by Dan WallaceOctober 2nd, 2007 Be First to Comment
I haven’t read the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus beyond the Grave, ed. Robert Price and Jeffery Jay Lowder yet, but I have ordered it. I’m not exactly sure where this book is headed, but it seems to me that Robert Price would definitely believe that the tomb was indeed empty on that first Easter morning. The reason is that he believes that Jesus never existed. There’s a new breed of writers who are actually taking this idea seriously and are working out all sorts of explanations for how the rise of Christianity took shape. One of the objectives, it seems, is to deny that Paul ever spoke of Christ as having lived on earth. To Paul (according to this view), Jesus Christ was a mythical figure who roamed the heavens, not a real time-space man who suffered on a Roman cross, bled real blood, and rose from the grave bodily.
This seems to be the view that one of the chapters especially takes. Again, I haven’t seen the book yet, but I am generally acquainted with the work and viewpoint of several of these authors, Richard Carrier among them. I was alerted to Carrier’s translations of various passages in his chapter, "The Spiritual Body of Christ."
After calling one of the essays in the book "mean-spirited" the Publishers Weekly review added, "However, several essays make excellent points about holes in Christian apologists’ arguments; Richard Carrier’s discussion of the ‘spiritual body of Christ’ for instance, challenges Christians’ tendency to imagine a monolithic worldview among first-century Jews." This lone chapter was singled out for the highest praise by PW. Again, since I haven’t read the book yet, I cannot comment on the entirety of the chapter. But I can comment on one of the foundational pieces in it: whether Paul thought in terms of a spiritual body or a physical body when he considered the resurrection of Christ.
One key passage on this is Romans 8.11-13. This is Carrier’s translation:
"So if the spirit of the raiser of Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the raiser of Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies, through the Spirit dwelling in you. And so, therefore, brothers, we owe nothing to the flesh, we ought not live in the flesh, for if we live in the flesh, we are destined to die, but if we kill the deeds of the body we will live." (p. 149)
Critique: On the one hand, this is an awkward translation, which normally means that the translator is a neophyte and is uncomfortable in working in Greek. On the other hand, it is a bit too free, indicating that the author is either quite comfortable working in Greek or has an agenda (this second would be the case if the translation is not true to the meaning of the original). The translation is reminiscent of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation in its method, a translation I would regard as the worst committee-produced English translation ever foisted on the public. In addition, there are some specific critiques I would add, most notably Carrier’s poor understanding of Greek syntax.
Now for some specifics: "the raiser" (two times) is both overly literal and yet does not accurately reflect the Greek. Since the participle each time is aorist, the best translation would be "the one who raised" indicating that this was an event in the historical past. One wonders if Carrier is trying to do a sleight of hand, but suggesting that the resurrection of Jesus is not in the past. Then, either sloppiness in viewing antecedents or else an intentional deception is seen. Carrier has "through the Spirit dwelling in you" in v. 12. Earlier "spirit" was not capitalized. This time it is. If this is intentional, it seems meant to distinguish the two instances in vv. 11 and 12. But this neglects the autou, wedged between tou enoikountos and pneumatos. The Greek means either "through his Spirit" or "through the same Spirit." This is something, in fact, that we just went over in first-year Greek last week! By dropping either "his" or "same" and by rendering the first "spirit" in lower case and the second capitalized, the impression one gets is that two different s/Spirits are in view. Whether intentional or not, this is simply a poor, even sloppy translation by one who does not seem to be well acquainted with the language. There are other items we could quibble with in v. 12 (e.g., the use of exclusivist language for adelphoi when it has been amply demonstrated that adelphoi was often used of both genders in Koine Greek; the paraphrase of what should be translated as "we are obligated not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh" into the clumsy expansion, "we owe nothing to the flesh, we ought not live in the flesh" in which the single point is now divided into two, and the preposition "according to" is translated as "in"). Perhaps worst of all is v. 13: not only does the translator switch the person from second to first (from "you" to "we") with no warrant that I can discern, not only does he continue to illegitimately or at least loosely translate kata as in, but he also leaves out "by the Spirit" the only means by which one can kill the deeds of the body!
If this translation showed up in an exegetical paper for one of my Romans classes, I doubt that I would give it a passing grade. I would note that the translator was not paying attention to the details of the text and thus was ending up with a view of the passage that was far afield from what Paul intended. Whether Carrier did this intentionally or unintentionally, either way his treatment of the text is illegitimate. If unintentional, then his competence in Koine Greek needs to be called into question. If intentional, then his integrity as a scholar needs to be called into question. I can almost understand this sort of thing in a rushed-off email to someone when a translator is distracted by Monday night football while he’s glancing at the text in semi-conscious awareness of the Greek. But for it to appear as a published translation" and one that no doubt has an agenda”seems inexcusable. Now if this is the best chapter in the book (as Publishers Weekly almost hints at), I have to wonder how good the rest of the tome is.
Nevertheless, I am sure I am missing something. I want to give the benefit of the doubt to Carrier and see if he has defended himself in lexical or grammatical explanation, footnotes, or text-critical decisions that would alter the text. Has anyone read the book yet? How does Carrier defend this translation?
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