Favorite Quotations of the Day–Mine and Others

He shows a general disregard for the importance of actually backing up what you say with facts.  

Here’s to those who wish us well and those who don’t can go to hell.

Three can keep a secret if two of them are dead.

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing about. 

I was sick with love once.  It left with me with enough regret to last for a lifetime. Love makes fools of all of us. But better a fool than never to have loved

Are You Lost in Translation?–Reading Again the Book of Genesis

Summer Sale:  The Book of Genesis: A New Translation from the Transparent English Bible,  is available in Kindle, Paperback and Hardcover at significantly reduced prices on Amazon. 

You can also listen to an extended interview I did this week on this translation and what makes it different, just posted on my Youtube Channel here.

What is the best-known verse in the Bible—one that millions could quote immediately by heart? Christians might say John 3:16—after all, one even sees placards and signs reading “John 3:16” at sporting stadiums! But I think the very first verse of the Bible—Genesis 1:1—most likely would win the universal familiarity content:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

I have a replica of the Geneva Bible, published in 1560, that was the standard up through the 17th century—even over the King James for a time. It has a very similar translation:

In the beginning God created heaven and the earth.

What few realize is that most scholars now consider this translation not only faulty but seriously misleading. The problem is that these older translations, now so enshrined in our memories, have ignored an important element of grammar—namely that the first word, בראשית/bereshit—is in the construct state, making it a temporal participle, connected to what follows. A good parallel is Jeremiah 26:1, which clearly means, “At the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim . . .,” or “When Jehoiakim began to reign . . .” with what follows describing the state of things at such a beginning. The opening verses of Genesis clearly reflect the same grammatical construction.

In other words, it is not a simple declarative sentence about the creation of everything by God from nothing. It is rather a description of the state of the “skies and the land” when God began to create things—bringing order out of the water covered earth that was without form and empty.

I well remember when the New English Bible was published in the 1960s when I was in college that its translation of this single verse cause great consternation on the part of traditional Bible readers. The “liberal scholars” were trying to water down the Creation Story, we were told.  Everyone knew Genesis 1:1 was about the “origin of the universe,” to put it in modern terms.

Gradually other modern translations followed suit, including the Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures (1985), and of course Fox, Alter, and others. Even the New Revised Standard Version, and its predecessor, the Revised Standard Version, included a variant note: “When God began to create the heavens and the earth…”  The notes of the New English Translation (NET) Bible, hedge a bit, taking that first word as in the absolute state—but then in a note explaining that the construct state is nothing to get worried about—as if they prefer it but can’t bring themselves to put it in the text.

 Translations must sell, no matter how accurate they claim to be, and changing the first verse of the Bible is not a good marketing strategy—to say the least!

For more on this see my blog post: “Is the Best Known Verse in the Bible Mistranslated?”

I recently published a new English translation of the Book of Genesis with notes—the first volume of the Transparent English Bible (TEB). It is available on Amazon in all formats, and you can look inside and browse to get an idea of my approach. Prices on all are significantly reduced for this Summer Sale.

There is an ancient Jewish adage regarding translating the Scriptures, “One who translates a verse literally is misrepresenting the text, but one who adds anything of his own is a blasphemer.” Modern translators of the Bible continue to echo, in more sophisticated debate, the dilemma of this ancient bit of wisdom. The literal method of translation seeks to convey an exact sense of the words and the structure of the original language, while the paraphrase, or “dynamic equivalent” method, purposely recasts the essential “thought” of the original into the natural idiom and flow of the second language. The problem is that an overly naïve literalism easily becomes nonsense, while “recasting thought” can end up obscuring or even altering the richness of the original text. The TEB is decidedly on the “literal” side of this spectrum, although the concept of transparency better conveys its theory and method.

The following examples—some of my favorites, taken directly from the TEB translation of Genesis, allow one to see the many important ways this new translation differs from the New International Version and the New Revised Standard Version, the two best-selling modern English translations.

 NIV: “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.”

NRSV:  “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.”

  • TEB: “Let the waters swarm a swarm of living life-breathers and let the flyer fly upon the land, upon the face of the expanse of the skies.” (1:20)

Here are three examples of poetic consonance in one sentence: with Hebrew nouns and verbs echoing one another: “swarm a swarm” “living life-breathers” and “let the flyer fly.” Comparing translations, the TEB is not only transparently beautiful but it is more literal in reflecting an accurate approximation of the original Hebrew terms. These “life-breathers” are creatures, no doubt, but their distinguishing characteristic is possession of the “living life-breath.” It is this factor that then binds the birds, land animals, and human beings together, as explicitly stated in v. 30. Also, although “birds” is likely intended by the Hebrew word “flyer,” the word itself has a more generic meaning that the TEB retains.

