Lesson 3

Another recycled lesson. First read the lesson on “the world of the Bible” in the JSB.

Then read these two lessons from Epos on Gilgamesh.

Gilgamesh–Historical Introduction

Gilgamesh–Literary Introduction

Pay attention to the section “On Translating.”  What do you think about the questions raised concerning translating ancient poetry.  Then think about the issue of translating the Bible.  We will have some discussion of this in class.

After reading about Gilgamesh, you might want to read the text, by following the links. Then you might want to think about Gilgamesh in relation to Peter Enns’ book.

8 Responses

  1. The reading for this week caused me to pause. JSB discounts the validity of early Biblical history (creation through Joshua). I have read some radical Jewish teachings. This was tough for me to get my brain around. I even wrote in a margin “I struggle with this.” Overall, I appreciated the material, the historical material helped solidify a time line in my mind. And I see the charts as very helpful.

    It seems to me that the material lends to feed a “faith of intellect” lacking in confidence in the presence and power of Yahweh in the life of the Jewish nation. I can almost understand why believing in Jesus would be such a challenge to the mind and soul.

  2. I should point out that the critical theories about the composition of biblical books, etc., are not specifically Jewish–they are part of a common critical consensus; the result of a hundred years or more of critical study that was initiated by protestants. Orthodox Judaism at first vigorously resisted the theories of Wellhausen and others, as did many conservative Christians.

    The Jewish Study Bible is a product of Reform Judaism–a movement which tries to preserve the ethical values of Judaism while making peace with the modern world, much like what liberal protestant Christianity has done. The JSB is trying to make the results of modern scholarship (along with Jewish traditions) available to Jewish students.

  3. I’m not sure that I agree with the terminology used in the “Basic Problem” of translating. The two options were listed as “accuracy” or “poetic feeling.” I would argue that you cannot “accurately” translate a poem without also translating the “poetic feeling.” Some of the poetic devices in Hebrew poetry transfer pretty directly to English: for instance, puns. If we wanted to translate the classic “chicken and the road” joke from some other language into English, a strictly “accurate” translation of all words involved would end up with something like this:

    For what reason did the common domestic fowl travel from one side of the path to the other?

    In order to reach the additional piece of playground equipment consisting primarily of a large declined plane with a virtually frictionless surface.

    Which is… not really a joke anymore. The words I’m using in English are literal, but they’re not really accurate, because they completely miss the point of the joke! An interesting Biblical example is the first chapter of Jeremiah. In verses eleven and twelve, God himself makes a pun on the Hebrew words meaning roughly “almond” and “watching:” “shaqed” and shoqed.” None of our beloved conservative standards of literal translation even attempt to translate the pun, although the NASB and the ESV do at least put it in the footnotes. So are these versions really more “accurate” than the much maligned MESSAGE, which at least attempts to translate the pun? Probably. But would a more literal translation also be more accurate if we were able to retain as much of the original grammar as possible while translating more completely the actual intended meaning of the passage?
    I guess the real question is, “Where do poetic devices fall in the priority scale for translating?” Are they significantly less important to “formal equivalence”-type translators than, say, grammatical structure? Other than parallelism, are poetic devices often translated at all? And how does that relate to our understanding of the author’s intended meaning and purpose? If it is in any sense true that “the medium is the message,” then aren’t we really subtracting from the whole of the message by leaving these poetic devices untranslated? I don’t know enough about Hebrew, poetry, or linguistics to even know if the translation of poetic devices is even possible, much less desirable, but it does seem that for the reading, worshiping public, a via media somewhere between wooden literalism and “poetic feeling” would be most helpful.

  4. John, you have raised a lot of good points.

    • Just a quick question. What is the “JSB” mentioned in the above assignment. This may be a “stupid question,” but I don’t want to miss anything. Thanks.

  5. The Jewish Study Bible was a textbook we used two years ago for this class. You will notice the first comment was from Aug 2008.

  6. I completely agree with you, John. The poetic devices must be a part of accuracy, otherwise we lose a major part of what the author intended in the text.

    I particularly liked the chicken crossing the road example…

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