Bryan Bibb

The Bible in Church and Academy

SBL Meeting Participation

Recently, Russell McCutcheon asked on Facebook whether SBL members should be limited to one slot on the program, in order to make room for more participation especially among non-tenured scholars. That’s not a bad idea, especially if a member could make more than one proposal and have only one accepted. As it is, I feel pressure to submit two proposals to increase my chances of getting on the program, since I only get full funding if I am presenting (not moderating).

That said, in general I would like to see students presenting at regional meetings rather than the annual meeting, unless they are very far along in their process. This is how things were before this crazy job situation came along, and my perception is that it raised the quality of both the regionals as well as the annual meeting.

SBL2015 Paper Proposals

I’m happy that I have had two paper proposals accepted for the 2015 SBL meeting in November. Both are related to my new monograph project on the ideology of English Bible translation, and you will notice the connection between them.

The first is for the Metaphor Theory and the Hebrew Bible section, who called for papers on “Translating Biblical Metaphors.” I am very excited to work on this paper. I wrote a paper on this passage for JJM Roberts’ Isaiah seminar back in the day, and look forward to revisiting it in light of my current project. The second of these is a practical presentation on teaching translation theory for the Global Education and Research Technology group. I plan to expand it into an article on pedagogy for the Wabash journal or something similar.

Yahweh as the Priest of Human Sacrifice in Isaiah 30:27–33

The richly metaphorical description of God’s judgment of the Assyrian king in Isaiah 30:27–33 is a challenge for both translators and interpreters. The text describes Yahweh in theophanic language, with attendant elements of fire, smoke, and thunderstorm. As the deity arrives in anger and overwhelming displays of power, the people hold a religious festival around a central act of ritual: Yahweh’s killing of the Assyrian king on the tophet, the altar of human sacrifice. A metaphorical passage such as this challenges notions of “literal” versus “dynamic” translation. All attempts to render these images in English fail, but for different reasons. A formal translation that preserves the original imagery is difficult for modern readers due to their lack of historical domain knowledge. A dynamic translation that unpacks the “meaning” of the metaphors softens the shocking literalism of the text. Bodily metaphors for Yahweh’s theophany are difficult enough, but in fact, no English translation has captured the essential nature of the metaphor as a whole, i.e., Yahweh as the high priest performing a human sacrifice. Most versions either transliterate “Tophet” or render it loosely as “the burning place.” How does this metaphorical shift change the meaning of the text? When tophet is pictured as a funeral pyre, the metaphor slips into a less precise conceptual domain: Yahweh is angry, the people rejoice, and the Assyrian king dies. However, when “tophet” is translated as “altar of human sacrifice,” Yahweh’s anger is one element of a classic theophany, the people’s rejoicing has the technical elements of a worship event, and the king’s death occurs through a pagan ritual of human sacrifice. Why, then, do translators make this choice? In modern religious contexts, this passage is surprising, counter-intuitive, and inconsiderate. Translators have been unwilling to convey fully the significance of this metaphor because of the conceptual boundary between orthodox theology and heterodox abomination. Surely the Lord cannot be part of such a scene! In English translations of Isaiah 30:27–33, he is not.

Using Bible Software to Teach Translation Theory

Undergraduate students often have only a rudimentary understanding of why there are so many Bible versions. An instructor using biblical software can quickly reveal the many important differences in translation, but it is also important to help students understand why translations are different, i.e., what theoretical and practical factors have shaped each version. This presentation will demonstrate techniques developed in a courses titled, “The Digital Bible,” in which students use Accordance and free online tools to explore the underlying methods and assumptions behind particular translation decisions. One common motif in treatments of introductory exegesis is the contrast between “formal correspondance” and “dynamic equivalence” approaches to translation, popularized by Eugene Nida and now usually presented as a spectrum between two poles. Students are taught, for instance, that the NASB is one of the most “literal” Bible and the Message is the most “dynamic,” and they are asked to decide which version is “correct.” However, translation theory in recent decades has moved beyond these two categories in order to emphasize that all translation is interpretation. Translators participate in power-laden interpretive frameworks, and all translations function within a web of reader expectations and needs. Students should recognize, for instance, that every translation of controversial passages related to gender (e.g., Ezekiel 23, 1 Timothy 2) is constrained by particular social, political, and theological goals and assumptions. By using tagged texts, lexicons, translator’s notes, etc., students can gain a richer understanding of the translation process and why it matters to interpretation. Rather than casting one translation as more “accurate” or “faithful,” this exercise shows how translation is always already an interpretive act.

