Archive for the 'From my diary' Category
August 3rd, 2015 by Roger Pearse
Let’s do a little more of the Annals of Eutychius. The author returns to his now-lost Sassanid chronicle, which clearly contained fanciful material as well as much history. Here is the first two chapters.
* * * *
1. Let us return now to our purpose and to the place in history where we were. As for Yazdagard, son of Bahram, called “the Sinner”, king of the Persians, he was a brutal man, rough and of perverse conduct. [The Persians] regretted making him their king, but nevertheless they were unhappy at the idea of killing him, because they did not want to accept that their kingship could degenerate so in their king. It was therefore said that they saw a horse go forward and stop at the door [of the palace] of the king. The people came around, admiring the beauty of its figure and the perfection of its features, and they informed the king. He came out, admired it and felt great joy. He ordered them to saddle it, because he wanted to ride it, then he approached it, stroked its head and took it by the forelock and mane. Then he tried to stroke its back, but when he was behind [the horse], it kicked him, striking him in the liver and killed him. Then the horse, as if satisfied with what it had done, began to run and no one could catch it. Then the people exclaimed: “God did this for us, moved with compassion toward us.”
2. The reign of Yazdagard “the Sinner” lasted twenty years, five months and eighteen days. When Yazdagard died, the leaders of Persia came together and said: “We do not intend to elect as our king any of his family that would treat us the same way.” Yazdagard had a son named Bahram, whom they did not permit to attend at any of their actions. He then said to some of them: “Do not elect anyone as your king unless he has these seven qualities: that he is better than all of you for: [his] skill in governing, in considering things, for the truth of what he says, for [his] strong courage, for [his] eloquence, for [his] clemency in ‘administration and for [his] knowledge of the treachery that an enemy may attempt”. They answered: “And where would we ever find such a man?” He said to them: “Promise me, on your honour, that if I show you, you will make him your king.” They promised him, and having full security in their sincerity he told them: ”I am the man.” And so it was that they elected him their king. Bahram, son of Yazdağard, called Bahram Gur (1), reigned over the Persians for eighteen years and eleven months (2). This was in the twelfth year of the reign of Theodosius the Lesser, king of the Rum.
He reigned over the Persians, treating them well, and they loved him. Later, however, he preferred to abandon himself with young and entertaining company, to the point that the people began to disapprove, and neighboring kings thought they might take possession of his territory. In fact, he was attacked by Khagan the Great (3), king of the Turks, at the head of twenty-five myriads of soldiers. Each king of the Turks was called Khagan. He marched until he was encamped at as-Sa`id. Then Bahram was told: “O king, we must tell you to put aside your pleasures. Come, take care of yourself and the people, look after business, defend and throw off fear”. Heedless of their words, Bahram left the country and went to the regions of Adharbayğān and Armenia, to live life as a hermit at the local fire temple. But the people had no doubt that he had behaved in this way just to escape. Then they met in council and said: “We can not do anything against Khagan. Let us pay a personal tax as a ransom for our people and our land.” But Marsi (4), brother of Bahram, and the judge Azadnār (5) said: “We are not willing to participate in this matter.” At the news of the submission of the population of Persis, Khagan abandoned his military preparations and put down his arms. Then there went to Bahram a man who told him the news, how the Khagan believed everything peaceful and that he was safe from any surprise. Bahram then marched against him and surprised him in the night, killed Khagan with his own hands and then exterminated the men who had fled. Bahram then returned safe and sound, and he took the family of Khagan, his soldiers and their wives, who had been taken prisoner, and put them at the disposal of the population. When the news spread in the territory of the Turks of what had happened to Khagan, they fled to their more remote lands. Bahram I commended the governor of Khurasan and his brother Marsi (6) and retired to Adharbaygān. He stopped nowhere, nor did he enter into any dwelling except as a hermit and offered sacrifices of thanksgiving to God. When he came to the fire temple of Adharbayğān, he dismounted and walked on foot, until he entered, thus showing the deep respect he had for that place and to thank God. He then gave orders to hang on the door of the temple the pearls, rubies and precious stones from the sword of Khaqan, a set of pearls. He then went into Iraq, where he remained for a few days. Then he marched towards [the country] of Rum with the intention to invade.
When Theodosius, king of Rum, heard the news, he sent a man named Istrātiyūs to see in what state was the kingdom of Bahram. He returned to the king, and he told him that it was poorly defended. King Theodosius then thought to raise his hands against Bahram, and he made the necessary preparations and went out against him at the head of his soldiers. The battle between the two was hard-fought, and many fell on both sides, and both fled. King Theodosius returned to Constantinople, while Bahram, in disguise, walked and entered the territory of India.
He stayed there for some time without anyone knowing who he was, and they respected him for his strength, for his courage, for his skill in killing wild animals and for his boldness in dealing with them. One day he learned that there was an elephant in their land that had attacked and killed many people. He asked them to lead him to it, but they said to him; “You are a foreigner and it is not right to expose you to danger.” Learning this from the king [of the Indians], he took with him a man to lead him to the neighborhood where was the elephant. As soon as he saw it, Bahram threw a spear that lodged between the eyes of the elephant, then hit it with a dart and then another, until he killed it. He cut off its head and brought it to the king. The king felt great admiration and asked him who he was. “I”, replied Bahram, “am a Persian nobleman. But I fell from grace in the eyes of my king, and I have fled away from him, coming here to you, attracted by the fame of your power and your mercy.” The king had an enemy who had previously spared his life Then he threatened him and sent to him to demand tribute. The king was deeply distressed. But Bahram encouraged him and said: “Do not worry any more, because I will prevent him from hurting you.” Bahram rode with the king and his army to fight against the enemy. Then Bahram said to the generals of India: “Look at their backs, and do what I do.” Bahram then attacked them, dispersed their troops, began to strike men from the shoulder to the back, splitting them in two with a single blow; cutting off the elephant’s trunk with one blow and bringing it down, he unseated the rider, knocking him to the ground and killing him, he took two men by the head, gripping one with his right hand and the other with the left and striking them against each other he bashed out their brains. Bahram’s men gave themselves to attacking and killing and they carried off great booty. Then the king and Bahram returned. The king gave to Bahram his daughter and gave him a gift of Danil (7), Makran (8) and the surrounding areas of Sind. Bahram asked him to put it in writing and seal it as a guarantee. The king did so. Bahram then returned to his own kingdom and imposed tribute on those territories that had been given to him, causing their riches to flow into Persia. Some Persian [authors] have passed down that Bahram Gur was under the tutelage of an-Nu’man b. al-Mundhir the Lakhmid (9), king of the Arabs of the desert, and when Bahram had news of the death of his father Yazdagard, he marched with the Arabs who had followed him up to camp in as-Sawad (10), where he remained to dispute the realm with the noble Persians until they recognized his right and elected him king.
