Correspondence with Stephen Patterson
- My correspondence with Marvin Meyer having come to an
unsatisfactory close, I wrote to Stephen Patterson last Monday
to see if he would be willing to discuss his translations with me.
At first, the indications were good. He was much more forth-
coming than Meyer, who had written less than half a dozen
sentences each time. Interestingly, although Patterson seemed
to agree with the (unsound) "Anthropos Principles" as I stated
them to him, he offered a different justification for his translation
of 'rwme' - namely that "... in today's English 'man' [has] become
very gender-specific and particular ...". Be that as it may (and I
pointed out to him that folks are still able to understand the non-
gender-specific sense of 'man', even if they don't use it in their
own writings or speakings), this is still not a good reason to
eliminate 'man' entirely from Thomas translations, since there
are certainly some contexts within Thomas where the gender-
specific sense of 'man' is what was intended.
Unfortunately, Patterson hasn't answered my second note. I gave
it a few days, thinking that he might be mulling over his response,
but it appears now that he doesn't intend to respond. I find this very
disappointing. In fact, both he and Meyer have been diminished in
my eyes. I believe that scholars worthy of the name ought to be willing
to discuss the reasons for their decisions. Heck, I've been challenged
before, and I've never taken personal affront or refused to dialogue.
But I'll let the reader be the judge as to whether I said anything in the
note quoted in its entirety below that would have caused Patterson
to decide not to respond to it:
I was delighted with your note. It gave me what I was looking for,
which was insight into the reasoning behind the absence of the
word 'man' from some translations of Thomas. I may not agree
with that reasoning, but I think it needs to be clearly stated and it
needs to be defensible, if translation decisions based on it are
to be considered sound.
One matter that needs to be cleared away is the notion that the
Coptic word RWME corresponds to, is synonymous with, or is
equivalent to, the Greek word ANTHRWPOS. Actually, it isn't.
My investigation of early Sahidic translations of the Greek NT
revealed that RWME was used to translate not only ANTHRWPOS,
but ANHR as well. The implications of this, as I see it, are two:
1. One can't assume that any and every instance of RWME in
a Coptic text has ANTHRWPOS behind it, and
2. The concept of RWME in the Coptic mind must have been
ambiguous, but in some cases definitely male (as in ANHR).
The second point I wish to make about Coptic, before turning
to consideration of 'anthrwpos' is one that Marv Meyer mentioned
to me in a brief correspondence we had last week. He said that
Coptic had words for 'male' and 'female', so the elimination of
the word 'man' wasn't as bleak as I described (no occurrences
of the word 'man', but every occurrence of 'woman' retained).
This is true as far as it goes, but the words 2OOYT and C2IME
aren't treated on a par with each other in your translation. The
latter is sometimes translated 'female', sometimes 'woman',
but the former is never translated 'man', even in L114.2, where:
"... she too may become a living spirit resembling you men"
... would have been much more natural than the awkward:
"... she too may become a living spirit resembling you males".
BTW, while we're on this subject, have you noticed that the TCG
version of your translation actually has one 'man' in it? L63.1 has
'rich man' in the 2nd edition of TCG (don't know about the 1st),
and it apparently wasn't corrected in the 3rd edition (I don't have
the 3rd edition either, but it's been put online by PBS). The number
of "scribal variations" to be found in the various versions of the SV
is somewhat amusing, I must say, in this electronic age.
OK, on to 'anthrwpos'. One thing I think is definitely needed here
is consistency between the JSem translations of Thomas and the
NT. If that can't be achieved, then I think it should be stated how
and why the two differ in translational principles.
The great issue of how to translate 'anthrwpos' seems to me to
be a very contentious one. Aside from your reasoning (which I'll
get to below), I've read stuff from both sides, including this online:
As to your reasoning, I'm not sure how to understand it, or how
to assess the strength of it (if I'm talking like a logician, that's
because I am one, by inclination and training). You write:
"... in today's English 'man' [has] become very gender-specific
What seems to be true about it is that most every _new usage_
of 'man' in modern-day English is like this. But it can't be the case,
I think, that even the younger generation fails to _understand_
the generic (?) use of the word 'man', for if that were so, they
would be mightily confused when they heard such sayings as
"Man doesn't live by bread alone" or "What does it profit a man...?"