Beyond Equivalence

I am working on a journal article that sets the groundwork for my monograph project next year. I’m calling it “Beyond Equivalence: Ideology and Power in Biblical Translation,” and it presents my argument for moving beyond the traditional spectrum of “dynamic equivalence” and “formal correspondence” translation. Another common (but slightly different) way of describing this specture is “word for word” and “sense for sense.”

I have been working on parts of this paper for a year, and am now preparing the larger version for journal submission. It was difficult to bring the different pieces together into one focused structure, and I found the app Scapple (from the Scrivener developers) to be very helpful. I have used many mind-mapping apps on both Mac and iOS for years, and Scapple is by far the easiest and most flexible to use. It doesn’t let you fiddle with styles and colors too much, and it is happy to create whatever kind of linked structure you need, not only hierarchical. And it’s only 15 bucks. Highly recommended for other visual thinkers out there.

Accordance, DCH, and Turbans

I’m researching the topic of “head-dresses” in the Hebrew Bible for an encyclopedia entry, and was having trouble keeping all the various types of turbans and crowns straight in my head. This is an image of an Accordance workspace with several views of the Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, the standard multi-volume Hebrew lexicon. Needless to say, this kind of comparison would be very difficult with print volumes. Also, it is easy to click open a biblical passage and then “amplify” to any number of commentaries, textual notes, and multiple translations.

I love living in the future.

OOTLE 2015

I am looking forward to an experimental course this semester called the “Open Old Testament Learning Event,” coordinated by the brilliant Brooke Lester, Assistant Professor of Hebrew and the Director for Emerging Pedagogies at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. I’m not sure what all will happen, but I know there will be weekly Google “hangouts” to discuss particular topics, and blog posts from participants aggregated to the OOTLE site.

By all means check it out, and if you have any questions, ask Brooke. I’m sure he’d love to tell you more about it.

Can U Just Not?

On FB, Timothy Michael Law shared a link to a hilarious post translating “Thou shalt not” in biblical commands as “can u just not?”. By all means go read it.

Consider this:

Exodus 20:17

“Can u not covet thy neighbour’s house, can u not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s. can u just not.”

and this:

Matthew 6:5

“And when you pray, can u not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”

This is a delightful exercise in register in translation. There is nothing wrong with this rendering from a literal perspective, generally speaking. However, I think we’d all agree that it changes the meaning of the text because these words evoke a different socio-linguistic web of contexts than does “thou shalt not.”

These two options are at the extreme ends of the spectrum, but other renderings in between them have similar—though more nuanced—impact on meaning. Other options for Exod 20:17 include “You shall not covet” [NRSV, etc.], “Do not covet” [HCSB, etc.], “You must not covet” [NLT], “Let not your desire be turned” [BBE], “Do not desire your neighbor’s house” [CEB], and the scolding tone of the Message’s “No lusting after your neighbor’s house.”

There are two questions. First, which one best captures the tone and intention of the original? I like “you must not,” personally. Second, which one is the most effective in communicating the ethical/moral imperative invested in these texts by the translating/reading community? In all honesty, one could make a case for “can u just not?”

Can a Genre Be Errant?

