A New Tack on Translating RWME
- Well, I took the bull by the horns today and wrote to Marvin Meyer
at Chapman U. I summarized the comparative analysis as presented
here, and asked if he could shed any light on why the third group of
translations went as far as they did in eliminating the word 'man'.
His response was friendly, but short. Unfortunately, I can't quote it
because he didn't respond to my request to do so, but I think I can
report the gist of it, as there's nothing confidential in it. He said that
he translated RWME as 'person' because it corresponds to ANTHROPOS,
and that he sees this not as a matter of compensating, but of accuracy
of translation. Using L114 as an example, he further pointed out that
Coptic has different words for 'male' and 'female', implying, I suppose,
that that's enough.
To me, this is an explanation that only provokes further questions.
I'll have to think it over for awhile, and maybe someone else can put
in their two cents worth, but these are some of my initial thoughts:
1. There's something wrong with the fact that the word 'man' disappears
entirely in Meyer's translations. The reason 'woman' doesn't disappear
is that he translates the same Coptic word (C2IME) sometimes as
'female' and sometimes as 'woman'. But why such consistency with
RWME, but not with C2IME? Or again, if 2OOYT ('male') is considered
on a par with C2IME as sometimes meaning 'male' and sometimes
meaning 'man', why does he never translate it as 'man'? One place he
might have done so is this (in L114):
"... so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males."
Wouldn't it be more natural to say "... resembling you men ..."?
But if 2OOYT is not treated as on a par with C2IME, then there's no
way in Coptic to use the word 'man' in a gendered way. That's absurd.
2. Meyer's position that ANTHROPOS is never to be translated as 'man'
seems to be more extreme than that of his fellow translators at the JSem
who did the NT translations. Consider L78.2, which Meyer translates as:
"And to see a _person_ dressed in soft clothes ...?"
But the parallels (Mt 11:8 and Lk 7:25) are both translated as "... a
_man_ dressed in fancy clothes ..." in the same book (_The Five
Gospels_). And the word in question is ANTHROPOS. So evidently
it wasn't the policy of JSem translators to _never_ translate ANTHROPOS
as 'man', but it was Meyer's policy to never translate RWME - which he
regards as the corresponding Coptic word - as 'man'.
3. I can't find anywhere in Meyer's _The Gospel of Thomas_ where he
mentions his translational principle, but he does say this:
"Ordinarily I use inclusive language in the English translation: The
general spirit of the document recommends it, and the character of
the Coptic language, which employs the masculine to refer to what
is indefinite or neutral (there is no neuter gender in Coptic), allows
such translational choices. I have not used inclusive language,
however, when it might compromise the accuracy of the translation.
I have also allowed a certain amount of gender bias to remain in the
translation as a reflection of the specific contents of the text and
the nature of the Coptic language." (TGT, pp. 18-19)
It may be that the gender bias that he mentions allowing to remain
is in part the masculine pronouns that he allows to remain in sayings
where he has changed the subject from 'man' to 'person'. But this
introduces an element of discordance that isn't present in the Coptic.
Particularly egregious is L72, where Meyer has Jesus addressing a
"person" as 'Mister'. Why not identify the person as a man to begin
with? Surely that's what was intended in the Coptic text? But wait -
Meyer presumably uses 'Mister' because the Coptic contains the word
RWME. But on his principles, shouldn't he translate the salutation
as something like 'Hi you' or 'O human', leaving the gender of the
person uncertain? Seems to me that if the Copts thought like that,
they'd've been very confused by their own language.
4. There are really two senses of 'man' in question. The one is man
as male gendered, the other is Man as in humankind. ANTHROPOS
is apparently the latter, but it appears to me that RWME is often used
in Thomas in the former sense. But how can that be if the two are
synonymous? (Maybe the Coptic CD can help out here.)
Such are my scattered thoughts this evening. Hopefully this will
spur others to help clarify the situation. (Something from someone
with Greek expertise would be nice :-)
- Eureka! I've found two counter-examples to Meyer's principle,
and no doubt more to come! I was looking on the Coptic CD for
the Sahidic translation of the Greek ANHR, which, unlike ANTHROPOS,
was used exclusively for males. The first two instances of ANHR that
I looked at were at Lk 5:8 and 5:12. I was afraid that the translation
would be 2OOYT, and that Meyer would be right, but in both cases,
the Sahidic translation was RWME. So Meyer's principle is false:
RWME doesn't always correspond to ANTHROPOS. Yay! Now I
can rest easy tonight and write to Meyer in the morning. (:-)
- I have been following your post on Meyer's translations and agree for the
most part. It seems to me that he has taken other liberities that stray
from the literal translations. For instance, logion 66. Jesus said, "Show
me the stone that the builders rejected: that is the keystone." I thought
the translation is "cornerstone" not "keystone" and it has been a while
since I read Patterson and Meyers explaination as to why they used
keystone and couldn't find it again. Do you know what their explaination
for their translation? It alters the entire meaning.