August 3rd, 2015 by Roger Pearse
Academia is a cruel trade. It means a life of loneliness in libraries, mostly reading rubbish articles purely to make sure that you need not pay any attention to them. Every career ends in oblivion, however many professorships you obtain, however lauded you may be. A day after you die, some whipper-snapper will publish an article which renders your life’s work obsolete; and you will not be there to reply.
In return many academics develop an arrogance, arising from their alternative role as teachers. Being surrounded by those who are your intellectual inferiors, if only by virtue of lack of training, cannot be good for a man tempted to believe himself really rather clever.
Sometimes this produces pride, and then hubris, and then, sometimes, hilarious misjudgements.
The classic example is one I witnessed myself. In the early 1980’s, a group of the most eminent economists of the times, mostly socialists, were foolish enough to write a solemn letter to the Times predicting economic disaster in the name of the “science” of economics. Unfortunately the 80’s economic boom was less than a year away. They were never forgiven.
The humanities are far from exempt from similar examples, and I came across one at the weekend. I was curious to know whether the New English Bible translation was now dead and buried – it is – and in the process came across a paper online, which amused me somewhat, not for its interesting statements about the NEB, but for a couple of predictions about the future of bible translation. The article was by a certain James Barr, an Old Testament scholar of whom few outside that discipline will now have heard, but whose name was familiar to me from my Oxford days.
The essay was originally delivered as an address in 1987. In it, he informed his audience:
…there is really no hope, now, that we will have a Standard and agreed- upon English Bible text within the next century, or indeed ever.
Some of the audience must have looked at each other and shaken their heads. For, at the time that he spoke these words, the NIV was conquering all other versions. Indeed he knew this, for he felt the need to use some pages of the article attacking it.
Nor was this all. He felt – rightly – that a standard version was needed. So how might this best be done?
The only way would be if we worked towards an ecumenical Bible with strong scholarship behind it, and it turned out to be so very good that everyone, just everyone, liked it. But so far we haven’t discovered that vein of gold; it’s behind us, in the King James, but we don’t seem able to find it again.
Again his audience, if they had any sense, must have winced. We all know what an “ecumenical bible” would be: a bible produced by a committee of people who don’t read or believe in the bible: a chimeraea if ever there was one. Indeed the article goes on to say that the best translations were always the work of one man.
But he explains:
You will notice that I have at no time tried to tell you what is the best English Bible version;and that is deliberate, partly because I don’t know. I don’t read the English Bible much. I almost always work from the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, and I’m not in a position to tell you that this one or that one is the best.
Sadly it is altogether too easy to believe that the author never did read the English bible that much. Indeed it is rather easy to believe that liberal bible scholars don’t read the bible much. Why should they? It can’t be comfortable reading, if you actually read it, rather than dissect it. It is much easier to ignore the sense of a work, if we make sure that we don’t read it in the language in which we think and live.
It is terribly easy for any of us to disappear up our own backsides, and to lose contact with reality. In the sciences, the need for reproducability tends to prevent this. But in the humanities there is nothing to stop a man following a will-o-the-wisp all his life, and it has often happened. It is not enough to be a scholar of some small part of antiquity; you must connect with reality. It is not enough to be an Old Testament scholar, fluent in Hebrew and whatever else; it does not make you Moses, and your religious and political opinions remain those of a man with no better opportunity to test your theories than anybody else. The false claim to authority will always look foolish as time passes.
In this light, we may pity the author of our article. Had he read the bible more, and written about it less, he might have avoided the damnation which seems likely to be his. For the bible is not merely a matter of scholarship, and eternal issues are involved in our study of it.
We are told in the New Testament that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the only unforgiveable sin. And it means, plainly enough, seeing God at work in this world, and calling it evil. This Barr did, on an industrial scale during the 70’s and 80’s, as I well remember. He lived at Oxford, where Christians were very numerous, very educated, often scientists, making converts and building the future. The work of God there was palpable. The churches were filling. Men and women, however politely, were spending time in prayer and evangelism. Nobody, however stupid, can fail to recognise that this is what happens when the Holy Spirit is at work.
But to him all this was poison. His hate for the Christians around him was so intense that in 1977 he issued a book attacking us under the curious title of Fundamentalism. But there are no fundamentalists at Oxford, and never were. I myself arrived in Oxford in that period. He meant me, and those like me, who believe in the bible in the same way that every Christian has ever done. And he hated us precisely because we were very educated and unimpressed by his liberal opinions and contempt for Christian teaching.
His book was effectively rebutted by F.F. Bruce in ‘Fundamentalism’ and the word of God, after which his comments didn’t matter. But he kept up the invective, although nobody was listening after that. Indeed the article, for all its talk about “ecumenism”, contains a vicious attack on the NIV and its editors, and upon Christians in general.
You can’t do that kind of thing, and avoid consequences. Our Lord makes that plain enough; and Christians, in consequence, are fearful of committing that sin.
Poor soul. I remember seeing his face, apparently raddled with drink – let us hope that it was just bad makeup – on a TV programme once. He was there to abuse believers, of course. It is telling that the obituary in the Independent plays down this aspect of his life as discreditable to his reputation, and so it was.
What can we say of him? He did, I believe, some useful work on the theory of translation; he enjoyed a great range of the most lucrative and most prestigious posts that his career had to offer; he was flattered by his peers, and by the state; he was a heretic and an enemy of the church; and then he died and was forgotten save by specialists.
It’s not much of a life, is it?
We must all make sure that under no circumstances do we blind ourselves to facts out of dogma – especially if we flatter ourselves on our open-mindedness – and never, ever, to set our faces against what God is doing, merely because we think it might be mistaken in some way. Never play with hate.
Let me end with a quotation from C.S.Lewis’ That Hideous Strength, where the fate of the anti-Christian academic Dr Frost is described:
Not till then did his controllers allow him to suspect that death itself might not after all cure the illusion of being a soul–nay, might prove the entry into a world where that illusion raged infinite and unchecked. Escape for the soul, if not for the body, was offered him.