Throughout the TEB one constantly encounters refreshing and fascinating idioms that are found in the original Hebrew. For example in Genesis 29:1 we read: “And Jacob lifted his two feet, and walked toward the land of the sons of the east “ The NRSV has: “Then Jacob went on his journey, and came to the land of the people of the east,” while the NIV has: “Then Jacob continued on his journey and came to the land of the eastern peoples.” In Genesis 12:9 the TEB reads: “And Abraham pulled up stakes, walking, and pulling up stakes toward the Negev,” The NRSV simply has: “And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negev,” while the NIV has “Then Abram set out and continued towards the Negev.” When you get up early in Hebrew you “cause to shoulder up” (see Gen 22:3), a reference to packing up and loading the animals for a journey. All three versions are understandable in terms of the basic meaning, but the TEB offers the English reader a glimpse into the colorful way that Hebrew actually expresses such common ideas.

The Biblical texts at times can be extremely repetitious, both in narrative style and vocabulary. Often translators are tempted to “smooth things out” a bit, forcing the original languages to conform more closely to modern English usage. Genesis 2:23 reads: (TEB) “This one, this time—bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh! This one will be called woman, because from a man this one was taken.” In Hebrew the feminine demonstrative pronoun (“this one”) is repeated three times in a single sentence. Genesis 11:6 (TEB) says: “This they begin to do, and now nothing is restrained from them of all that they have planned to do.” Both the NIV and the NRSV put “nothing will be impossible for them,” which is surely the meaning, and even much conventional English, but it removes the “flavor and flow” of the Hebrew text.

Professor Arthur Droge, who has produced what I consider to be the best translation of the Quran in English—also with notes, offers this evaluation of this new translation:

“Finally, a truly transparent translation! I have taught biblical texts for almost 25 years and have longed for a translation that didn’t pull any punches when it came to the difficult passages, or that didn’t try to “spin” the meaning of the text in the interests of later theology and doctrine (whether Jewish or Christian). Tabor’s translation of Genesis renders the Hebrew not just with unparalleled accuracy and fidelity to the text, it also offers readers a sense of the unfamiliar elegance and strange power of the original. Beautifully conceived and executed, Tabor’s translation is the result of a lifetime of critical learning and scholarly acumen. It is also a courageous undertaking. I have no doubt that it will quickly become the standard.”

 

A Sentient Computer? I Think Not…

Some readers might have seen a version of this story that appeared in the Washington Post last weekend about a Google AI program called LaMDA that one of its creators claimed was sentient and “conscious.” Here is the CNN version of that story, “No, Google’s AI Is Not Sentient.” Even the description of what it can do makes it clear this machine is just operating a sophisticated version of John Searle’s Chinese Box example. See Robert Kuhn’s interview here with Searle on his amazing program Closer to Truth-which, by the way is now being uploaded to Youtube. And for dozens of other programs exploring these fundamental questions do the search on the Closer to Truth web site for the “Mind Body Problem.”

I am a historian of ancient Mediterranean/Ancient Near Eastern religions so my comment here is stictly “outside my field,” as the saying goes. I have to agree with Roger Penrose, this idea that intelligent and consciousness—not to mention self-consciousness—is based on this kind of a computational model of complex data association is a basic category mistake, see his enlightening interview with Lex Fridman, “Consciousness is Not a Computation.”
I don’t think one needs to move to some “wholly other” force and call it “Mind,” as if naming a phenomenon conveys understanding it. I am quite sure our self-conscious minds are rooted in “this” world—I remain a Monist in that Whiteheadean sense, but our reductionistic assumption that the “material” is just STUFF…in contrast to some “spiritual” other—is just wrong headed. As if naming Gravity, Light, and the Strong and Weak Nuclear forces somehow means we have understood them and made them part of some so-called “material” aspect of the cosmos. The problem here, as I see it, is the very assumptions that are built into our dualistic categorization that seems to be built into our language anytime we discuss the so-called “spiritual.”

