Sunday, February 6, 2011

Anthropomorphism

Thoughts on the seminar on Wednesday, 26 January: with Edward Kessler discussing Translation and Interpretation:

There are ten of us in the program but only five who study in the classroom.  Three of the five of us graduated from BYU.  Though it feels more familiar this way, there are disadvantages to having three of us from the same religious background and scriptural experience. 

For example: the other day Kathryn, Courtney and I were the only ones in class as the other two were unwell.  We were discussing the difficulties of translation and the extent to which interpretation affects translation.   We were given various translations to compare with the original text and asked to identify specific theologies held by the translators.  The text was Gen 8:21: “And the Lord smelt the grateful odour.”  The Targum Onkelos (Aramaic translation done in the first or second century BC) translated this text as “And the Lord received with grace their offering.”  My thought was that the translators were worried about their audience understanding the meaning of the original text; one would have to know it was the smoke that was being offered as a sacrifice.  “Receiving their offering” helps clarify for those who might not understand the Lord “smelling the odour.”  Courtney and Kathryn  had thought something similar. 

Our lecturer did some “umming and arring” (as they say here) and after some talking around it a bit more, he twitched in slight frustration and told us the answer he’d been looking for: anthropomorphism.  The translators didn’t believe in an anthropomorphic (human) God.  It was the smelling that was the problem – to these people smelling was a base human sense and couldn’t be imposed on a high, great and glorious God.  I almost started laughing – three Mormons alone in a classroom and we were supposed to recognize the theological difficulty of scriptural “personification” of a non-human God.  I can safely say that had we sat in that classroom all day long staring at that verse, none of us would have considered it.  [I should note, the point was not to teach or inform us that God is or isn’t anthropomorphic.  We were only supposed to recognize the theological position of the translators.]

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