He became able to know (and simultaneously refused the knowledge) that he had been wrong from the beginning, that souls and personal responsibility existed.
He half saw: he wholly hated. The physical torture of the burning was hardly fiercer than his hatred of that. With one supreme effort he flung himself back into his illusion. In that attitude eternity overtook him.
“He half saw: he wholly hated..”. Isn’t that what we see in the essay? Let us hope that Barr managed to escape the same as Frost. And … let us beware lest we somehow share it. Hubris can affect others than liberal clergymen.
August 1st, 2015 by Roger Pearse
I’m now on holiday for a week. I’m going to ignore nearly all correspondence, all comments on the blog, and generally go and do other things. I have received an awful lot of correspondence lately, and I need a holiday from it.
I may write the odd blog post, but I still won’t be taking calls. The summer is here, and I want a holiday from all the stuff that I do all the time.
July 31st, 2015 by Roger Pearse
I’ve written now a series of posts on the use of Matthew 27:25 – “His blood be upon us and upon our children” – in Christian writers up to the 6th century. This was provoked by the question of whether this verse was the cause of, or contributory to, anti-semitism.
In order to examine that question at all, it is fairly obvious that you have to have some working definition of “anti-semitism” to use. The term is very vaguely used in our day. I am having genuine difficulty in separating something measurable from the noise of our unhappy time. So I have been thinking about this, and trying to come up with something useful. I don’t feel that I have succeeded, but I offer my thoughts for what they are worth. If anyone can come up with something better, then I am all ears.
My first thought was to google for a definition. I found nothing useful, because the definitions used were so extreme. Indeed I found evidence that Jewish groups are lobbying in the US and EU to create formal, legally binding definitions, which define as “antisemitism” any criticism or opposition to the policies of the state of Israel.
It’s hard not to laugh at such arrogance. Just imagine if we had a crime of “antiamericanism” in England, punishable in the same manner, or a crime of “antienglishism” in the US, where the expression of any opposition to the policies of David Cameron risked fines and expulsion from your job? One can only shake one’s head at the folly of those responsible.
Here’s another deeply daft example of over-extension of the term which I came across on Twitter today:
That is, a bunch of pro-Israeli Americans expressing a hope for the conversion of the Jews is “anti-semitism” to this fool. But to use the word in this manner renders it empty of meaning.
I quickly found, therefore, that definitions on Google were worthless. We need merely change them to refer to Americans, or Britons, to see how extreme they are.
Meaningless usage need not be so crude. Let me give a passage from Sax Rohmer, The Devil Doctor. This Fu Manchu novel was published before the first world war, and has great charm in its way, and would appeal most likely to anyone who enjoys the gaslight era stories of Sherlock Holmes. Here is how Rohmer begins chapter 11, “The White Peacock”:
Nayland Smith wasted no time in pursuing the plan of campaign which he had mentioned to Inspector Weymouth. Less than forty-eight hours after quitting the house of the murdered Slattin I found myself bound along Whitechapel Road upon strange enough business.
A very fine rain was falling, which rendered it difficult to see clearly from the windows; but the weather apparently had little effect upon the commercial activities of the district. The cab was threading a hazardous way through the cosmopolitan throng crowding the Street. On either side of me extended a row of stalls, seemingly established in opposition to the more legitimate shops upon the inner side of the pavement.
Jewish hawkers, many of them in their shirt-sleeves, acclaimed the rarity of the bargains which they had to offer; and, allowing for the difference of costume, these tireless Israelites, heedless of climatic conditions, sweating at their mongery, might well have stood, not in a squalid London thoroughfare, but in an equally squalid market-street of the Orient.
They offered linen and fine raiment; from foot-gear to hair-oil their wares ranged. They enlivened their auctioneering with conjuring tricks and witty stories, selling watches by the aid of legerdemain, and fancy vests by grace of a seasonable anecdote.
Poles, Russians, Serbs, Roumanians, Jews of Hungary, and Italians of Whitechapel mingled in the throng. Near East and Far East rubbed shoulders. Pidgin English contested with Yiddish for the ownership of some tawdry article offered by an auctioneer whose nationality defied conjecture, save that always some branch of his ancestry had drawn nourishment from the soil of Eternal Judaea.
Some wearing men’s caps, some with shawls thrown over their oily locks, and some, more true to primitive instincts, defying, bare-headed, the unkindly elements, bedraggled women – more often than not burdened with muffled infants – crowded the pavements and the roadway, thronged about the stalls like white ants about some choicer carrion.
Vivid stuff indeed. This depicts a bunch of Jewish street traders in the East End of London, and a grubby and mercenary bunch they are (and probably are still, for the breed is not extinct).
Is this passage “anti-semitic”? In the wild, woolly, political usage of today, it is undoubtedly anti-semitic. It depicts Jews in a negative light, and that is more than enough for today’s thought police. Favoured groups may not be depicted in any way that they dislike, and few Jews would probably care to be identified in this way, whether fairly or not. Indeed few people of any group would like to be; but some groups have the power to enforce their will.
If we changed a few words, to describe Moslem traders, it would instantly become “islamophobic”. Another change of scene, making the traders Negros, and it is unlikely that we would be allowed to retain our jobs, or to feed our families.
But change it again, to refer to English people in an American novel, or Americans in a British novel, and all would be well. You may sneer at “rednecks” as you choose. Make the mistake of then making them into Red Indians, and all hell would break loose.
These remarks are not intended to make a political statement, but to clarify what a useful definition will not be. The examples above show that these definitions have no meaning other than to tell us which identity groups are currently in favour with those who control the media agenda in our day. They are equivalent to “shut up, peasant”.
We may, I think, safely disregard any definition that fits into a scenario of this kind. There is, after all, no rational or moral reason why one particular ethnico-religious group should enjoy the privilege of being above negative comment.
There is another reason to disregard this kind of definition. Is there any point whatsoever in reading through the fathers to determine whether they conform to Political Correctness as it is in 2015? The Fathers cannot be politically correct, for they lived before it was invented. Nor can anybody else in that period, other than accidentally. In fact, the standard of these modern definitions keeps shifting. There can be few more politically correct than US President Obama. In 2008 he dismissed “gay marriage”. The words he used in 2008, expressed in 2015 by others are now grounds for dismissal from office. To conduct a test based on definitions derived from such shifting sources is to waste our time; and in any event every writer of antiquity – or of a period before 2010 – would fail the test. It’s not worth doing.