Carlos Bovell has written a very nice guest post on the blog of Peter Enns, titled “Does an inerrantist culture ‘do good or do harm?’” His argument is that evangelicals need to reframe and decenter the notion of inerrancy in their conception of biblical authority:

One concern I have is that, for various reasons, a number of inerrantist scholars are failing to grasp just how debilitating it is to spiritual formation to foreground inerrancy as a central and permanent fixture for American evangelical identity. They fail to see how, culturally and institutionally, this mindset can keep evangelical teachers from doing good, from providing healing for searching Christians both in evangelical churches and in classrooms.

It’s a great article. Go read it.

What caught my eye was his statement that although inerrantists have become more sophisticated in their hermeneutics—recognizing the existence of different genres in scripture—they reject the existence of “errant genres” like myth and legend.

Defining inerrancy according to genre, for example, does not go far enough because inerrantists still feel the same pressure, just delayed for a moment: only genre designations that are not “errant” are allowed, which helps explain why myth and legend in Genesis, for example, are not typically admitted as legitimate genre designations by inerrantist writers.

But such designations are routinely—even universally—accepted outside of inerrantist scholarship. Guarding against “errant” genres in scripture looks like special pleading and a needless spiritual distraction.

You can see this dynamic in the 1978 Chicao Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics, which affirms “genre criticism as one of the many disciplines of biblical study” in Article XIII, but still rejects mythic readings of Genesis in Article XXII.

Here is my question: how can a genre be errant? Each genre is a tool of the biblical writers, like all of the other tools that they use. The literalist argument is that Genesis 1–11, for instance, presents itself as factual, and so must be read as historical narrative rather than myth. I disagree with that argument based on analysis of the text itself, in its context, but that is a much better claim than that myth cannot be true or authoritative, a legitimate genre within scripture.

These hermeneutical maneuvers are not a good strategy in the long term. I would prefer that we engage scripture on its own terms and let go of our tight grip long enough to let it speak to us however it wants, in whatever genre.

Nyasha Junior Is Headed to Temple

My friend and colleague (and fellow PTS grad), Nyasha Junior has accepted a position in the Religious Studies department at Temple University. She will be teaching Hebrew Bible alongside Jeremy Schipper and Mark Leuchter.

Temple’s program was already strong, and it is now certainly one of the best places in the country to study Hebrew Bible. I will definitely make sure that my students have the Temple program on their radar.

Congratulations to Temple and to Dr. Junior! Also, can I just add that Nyasha has the best website in the profession?

Damrosch, Alter, Boom

The folks at Nida just sent an email with a video link for the two lectures (and responses) at the 2014 Nida Research Symposium in September. I enjoyed the event tremendously, most of all for the chance to share conversation with good friends from Misano [s/o to James, Deborah, Michael, Roy, Jason, Brian, Phil, and Simon!]. It was also wonderful to visit NYC again with Jen and to take Joseph for some historical sight-seeing.

I can’t give you access to all of that goodness, but the talks were quite interesting and the responses trenchant. You can watch them on the FUSP site:

  • David Damrosch, Ernest Bernbaum Professor of Literature and Chair of the Department of Comparative Literature at Harvard University, “World Literature, National Markets”

  • Lydia Liu, Wun Tsun Tam Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Chinese and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, Response

  • Robert Alter, Professor in the Graduate School and Emeritus Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California at Berkley, “Translating Biblical Poetry: Ancient Hebrew Verse and the Constraints of English”

  • Adriane Leveen, Senior lecturer in Hebrew Bible at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, New York Campus, Response

Real Moms and the Power of Language

This is a guest post from Jennifer Bibb, a wonderful writer who also happens to be the mother of our two sons.

Dear boys,

My facebook newsfeed has been buzzing with posts about Adoption Awareness Month. It seems like a good time to share with you again about your “real mom”.

The first thing I want you to know is that the words “real mom” have no true power. They are just words.

The second thing I want you to know is that the words “real mom” have profound power and are much, much more than just words.

