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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Does God need an editor?

There are times when I want to pick the brains of people who believe that the Bible is, literally, the word of God. No, I don't want to get into familiar arguments over the obvious stuff, such as the believability of the creation myths in Genesis. Yawn.

My concerns are subtler. Literary.

For a good example of what I mean, let's take a closer look at a quote from Galatians (King James translation) which appeared in our preceding post:

"For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another."

-- Galatians 5:14-15

Now, on a superficial level, these words make sense. The basic message is: Be nice. I get that.

What I don't get is this part: "But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another."

Both "devour" and "consume" mean eat. Thus, the following would appear to be a fair translation:

"If you eat each other, be careful not to eat each other."

Does that make any sense to you? Did it make sense 2000 years ago?

I've looked up other translations of this verse. Some of them -- the freer ones, it would appear -- use the term "destroy" in place of "consume." That choice seems more reasonable, although the quote would still imply that it is possible to devour someone without destroying him. (Maybe such a thing is possible. Marvel once published a really disgusting comic book in which the Hulk ate Wolverine and Wolverine survived.)

My basic question is this: If God wrote the Bible, why are some bits so badly written? Apparently, the New Testament is even more "iffy" in the oldest extant Greek texts, which contain many mistakes of grammar.

Again, I'm not talking about the credibility of the narratives or the advisability of the moral teachings. Although many of you will want to talk about those matters, those arguments are for another time.

No no no. In this post, I'm talking about literary quality.

Take the Gospel of Mark, for example. Immediately after you hit this link, you'll notice something odd. Immediately it will become apparent that Mark has a certain literary quirk. Immediately you will become annoyed at the way Mark begins many of his sentences. Immediately you'll begin to wonder if this really is the way God would write a book. (Immediately I should note that other versions offer a wider variety of translations for the one word Mark loves more than any other, a fact which may explain why Mark's impoverished vocabulary was not immediately apparent to you the first time you read the text.)

Mark 6:10 reads thus:
He said to them, "Wherever you enter into a house, stay there until you depart from there."
Like duh. Anyone who can manage to leave before departing is a true miracle worker.
Anaphora was a much-favored figure of speech in the ancient world, Joseph (and remember, the Gospels are just the written distillation of an early oral tradition). "Mark's" repetitive use of Καὶ ἐγένετο to begin sentences isn't any different from Dr. King's repetition of "I have a dream", or Winston Churchill's repetition of "we shall fight" (and would have been every bit as effective when spoken). It seems kind of boring when you see it on paper, but it can be downright hypnotic when delivered verbally by a skilled speaker.

Just piling Pelion on Ossa here:

Anaphora was a favorite with poets since Homer was a pup (and I mean that literally, since the Iliad is full of it).

Take Shakepeare. Sonnet 66:

"Tired with all these, for restful death I cry,
As to behold desert a beggar born,
And needy nothing trimm'd in jollity,
And purest faith unhappily forsworn,
And gilded honour shamefully misplac'd,
And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
And right perfection wrongfully disgrac'd,
And strength by limping sway disabled
And art made tongue-tied by authority,
And folly--doctor-like--controlling skill,
And simple truth miscall'd simplicity,
And captive good attending captain ill:
Tir'd with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save that, to die, I leave my love alone."

Or Julius Caesar:
"And do you now put on your best attire?
And do you now cull out a holiday?
And do you now strew flowers in his way
That comes in triumph over Pompey's blood? Be gone!"

Or Whitman:

Out of the cradle endlessly rocking
Out of the mocking-bird's throat, the musical shuttle,
Out of the Ninth-month midnight,
Over the sterile sands, and the fields beyond, where the child, leaving his bed, wander'd alone bare-headed, barefoot.

From the memories of the bird that chanted to me,
From the memories, sad brother-from the fitful risings and fallings I heard,
From under that yellow half-moon, late-risen, and swollen as if with tears,
From those beginning notes of sickness and love, there in the transparent mist,
From the thousand responses of my heart, never to cease,
From the myriad thence-arous'd words,
From the word stronger and more delicious than any,
From such, as now they start, the scene revisiting.

But I guess those guys couldn't write, either.

There's Anaphora and then there's sloppy thinking. Mark is not a poet, although he has his moments. Immediately, my reaction is that you are rationalizing.
You'll be criticising Chaucer for having a juvenile sense of humour next.
Immediately, my reaction is that you are rationalizing.

Immediately, my reaction is that if you had read much Greek you would have caught the rather glaring error I made in my first post. ;-)
"... Mark is not a poet. ..."
Nor is he a Dylan, Frost, or Blake .

And, if one wants a lesson in morals, and grammar, I say the bible rarely teaches a better lesson than the following holy words of Bob?

... A question in your nerves is lit
Yet you know there is no answer fit, to satisfy
Insure you not to quit
To keep it in your mind and not forget
That it is not he or she or them or it
That you belong to.

Although the masters make the rules,
For the wise men and the fools,
I got nothing, Ma, to live up to. ...

...While one who sings with his tongue on fire
Gargles in the rat race choir
Bent out of shape from society's pliers
Cares not to come up any higher
But rather get you down in the hole
That he's in.

But I mean no harm nor put fault,
On anyone that lives in a vault,
But it's alright, Ma, if I can't please him. ...

(From BD's: It's Alright Ma)

Party Patriots peer pressure shirts slash skins my team wins means at least half of us lose.

Follow your bliss. Don't kill, don't steal, don't do anything you wouldn't be proud to tell your Mother, and you will make you, and everyone around you, happy.

Don't do what you do for money.
Do what you do because you love doing it, not because "society"- your Friends, your Family, your tv says, "You need to do this."- "This is a real job."

Labor at what you love to do. You may not get rich, but at least if things go south moneywise being inwardly happy while persevering is lot better that being inwardly miserable while persevering.
Dreading going to work is a fulltime buzz kill.

Oh my! My English 101 teacher would so bust me over this slightly off topic, slightly pompous train wreck of an s a.
The fact that a committed rationalist such as you can, and still does, obsess over such magnificent minutiae clearly indicates that the "Hound of Heaven" (no, I don't mean Bella) hasn't given up you yet.

Where there's life...
New World Translation -2013
Mark 6:10 Further, he said to them: "Wherever you enter into a home, stay there until you leave that place."
Mark 6:11 And wherever a place will not receive you or listen to you, on going out from there, shake off the dirt that is on your feet for a witness to them.

Explanation: When you enter a village to preach, lodge only in one house while you you are in the village.
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