Perhaps the answer is to go back 50 years. In those happier days we did not ruin a man, or sentence his family to beggary, merely for expressing an opinion, unless that opinion was provably untrue and defamatory. It is characteristic of modern politics that words are proof of guilt, and that the truth of those words is not a defense. This again provides a fingerprint for what we want to avoid.
Faced with this endless nonsense, I started looking in older sources for definitions. My search led me to a really interesting statement in Bernard Lazare, Antisemitism: Its history and causes. The book is pre-WW2 in origin. From p.157-8:
… the antisemitism of the Christian conservatives, says: “If modem society is so different from the old regime; if religious faith has diminished; if the political system has been entirely changed; if stock-gambling, if speculation, if capital in its industrial and financial forms, knowing no spirit of nationality dominates now and is to dominate in the future, the fault rests with the Jew.”
Let us clearly examine this point. The Jew has been living for centuries in the midst of those nations which, so it is said, are now perishing on account of his presence. Why, it may be asked, has the poison taken such a long time to work?
The usual answer is, because formerly the Jew was outside of society; because he was carefully kept apart. Now that the Jew has entered into society, he has become a source of disorder, and, like the mole, he is busily engaged in undermining the ancient foundations upon which rests the Christian state. And this accounts for the decline of nations, and their intellectual and moral decadence: they are like a human body which suffers from the intrusion of some foreign element which it cannot assimilate and the presence of which brings on convulsions and lasting disease. By his very presence the Jew acts as a solvent; he produces disorders, he destroys, he brings on the most fearful catastrophcs. The admission of the Jew into the body of the nations has proved fatal to them; they are doomed for having received him. Such is the very simple explanation which the antisemites advance to account for the changes which society is undergoing.
The accusation has not been limited to this alonc. The Jew, it is said, is not only a destroyer, but also an up-builder; arrogant, ambitious and domineering, he seeks to subject everything to himself. He is not content merely to destroy Christianity, but he preaches the gospel of Judaism; he not only assails the Catholic or the Protestant faith, but he incites to unbelief, and then imposes on those whose faith he has undermined his own conception of the world, of morality and of life.
Now this has the right sound about it. Classically anti-semitism wasn’t about negative depictions in novels, but about plots, conspiracies, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Enemy Within, the Merchants of Death, and so on. It was about the perception of a conspiracy by Jews to do down everyone else, in their own selfish interest. Nor is it a perception without elements of truth, which had led to its rise in the first place.
Violence against Jews, as Jews, was also comprehended in the definition. Pogroms against Jews in Tsarist Russia were certainly an example of anti-semitism, and seen as such.
But not all violence counted. A boy who thumped another boy “because the latter was a Jew” was not anti-semitic, but a quarrelsome boy; a gang of men who preyed on Jews undoubtedly was.
How then do we distill this, far more genuine sentiment, into something that can be used for our examination of the Fathers?
What we may do, I think, is to ask this: does what the Fathers write intentionally tend to encourage the reader to consider Jews as a group apart, in a way that no other group is; to consider them as a sinister group, most likely plotting against the rest of us; to think of them as somehow less human, less like “real people”? Does it tend to demonise, to marginalise?
That, it seems to me, is a testable definition of whether a given writer is, or is not, anti-semitic.
One problem with this is that we must normalise for the climate of the times. Some of the trends in antiquity themselves may have had this effect. Does a writer reflect his times, or shape them?
July 31st, 2015 by Roger Pearse
Yesterday I was reviewing the translation of Methodius of Olympus, De cibis. Believing that the NRSV was the modern standard academic translation, and remembering the original RSV with some affection, I recommended the use of that for biblical quotations.
But perhaps I was too hasty. For I noticed the following passage, from Numbers 19:18, in the body of the text:
… then a clean person shall take hyssop, dip it in the water, and sprinkle it on the tent, on all the furnishings, on the persons who were there, and on whoever touched the bone, the slain, the corpse, or the grave.
Now this is, in fact, the language of the KJV – initially I wondered if it was some hideous neologism like “chairperson”! But this naturally made me look at other translations. The NIV had the infinitely more pleasant:
Then a man who is ceremonially clean is to take some hyssop, dip it in the water and sprinkle the tent and all the furnishings and the people who were there. He must also sprinkle anyone who has touched a human bone or a grave or anyone who has been killed or anyone who has died a natural death.
The CEV, a paraphrase, runs:
Before you can be made clean, someone who is clean must take some of the ashes from the burnt cow and stir them into a pot of spring water. That same person must dip a hyssop branch in the water and ashes, then sprinkle it on the tent and everything in it, including everyone who was inside. If you have touched a human bone, a grave, or a dead body, you must be sprinkled with that water.
Which is very readable, but not quite close enough for me.
Which of the other two would we prefer to read? The NIV. Which is closer to the original? Probably the NRSV, in that “Person” probably indicates the critical, career-determining distinction – in a modern US university, anyway – between ‘man’ = homo (i.e. species) and ‘man’ = vir (i.e. masculine). But … we come here to the question of what a translation is for.
We all know that there are “translations” which are essentially “cribs”. They are designed for people who want to work with the original language text, but don’t possess enough vocabulary even to read the words with ease. It goes without saying that they have no understanding of idiom or use in the original language. Such people are not interested in what the author has to say but rather in some smaller matter – in passing an exam, or something of the kind.
There are also paraphrases, which sacrifice much pretence of following the original to assure readability. These have their place: I have never forgotten how the Shepherd of Hermas came alive in an abridged paraphrase published by some Quakers. If the object of a translation is to allow the author’s thought to be heard today, then a good paraphrase has claims to be heard.
Somewhere between this is the true translation. The maker of this will not hesitate to paraphrase, where otherwise the sense would be lost in a series of choked, non-English constructions. This was put well by T.R. Glover, in the introduction to his 1930 Loeb translation of Tertullian’s Apologeticum:
Lastly, I have to make my own apology in sending out Tertullian’s. I have long felt that a translation should reproduce on the mind of the new reader, in the new language, as far as may be, the emotional, intellectual and spiritual effect (perhaps reaction would be the more precise word) that the original produced, and was intended to produce, on the readers in the original speech. Hence the distressing impossibility of rendering Virgil or Horace, or (they say) Heine. Certain authors, like Homer and Cervantes, seem able to stand immense loss or reduction in translation.