> Eureka! I've found two counter-examples to Meyer's principle,
> and no doubt more to come! I was looking on the Coptic CD for
> the Sahidic translation of the Greek ANHR, which, unlike ANTHROPOS,
> was used exclusively for males. The first two instances of ANHR that
> I looked at were at Lk 5:8 and 5:12. I was afraid that the translation
> would be 2OOYT, and that Meyer would be right, but in both cases,
> the Sahidic translation was RWME. So Meyer's principle is false:
> RWME doesn't always correspond to ANTHROPOS. Yay! Now I
> can rest easy tonight and write to Meyer in the morning. (:-)
- Ariadne wrote:
>I have been following your post on Meyer's translations and agree for theWell, at first glance it doesn't seem to alter the meaning that much.
> most part. It seems to me that he has taken other liberities that stray
> from the literal translations. For instance, logion 66. Jesus said, "Show
> me the stone that the builders rejected: that is the keystone." I thought
> the translation is "cornerstone" not "keystone" and it has been a while
> since I read Patterson and Meyers explaination as to why they used
> keystone and couldn't find it again. Do you know what their explaination
> for their translation? It alters the entire meaning.
A cornerstone is the foundation of a building, while a keystone is the
top stone of an arch, holding the two sides of the arch in place. Both
suggest a stone which is indispensable and must be of the right size.
A corner-stone would be laid first, however, and there seems to be no
reason why the builders would set it aside. A keystone, on the other
hand, would be chosen from among stones set aside as being the
wrong size while the arch was being built, only to be used at the end
to fit exactly into the remaining opening. That's the reasoning, anyway,
as I recall. Analogically, I suppose that a keystone would represent
Matthew's position that Christ was the completion of the Law, while
a cornerstone would seem to suggest an entirely new building
(Christianity) made out of the scraps left over from another building
(Judaism). Maybe that's what you mean by altering the entire meaning.
Jesus may have been restating Psalm 118 verse 22, or he could have been
referring to the building of the sacred temple, the temple of Solomon.
The temple represented a structure of concise measurement used for
initiation rites aimed at attaining consciousness of the Godhead. Ancient
masons carefully constructed the temple according to a sacred form of
mystical architecture consisting of exact measurements and cubical
proportion. The structure was both an art and a science arising from
mystical secrets. The temple represented the structure of God. Each stone
supporting the structure was specifically chosen, and many would naturally
be rejected and judged as not supporting its design. "The stone which the
builders rejected" refers to the legend concerning the building of King
Solomon's temple, where the rejected stone became the cornerstone of the
temple, the Temple of God and indwelling place of His Holy Shekinah.
The stone that was rejected was a metaphor for some aspect of God that had
been rejected again and again, something perhaps within us all that has
been ignored. Humanity itself was therefore suffering from its own
ignorance, having discarded a significant piece of understanding of the
nature of God. Jesus comments on this ignorance when he says, Show me
the stone the builders rejected, it is the cornerstone. He would not
have been referring to himself as most theologians interpret the same
passage in Matthew.
If the Shekinah, the cornerstone would be the feminine aspect of God, the
divine manifest at the foundation of life.
The keystone is the last wedge-shaped piece of an arch regarded as binding
the whole and would not have had as much significance.
- Hi Adriadne, (my thoughts on the subject)
I have always questioned the translation of H6438 (pinnah)
as "corner". The context in the OT really means a high place;
perhaps the peak of a pyramid or the 4 high corner stones on a
building or tower that are likely to fall. Builders are likely to
reject a "lithos/stone" that is "rounded" for placement at the top of
The Septuagint translates H6438 to Greek "gonia" (G1137). I also
understand that "gonia" has sharp edges or points like a "penta-gon"
or an "octa-gon". The KJV NT folks translated "kephale gonia"
as "head of the corner" (Mar 12:10) rather than keystone. Keystone
implies a completion which shuts and locks the door or bridge such
that it will not collapse.
I agree that there is a different meaning for "keystone" then what Ps
118:22 or the NT implies when using "gonia".