Here’s what I mean when I say that the words “real mom” have no true power. As I write this, you and I are finishing up Book Four of the Harry Potter series. Remember all the people in Harry Potter who refuse to say the word Voldermort? Harry’s best friends, his teachers, the Ministers of Magic—they all refuse to utter the word. But Harry always says Voldermort’s name. He doesn’t say it to rebel or to appear brave in the eyes of others. On the contrary, Harry seems to be starting from a place of humility, innocence, and quiet confidence. It seems that something deep inside him understands that Voldermort is powerful and dangerous, and yet at the same time knows that his name—the mere word Voldermort—does not have power. More importantly, Harry senses that treating the word like it’s dangerous creates and exacerbates fear, which only serves to give Voldermort more power.

So when someone suggests to you that I’m not your “real mom,” or when you yourselves wonder—as you have in the past—if I’m your “real mom,” my hope and prayer is that you and I will not be afraid of the words. Because if we refuse to be afraid of the words, we free ourselves to discover what those words can teach us. Don’t be afraid, my precious boys. Open up your hearts and your minds. Go with the words “real mom” and see where they take you. They can take you to a deep place where I pray you will find the freedom and courage to explore what and who your “real mom” is and why those words are so powerful.

To this day, a surge of pride and satisfaction fills me up when someone asks me my occupation, and I get to reply “mom”. This, boys, is where the words “real mom” start to pick up steam and take on power.

For me, being your “real mom” means that I get to snuggle with you in bed each night. It means I get to be the one to read Harry Potter to you for the very first time. It means I have the significant responsibility of teaching you about things like faith, respect, responsibility, and the difference between right and wrong. It means I get to witness your tears and offer you comfort. It means I’m the one who nearly passes out from excitement when you score goals at your games. It means I’m the one who cleans up your throw up, who operates the vehicle while you are fighting in the back seat, who tries not to scream when you take turns calling out every potty word you know through peals of laughter over the breakfast table at 6:30 in the morning before I’ve had my coffee. Being your “real mom” means I’m the one who knows you better than anyone else. It means I’m your safe place, your as-close-to-unconditional-love-as-you’re-going-to-get-on-this-earth place. It means feeling protective of you, even when you’re being a punk. It means coming down too hard on you, and then telling you I’m sorry when I realize I’ve made a mistake. Being your “real mom” means loving you so fiercely that I break out into a sweat when I reflect on what a miracle it is that you are even in my life.

But what about those other “real moms”? What about Ms N. and Ms K.? What about those “real moms” who conceived you and carried you inside their bodies for nine long months? What about those “real moms” who gave birth to you and with whom you share blood and genes? How can you know what and who is real when it comes to your mom?

One day when you are old enough, I hope you will watch a movie called A Beautiful Mind. It’s the story of a brilliant man who was very sick. He heard voices and saw things that weren’t there. His mind was full of thoughts and pictures and ideas and bad dreams—sometimes so full that he couldn’t think straight. He would get confused and scared. At one point in the movie, he confesses to his wife that he is scared because he doesn’t know what’s real anymore. His wife crouches close in front of him and lovingly takes his hand and presses it to her face and says, “This is real.” Then she presses his hand to her heart and says “And this is real.”

So, my beloved sons, when you hear the words “real mom,” don’t be afraid. Be humble. Be patient. Be quietly confident. Be thoughtful. Be free. Go deep. Know that being a “real mom” means choosing to commit to giving a child the best you have to offer. It often means choosing self-sacrifice. It means loving someone so much that you frequently choose to put their needs and wants ahead of your own. This is what my love for you is like. And this is the way I will always love you.

But I want you to hear me say that Ms. N. and Ms. K. loved you this way too. You were conceived, carried, and birthed in love by a “real mom.” Your future was planned for by a “real mom.” You were given to, entrusted to, and have been raised in love by a “real mom”.

This, my boys, is what I want you to know about your “real mom.” This is love, in all its glory, messiness, complexity, and beauty. It’s real. It’s powerful. It is your story, and it is mine.

I love you both with all my heart.

Mom.