But I think my ideal will be accepted as the right one — an extremely exacting one. But Latin is not English, and I have had, in years of reading and teaching, too abundant evidence that a literal translation produces nothing of the effect we agree to be desirable. The structure of a Latin sentence is alien to English since Dryden, or since Bunyan. We put down our sentences in a different way and build our paragraphs on another plan. Again and again I find a literal translation of a sentence or paragraph (it may be the same thing) of Tertullian produces no effect on the mind beyond sheer paralysis ; it means nothing.
But Tertullian did mean something. So I have boldly abandoned his qui‘s and quoniam‘s and ut‘s, and tried to make an English thing of his Apology. The scholar who may consult this work for a particular passage can make his own way through the Latin construction ; and I hope I may modestly say that I could sometimes have done so too. But I am translating not a passage but a book, and I aim at giving the reader who wishes to read the whole, as opposed to a paragraph, the thread and fibre and texture of the whole, and something of the spirit of it. Tertullian, using a convention as old as Isocrates, writes his book as if it were a speech. In places it is highly rhetorical. A literal translation would be hopelessly unrhetorical.
So I have broken up his sentences, and made my own, and tried to give the whole with as much as I can recapture of his oratory or rhetoric or whatever it is (in America it might be called “punch”), with the full force possible — biting, stinging, gripping stuff, — turning the reader into a listener and arguing at him. The grammar is different, the structure different, I know — but I hope there is something of the same passion, and for the same cause.
No-one who reads this blog can really disagree with these words, for it was the reading of Glover’s translation that drew a young Oxford undergraduate to think of Tertullian as someone worth reading; to obtain his own copy, and, later, to start a website called the Tertullian Project, and later still this very blog!
The NRSV, then, is clearly on the “crib” side of the argument. The NIV stands with Glover. I think the NIV is in the right here.
July 31st, 2015 by Roger Pearse
Once again Ralph Cleminson has very kindly translated for us a work by Methodius of Olympus out of the Old Slavonic, in which alone it now survives, and made the first-ever English translation!
Dr Cleminson has done if anything a better job here than with the previous text, De Vita. I’ve also incorporated into the footnotes some of his explanatory material on points that I found obscure, and that I think might be of general interest.
One point of general interest – Dr C. draws attention to a linguistic feature identified as a “Preslavism” – not, as I thought, a pre-Slavism, but rather something associated with the Bulgarian city of Preslav. It was in Preslav, after the death of SS Cyril and Methodius, that a translation movement came into being in the 9th century, translating material from Greek into Old Slavonic.
The files above may also be found at Archive.org here. As usual, I have made this a public domain text: do whatever you like with them!
July 31st, 2015 by Roger Pearse
Another of the last remaining references to Matthew 27:25 is found in the Homilies on Joshua by Origen, extant in a Latin translation-cum-paraphrase by Rufinus. It is found in homily 26, and as this is short, I thought that I would post it here. The translation is from the Fathers of the Church vol. 105, and “Jesus” is of course the Greek version of the Hebrew name Joshua. As usual, I omit the footnotes.
* * * *
Concerning why the rock swords were buried, and concerning the altar that the two and a half tribes that are across the Jordan erected [Jos.22]
It was said above that the sons of Israel gave a lot to Jesus on Mount Ephraim and that, when he had accepted the lot, “Jesus built a city there and dwelt in it.” But now Scripture repeats the same things again so that it may add this, that “in that city that he had built and in which he dwelt, Jesus concealed the rock swords,” that is, the knives made from stone, “with which he circumcised the sons of Israel in the wilderness.” Whence we also must repeat the exposition and explain what was added so that, God granting, the entire meaning of the Scripture may be completed.
And indeed we said above that even our Lord Jesus Christ asks us for a place he may build and in which he may live, and that we ought to become so clean of heart, and so sincere of mind, so holy in body and spirit, that he may both deign to ac-cept this place in our soul and to build it and dwell in it. And who do you think among all the people are so acceptable to God that they are worthy to be chosen for this? Or perhaps no individuals can be capable of this, but can the whole people and all the Church together barely be capable of receiving the Lord Jesus in themselves so that he may dwell in them?
Let us see, therefore, what is this place in which Jesus is bound to dwell. “In Mount Ephraim,” it says, that is, in the fruit bearing mountain. Who do you think among us are fruit bearing mountains, in whom Jesus may dwell? Surely those in whom exist “the fruit of the spirit: joy, peace, patience, love,” and the rest. Those, therefore, are the fruit bearing mountains who produce the fruit of the spirit and who are always lofty in mind and expectation. And although few are able to be like this, nevertheless, even if they are few, the Lord Jesus, who is the “true light” dwelling in them, will send forth the beams of his light also upon all the rest, those whom he has not yet, in this first round, judged worthy of his habitation.
2. Now, therefore, let us see what are the rock swords by which Jesus circumcises the sons of Israel. If you pray for us that our “word may’ be living and effective and sharper than every sword,”8 our Lord Jesus will also bring it to pass for us that the word of God that we speak to you may circumcise every un-cleanness, cut back impurities, separate vices from those who hear, and remove each thing by which the strength of the mind and natural efficiency is covered over. And thus, through the word of God, which here is called a rock sword, you too will be circumcised by Jesus and you will hear, “Today I have taken away from you the reproach of Egypt.”
For what good is it for us to have gone forth from Egypt and yet carry around with us the reproaches of Egypt? What good is it to travel through the wilderness, that is, what does it help us to have renounced this age in baptism but to retain the former filth of our behavior and the impurities of our carnal vices? Thus it is fitting, after the parting of the Red Sea, that is, after the grace of baptism, for the carnal vices of our old habits to be removed from us by means of our Lord Jesus, so that we can be free from the Egyptian reproaches.
Therefore, those rock swords and knives of stone, by which we are circumcised by Jesus a second time, are put in that place that Jesus requests and receives. In that place that he possesses in the soul of the righteous, he also conceals the swords. Often we display a sword called the Word of God, by which word sins are separated and purged from the souls of the hearers.10 There-fore, this power of the divine word is concealed in that place, to whom a discourse of knowledge and a discourse of wisdom is granted, so that at the opportune time that soul, which was filled up with the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge through the gift of the Spirit, may produce those swords in the Church and circumcise a second time those who need a second circumcision.
