. The FT is not impressed with the new production nor the leading roles. Sigh. When we bought the tickets, James Levine was to have conducted. Now it is Fabio Luisi. However, Anthony Tommasini in the NY Times is impressed by Peter Mattei as the new occupant of the title role. Donna Anna sounds promising as well. On Tuesday I am going to the 92nd Street Y to hear Paul Lewis play Schumann's late Piano music.

This coming Friday October 21st, Profs Shaner, Owens and I are leading a tour to the exhibit, Edge of Empires: Pagans Jews and Christians at Dura Europos. We will arrive in time for the tour at 6pm. Please join us!



Wednesday, October 12, 2011

This weekend the seminary is part of OpenHouse New York. The dedication of the new library is on Friday and we have Board meetings at the end of the week in addition to normal classes (picture thanks to Robert Solon).


Mary Beard has a wonderful review of new books about Alexander in this week's NY Review of Books. She thinks that we need to view the life of Alexander as a creation of Roman historians.  She says:

the debates about Alexander, and the evidence on which they are based, have not changed very much over two millennia: the basic dilemma—for writers, filmmakers, artists, and statesmen—is still whether Alexander is to be admired or deplored.


Specialists in this tiny period of ancient history (the campaigns lasted just over ten years) were still committed to reconstructing “what really happened,” on the basis of the vivid but deeply unreliable literary sources that have survived (Arrian’s seven books are usually considered the “best” evidence, but there is plenty of material also in Plutarch’s Life of Alexander and Diodorus Siculus’ Library of History, to name just two).


The result is that the historical edifice we know as “Alexander’s career” is extremely flimsy and modern scholars have been attempting to squeeze it for answers to questions that it could never deliver—not only what motivated him, but did he really love his wife Roxane, or believe that he was the son of the god Amun? This is not a game of history, but of smoke and mirrors.


Potentially the most significant book is Briant’s Alexander the Great, because Briant is one of the world’s leading authorities on the Persian (Achaemenid) Empire. The promise of this book is that we might be able to see Alexander differently if we included the Persian evidence. Insights there are, but less significant ones than you would hope. There are two main problems. First, Briant writes from the professorial pulpit, slightly hectoring in tone about what historians should or should not do, and telegraphic in style (there are only 144 small pages of large print, so it is “a short introduction” as the subtitle says); and he makes few concessions to anyone who, for example, may not already know the duties of a “satrap.” On several occasions he refers to documents that are supposed to be particularly “important” or “useful,” but he rarely explains to the outsider what the documents are and what impact exactly their content has on the history of the period.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Thanks to the Pakistani Poet Kishwar Naheed (Translated by Rukhsana Ahmad)



We Sinful Women by Kishwar Naheed

It is we sinful women

who are not awed by the grandeur of those who wear gowns
who don’t sell our lives
who don’t bow our heads
who don’t fold our hands together.



It is we sinful women
while those who sell the harvests of our bodies
become exalted
become distinguished
become the just princes of the material world.



It is we sinful women
who come out raising the banner of truth
up against barricades of lies on the highways
who find stories of persecution piled on each threshold
who find that tongues which could speak have been severed.



It is we sinful women.
Now, even if the night gives chase
these eyes shall not be put out.


For the wall which has been razed
don’t insist now on raising it again.

It is we sinful women
who are not awed by the grandeur of those who wear gowns

who don’t sell our bodies
who don’t bow our heads
who don’t fold our hands together.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

October 29th: Deacon Day in the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania

Here's a link to Deacon Day on October 29th in the Diocese of Central PA wherein Deacons of the Diocese gather together for fellowship, worship and education. On the link describing the event is a podcast in which I discuss my book Jesus the Meek KingIt might have a few things to offer Deacons in their ministries.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Podcasts for NT1: Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels--Resurrection Narratives

These new podcasts accompany each module for NT1. This one is filmed by Colin Chapman using my camcorder in the reading room of the new GTS library. We are discussing the topic of resurrection narratives this coming week and the podcast delivers an orientation for the week.