Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Poet and Peasant

I have posted about understanding Greek on its own terms and I have an interest in Hebrew although it is mostly restricted to reading what others have to say and being able to handle the lexicon and basic grammar.

However, the role of Syriac in Biblical studies was not always evident to me. It was intriguing but not obvious. It has IMO one of the most beautiful writing systems and it is being revived today. I have linked here to a blogsearch of Abecedaria since I have 11 posts there about Syriac in Unicode. They are probably of trivial interest, I don't really know.

In any case, I have been rereading Poet and Peasant, 1983, by Kenneth Bailey. He emphasizes the need to use the Oriental, Syriac and Arabic, versions of the NT to understand the gospels.

    Briefly the method we have evolved is to make use of four tools. The first is to discuss the cultural aspects of the parable with a wide circle of Middle Eastern friends whose roots are in isolated [essentially illiterate] conservative village communities and try to find how the changeless Middle Eastern peasant sees things. The second is to examine carefully twenty-four translations of the NT in Syriac and Arabic to see how Christians in this part of the world have understood the text from the second to twentieth centuries. The point here is that translation is always interpretation. The translator must decide what the text means before he can translate it. A parable passes through the translator's mind on its way to the new language. Through a careful reading of a series of such translations one is able to learn a great deal about how Middle Easterners themselves have understood a given text. The third is to look for parallels in literature as close to the NT as posssibe. Finally, the literary structure of the parable or parable passage must be examined with care. Through Peasant Eyes. p. xiv.
Here is a summary of his method in Poet and Peasant,

    Knowledge of the culture that informs the text of the Gospel parables is crucial to a full understanding of them. The impact of such cultural elements has, in the past, been discerned only partially. Significant elements of the cultural setting of the synoptic parables can be delineated more precisely through discussion with contemporary peasants, through minute examination of Oriental versions of the Gospels, and by a careful study of pertinent ancient literature. These three tools must be used in addition to the standard critical tools of scholarship. The present study seeks to combine the use of these four tools, conjoining them with an analysis of various literary structures used in parables. To this matter of literary structure we now turn. p. 43
Bailey's book is possibly the most timeless book that I own on Bible translation. The others seem full of ideas that come and go, good but ephemeral.

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