I Was There! 70 Years to the Day…

I usually use this personal blog for historical, philosophical, and artistic ruminations. But today is different.
This day, June 2, 1952, marks the 70th Anniversary of Queen Elizabeth–the longest reigning monarch in English history. My two sister and I were there in London for the Coronation Day! My father was a USAF military officer stationed in Buttonwood AFB–near St. Helens–where we lived. It was in the Liverpool area–so Ringo (1940), John (1940), Paul (1942), and George (1943) were maybe already playing around with their instruments–and who knows–might have made the trek to London as so many millions of citizens did. I have only vague memories–do the math and you can figure out my age (b. 1946).
I have vague memories of that day. I know my father hoisted me up on his shoulders–taking turns with my younger sister. We were on the procession route–with the countless throngs waving flags and cheering. I got a toy Buckingham Place guard–the one with the black fur hat! I loved it so much. My sisters got golden plated metal models of the royal carriage. And we all got a five shilling piece–I still have mine–minted especially for the Coronation.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo from that day–I think we might have home movie Super 8 footage somewhere–I need to check. My father was avidly into filming everything we did–as many of you will remember who grew up in the 1950s! But today I am thinking of 70 years past–in my own life, and that amazing beginning I had growing up in England those early years (1950-1954). I did find a picture of the house we rented in St. Helens and another of us in the driveway of that house around that time. I will leave it to you all to see if you can spot which boy is Jimmy Dan Tabor. Perhaps someone out there will recognize the house. I also remember, for you trivia old folk, Dad had a 1949 Convertible Studebaker. I would like to go back someday and find that house. I had endless adventures in that house–you can imagine, remembering back when you were ages. I love that house–the endless rooms, closets, and even the attic and courtyard. Talk about letting your imagination run wild.
Anyway, I wanted to share this bit of personal trivia with you all

I Love the Word Ennui

I have loved the French loanword word ennui for as long as I can remember hearing it. To pronounce it is compelling, almost like an onomatopoeia–though it is more the “feeling” than the sound. Turns out it comes from the Latin inordinare that also gave us our English word “annoy.” It reminds me in sentiment a bit of the word listless–though the meaning in English is more direct. It apparently means a lack of energy or interest, whereas ennui is sometimes defined as boredom–which to me misses its core meaning of a simple lack of interest or engagement with any kind of joy or enthusiasm. In each case one can ask–about what is one lacking engagement, interest, or energy?

In my case it would be the everyday business of human life itself on this planet with all its diverse complexities of celebration, tragedy, joy, and grief–and a thousand other contrasts, all hitting us at once like a firehose. I think even in the height of the opposites–enthusiasm, engagement, and the most intense interest, there is always listless ennui lurking on the horizon, not as a sabotage of joyfulness but as an underlying reality. It is just there. And I welcome it, lest one be carried away too much with what likely is projection of rather capricious moods or momentary diversions as if they have any kind of cosmic permanence. In a group or crowd or even with friends when one feels ennui the typical response is to ask “Are you okay,” “Is anything wrong,” as if any person’s individual failure to keep up the façade is some kind of indication that the mask might be slipping. We don’t abide well with sitting quietly, saying nothing. I think deep dives into the pools of listless ennui is as honest as it is therapeutic.

Dreaming by David S. Tabor circa 2010

The Bad Idea that Took Over the World

Most forms of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam–not to mention more “eastern” modes of thinking, have gone down this path pretty much wholesale–that this earth is not our Home–a kind of alienation from the world. Salvation is beyond. I call this the “bad” idea that took over the world. My next book, once The Lost Mary is published in English, is on this topic. I prefer Robert Frost’s line Birches: The earth’s the right place to be; I don’t know where its likely to go better…” Here is a lecture on Youtube on this topic I gave some years ago. Please subscribe to my Channel if it looks interesting. I have recently uploaded about 80 videos!

Light and Darkness…

I love this one. That is you and me and everyone one of us, both the child within and the adult stumbling through many paths. I will not identify it, so those who don’t recognize can have fun finding the poet if they so choose. For those who are sticklers on the Upper/Lower case for God/gods, recall that ELOHIM is the “Powers,” i.e. the sum total of the Power of all powers…so-called forces of “Nature” and all that “Is.”

The darkness is apparent in every generation, in every life…as is the light. Tales of horror, loss, and grief, alongside those of joy and amazing grace and sacrificial kindness. Thank you Buk. I love your heart and soul.

And Death Shall Have No Dominion

And death shall have no dominion

Dylan Thomas – 1914-1953

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan’t crack;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.

What is Art and How Does it Transport us to Another World?

My oldest son David died in September, 2019 of cancer–way too early at age 51. He was a wonderfully creative painter. He lived in Vienna for years and toward the end of his life outside Austin. I love his work, not because he was my son. You can read about him and some of my favorite paintings he created here: Remembering David Tabor. I miss him so much every day. I find I have to “block out” the grief in order to go on with my own life, but his paintings fill our house and I am reminded of him in every room, staircase, and alcove daily.

This article about how art transports us to other worlds I found propounding moving and I thank my friend Stuart Segall for pointing it out to me: “When Art Transports Us Where Do We Actually Go?

I also highly recommend the new series on the amazing program, “Closer to Truth,” now in its 20th year exploring Cosmos, Consciousness, and Meaning–hosted by my life-long friend Robert L. Kuhn: Art Seeking Understanding.

I hope my readers enjoy both these links, and thanks for reading about David and his wonderful work left behind for all of us. I love this one, wondering what dreams are in the heart and soul of this woman as she pauses from her daily work.