Bryan Bibb

The Bible in Church and Academy

Beyond Equivalence

I am working on a journal article that sets the groundwork for my monograph project next year. I’m calling it “Beyond Equivalence: Ideology and Power in Biblical Translation,” and it presents my argument for moving beyond the traditional spectrum of “dynamic equivalence” and “formal correspondence” translation. Another common (but slightly different) way of describing this specture is “word for word” and “sense for sense.”

I have been working on parts of this paper for a year, and am now preparing the larger version for journal submission. It was difficult to bring the different pieces together into one focused structure, and I found the app Scapple (from the Scrivener developers) to be very helpful. I have used many mind-mapping apps on both Mac and iOS for years, and Scapple is by far the easiest and most flexible to use. It doesn’t let you fiddle with styles and colors too much, and it is happy to create whatever kind of linked structure you need, not only hierarchical. And it’s only 15 bucks. Highly recommended for other visual thinkers out there.

Accordance, DCH, and Turbans

I’m researching the topic of “head-dresses” in the Hebrew Bible for an encyclopedia entry, and was having trouble keeping all the various types of turbans and crowns straight in my head. This is an image of an Accordance workspace with several views of the Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, the standard multi-volume Hebrew lexicon. Needless to say, this kind of comparison would be very difficult with print volumes. Also, it is easy to click open a biblical passage and then “amplify” to any number of commentaries, textual notes, and multiple translations.

I love living in the future.

OOTLE 2015

I am looking forward to an experimental course this semester called the “Open Old Testament Learning Event,” coordinated by the brilliant Brooke Lester, Assistant Professor of Hebrew and the Director for Emerging Pedagogies at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. I’m not sure what all will happen, but I know there will be weekly Google “hangouts” to discuss particular topics, and blog posts from participants aggregated to the OOTLE site.

By all means check it out, and if you have any questions, ask Brooke. I’m sure he’d love to tell you more about it.

Can U Just Not?

On FB, Timothy Michael Law shared a link to a hilarious post translating “Thou shalt not” in biblical commands as “can u just not?”. By all means go read it.

Consider this:

Exodus 20:17

“Can u not covet thy neighbour’s house, can u not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s. can u just not.”

and this:

Matthew 6:5

“And when you pray, can u not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”

This is a delightful exercise in register in translation. There is nothing wrong with this rendering from a literal perspective, generally speaking. However, I think we’d all agree that it changes the meaning of the text because these words evoke a different socio-linguistic web of contexts than does “thou shalt not.”

These two options are at the extreme ends of the spectrum, but other renderings in between them have similar—though more nuanced—impact on meaning. Other options for Exod 20:17 include “You shall not covet” [NRSV, etc.], “Do not covet” [HCSB, etc.], “You must not covet” [NLT], “Let not your desire be turned” [BBE], “Do not desire your neighbor’s house” [CEB], and the scolding tone of the Message’s “No lusting after your neighbor’s house.”

There are two questions. First, which one best captures the tone and intention of the original? I like “you must not,” personally. Second, which one is the most effective in communicating the ethical/moral imperative invested in these texts by the translating/reading community? In all honesty, one could make a case for “can u just not?”

Can a Genre Be Errant?

Carlos Bovell has written a very nice guest post on the blog of Peter Enns, titled “Does an inerrantist culture ‘do good or do harm?’” His argument is that evangelicals need to reframe and decenter the notion of inerrancy in their conception of biblical authority:

One concern I have is that, for various reasons, a number of inerrantist scholars are failing to grasp just how debilitating it is to spiritual formation to foreground inerrancy as a central and permanent fixture for American evangelical identity. They fail to see how, culturally and institutionally, this mindset can keep evangelical teachers from doing good, from providing healing for searching Christians both in evangelical churches and in classrooms.

It’s a great article. Go read it.

What caught my eye was his statement that although inerrantists have become more sophisticated in their hermeneutics—recognizing the existence of different genres in scripture—they reject the existence of “errant genres” like myth and legend.

Defining inerrancy according to genre, for example, does not go far enough because inerrantists still feel the same pressure, just delayed for a moment: only genre designations that are not “errant” are allowed, which helps explain why myth and legend in Genesis, for example, are not typically admitted as legitimate genre designations by inerrantist writers.

But such designations are routinely—even universally—accepted outside of inerrantist scholarship. Guarding against “errant” genres in scripture looks like special pleading and a needless spiritual distraction.

You can see this dynamic in the 1978 Chicao Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics, which affirms “genre criticism as one of the many disciplines of biblical study” in Article XIII, but still rejects mythic readings of Genesis in Article XXII.

Here is my question: how can a genre be errant? Each genre is a tool of the biblical writers, like all of the other tools that they use. The literalist argument is that Genesis 1–11, for instance, presents itself as factual, and so must be read as historical narrative rather than myth. I disagree with that argument based on analysis of the text itself, in its context, but that is a much better claim than that myth cannot be true or authoritative, a legitimate genre within scripture.

