Monday, February 19, 2007

Things fundamentalists miss in the Bible

Since the rise of the historical criticism of the Bible in the nineteenth century, various types of allegorical interpretation have gone out of fashion. Yet some of these techniques show a surprising hardiness. Among the methods for extracting hidden riches from scripture is the principle of the sensus plenior. Exegesis according to the sensus plenior assumes that the deity insightfully arranged for certain events to occur (and the recording of same), embedding within them meanings which would only become evident at a later date. For example, in Numbers 21:9 we learn of the episode of the Brazen Serpent. Later Jesus was to suggest that this curious story foreshadowed the Crucifixion. Thus the complete meaning of this event in the life of Moses became evident in "the fullness of time." The sensus had indeed become plenior.

Since God has knowledge of all things to come, he was aware of the fact that translations of the scriptures would be needed. As these began to appear, he made certain that certain phrases would take on their full meaning only with further semantic evolution of the language in question.

Let us take for purposes of illustration the King James Bible, still regarded by many as the Authorized Version. Right on page one (Genesis 1:11) we enounter the commmandment "Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed." The deity knew in advance that this passage would achieve a fuller meaning in the twentieth century, when pot smoking, and the terminology pertaining to it, would become widespread. It is therefore sacrilegious, to say the least, that the committee responsible for the New Revised Standard Version has vandalized this text, seeing fit to replace the word "grass" with an inelegant paraphrase; "vegetation plants."

Are you doubtful? This reading is confirmed by II Corinthians 11:25, where we find, "Once I was stoned."

Moreover, few would question the applicability, in appropriate cases, of the admonition from Psalms 50:9: "I will accept no bull from your house."

This principle of the sensus plenior is not limited to the Bible, but extends to sacred texts of all kinds. Many years ago a publisher asked me to vet a translation of the Diary of Pope John XXII, compiled when he was a seminarian. Therein I came across some curious confessions. One read, "What a disastrous week. Only two ejaculations." A few weeks later he wrote, "Much better. Eight ejaculations!"

When I discussed this admirable frankness with the publisher they reacted as you might expect. Once more there was a dismal act of vandalism, as "ejaculations" yielded to "ejaculatory prayers."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Enchiridion of Indulgences lists "ejaculatory prayers" (short utterances) and gives the specific 24 hr days that they release one from purgatory (the days have now been replaced with either "plenary" or "partial"). I wonder how many individuals, particularly American and English men, even know what "plenary" means in regard to ejaculations? What is a partial ejaculation? Is it like coitus interruptus? That's a little too Latinate, too. What's the difference of a "man" lying with a "male," and not another "man?" But, Leviticus makes the distinction. The art of translation is not always easy, but Yahweh's pronouncements, like Rome's, are not entirely comprehensible to the modern individual? Ejaculations = prayers? Is Kix for kids? Bring on postmodernism and rhetorical indeterminancy!

4:06 PM  

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