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Rich Rhodes

Since you asked (offline) for a comment on the use of woman as a vocative, here's the short story.

When you look at vocatives, the pragmatic context is as important as the wording. Asking "what does this expression mean?" is less enlightening than asking "what does this expression accomplish communicatively?" Therefore, concordance, which is already a most tenuous translation principle, is completely out the window. You have to use whatever means are available to achieve the same communicative effect as the original speaker did.

So I read the vocative John 2:4 as the CEV does (but you have to have that high-low intonation):

MOTH-er! This is none of our business. I'm not supposed to being doing this kind of thing yet.

Whereas, I read John 19:26b-27 (much as you do) as:

Jesus said to her:
"Mother, this is now your son."
And he said to the disciple,
"This is now your mother."



We agree on many things here. I just happen to see minuses as well as plusses in the DE approach to translation.

In particular, I have my doubts about "This is none of our business. I'm not supposed to being doing this kind of thing yet," - this kind of self-indulgent interpretation mars, I think, translations like CEV in numerous places.

To be sure, my own (more moderate) DE translation of 2:4 could stand improvement. This would be better:

MOTH-er! Do we have to quarrel?
My hour has not come.

Concordance may not matter to you, Rich, but readers of the gospel of John, when they discover that you do not translate "hour" concordantly across the book, but choose to sever and trash one of the semantic red threads of the whole, will have your head.

Said readers have already voted with their pocketbook by not purchasing a CEV, but that, I think, is going too far.

"Hour" knots on the red thread of time in the gospel of John include: 2:4; 5:25; 7:30; 8:20; 12:23; 13:1; 17:1 - there's more! Remove these knots from the semantic texture of the book at your own peril.

Rich Rhodes


I still don't understand the near obsession with concordance. It privileges textual connection over sense -- which by generally agreed upon translation standards is backwards. That is, generally agreed upon translation standards everywhere but in Bible translation.

You've been an interpreter. You know you'd be fired within the week if you insisted on concordant translation at the cost of accurate reference.

Regarding the use of *hora* in the NT, did you see my post on the Law of Leasts? ( There are clearly places where in sense it is a least and should be translated *moment* and other places were it is a point in time and should be translated *time*. Most of the passages that I would agree should be (incidentally) concordant, would be with *time* -- *My time has not yet come.*, *The time has come to/for...*.

It's also true that I really don't care what sells. I'm interested in accuracy in translation -- NOT in the distorted sense that that term is used in Christian context where it is a code word for 'literal' (and hence concordant).

At some point we'll have to talk about allusion/textual connections. In general, literature types see many more connections than ordinary people react to.



Little importance is attached to concordance in simultaneous interpretation, so long as the basic sense is accurately reproduced, but it is not necessarily the same with translation of high-prestige texts.

In that case, and certainly in the case of biblical translation, translations which privilege "concordance" and "word-for-word" mapping continue to be valued.

It goes all the way back to the first translations of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint / Old Greek translations. It is even possible to speak of a typology of literal translations, as James Barr has done with considerable brilliance.

That's also why a colleague of yours at Berkeley, Robert Alter, translates in precisely that way, with rave reviews from some, and mixed reviews from others (my case).

In the Q & A of Lawrence Venuti's Nida lecture at the last annual of the Society of Biblical Literature, when I pointed out Alter's translation work, Venuti backtracked immediately so as to include that work as "within the pale" rather than "beyond the pale." But in that case, we are left without any guidelines for translation work, since Venuti successfully demythologized, not just Jerome's approach to translation (literal, mystical if you wish, with attention to preserving concordance and even word order; Alter is similar), but Nida's approach as well.

I do remember your tribute to Frederick Lupke post. Link here:

A penetrating reminder of the value of linguistic analysis. I found that post very helpful.

Still, I don't think that justifies the tendency of functional equivalence translations to overlook the importance of concordance in translation. The example I gave, the use of "hour" as a keyword and recurrent motif in the gospel of John, is a feature of that gospel which one will find highlighted in all the best scientific commentaries.

If a functional equivalence translation removes that semantic red thread because of inattention to it, that is definitely a strike against it.

It is not just literature types who get it when a biblical author is doing something literary. The question is complicated in the case of the Bible because there are not only the authors, but the Author. What happens when one reads the Bible as a single composition by a single author?

Perhaps you are unfamiliar with the African-American preaching tradition, but one of its strengths is the practice of riffing on a particular phrase which recurs across the entire length of Scripture. It could very well be "hour," or "found favor in your eyes," or "know" in its various senses, from carnal knowledge to devotion to God.

But you can't do that with a functional equivalence translation. Not even with a more moderate translation like NLT2, because it translates an expression like "found favor in someone's eyes" in more than ten distinct ways, with literal equivalents more frequent in the NT than in the OT, the source!

You may not care how well non-literal translations of the Bible sell, but at least you will want to know some of the salient reasons why they don't sell. The one I just gave is not unimportant.

Rich Rhodes


I *am* sensitive to the need to maintain textual coherence. And I do know about African American preaching -- it's hard to have grown up in the US in the civil rights era and _not_ know MLK's "I have a dream" speech, which is structured by the repetition of that phrase.

I'm also familiar with Deborah Tannen's earliest work [from the 1970's before she went all Oprah] in which she shows how ordinary conversation has features, including concordance, that we usual associate with poetry.

But I'm concerned that too many Biblical scholars are focused on words, especially words as individual objects.

I want call three things to attention:

1) when are the connections made by words and when are they made by concepts?

2) when is it an individual word that makes the connection, and when is it a phrase?

3) when is the word/phrase so common as to be irrelevant to textual connection

It's much too long to go into this in detail here, but ...

The first question deals with whether different senses of the same word are textually relevant. In the clearest cases, homonyms, the answer is obviously no. But if senses are close, like _hora_ as a span of time and _hora_ as a point in time, do they count as mutually relevant?

The second question is how much of a role does the immediate context play? So is "at that hour" relevant to "the hour has come" simply because they both contain the word _hour_? (This is closely linked to the first question because senses are generally disambiguated by context.)

The third question boils down to where does _hora_ fit on the scale between words like _come_ and _go_ which are so common that no one could easily argue all instances are mutually relevant and phrases like "the Kingdom of God" which are likely all to be mutually relevant. (Is the expression "the time has come" so common that it loses its strength as a textual connector?)



All very good questions.

However, I struggle a little bit with how you use the word "homonym." It did get my attention.

The questions you ask, I submit, if translators committed to DE asked them consistently, would lead, in the response phase, to greater concordance than is currently the case. On the other hand, avoidance nevertheless of misleading concordance might still be maintained, the kind of concordance that makes literal translations in constant need of translation all over again.

Rich Rhodes

Yeah, I probably should have said *homophone* since I mean both things like _box_ (vt) 'to put in a box' and _box_ (vi) 'to fight using the fists' and _ant_ and _aunt_ (in my dialect). (There is a long tradition of linguists speaking informally using *homonym* this way.)

And I agree that the kind of whole text consciousness these questions imply would greatly improve DE translations.

To a certain extent my push back on concordant translation comes from interacting with people who see connections under every rock, so to speak. Whereas, linguists -- or at least cognitive linguists -- know a lot about inhibiting effects as well as activation effects. (Activation of neurons underlies allusion, as well as how we use words like _the_. Inhibited neurons make it harder to get readings and connections.)


Always a pleasure to converse with you, Rich.

I just agreed to review a monograph for a peer-reviewed journal of Hebrew Bible, a monograph that takes a cognitive linguistic perspective. It will be interesting to see what insights come of it.

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