Hmmmm--- "the rejected masculine lithos" becomes the head of what was
the feminine "gonia". #114 restated? Actually, I do not take much
credence in Greek gender as Greek words were invented long before the
NT authors used them and Jesus did say he made all things new. And
as I understand, the Coptics borrowed from the Greek
- Roger says:
>It is not possible to build much of a case about what gender Greeks
> Hmmmm--- "the rejected masculine lithos" becomes the head of
> what was the feminine "gonia". #114 restated? Actually, I
> do not take much credence in Greek gender as Greek words were
> invented long before the NT authors used them and Jesus did
> say he made all things new. And as I understand, the Coptics
> borrowed from the Greek
considered something to be based on the gender of Greek words, unless they
are proper names. English is the only language with which I am familiar
that bases the gender of nouns on the gender of the objects they represent.
Greek nouns that name inaninmate objects can be masculine, feminine or
neuter - that doesn't mean that Greeks thought of tables, chairs, books etc
as being male, female or genderless.
Coptics borrowed many words from Greek, mainly to express concepts that
didn't exist in Egyptian thought, but not always. They didn't always carry
the gender of the word across from the Greek though.
"Politics is the work we do to keep the world safe for our spirituality" -
Judith Plaskow, Phoenix Rising, 2000
Rev Judy Redman
PhD candidate, Postgraduate member of Council & Uniting Church Chaplain
University of New England Armidale 2351
ph: +61 2 6773 3739
fax: +61 2 6773 3749
web: http://www-personal.une.edu.au/~jredman2 and
- [Mike,] thank you for posting this! It's answered the questions I had about
Meyer's translation, although my personal jury is still out on his rationale.
I'm not an expert in Greek by any means, but have been looking into how to
translate 'anthropos' recently. 'Anthropos' when used of an individual
always refers to a male individual, alhough it is also used to refer to a group of individuals of either sex. It reminds me of the Old English use of the
word 'man, originally 'human', while wapman was a male human (weapons-man) and
wombman a female human. In the same way, 'man' referring to an individual is
used solely to apply to a male human.
I recall that Michael Marlowe discussed the translation of anthropos ... ah,
here it is!
> [Mike,] thank you for posting this! It's answered the questions I hadThanks for your note, J.S. (and please sign your notes - that's the
> Meyer's translation, although my personal jury is still out on his
protocol, and I don't know if the name I put on it agrees with you.)
The Marlowe piece is great. It covers the area I had intended to
cover in the second part of this note, when thinking about it last night,
and with much more expertise than I have at my disposal. Marlowe
answers the questions I would have posed, without knowing the answers.
This weekend, I came to realize that my analysis in this series of notes
was still incomplete. It occurred to me to ask two questions about
Meyer's Anthropos Principle (i.e., that RWME corresponds to, or is
synonymous with, ANTHROPOS). The first was, "Even if it's false, what's
the translational impact?" The second was, "Even if it were true, what
would the translational impact be?" Both of these questions need to
be answered in order to come to a proper judgement about Meyer's
translations (and others that appear to depend on the Anthropos Principle.)
I'll look at these two questions, and describe how I approached them.
"Even if the AP is false, what's the translational impact?" The reason
this question arises is that it's possible that a translation derived by
applying the AP might be _no different_ from a translation which was
derived from a case-by-case examination of the 35 occurrences of
RWME in Coptic Thomas. Even though the application of the AP
would certainly yield inaccurate results if used on a broad range of
Coptic writings, the particular usages of RWME in Thomas might be
such that the application of AP against _them_ might yield accurate
results accidentally. (This is an application of the "Blind Pig Principle",
namely that even a blind pig finds an acorn once in a while. Or is that
the Blind Squirrel Principle?)
While it's true that I _felt_ that certain RWME-contexts in Thomas
were male-gendered rather than gender-neutral, feelings aren't
tools of cognition, so the thing to do seemed to be to look at the
Greek NT parallels of Thomas' RWME-sayings. Frankly, I was
disappointed at the results; in every case in which there was a
word in the Greek that corresponded to RWME (other than cases
like 'someone' or 'no one'), it was ANTHROPOS, not ANHR.
Especially pertinent was L72 (the Divider saying) where Jesus
addresses someone in a salutation that even Meyer renders in
male terms as 'mister'. In the Greek, however (Lk 12:13), the
salutation employs ANTHROPOS, while the person addressed
is referred to only as 'someone in the crowd'. Could it be that
what such a salutation really meant (but contra Meyer's translation
of it) was 'Oh human!' rather than 'Oh man!'? If so, then it would
seem at least plausible that a case-by-case examination of
RWME-usages would yield the same results as applying AP,
unsound though AP is.
