RE: Translation for O LOGOS (John 1)?

Date: Sat Oct 11 1997 - 17:45:08 EDT

If I might be serious for a moment amongst the gidiness of chicken blood,
but I fear the thread is lost to hilarity:

Jim West writes on 10/11/97:

> This translation is absolutely impossible on philological, etymological,
> theological, and socio-liguistic grounds. A more inappropraite term could
> not be found.

Come on, Jim. Get off the fence. Tell us what you *really* think. I won't
argue it here, but there is no such thing as an "impossible" translation,
unless one believes, that *all* translations are "impossible". However,
you certainly seem to be in the majority here.

An equally skeptical, but far more playful, Jonathan Robie writes:

> OK, I'll bite - why "soul"?

Todd K. Pedlar writes on 10/11/97:

> Please - don't spare us your thought processes. One ought not make
> such a radical statement without explanation. How in the world did
> you ever come up with "Soul"?

I suppose a corollary would be that: One ought to *realize* when one is
making radical statements. I, truely, had no idea that my suggestion
would be so reactive. It was certainly not meant to be offensive, as it
seems that it may been to some.

So, I'll try to make this easy for any who disagree or agree by stipulating
a few of my suppositions, at least a few of which were shared by Noel
and other posters (But I won't put words in their mouths).

1. The translation of Logos in Jn 1 as a bare "Word" leads to incorrect
associations and does not begin to suggest the manifold meanings of
Logos. In other words, "Word" is both a poor and inadequate translation
in this context. When understood as the spoken word, a few of the
correct connotations are there and can be teased out, but not without
extensive explanation or previous background.

2. What's more, the unfortunate association of "Word" with the written
and, later, printed word--i.e. the Biblical text, itself-- has tainted "Word"
and ruined it as a candidate for non-directed translation.

3. Logos is so seminal to the Greek and Hellenistic collective psyches that
*any* translation is achieved only by cleaving off a specific meaning
suggested by a particular context, thus leaving the severed roots visible
but unattached and therefore unexplorable without significant effort.
Thus, transliteration is a preferable alternative to "Word" in that it
invites, even demands, explanation. I think many people would be
sympathetic to this position.

3. All English candidates suffer similar fates of inadequacy. Thus, only a
local translation seems valid. But, a valid local translation is woefully
inadequate for a seminal concept which is sure to be applied far and
wide in the development of theology.

4. As "the" seminal concept of Greek cosmology and natural philosophy,
logos cannot be understood by the rule of faith, i.e. using only other
biblical texts, esp. since logos occurs only here in the Prologue in a
cosmological context and with the specialized meaning of Greek philosophy.

5. And, a supposition which I do not expect is widely held, the theological
interpretation of logos, especially as protestantly understood, is actually a
barrier to adequate translation in this case.

This then, as I see it, is the background of and the reason for the original
query. And, I, myself, am only a fellow questioner with no pat answer to
the problem. These suppositions leave us with only two choices: logos or
a local translation, e.g. Word, Reason, etc.

I am not presuming to try and drag Carl in on my side, but his post got me
thinking (That's right--it's all *his* fault!). He writes on 10/10/97:

> I've always been fascinated by that scene near the beginning of Goethe's
> "Faust" where Faust in his study ponders the proper translation of EN ARCHi
> HN hO LOGOS, begins by translating hO LOGOS as "the Word," progresses
> through several intermediate stages and ends up translating hO LOGOS as
> "the Act." And that's not really so strange considering the role assigned
> the LOGOS in creation in the prologue and the fact that at least one of the
> background elements entering into the meanings of hO LOGOS must be the OT
> range of senses of the DABAR-YHWH.

The "Act" is, in my opinion, very much on the right track, but the essence
of logos is not only its historical accomplishment as an isolated act, as is
often stressed in Christianity. Its significance is that it not only was the
primal act (actualization of the first potential) or force or movement or
power of creation, but that it, itself, is an *ongoing* part of the creation.
It is the very "Soul" of Creation, the Great Soul, the Ghost in the Machine,
the Eternal Word--the one continually spoken in keeping the creation alive;
"in It was Life" (zwh-"animal" life vs. stellar life, for example).

While "soul" is commonly taken to refer only to "living" souls or "immortal"
souls, it is far more. In Greek philosophy, it is, in fact, the power of motion
or change underlying all physical phenomena from the life of the stars to
the faculties of the body, e.g. metabolism, intelligence, sensation. Soul is
the invisible power which enables Matter to take form, animate, sense,
and in our case, think. In this simple paradigm based on human
craftsmanship, there is only Form (God), Soul (logos, demiourgos), and
Matter. Forms are immortal and unchangeable. Soul is both the first
"creation" and the creator of all else and "eternal" rather than immortal,
and matter is simply "no-thing" until shaped and tabernacled by Soul in
accordance with Forms.

Today, this model holds sway only in the theological world and parts of
the philosophical world (modern (neo-)platonics), but for most of its
existence it determined scientific and philosophical "truth" as well, from
embryology to cosmology to astrology to mathematics (where it still
has adherents).

Thus, "Soul" with a capital s occurs to me as a translation here in
According to John. It is the nature of soul as the power of creation and
as the power of the creation which is the object of all religious and
philosophical speculations in all cultures. Therefore, "Soul"'s
connotations are correct, and where they are inadequate, are easily and
naturally extended into the area of interest.

In its favor, I know of few words save *god* and *soul* and *love*
with anything like the semantic range of logos.

Jim West writes on 10/11/97:

> chicken liver at least has the benefit of being more in touch with the
> "fleshly" material side of logos and does not connote a non-corporeal, non
> substantial (in the philosophical sense of the term) idea such as "soul"
> does!!!!

Actually, in the philosophical or theological senses, soul *is* substantial
(a substance). Substantial and corporeal are not synonymous. And, soul,
like logos, is the very intersection of mortal and immortal at the living
edge of creation.

Will Wagers "Reality is the best metaphor."

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