Friday, February 17, 2017

Fact-Checking the Torah -- SWLT 3 and meaning

I’m going to stick with the third rule for a couple more posts because I know you’re saying I broke this rule.
I said that tahor should not be translated as “clean” because the modern concept of cleanliness doesn’t apply, being out of historical context.
You object that this breaks my rule that a translation is not a meaning.
It doesn’t. My claim was about a translation, not the meaning of the word tahor.
I provided context showing that tahor shows up in situations where it’s irrelevant whether something is dirt-free, let alone germ-free.
A translation does not qualify as a definition of a word.
The definition of a word is what it means in the context of usage within its own culture, that is, the culture where people grow up speaking that language, or where people’s livelihoods depend on that language, at the time when the material came together as an expression (back to Rule 1).
The definition of a word is different from a translation of it, because different individual (remember what the OED says about individual usage) translators may choose different words as equivalent, but the definition has to remain stable or communications break down.  The definition is internal to the culture using a language “on the street”; a translation is external to that culture. 
The definition of a word also differs from an interpretation of it, because the interpretation necessarily dates later than the time the words came together as an expression, and may be shaped by the conditions of that later time.
This is why it’s wrong to think of melakhah as “work.” “Work” is a translation. What’s more, it’s an inaccurate translation. It fails to capture the relationship between Shabbat and the things that fall into the 40 less one or 39 categories of melakhah. Translations and commentaries that restrict themselves to analyzing melakhah as “work” are not accurate. Any conclusions based on them also are inaccurate, and so on and so forth.
A translation cannot determine the meaning of a particular text. A translation is only a way of explaining the text to somebody who doesn’t know the language of the primary document, and it can be a bloody bad way, too, if the explainer only knows words and doesn’t know culture, or worse yet has a vested interest in representing the primary document as meaning a specific thing.
There’s a word for that and it’s a fallacy so I’ll get to it when I’m done with the theoretical information.
Make sure you have a good grasp of the difference between the definition of a word, and the translation of a word, and the interpretation of a word, so that when you try to claim Talmud refers to Jesus, you don’t get trapped in the third law of SWLT.

I'll sum up what these three laws mean before moving on to the more difficult first law.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved 

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