The Jump Up, near Itjinpiri in the Pitjantjatjara Lands

Loose Script Sinks Radio Ship Flick

Loose script sinks radio ship flick

So goes the headline of David Stratton's review of the film The Boat that Rocked in The Australian newspaper of April 11 2009. Stratton contends that a lazy, ill-planned script, sinks a great idea for a movie. The headline sums it up nicely.

The headline sounds good; read it out loud to hear the assonance.

The headline is clever. Ships sink, so does this script about a ship, apparently.

Now imagine how difficult it would be to translate this headline from English into Greek, and maintain the clever nuances and assonance.

Then consider the cultural history informing the headline. There was a security mantra In the days of World War Two, which said "Loose Lips Sink Ships." The headline is a play, almost a pun, on this mantra.

Now go back to your Greek translation, and re-do it, so that you also carry this nuance of Mr Stratton's headline, over to your Greek readers. The problem of translation is immediately much greater.

The greatness increases. I am aged 54, born a decade after the end of the war. It was only on the second or third reading of the headline, (my son leaves the review section of the paper on the toilet floor,) that I made the connection to the old saying about loose lips. I wonder if my son, born another three decades later, will make the connection and see the wit. He is well read. Many, perhaps most, of his contemporaries will miss that witty content in the headline.

My last sentence is important. The headline has content. There is wit which works on the the clever apposition of sound, not to mention flirting with bad manners: How do you titillate an ocelot? Answer: You oscillate its tits a lot. But there is also wit which carries content. The wit is intended to sharpen, or highlight, the content. That's what our Loose script... headline is doing. In fact, the wit is part of the content.

Let's go to something very basic, like maths. Is it culturally independent? Surely 1 + 1 = 2 is as pure as it gets. We don't need to translate anything. Everyone gets this. But even with something this basic, we cannot go very far before culture intervenes. My friend Alan was having no success teaching division and decimals to a group of tribal men. The concepts seemed totally foreign; I think all sides of the equation were becoming very frustrated.

One day, at an engine workshop, the visiting tutor examined a crank shaft, decided it was worn out, and tossed it aside. One of the men looked at it; he could see no problem. The tutor picked up a micrometre and showed him how it worked. He talked about mechanical tolerances. Alan said by the end of the morning, everyone could do long division. If even such basic "hard" and objective knowledge, is so dependent on culture and experience, how much more dependent is the "fluid" territory of philosophy, theology, and behaviour!

Religion is not a science like biological evolution, weighing facts and fossils. These are up at the maths end of the spectrum, for all the variability of biology. In religion, we are working with the experience of the Divine, and the meaning and purpose of life. We are far off at the deeply enculturated end of human knowledge.

The Bible is a religious response to the Divine. It is a collection of stories and writings collected across at least a millennium. The written product we use today dates to at least 1700 years before our time, translated from diverse manuscripts, with some original word meanings unclear, and other portions of text in dispute. Essentially, the bible is people, and communities, saying "I met God. This is my response. This is what I think it means. This is how I think I should respond. This is my story as I have tried to live out my response."

It's not a text book written by God. It's not the scientific history of creation. It is a book of people's response to the meeting of God. It is thus true to say scripture is inspired by God. If we will struggle with it , let it challenge us, and listen to its criticism of our lives, it will change us. We will find those aha! moments, where we say, "Yes, I know what you mean! That's what I found, too!"

If we seriously wish to do this, we are confronted by the need for biblical studies. Otherwise, at best, we miss the richness of what we are reading. "My Lord and God" is a political as well as a religious statement. "One week later," is not the same as "on the eighth day." If we do not study the nature of meals, how much "food" will we miss when we read the feeding stories?

At worst, if we shun biblical studies, our headline may be Creation science reliance on wrong reading. Or the corker deeply imprinted on in red biro on an untidy essay: This is not exegesis, this is eyesore Jesus!

Andrew Prior
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!


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