Friday, January 20, 2017

Fact-Checking the Torah -- SWLT 1 and finding the words

The first rule of SWLT is that cultures use expressions for culture-specific features and also shape themselves around the expressions they use.  No two languages have words for all the same concepts because no two languages developed inside the same culture.  Translators must choose words that accurately reflect the meaning used by the culture in which the primary document, the source of the translation, was used.  Otherwise the translation suffers in its value for understanding the features of the culture to which the primary document belongs.
It’s also possible to get a false impression of the culture into whose language the translation is made.  I left a concept hanging last week and I’ll discuss it now so I don’t leave you with a false impression.
I discussed raqia and related words in Torah in Genesis, Exodus and Numbers.
What does Septuagint do with those words?  I already said that it misconstrues raqia and uses stereoma, meaning a hard body, suiting the Greek idea of the celestial spheres and ignoring the idea of a thin layer.
What does Septuagint do with Exodus 39:3?  It gives that label to a verse about taking the half sheqel poll tax for use in building the tabernacle.  Exodus 36:10 describes cutting threads of gold but not hammering them out.  Numbers 17:4 has Elazar make the censers into plates for the altar but ignores the issue of hammering out which is specified in Hebrew in that verse.  Septuagint simply ignores words that relate to raqia. 
There are words for “hammer out” in Liddell such as kopto or compounds of kroteo, but most of them have to do with iron-working or welding metal together.  None of them have to do with creating wires or thin plates.  On the face of it, you might think that Greek metal-workers had no concept at all of ductility or malleability, and never created metal wire even for decorative purposes.
But the real issue is that Liddell and Scott record words referred to in Greek writing, sometimes (in “versions for the schools”) including the New Testament.
The writers in Greece in Classical times were those who had the education of freemen, a liberal education in the trivium and quadrivium.  They didn’t know or care about what artisans did.  They didn’t write about it.  Agriculture was different because they were landowners and were supposed to draw their income from agriculture, and to do that you had to know something about farming.
And heavy metal-working produced chariots and armor, paraphernalia of upper class Greeks who served in the army at some point in their lives in many cases and had a vital interest in their armor being well-made.  Weapons also appeared in various histories of wars, such as Thucydides or the Iliad.
What’s more, Liddell and Scott were restricted to using surviving material.  They didn’t have a work on comic poetry supposedly written  by Aristotle, which formed part of the plot line in Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose.  They didn’t have Agatharchides’ 49 volume work on Europe.  About 80 plays by Aeschylus  have disappeared.  Some histories survive only in fragmentary form.  Sappho was a major poet but only fragments of her work survive. 
In the previous paragraph, I was able to include authors by name because surviving Greek material refers to them.  I couldn’t refer to Greek writers who were neither quoted nor named in the work of another writer.  Some material written in classical Greek perished even to the names of the writers.  That material could not affect Liddell and Scott’s lexicon because they didn’t have it.  “Big” Liddell, the full lexicon of which “Middle” Liddell is an abridgement, might have been ten times the size it is, if everything ever written in Classical Greek had survived.  And then we might know what words in Classical Greek referred to beaten metal thin enough to cut wires from.
Or not.  Depending on whether anybody who wrote in Classical Greek took any interest in the subject.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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