I apologize for my lack of post last week, it was a really crazy week…

To make up for it, I’ll post a two-parter today. Feel free to come back and read the second half on Thursday to spread out the entertainment.

If you’re not even going to read the first post, here’s the interesting blog-stat of the month:

I really like it when people search the internet for advice (instead of pictures of Brad Pitt and Christina Ricci) and find my blog. For example, yesterday:

I’m not really sure what kind of advice this earcher was looking for, but a search for “when can you hit someone?” led them to my blog.  Whoever you are, I hope my blog helped you with your question.

If you are interested in The Problems of Interpreting the Author’s Intent read on….I’ll save the religious argument for second, so we’ll start wit:

“The problem of Interpretation: This Land is Your Land”

Who has ever had to sing “God Bless America” and “This Land is Your Land” at a school assembly to celebrate how great America is?  (…or since I have music teachers who read my blog, how many of you have made your students sing it?)  Much like Bruce Springsteen’s oft misunderstood “Born in the USA” (He must have been secretly pleased when Bob Dole and Ronald Regan chose it as their campaign song since it’s actually a critique of how are veterans are treated after returning home from war.), Woody Guthry’s anthem also has an ironic subtext:

We all know that redwood forests and the gulf stream waters were made for you and me (not to mention the sparkling sands of her diamond desert), but did anyone ever notice that the song mysteriously ends when the fog lifts at the end of this national journey?  Although usually when “the fog lifts” an illusion disappears and reality is seen more clearly, but in this song after the fog lifts most patriotic singers return immediately to the first verse.  Like a joke without a punchline this question begs to be answered.  Like a chicken trying to cross a road, there are many ways to answer that question.  So why did Woody Guthrie cross this land?  Obviously to get to the other side…but what did he find when he got there?  There are four answers to this question, written by Guthrie but probably never sung by a middle school chorus:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing;
That side was made for you and me.

Sometimes instead of a wall, it was just a sign:

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

The above version was originally followed by a bonus verse:

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

…and perhaps the most direct answer to what Guthrie found out about this beautiful land when the fog lifted:

In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I’d seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?

Interesting that Woody’s actually saying that although this land appears to be made for you and me, in practice it doesn’t work out that way.

“The problem of Translation: The Second Commandment”

Translation always seems to be a pretty straight-forward task.  Take a word in one language and put in a word with the same meaning from another language.  Of course you have to understand idioms and slang, but still these words have meanings and if you understand the meanings, how different could two translations be?  Take the old testamen, ftor example.  The ten commandments are written in Hebrew, but even if you translate “Ratsakh teer lo.” as “Thou Shalt not kill.” or “Do not commit murder.”, it still pretty much means the same thing…well, most of the time.  If you’re going to use the commandments to condemn war, you’re out of luck since Jewish sages note that the word “ratsakh” applies only to illegal killing (e.g., premeditated murder or manslaughter) — and is never used in the administration of justice or for killing in war.  I personally am against killing for any reason, even war, but that’s not what Yahweh was talking about in the ten commandments.

…but I digress.  The point is that the difference between “murder” and “kill” is a minor one.  The problem with translation is the cultural understanding of concepts…such as the significance of names.  The Hebrew word for a name is שם (shem), but “shem” is much more than just the word you use to identify one person from another.  It also means the “breath”, not as in the exchange of air in the lungs, one’s breath is the life inside you.  It the internal qualities of an individual that make him or her unique.  Shem translates most simply as name, but more completely as character.  It is not just what you are called, it is who you are.  In some cases it’s even translated as “fame” as in 1 Kings 4:31, “and his fame was in all the nations round about.”  They didn’t just know his name, they understood very clearly who he was and what he was about.

To go back to the commandments, it’s also found in “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain.”  which would more correctly translate as “Do not take the character of God in vain.”

So what does it mean?  Remember that Shem not only means “character”, but also “breath”.  Going back to Genesis, God gave Adam the breath of life.  This is a highly meaningful act.  God did not just fill up Adam’s lungs.  God could have done that without breathing on him.  It was God placing within Adam a representation of himself, his character was placed within Adam. Remember that there were other people in the world at the time of the Garden of Eden.  The town of Nod, for example, was full of people with air in their lungs…but not the Shem of God.  God’s shem can’t be taken, only given by God.

Which brings us to the next important Hebrew word: נשא (nasa), which KJV translates as “take”.  Like take (“Take a number”, “Take a walk”, “Take my wife, please!”, etc.) , nasa can be used for a multitude of meanings.  It translates variously as lift, carry, accept, exalt, regard, obtain, respect, and so one and so forth.  In some way it always refers to possession.  In the context of being used with the direct object of “name”.  If one is to nasa a name, it means to “lifts it up.”  God wants his followers to lift up his shem and show this character to others, and he takes it seriously if one were to represent his character falsely.  Correctly translated “Adonai shem et sah tee lo shay’la kha hey lo e.” means is acting like the people of God or more idiomatically, “You’ve got God in you, so you’d better act like it.”

Thinking of this commandment in terms of action makes more sense than when you should or should not say God’s name since orthodox Jews never pronounce the literal name anyway.  If they already have a rule that says, “Don’t say God’s name.” why would they need a second rule that says “Don’t say God’s name in vain.”  That’s like a teacher telling her students, “Don’t cheat on tests.” and “Don’t cheat on math tests.”

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