But because it says “rock swords,” that is, knives made from stone and not fashioned out of iron by the craft of an artisan, it indicates that this discourse of God that is able to cast away impurities from the hearts of the hearers does not come from grammatical or rhetorical art. It is neither beaten by the hammers of teachers nor polished by whetstones of studies, but it descends from that “rock that was cut without hands from the mountain and filled the earth” and distributed spiritual gifts to believers.
After these things Jesus assembles the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh, who had served as soldiers with him to overcome the foes of the Israelites, and he dismisses them to go to their inheritance with certain gifts given to them, as it is written. Whereby this seems to indicate the mystery that “when the fullness of the nations will come in,” they receive from the Lord Jesus what was promised to them, those who had been taught and instructed by Moses and who by prayers and entreaties brought aid to us who are placed in the contest. They have not yet “attained the promises,” waiting so that our calling might also be fulfilled, as the Apostle says. But now at last with the gifts they receive from Jesus they may attain the perfection that had been deferred for them so that each one may dwell in peace with every war and every battle ceasing.
3. After this it was read to us that the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh who were across Jordan had built “an immense altar.” But the other sons of Israel, not knowing why this altar had been erected, send Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, with ten men selected from each tribe. Therefore, if by chance they had made this as though departing from God, as if they had become apostates acting against the commandment of God, they would be assaulted by the other sons of Israel; but if not, the other sons might still learn the cause. But they give satisfaction about the altar and say, “We know that the true altar is among you where Jesus dwells. But we made this altar as an imitation of that altar that was erected among you, so that a type and image of the true altar may also be held among us, lest by chance tomorrow,” it says, “it may please you to say that the Jordan is the boundary between us and you and it itself determines this, and therefore you have no share in our altar.” These are the replies they sent.
But let us see what sacrament lies within this deed. The former people of the circumcision are represented in Reuben, who was the firstborn; but also in Gad, who also is the firstborn out of Zelpha; and Manasseh, no less a firstborn. But insofar as I say “firstborn,” I speak chronologically. Therefore, these things are said, not that it might be evident some division and separation is between us and those who were righteous before the coming of Christ, but that they might reveal themselves to still be our brothers even if they existed before the coming of Christ. For although they possessed an altar then before the coming of the Savior, nevertheless, they knew and perceived that it was not that true altar, but that it was a form and figure of what would be the true altar. Those persons knew this because the true victims and those who were able to take away sins were not offered on that altar that the firstborn people possessed, but on this one where Jesus was. Here the heavenly victims, here the true sacrifices are consumed. Therefore, they are made “one flock and one shepherd,” those former righteous ones and those who are now Christians.
But to prove these things I wish to make mention also of a certain story, so that, if only the Lord deigns to grant, we may be able to discover the spiritual explanation of it. Once the people fell down in the desert and died. Aaron the chief priest came and “stood in the midst of those who died and of those who lived,” so that the devastation of death might not advance even further among the rest And then came the true high priest, my Lord, and he came into the midst between those dying and the living. That is, he came between those Jews who accepted his presence and those who not only did not accept but killed themselves more completely than him, saying, “The blood of that one be upon us and upon our sons!” Whence also “all the righteous blood that has been poured forth upon the earth from the blood of the righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah whom they killed between the sanctuary and the altar will be required from that generation” that said, “His blood be upon us and upon our sons.”
Therefore, these are a part of the dead people because they do not properly perform either the feast of unleavened bread or the feast days. But “their feast days have been turned into sorrow and their songs into lamentations,” they who, even if they wished, could not celebrate the feast days in that place that the Lord God chose. And indeed we ourselves did not say to them, “You will have no part in this altar or in the inheritance of the Lord,” but they themselves of their own accord refute the true altar and the heavenly high priest and have been brought to such a point of unhappiness that they both lost the image and did not accept the truth. Therefore it is said to them, “Behold your house is left to you deserted.”
For the grace of the Holy Spirit has been transferred to the nations; the celebrations have been transferred to us because the high priest has passed over to us, not the imagined, but the true high priest, chosen “according to the order of Melchisedek.” It is necessary that he offer for us true sacrifices, that is, spiritual, where “the temple of God is built from living stones,” which is “the Church of the living God,” and where true Israel exists, in Christ Jesus our Lord, “to whom is the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen!”
July 29th, 2015 by Roger Pearse
Today I decided to have a go at finishing off my posts on the references to Matthew 27:25 in patristic literature. This has really dragged on, and I want it done.
At the moment I am working near Cambridge, in the UK, which means that it is possible for me to make use of the University Library. So I decided to pay it a visit. I left work at 3pm, fully aware of the terrible Cambridge traffic.
Among the items I sought was access to the 11 volume complete translation of Augustine’s sermons. This was produced by New City Press, but is not held nearly as widely as it might. I discovered that, although the University Library did not hold a copy, it was held by the Classics Faculty, based nearby. (Indeed it was also held by the Divinity Faculty, but they close at 4pm during the vacation).
Anyway I toodled over there, along largely empty roads, and found that I could park on a meter in Sidgewick Road, more or less outside. The library proved to be on the right immediately inside the main entrance, and a definite pleasure to use. There was a whole section of Augustine, and cheap photocopying. So I obtained the item I wanted, and went on to the UL.
The other items I sought were also patristic, so I found myself in South Wing 3, looking at the usual volumes, and cursing whoever decided to split the Sources Chretiennes volumes across two widely-separated bookshelves. To my surprise, a stooped elderly gentleman seemed to be looking at the same parts of the library – something that has never happened to me. After a brief struggle of memory, I recognised Allan Brent, although the recognition was not mutual. Clearly he was swotting for his paper at the Oxford Patristic Conference, now only 10 days away.
Off to the photocopier room with the volumes, to discover that only two of the five photocopiers were in working order, and both occupied, even on this quiet afternoon. The library profiteers pretty considerably on these, charging 15c USD a page – an incredible sum. So you would have thought that they could be bothered to make sure that they work! But I imagine that they are used only by visitors, and so not regarded as a priority; because university members could simply borrow the books, take them down the road, and scan them for nothing.
