Dave Sim's blogandmail #328 (August 5th, 2007)
Sunday August 5 –
Well, as I expected when Chet and I finally had a chance to talk about my Mark commentaries on my last visit to Toronto it turned out that he didn't have much good to say about them. He had breezed right through the Torah commentaries in Latter Days and had enjoyed them immensely but he was finding the Mark commentaries "a hard slog".
His reactions caught me off-guard because they centered on how people are going to react to the commentaries and that's not something that I really consider. I mean, I think they'll react to them the same way they reacted to the Torah commentaries. No reaction. And then somewhere, years up ahead, they'll just denounce me furiously as completely ignorant about my subject (a lot the way scientists react to Neal Adams' theory about the growing earth or to my Sixteen Impossible Things to Believe Before Breakfast – they never actually explain HOW or WHY they disagree with a set of facts to back up their opinions, they just get really irritated and insulting and assume that that should do it. "Dave Sim's repellent views on women."). And there's really nothing I can do about that. As far as I can see everyone is just waiting for me to die so that they can then announce that "Of course everyone knew that there was nothing to Dave Sim's theories." And I assume that a few decades after that someone with an open mind will actually read what I wrote (instead of what you Yahoos and THE COMICS JOURNAL had to say about me) and will be curious enough and interested enough to pick up where I left off. But, obviously -- me being dead and all -- there is very little that I will be able to do in assisting or guiding the discussion.
Chester's main point was that he thought I had to learn Koin Greek first if I was going to make the claims that I was making. He thought there were probably idiomatic expressions in Koin Greek that don't have direct English equivalents and consequently I was reading too much into the text.
[It was a particularly difficult discussion for me because he brought it up at Peter Pan and the whole point of going to Peter Pan is to see the Girls of Queen Street West passing by in both directions. It was a jarring high-wire act for me to carry on what I hoped was an intelligent discussion about a dead language while also keeping my eye on the Capri pants and halter tops and sling-back sandals – and of course this had to be a red-letter day for 9's and 10's]
His analogy was French and English. There are expressions in French that just don't translate into English. That's certainly true, but I think that's the reason that KOIN Greek was selected as the language in which the Gospels were first transcribed. From what I gather it's a very rudimentary version of Ancient Greek that was the lingua franca of the environment and the time period – one of those bastardized forms of a language that develops in a multi-ethnic environment which is very simple – almost caveman simple – so that everyone understands what they're talking about. Even the multi-syllabic words are compound words – the sort of things German specializes in: three nouns in a row with a verb at the end to express a complicated idea which is easily dismantled into its component parts to make the meaning clear. That's worlds away from French AND English where any word over two syllables is usually there to impede communication rather than to facilitate it.
He cited a few examples from his own Interlinear translation where, as an example, in Matthew my version has the Synoptic Jesus saying "This kind can only be cast out through prayer" with no mention of fasting (which came up during my vacation with Billy Beach and his family) – Chester's book includes fasting: "prayer and fasting".
Well, I can't say that I was surprised. The Judaic part of me goes: well, yes, that's why (and please don't send me to a concentration camp for saying so) this can't be called Scripture. There are too many different variations. To be scripture it has to be word perfect. What am I supposed to do? Go out and buy every Interlinear version of the Gospels and build a computer program to tell me every variation that every version has? And what would that tell me? Nothing. Just that there are as many variations on the Gospels as there are Interlinear versions of them. Even the most scholarly books talk about the "Five Most Widely Accepted Versions of Matthew" and things like that. The marginal notes in Luke "this verse is missing in most early copies." Mark didn't have this last chapter originally. Originally it ended like this.
So, to me, whatever the Gospels-are-that-isn't-scripture can't be examined the same way that the Torah can be examined. Chet made a sneering reference to Jehovah's Witnesses, but, hey, at a loss for how to come up with a definitive version of the Gospels, given that I think the Synoptic Jesus primarily – almost exclusively – serves as a mouthpiece for YHWH, I assume that this is the form that YHWH thinks best serves his/her/its purposes. It at least makes for a starting point.
We finally reached an impasse when I asked him if he had ever read the word-for-word English translation on its own to see what it was actually saying. No, he hadn't. And no he didn't see how that had any relevance. And to me, that has every relevance. If this is the accepted Koin Greek (give or take a deletion or addition here or there) and this is what each word of the Koin Greek translates as, then I think reading that brings you closer to the Gospels than a version where someone has said, actually this is more what the verse SHOULD be. If it was impossible to read the word-for-word English translation, I'd say he had a point. Try reading a word-for-word translation from French into English or from English into French and you'll be lucky to even follow the gist of what's being said. That brings me back to the intrinsic simplicity of Koin Greek. The word-for-word English translation is about as difficult to follow as Tonto explaining something to the Lone Ranger.
[In fact, my Christmas observance – which consists of reading John's Gospel out loud to myself – the last couple of years, I've read the word-for-word translation rather than the King James 1611 version and it reads just fine on its own. There's really no need to paraphrase it or dress it up in Jacobean prose that I can see. It's a lot more mysterious but I can't say that I consider that a bad thing in any way]
If God started with an intrinsically simple language, I assume He did so for the exact reason that He didn't want the meaning to get lost. Seriously misplaced for two thousand years, okay, that's part of The Deal. Men are basically good, they basically believe that God's Son is Astronomically Good so they will translate the Synoptic Jesus as being Astronomically Good no matter what it was that he actually said. But ultimately, that very simple language with its very simple ideas is sitting right there waiting for someone to read what it actually says. When the Synoptic Jesus says to Satan "Be you going under before me" I really don't see how you can read that and go, right, what he MEANT to say was "Get thee behind me, Satan". I can certainly understand how you can not want to read what he actually said or confront what he actually said because it is a long, long, long way away from "Get thee behind me, Satan" but, hey, I'm the Pariah King of Comics. What are you going to do? Not talk to me because I'm telling you something factual that you don't want to be factual? So what else is new? Nu?
Anyway, the steaks were very good and our waitress was charming and beautiful and, as I say, there were an unnaturally large number of 9's and 10's strolling past the window. And Chet did make a very good case for a much longer introduction explaining a lot of the above points rather than just a quick few paragraphs and then BOOM Chapter One Verse one. It's definitely pushed publication back by a period of months, if not years while I try to figure out HOW to introduce the commentaries – as with trying to explain why feminism is deluded and unworkable you can only explain so much and then it isn't a matter of a faulty explanation it's a matter of LALALALALA I'M NOT LISTENING (I suspect God started me on feminism by way of warning – you think feminists' heads are filled with cement when it comes to actually looking at things? Wait'll you see how the Christians deal with you) so a balance needs to be struck, no question about it. I've pretty much decided to plough through to the end of Luke before attempting it. I just started Chapter Twelve, so don't hold your breath.
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