At this point, I thought to ask the second question, "Even if AP
were true, what would the translational results be?" In other words,
even if RWME corresponded to ANTHROPOS, was it true, as Meyer
implied, that ANTHROPOS should always be translated in a gender-
neutral way? Here, the Marlowe piece that J.S. Chandler provided a
link to gives a negative answer from a general viewpoint. Not having
that kind of expertise myself, the best way I could think of to answer
the question was to see whether the Greek translators on the Jesus
Seminar translation panel agreed with Meyer and Patterson in their
translational elimination of 'man'. I was pleased to find that they didn't.
Although there was an overall attempt by the Jesus Seminar to go
to what is called 'inclusive language', the translation of Thomas
sayings involving RWME differed in three cases from the translation
of parallel Greek passages involving ANTHROPOS. I previously
mentioned L78.2, where Meyer and Patterson have 'person'
dressed in fine clothes, but the JSem Greek translators have 'man
dressed in fine clothes. Add to that 86.2, where the Meyer-Patterson
translation changes singular to plural to yield 'human beings' [have no
place to lay their heads and rest'], but where the JSem Greek translators
have 'son of Adam'. And 63.1, where the JSem Greek translators have
'rich man', but Meyer-Patterson has 'rich person'. (At least, that's the way
it is in _The Five Gospels_. In _The Complete Gospels_, however,
which I thought was the same, 'rich person' has unaccountably been
changed to 'rich man' in the Thomas translation. Not the doing of
Meyer and Patterson, I assume.)
What this shows, I think, is that the Greek translators on the JSem
translational panel didn't agree with Meyer and Patterson on a
radical program of translating every occurrence of ANTHROPOS
in gender-neutral terms, _even though_ those other translators
were interested in eliminating gender-bias. This in turn agrees
with what Marlowe has to say, so I think it's fair to conclude that
what Meyer takes as an implication of the Anthropos Principle
is in fact - and independently of the Principle - unsound as well.
Mt. Clemens, MI
- I have an observation,
Could the lack of male dominance in the translation be a subtle or not
so subtle left over from assuming that Gospel of Thomas must be in
fact a gnostic text?
That is, because the gnostics might have used certain forms ( Later)
removing the male oriented original intent. (Due to their beliefs
The translators would be inclined to translate and remove the male
orientation, which likely was the case in the original Greek copy( Or
Either way I ask this?
How it is translated today( say by removing the male dominance Of
ANTHROPOS, and other words within the text).
WOuld that be how it was written or originally intended.
That is we may( and others may want to make it culturally acceptable,
and bring certain bias to the text which might never have occurred
when it was originally written.
I would say "How " it is translated should be focused in on the
If it would not have been said or written in that day and time? It
should not be translated in a way that differs from that text and
it's Sitz im leben.
Therefore, in the society and time in which it occurred. Which is the
most likely translation?
I would suggest that it would be male,but I ask openly.
On May 5, 2008, at 10:06 AM, Michael Grondin wrote:
> What this shows, I think, is that the Greek translators on the JSem
> translational panel didn't agree with Meyer and Patterson on a
> radical program of translating every occurrence of ANTHROPOS
> in gender-neutral terms, _even though_ those other translators
> were interested in eliminating gender-bias. This in turn agrees
> with what Marlowe has to say, so I think it's fair to conclude that
> what Meyer takes as an implication of the Anthropos Principle
> is in fact - and independently of the Principle - unsound as well.
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
- John Moon asks:
> Could the lack of male dominance in the translation be a subtle or notAbsolutely not. Neither Meyer nor Patterson think it's a gnostic text.
> so subtle left over from assuming that Gospel of Thomas must be in
> fact a gnostic text?
Their translation(s) derive from two (unsound) principles:
1. That RWME corresponds to ANTHRWPOS, and that
2. ANTHRWPOS should always be translated as gender-neutral.
On the other side of the issue, Doresse thought (late 50's) that Thomas
was gnostic, yet he retained 'man' in his translation (_The Secret Books
of the Egyptian Gnostics_). Grant and Freedman (_The Secret Sayings
of Jesus_, 1960) also took Thomas to be gnostic, yet they used the
Schoedel translation, which retains 'man'.
Though I'm not sure exactly what you're getting at with your other
questions, I think we can rule out that any version of Thomas ever had
a special vocabulary. Of course we can only speculate about an
Aramaic or Syrian version, but the Coptic RWME and the Greek
ANTHRWPOS have an ambiguity to them which is also present in
the English word 'man'. Sometimes it's a generic or species-related
meaning, as in 'Anthropology is the study of Man' or (from Thomas)
'Man is like a wise fisherman'. Sometimes it's used to refer to individuals
who happen to be male. As to how one _should_ translate Coptic Thomas,
that question would lead to an interminable debate which would, I think,
come down in the end to one's point of view.