I was slightly frustrated to discover that the edition of Apponius in the Sources Chretiennes only covered the first 3 books of the work, while I needed a passage from book 12. Oh well.
Another source I needed was Jerome’s homilies on Isaiah, of which Thomas Scheck has produced a translation in the Ancient Christian Writers series (no. 68) this very year. But … the volume was an absurdity! It was about as thick as three normal volumes in that series, and impossible to handle. One can only suppose that the editors had a brainstorm. Come on, chaps; why didn’t you divide it into three physical volumes?
A more serious problem was the index, which, I quickly discovered, only listed three references to Matthew 27:25, whereas my search of CETEDOC had reported five. After much wrestling with the obscure CETEDOC reference, I found that this was correct, and that the index to the ACW volume was wrong. I suppose that preparing indexes is a tedious task, usually delegated to someone junior. In this case it did not work.
But the end result of all this was nearly a full house of photocopies of references, which will drift online in the next day or so. And I finished by 4:30pm, and drove back to my hotel rejoicing!
July 29th, 2015 by Roger Pearse
I’ve made a bit of an effort today to finish off my series on references to Matthew 27:25 in patristic literature. One of these references can be found in one of Augustine’s sermons, number 229F (which was one of those discovered by G. Morin in the 1930’s).
Today I was able to access the New City Press translation of all of Augustine’s sermons, in 11 very smart-looking volumes, and I thought that, as it is short, I’d just give this sermon complete. Here it is. I have omitted the footnotes, however.
* * * *
PREACHED ON THE MONDAY AFTER EASTER
Date: after 418
We have believed in the resurrection of Christ, though we never saw it, on hearing the writings of those who didn’t believe, even when they saw.
1. Some people saw the resurrection of the Lord, others did not believe it when told about it; and they were chided by the Lord, now present among them, because they had not believed those who saw it and brought them the news. What a stupendous favor done to the nations, and to those born long afterward! What has God granted those who now fill the churches of Christ? The holy apostles had gone round with the Lord, heard the word of truth from his mouth, seen him raise the dead; and they didn’t believe that the Lord had risen. We though, born long afterward, have never seen his bodily presence, never heard a word from the mouth of his flesh, never observed with these eyes any miracle performed by him; and yet we have come to believe, on hearing what was written by those who at the time refused to believe. They didn’t believe a most recent event when news of it was brought them; they wrote something for us to read, we heard it, and we believe.
That the Lord Jesus, though, declined to appear to the Jews is because he did not judge them worthy to see the Lord Christ after the resurrection; he showed himself to his own people, not to strangers. And while his own people were preaching, strangers came to believe;4 and those who had been strangers became his own. I mean, many of those, as you can read in the Acts of the Apostles; many of those who crucified the Lord, who defiled themselves by shedding his blood; many of those who said, His blood be upon us and upon our children (Mt 27:25), later on came to believe the apostles bringing them the good news of the resurrection. His blood was indeed upon them, but it was to wash them, not to destroy them; well, upon some to destroy them, upon others to cleanse them; upon those to be destroyed, injustice; upon those to be cleansed, in mercy.
And now too, do all have faith? Just as at that time some of the Jews themselves believed, others did not, so too now with the nations; some have come to believe, others don’t believe. Not everyone has faith (2 Thes 3:2). Those who do have faith, though, believe by God’s grace; they mustn’t pride themselves on it. It’s a gift from God. Is the reason God chose us, do you suppose, that we were good? He didn’t choose good people, but people he wished to make good. We were all in the shadow of death, we were all being held, bundled together in the lump of sin coming from Adam. With the root infected, what sort of fruit could be born of the tree of the human race? But the one who would heal the infection came without infection, and the one who came to clean up sins came without sin.
How Jacob, in his wrestling with the angel, prefigured both the Jews who believed in Christ and those who rejected him.
2. Don’t concentrate on the Jews who are now chaff, that is, who derive from the threshing floor that was threshed then. I mean, if we were to think a bit, my brothers and sisters, from the Jews came the prophets, from the Jews the patriarchs, from the Jews the apostles, from the Jews the virgin Mary who gave birth to Christ, from the Jews later on came Paul as a believer, and so many thousands baptized on one day, from the Jews innumerable Churches of Christians. But all that grain is now stored in the granary; with the chaff the devil will be having his fun.
Believing Jews and unbelieving Jews. Where were they first condemned? In the first of them, in the father of all of them, Jacob himself, who was also called Israel. Jacob: “Supplanter” or “Heel”; Israel: “Seeing God.” When he returned from Mesopotamia with his children, an angel wrestled with him, representing Christ; and while he wrestled, though he surpassed him in strength, he still seemed to succumb to him, and Jacob to prevail. In the same sort of way the Lord Christ too succumbed to the Jews; they prevailed when they killed him.
He was overcome by superior strength; precisely when he was overcome, that was when he overcame for us. What’s that—when he was overcome was when he overcame for us? Because when he suffered, he shed the blood with which he redeemed us.
So then, that’s what’s written: Jacob prevailed over him. And yet Jacob himself, who was wrestling, acknowledged the mystery involved. A man, wrestling with an angel, prevailed over him; and when he said, Let me go, the one who had prevailed said, I am not letting you go, unless you bless me. O grand and splendid mystery! Overcome, he blesses, just as having suffered, he sets free; that is when the blessing was completed. What are you called? he said to him. He replied, Jacob. You shall not be called Jacob, he said, but you shall be called Israel (Gen 32:25-29). The imposition of such a great name is a great blessing. “Israel,” as I said, means “Seeing God”; one man’s name, everyone’s reward. Everyone’s; but provided they believe and are blessed, both Jews and Greeks. Greeks, you see, is what the apostle calls all nationalities, the reason being that the Greek language has such prestige among the nations. Glory, he says, and honor—they are the apostle’s words—glory and honor and peace to everyone doing good, to Jew first and Greek; wrath and indignation, trouble and distress on every soul doing evil, to Jews first and Greeks (Rom 2:10.9). Good for good Jews, bad for bad ones; good for good Gentiles, bad for bad ones.
If you have come to believe in Christ, recognize yourself as blessed; if you have denied Christ, recognize yourself as lame.
3. The Jews shouldn’t pat themselves on the back, and say, “There you are, Jacob all the same is our father; he prevailed over the angel and was blessed by the angel.”