These hermeneutical maneuvers are not a good strategy in the long term. I would prefer that we engage scripture on its own terms and let go of our tight grip long enough to let it speak to us however it wants, in whatever genre.

Nyasha Junior Is Headed to Temple

My friend and colleague (and fellow PTS grad), Nyasha Junior has accepted a position in the Religious Studies department at Temple University. She will be teaching Hebrew Bible alongside Jeremy Schipper and Mark Leuchter.

Temple’s program was already strong, and it is now certainly one of the best places in the country to study Hebrew Bible. I will definitely make sure that my students have the Temple program on their radar.

Congratulations to Temple and to Dr. Junior! Also, can I just add that Nyasha has the best website in the profession?

Damrosch, Alter, Boom

The folks at Nida just sent an email with a video link for the two lectures (and responses) at the 2014 Nida Research Symposium in September. I enjoyed the event tremendously, most of all for the chance to share conversation with good friends from Misano [s/o to James, Deborah, Michael, Roy, Jason, Brian, Phil, and Simon!]. It was also wonderful to visit NYC again with Jen and to take Joseph for some historical sight-seeing.

I can’t give you access to all of that goodness, but the talks were quite interesting and the responses trenchant. You can watch them on the FUSP site:

  • David Damrosch, Ernest Bernbaum Professor of Literature and Chair of the Department of Comparative Literature at Harvard University, “World Literature, National Markets”

  • Lydia Liu, Wun Tsun Tam Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Chinese and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, Response

  • Robert Alter, Professor in the Graduate School and Emeritus Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California at Berkley, “Translating Biblical Poetry: Ancient Hebrew Verse and the Constraints of English”

  • Adriane Leveen, Senior lecturer in Hebrew Bible at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, New York Campus, Response

Real Moms and the Power of Language

This is a guest post from Jennifer Bibb, a wonderful writer who also happens to be the mother of our two sons.

Dear boys,

My facebook newsfeed has been buzzing with posts about Adoption Awareness Month. It seems like a good time to share with you again about your “real mom”.

The first thing I want you to know is that the words “real mom” have no true power. They are just words.

The second thing I want you to know is that the words “real mom” have profound power and are much, much more than just words.

Here’s what I mean when I say that the words “real mom” have no true power. As I write this, you and I are finishing up Book Four of the Harry Potter series. Remember all the people in Harry Potter who refuse to say the word Voldermort? Harry’s best friends, his teachers, the Ministers of Magic—they all refuse to utter the word. But Harry always says Voldermort’s name. He doesn’t say it to rebel or to appear brave in the eyes of others. On the contrary, Harry seems to be starting from a place of humility, innocence, and quiet confidence. It seems that something deep inside him understands that Voldermort is powerful and dangerous, and yet at the same time knows that his name—the mere word Voldermort—does not have power. More importantly, Harry senses that treating the word like it’s dangerous creates and exacerbates fear, which only serves to give Voldermort more power.

So when someone suggests to you that I’m not your “real mom,” or when you yourselves wonder—as you have in the past—if I’m your “real mom,” my hope and prayer is that you and I will not be afraid of the words. Because if we refuse to be afraid of the words, we free ourselves to discover what those words can teach us. Don’t be afraid, my precious boys. Open up your hearts and your minds. Go with the words “real mom” and see where they take you. They can take you to a deep place where I pray you will find the freedom and courage to explore what and who your “real mom” is and why those words are so powerful.

To this day, a surge of pride and satisfaction fills me up when someone asks me my occupation, and I get to reply “mom”. This, boys, is where the words “real mom” start to pick up steam and take on power.

For me, being your “real mom” means that I get to snuggle with you in bed each night. It means I get to be the one to read Harry Potter to you for the very first time. It means I have the significant responsibility of teaching you about things like faith, respect, responsibility, and the difference between right and wrong. It means I get to witness your tears and offer you comfort. It means I’m the one who nearly passes out from excitement when you score goals at your games. It means I’m the one who cleans up your throw up, who operates the vehicle while you are fighting in the back seat, who tries not to scream when you take turns calling out every potty word you know through peals of laughter over the breakfast table at 6:30 in the morning before I’ve had my coffee. Being your “real mom” means I’m the one who knows you better than anyone else. It means I’m your safe place, your as-close-to-unconditional-love-as-you’re-going-to-get-on-this-earth place. It means feeling protective of you, even when you’re being a punk. It means coming down too hard on you, and then telling you I’m sorry when I realize I’ve made a mistake. Being your “real mom” means loving you so fiercely that I break out into a sweat when I reflect on what a miracle it is that you are even in my life.

But what about those other “real moms”? What about Ms N. and Ms K.? What about those “real moms” who conceived you and carried you inside their bodies for nine long months? What about those “real moms” who gave birth to you and with whom you share blood and genes? How can you know what and who is real when it comes to your mom?

