Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

During the hiatus, I’m doing a couple of things to keep occupied. First, I’m reading the Penguin translation of Josephus’ The Jewish War. Technically, I’m re-reading it, but the first time was so long ago that I don’t think it counts. At the outset, I must note that the translation is pretty bad; it’s sort of like watching a movie from the 40s, with all the out-of-date colloquialisms. One of my profs once described the Penguin of Herodotus as “slap-happy”; I get that now.  The content is good; sort of. One point in its favour is that it’s not the Antiquities of the Jews. This latter is a much-longer reworking of the same period of history. Much longer. Much of this added length comes from long speeches by the principle characters. These speeches are bad enough here, but they can be very tedious in the Antiquities. I’ve just gotten through the reign of Herod the Great (died 4 BCE). According to Matthew, Jesus was born during Herod’s reign; Luke says it was while Quirinius was governor. The problem is that these two did not overlap. Quirinius held the position he did largely as the result of what happened after Herod died. Matthew also says Herod perpetrated the Massacre of the Innocents; Josephus does not mention this heinous act, nor does any other source. The upshot is that we do not know when Jesus was born, exactly. Maybe if you split the difference between the time of Herod’s death and that of Quirinius’ accession, the Year 1 may not be that far off. Regardless, this inconsistency is a pretty good indication that Jesus’ followers didn’t know when he was born either; it also presents a pretty good argument that the birth narratives were created later.

But back to Josephus. It’s interesting to note that the two works sometimes contradict each other. And when you stop to ask “how could Josephus have known some of this stuff?”, it starts to make a sharp historian wonder about Josephus’ overall reliability. Now, he lived through and participated in the events of the Jewish War, so some of that goes away. Perhaps more unsettling, if more subtle, is his penchant for the lurid details. Anyway, I’m finding it a bit of a slog.

The other thing I’m doing is reading Aristotle’s On The Soul in Greek. I started to just read the English, but it’s gotten to the point that I don’t trust translations. For history, it doesn’t matter so much. For theology and philosophy, it matters a lot. And funny thing about that: I bought the Loeb, so there is a built-in translation. But I was having such a hard time reconciling what I was getting with what the Loeb translation said that I found another translation on-line, this one from MIT. That was better, but both really stretched things regarding the Greek. And this is what made me realize why reading Aristotle in English can be so strained. The Greek allows grammatical connexions that require verbal gymnastics to get across in English. This usually means nested subordinate clauses. I won’t go so far as to say it’s easier to understand in Greek–at least, not yet. But I will say that, once you get past the Greek, the concepts are probably easier to grasp in the original. And the Greek isn’t that hard; however, there are a number of words that Aristotle uses in a technical sense. Once I found that list, (helps to read the Introduction sometimes), the sailing got a lot smoother. But, I’m not very far in, so I haven’t gotten to the meat of the argument yet. The purpose of reading this is to get some insight on what Paul, Mark, and Matthew may mean when they use the word “psyche”. For the title of the work in Greek (transliterated) is “Peri Psyche”. That becomes “De Anima” in Latin. And the standard translation of “psyche” in the Vulgate is “anima”. Once you notice that this is the root of “animal”, perhaps you begin to see the problem. After all, most Western Christian theology is based on Latin translations. And just to confuse matters even more, “soul” is a German root, coming in with its own linguistic field.

Still typing with one finger, so this took a lot longer to write than anticipated. It was supposed to be much shorter, but I do tend to run on.

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About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on July 9, 2016, in General / Overview, Special topic. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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