Saturday, November 30, 2002

E Pleb Neesta

In one of the interfaith forums I subscribe too, we were tossing around weighty theological concepts, as we are wont to do, and some of the guys were resting very hard on single scripture passages, as THEY are oft wont to do...

...anyhow, my cyberpal, Budley, delivered this gem. I repeat it here with his permission:

I think this illustrates the perils and pitfalls of trying to extrapolate absolutes from something five thousand years removed from us.

I recently sat in on a seminary lecture about Scripture translation ... it was pointed out that both Greek-to-English and Hebrew-to-English present MANY more problems than translating either to most of the Indo-European Romance languages, because of the differences in vocabulary and conceptual idioms.

I keep coming back to this example (which I'm SURE I stole from SOMEBODY at SOME point):

We are two hundred years removed from the writing of the Constitution; it is written in English; we still speak English; yet we require a full-time court system AND a legislative body to interpret it.

Imagine, if you will, that we are two THOUSAND years removed from the writing of the Constitution (taking the parallel of the New Testament), or even FIVE thousand years removed (taking the parallel of parts of the Old Testament).

Imagine further that while it was written in English, 2000 or 5000 years later, we speak, read and write Mandarin Chinese.

Imagine further that we have no primary text ... no original manuscript, and no COPY of the original manuscript of the Constitution. Rather, the Constitution must be extrapolated from the writings of others, and from references to it in other secondary sources ... historical, literary, poetic, etc.

Yes, I know, it can be argued that the oral tradition has been proven remarkably faithful as earlier sources have been uncovered. BUT ... they are STILL *approximate*. We have NO scrolls written in the hand of Moses, Jesus, or Paul, etc.

That gives an APPROXIMATE illustration of the difficulties of Scripture translation. Literalism also runs aground on the same shoals.

He plays a mean organ, too.

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