One day when you are old enough, I hope you will watch a movie called A Beautiful Mind. It’s the story of a brilliant man who was very sick. He heard voices and saw things that weren’t there. His mind was full of thoughts and pictures and ideas and bad dreams—sometimes so full that he couldn’t think straight. He would get confused and scared. At one point in the movie, he confesses to his wife that he is scared because he doesn’t know what’s real anymore. His wife crouches close in front of him and lovingly takes his hand and presses it to her face and says, “This is real.” Then she presses his hand to her heart and says “And this is real.”

So, my beloved sons, when you hear the words “real mom,” don’t be afraid. Be humble. Be patient. Be quietly confident. Be thoughtful. Be free. Go deep. Know that being a “real mom” means choosing to commit to giving a child the best you have to offer. It often means choosing self-sacrifice. It means loving someone so much that you frequently choose to put their needs and wants ahead of your own. This is what my love for you is like. And this is the way I will always love you.

But I want you to hear me say that Ms. N. and Ms. K. loved you this way too. You were conceived, carried, and birthed in love by a “real mom.” Your future was planned for by a “real mom.” You were given to, entrusted to, and have been raised in love by a “real mom”.

This, my boys, is what I want you to know about your “real mom.” This is love, in all its glory, messiness, complexity, and beauty. It’s real. It’s powerful. It is your story, and it is mine.

I love you both with all my heart.


Sexual Language and Roasting a Translator

My student Laura recently sent me a link to this podcast from Radio Lab with 8 different stories related in some way to translation. I highly recommend it.

In the “Deaf Comedy Jam” segment, they tell the story of a sign language interpreter at a “roast” hosted by the king of insults, Jeffrey Ross. Ross noticed the ASL interpreter on the edge of the stage and began saying sexually explicit things so that she would have to “sign” them to the audience. I know, high-larious, right?

The reporter noticed that the interpreter left at intermission, so she located her in order to hear her side of the story. Was she offended or did she feel harassed or “used” by Ross?

The ensuing conversation is fascinating from a translation theory perspective. Go listen to the 10-minute segment, but be warned there is some course language. And, to quote the co-host, “I’m troubled by how funny this is.”

Which “register” should an ASL interpreter use in conveying an explicit source text? As in spoken language, the choices include a range of “formal,” “casual,” or “intimate” signs. The interpreter has to choose which register to use, and that choice is determined by her role in the event: to convey the meaning and tone of the source text to her audience.

However, skopostheorie (here’s a paper explaining it from my friend Nathan Esala) raises the question of whether translators should shape the translation to match the expectations and assumptions of the audience. The temptation in this case is to “dial it down,” but this interpreter says that she chose a casual and explicit register because her job was “to match the tone of the person.” As the co-host says, using a polite tone to “protect” the audience “betrays” the audience because it does not communicate the full experience.

The (sole) deaf client felt uncomfortable with this experience and left at intermission, and so the interpreter was free to go. Was this a failure of the translation to match the skopos? No, I would say it is a failure of the deaf person to consider what a Jeff Ross roast was going to be like. It was a failure of expectations.

This relates directly to the challenge of biblical translators who must convey sexually or violently explicit scenes in biblical texts (see my forthcoming paper on Ezekiel). To what extent should a translator tone down this material to match the “polite” decorum of the scriptural audience? I argue that they should not do so in any way. To withhold information and shape the text so that it does not confuse, offend, or challenge is to “betray” the Bible’s audience. However, the very real limits placed on translators by their religious audiences is a failure of expectations. Readers place artificial and unrealistic expectations on what the Bible is, and these expectations lead to a breakdown in the translation process itself.

Spotting a Fake

My friend Sam is a professional conductor with a doctoral degree and a faculty position in a music department. He shared this video recently of the Danish National Orchestra trying to play while eating hot chili peppers.

His comment was “Funny, but oy the fake conducting.” The quick cuts of the conductor look a bit casual, but it is not obvious to me that his conducting is “fake.” I wouldn’t know how to identify it for certain. One clue is that he is the “chili pepper guy,” and so probably is not a professional conductor. The point is that he knows enough about how to look like a conductor to fool a novice like me, especially when his efforts are presented in a slick manner and I’m not really looking out for fakery.

Sam has a common problem for those who have a specific area of expertise with a public-facing component. His discomfort with “fake conducting” is akin to programmers who roll their eyes at computer scenes in movies, or biblical scholars who observe bad biblical interpretation in the media. Fake conductors and fake programmers and fake biblical scholars know enough about the form of their activity to put on a convincing show for those who don’t know any better. However, experts in that field can spot it instantly.

The problem we have is how to respond. Within the group of experts, there are a lot of “oys” and eye-rolling. Of course, biblical interpretation is not—and should not be—the private domain of the educated and elite. People interpret the Bible all the time, and they don’t need our permission or approval. But if there are “fake conductors” out there who put on a show of knowing how to do this job, and are in positions of directing and teaching others, we have a responsibility to point out their fakery. We have to engage the public in a way that is informative and constructive.

This is not an easy job. Oy.