If they didn't understand this sense of the word 'man', they would
be thinking of males, and wondering why these sayings were talking
about men and excluding women.
I could go on with this, but it isn't my purpose here to present a
complete contrary case. I just wanted to indicate some of the
serious objections that've come to mind. You've probably heard
most of it before, but I think that these issues should be addressed
in a clear statement of justification if the JSem decides to go in
that direction. Whatever they decide with respect to 'anthrwpos',
however, the situation with 'rwme' is different, since it may sometimes
mean 'anhr'. Seems to me that that calls for a case-by-case analysis,
rather than a blanket treatment. Although it's possible, it's hard to
believe that such a case-by-case analysis would yield the same
result - namely, the total absence of 'man' from Thomas.
------------------------ (end of note to Patterson) ---------------------
- I'm pleased to report that Steve Patterson has answered the
note I copied to the list a couple days ago. I wrote back,
mentioning a few new issues, but mainly responding to his
statement that he doubted whether he and Meyer had made
a blanket translational decision about 'rwme'. Below is my
response in its entirety:
Thanks so much for your note. I've been down in the dumps this
past week, wondering what I might have said that would have
caused you to decide not to respond. I figured, though, that any
really good scholar wouldn't mind being challenged. I'm relieved
that you lived up to your rep and didn't disappoint!
BTW, I've found a second 'man' in TCG. L35 starts out "One
can't enter a strong man's house ...". Not 'rwme' this time (which
is why I missed it at first), but again, it's 'person', not 'man', in T5G.
Reporting this to our email list yesterday, I jokingly referred to TCG
as the "black sheep" of the "Manless Family" of Thomas translations.
(That's my sense of humor for you.)
I'm very surprised to hear that there was no blanket treatment
of 'rwme' in SV Thomas, since I feel very strongly that there are
contexts where singular, gendered 'man' is what was intended.
Particularly pertinent in this regard are five sayings that compare
the kingdom to a human being doing something-or-other. Of those
five, two (L96 and 97) compare the kingdom to a C2IME, which
comes out 'woman' in those sayings. The other three (57, 98, 109)
compare the kingdom to a RWME, and in every case SV has 'person'.
What I ask myself is this: isn't it clear that the original intention was to
compare the kingdom sometimes to a woman and sometimes to a man?
- rather than sometimes to a woman and all other times to a person of
unspecified gender? I think so, and it's for that reason that I find it
almost impossible to believe that a case-by-case analysis wouldn't
yield even one place in Thomas where the intention was to designate
'man' in a gendered way.
Well, that's where I'm coming from anyway. I'd still like to get in touch
with Prof. Bethge or someone from the Berlin Working Group to find
out what their thinking was in regard to the English translation of
Thomas in SQE 15. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to locate a URL
or email address yet. If you can be any help in this regard, I'd be very
grateful. And thanks again for your comments thus far.
------------------------ (end of note to SP) -----------------------------
Glad to hear Steven Patterson responded to your inquiry, but I think you
should cut out the super-humble tone you're taking with them. It makes you
sound like you're in awe of them when you don't need to be at all. They're
I don't care what letters they have after their name: YOU are doing THEM a
favor by helping them refine their translations. You probably know the
Coptic text of the Gospel of Thomas better than any other person on the
planet. If they blow you off, it's their loss - don't get down in the dumps
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
- Thanks, Andrew. I needed that - for more than one reason.
Among other things, I was beginning to feel that I was talking
to myself on the list, since no one was responding. Re the
Patterson correspondence, I am in awe of people who have
reputable published works, but you're right about the obsequious
tone in spots. I cringed when I re-read it. In other spots, though,
my criticism seems very intense. Needs balance, I think.
As to refining their translations, I don't think that's likely to happen.
Their last translations are now over 10 years old, and I doubt
if either one of them is going to revisit Thomas. That's part of the
problem of writing to them - that it's old news to them now. I think
the most likely impact my letters might have is that the two instances
of 'man' that I found in TCG might be replaced by 'person' in the
projected new edition that Patterson referred to. It'd be ironic if that's
what happens. (Patterson said that he had forwarded my notes on to
Bob Miller, the editor of TCG.) I didn't get the impression that Miller's
revision is a wholly new SV, but if it is, or if I hear of any such thing,
I'll do everything I can to make my views known.