We, though, reply, “People of Israel, look at yourself there. Israel isn’t what you are, it’s what you’re called, but aren’t; the name’s all wrong in you, the crime remains in you.”
But he says to me, “Look, my father is Jacob, my father is Israel. There’s the name; where’s the crime?”
“Read the story, discover yourself in it there. You see, it’s written there, And he touched Jacob on the breadth of his thigh, and it withered, and he began to limp (Gen 32:26). Jacob, one man, both blessed and lame. Blessed in whom, and lame in whom? If you have come to believe in Christ, recognize yourself as blessed. If you have denied Christ, recognize yourself as lame; it means, you see, that you are one of those about whom the prophet says, They have limped off from their paths (Ps 18:45).
Where were the holy women from, to whom the Lord first showed himself as he rose again? From the Jews, weren’t they? Where were the apostles from, who even if they didn’t believe the women when they first brought them the news, nonetheless heard Jesus himself later on, and acknowledged his rebuke, and adhered to his teaching? From the Jews, weren’t they? There’s Israel for you, blessed. But limping in many, blessed only in few; that, you see, is the breadth of the thigh—the majority of his race. It didn’t simply say, “He touched his thigh,” but the breadth of his thigh. Where you have the breadth of the thigh, you undoubtedly have the majority of the race. And what’s so surprising about that? I acknowledge the few grains, and I’m astonished at the heap of chaff? But I see what is due for the granary, and what for the flames. And now, let them listen; they’re still alive; let them correct their limping, let them come to the blessing.
July 25th, 2015 by Roger Pearse
The first draft has arrived of Methodius, De cibis, translated from the Old Slavonic, using manuscript 40 of the Lavra of Holy Trinity-Saint Sergius. It looks very good, except that the translator has used the Authorised Version as the basis for the bible quotations and allusions. I’ve suggested that he use the NRSV instead.
The translation is being done by Ralph Cleminson, whose grasp of Old Slavonic is clearly first-rate – he suggests that the translation from Greek into Old Slavonic may have been done in Bulgaria – but of course he doesn’t know my shibboleths, or I his. However we seem to be getting there.
One thing that I always do, when reviewing a translation – and I always review any text that I commission, no matter who does it – is to make sure that it means something. This means reading the prose, and trying to follow the thread of the author’s thought. It is essential for editors to do this, as it often preserves us from errors, not in translating words, but in translating sentences. We have all seen the unhappy results of a student getting all the words right but paying no attention to what the author was saying!
It is remarkable how much the use of antique expression obstructs the modern English reader from grasping the sense of a text. This is so, even for a reader such as myself, who habitually reads English literature from past centuries, and is currently reading the Letters of an English Country Parson, James Woodroffe, from ca. 1800. We all know it; but perhaps we fool ourselves by thinking that the odd “thee” and “thou” is of no importance, and that stilted sentence structure is something we can overcome. But we deceive ourselves, if we do.
This was brought home to me forcibly yesterday, when I tried to read through the draft. I had to give up about half-way through, after realising that I had no idea what the author was saying any more! Now my efforts were not aided by four nights of sleep deprivation and a splitting headache; but, even so, that day I did a good day’s work for someone else, so I should have been able to read a 13-page document.
Fortunately I was more successful today, and I have made various suggestions to improve the readability of the final product, and sent them off.
But we do now have a translation of De cibis. If the translator were to drop dead, or to refuse to do anything that I have asked for, I could still fix it enough to be usable myself.
One thing that helped me, when I did read the text, was that, as I went, I started to break the text into English paragraphs. It is remarkable how that helps, compared with just looking at the wall of text preserved in the manuscript. It is an old journalists’ trick to over-paragraph a text for readability, and it is one that I employed today. I commend this point to anybody intending to translate Cyril of Alexandria!!
Unlike De vita, the manuscript is divided by headings in red, which do correspond to the content. Whether these are ancient or medieval, whether these are authorial, or whether they were added by a Greek scribe, or a Slavonic one, I do not know.
There are two more short works by Methodius in Slavonic, which were translated into Russian by Michael Chub in the 1960’s, and are present in the ms. 40 of the Holy Trinity-Saint Sergius Lavra. These are On Leprosy and On the Leech. No trace of De Vita, or De Cibis, exists in Greek. But this is not true of the next item, De Lepra, where a Greek fragment is preserved. This is also the case for De resurrectione and it raises the question of what to do in such cases.
Other things being equal the original language must have priority over a version, however good. But when we have fragments, what we mean by this is that either we have a quotation from the work, preserved in some later writer, or, worse, a catena fragment, from some medieval Greek bible commentary. In the latter case the compiler usually modifies the opening and closing words, alters the tenses, and abbreviates etc, in order to create a running narrative. Even a quotation may display some of these features. So … what do we do?
My thinking at the moment is to translate both. That is, to give the translation of the Old Slavonic as the main text. When we get to a passage extant in Greek, give the translation of the Greek but footnote the translation of the Slavonic; or do the reverse if we think the Greek is damaged.
It will be interesting to see how it works out.
The other short work, On the Leech – such charming names, but these works are really quite interesting! – has no such problems. That leaves us with the next text, a big one: De resurrectione, in two books. The price of doing that at the same rate-per-word of the short works might be prohibitive, and I might try to negotiate a bulk discount, or find someone willing to do it cheaper. Also there are substantial Greek remains, mostly from Epiphanius’ Panarion. We have a translation of that in English already, so that raises other questions. We’ll see what to do with this when we get there.
In other news, I’m hoping to persuade a gentleman familiar with Cyril of Alexandria’s works to finish off the translation of his Commentary on Isaiah. This was started by Robert C. Hill, who died after translating the commentary as far as Isaiah 50. Holy Cross Press published what he had done in 3 volumes, as I have blogged before. To this end, I have presented him with a copy of the Hill translation. But of course there is no obligation on him to do so.
I’ve also come across a post on Ancient World Online, directing my attention to a site listing patristic commentaries on Genesis, and referencing a book from 1912 (?) as the source. I will look further into this next week, if time and tent-making permit.
Back in the winter, I did commission a translation of Theodore of Mopsuestia on Genesis 1-3, whose fragments are preserved in Syriac and published by Sachau. Unfortunately the translator went silent on me, and I have therefore rerouted the money put aside for this to other purposes. Never mind. One day it will happen, if I am spared, and if I find someone with the necessary language skills.