Why is Christ "is a strange translation"?
Thanks for asking, A. D.
For Jewish Cohenim and Jewish Talmidim too, who would not speak Greek, it's strange. No doubt these Judaic priests and Judaic disciples would be bilingual (multilingual in the Hebrew of their scriptures, the Aramaic of their homes, the Latin a bit of their Roman oppressors, and even the Greek of the former oppressors and of the Hellene diaspora). But they'd not speak Greek to one another. And in a Jewish Judaic religious court of law, where a Rabbi is on trial, their language would be Hebrew, perhaps an Aramaic that was Hebraic. They're not in Alexandria, Egypt, where the LXX was produced some two and a half centuries earlier. Rather they're in the Holy City of Jerusalem, the heart of Israel. Jews from Galilee are accented and othered. Samaritans are mixed breed and speak something noticeably different too. So the point is that for them to speak Greek (or Latin) in this context would defile them or make them sound just gentilely, merely goyish, absolutely garish.
Matthew, the gospel writer, has available to him the means to sound out what the priests and talmidim would have called Jesus. John, the gospel writer, has the disciples or talmidim of John the Baptist call Jesus μεσσίας. John the writer, then, explains to Greek readers what he means, which is "Christ." It's not a strange translation at that point. It's a translation for the reader.
I'm suggesting that it's strange to go the other way.
There are two groups of translators who don't want it to go the other way. They make their English erase the Greekyness. They get their English sounding as Priestly as Hebrew can, in English. Let's consider the two sets of translators.
First, Messianic Jews, or Christians in the Messianic Jewish movement, such as Phillip E. Goble and David Stern, will invariablly substitute that Greek phrase (Χρίστος) with HaMoshiach or with Messiah. (We see this in their respective translations, the Orthodox Jewish Bible and the Complete Jewish Bible). They do this because they're interested, not in the Greek, but in the Jewish phrases of Judaism that are still spoken today. Never mind that the New Testament was written mostly with Greek (and never mind the LXX).
Second, non-Christian Jews translating the Greek New Testament don't always follow the motivation of the Messianic Jews. Nonetheless, they might have the same practice of translation of the Greek with a Hebraic-Anglified Jewish religious phrase. One such non-Christian is classicist and translator extraordinaire, Willis Barnstone. Barnstone's motivation is to restore the New Testament. He reads the Greek as if written by and /or edited by anti-Semitic Christians. The Greek, he claims, deraces the Jews in the NT. And so although a wonderful reader of Greek (check his translation of Sappho, for example), he's not happy with how the Greek of the New Testament reads. It's akin, he claims, to the Roman changes to Greek mythology. The Romans gave Latin names to all the Greek gods and goddesses, Zeus to Jupiter, for example. And that, to Barnstone, is what's happened with the New Testament. So he's restoring the race and the religion and the language of the Jews, robbed them by later Christians, who saw Jews as going to Hell and as Christ killers and so forth.
I'm not reading as a Messianic Jew or as a non-Christian Jew or even as a Christian with an anti-Semitic agenda. Rather, I'm just listening to really religious leaders of the Jews spew out, in Matthew's rendering, the language of the Greek Homeric epics and the language of the ancient Greek playwrights. It just sounds funny. It's a strange translation. This is why, in English, I was starting with Clarence Jordan's Cotton Patch gospel version of Matthew and taking it further into an Anglified Hellene that suggests Aristotle and Aristophanes and Homer. I'm trying to retain the Greekyness of Matthew's Greek in my English translation. (If you're familiar with David Bentley Hart's new translation, then know I'm not exactly interested in his project either, since he seems only to retain the Greek transliteration when the translations into English have been in dispute. He gets off easy, then, with the bit I'm considering in our reading. He has this:
Saying, “Prophesy for us, Anointed One, who is it who has slapped you?”) This doesn't convey the influence of Greek on Matthew's readers in my opinion.
I do hope that's clear. Clearly this is a bit complex (if not meant to be overly complicated).
Do you think I'm being fair in my observations and readings here?
Edited by jkgayle, 23 March 2018 - 03:06 PM.