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Monday, January 17, 2005

JB16616 - Jason #24:John 8:58 

(16616) Jason BeDuhn [Date: Mon Jan 17, 2005 4:32 pm] (Re: John 8:58 - Jason #24)


Rob,

There is precious little new in your post #23, and it is my intention to expedite the conclusion of this discussion by avoiding as much as possible continuation of simply "Yes it is/No it isn't" or "Yes I did/No you didn't" exchanges. We have sunk deep into navel-gazing mode, arguing more about our argument than about the issues we aresupposed to be focused upon. So here is my answer to what I consider the most salient features in your post:

You say:
"In the rest of your post #23, you assert that I have not yet refuted your basic point," that is, that in normal, usual English syntax the be-verb does not stand alone at the end of a sentence with a preposed predicate complement, that for it to be so positioned constitutes "fractured" syntax. "I think I have done so, but I will revisit thematter in the rest of this post."

You offer very little that actually addresses this, besides two contemporary examples:

"While Eeyore Frets...
And Piglet Hesitates...
And Rabbit Calculates...
And Owl Pontificates...
Pooh Just _Is_."
--Benjamin Hoff, _The Tao of Pooh_ (emphasis in original)

"_Everything that ever was or ever will be_ already _exists_.... So
in God's world, all already _is_."-Guy Finley, _The Lost Secrets of Prayer_
(Llewellyn, 1998), 32, 33 (emphasis in original).


You then note:
"Perhaps you could argue that these examples are dissimilar to the conventional English translations of Psalm 89:2 LXX and John 8:58 in that the above examples italicize "is" for emphasis: "Pooh Just _Is_"; "all already _is_." I think such an "out" would be a stretch. The wording would carry essentially the same force without the italics; the use of italics simply makes more explicit or emphatic what is already evident as to the import of the word "is" in these two texts."


So you knew going in that there's something up with these two texts, something that makes them italicize the "is." That something is the recognition by the authors that they are employing "is" ungrammatically, precisely as you say for emphasis, to make a point; and when the second author wishes to state the same point with the emphasis elsewhere, he employs "exists." So thank you for making my point for me. Now perhaps you will argue that the same is true of John 8:58, that it was written ungrammatically for emphasis. But there is nothing ungrammatical about the Greek. The the emphatic ungrammaticality (if that's a word) is introduced by the contemporary translators -- my point all along.

You then say:

"I did not say that the word *order* of most English translations of John 8:58 was unusual or odd. I said that one might fairly describe "the wording" that way. Likewise, I said that "the wording" of the Greek was unusual, not the word *order*. Here is the whole paragraph from my post #5:

"I would be happy with an assessment of the wording of the traditional translation of John 8:58 that described it as unusual or even odd. The reason I could accept such an assessment is that I think the wording of the original text is also unusual. In the end, how we resolve the issue of the propriety of the English rendering depends on how we understand the original language text. You think that the Greek wording of John 8:58 follows a perfectly normal Greek idiom. I do not, and that is the root of our real difference over this text" (p. 50).



Now Rob, since the context of your remarks in post 5 was our discussion of word order, it is natural to take your reference to wording in that immediate context as referring to order. But whatever you meant, the simple acknowledgment that the "wording" of the English translations as "unusual or odd" irreversibly puts the burden of proof on you to defend it, as I have said all along. No counting up of translations shifts that burden anywhere else, as I said way back at the beginning of all this, because those translations are made within tradition of translation and interpretation that make enumeration an illegitimate source of "evidence" on the question. You quote here again your assertion that the "wording" of the Greek is "unusual" and that you do not accept that that wording is "a perfectly normal Greek idiom." I have asked you repeatedly to identify precisely what is unusual and abnormal about that wording, and you have never offered an answer, of any kind, plain and simple. You say you will now answer, and I look forward to it.


In my posts from late October, I have replied to your assertion that the be-verb in John 8:58 is a predicate absolute. Addressing your claim that that is how the English "I am" is to be read, I pointed out that we do not say "I am" in English as an absolute statement, but "I exist" or some equivalent. The "am" automatically leads the reader or hearer to expect a predicate complement of some kind. I further said that for it to be an absolute "you would have to read the sentence to mean that Jesus is declaring his present existence plain and simple, not his existence in any time reference to Abraham. Since this breaks the sentence up into meaningless and decontextualized fragments, it is unacceptable. In context, Jesus is clearly saying he was already in existence at a particular point of past time, and in English this requires the dependent clause to serve as a verb complement, not an adjunct, the verb to not be read absolutely but to be completed by the sense of the dependent clause, and a resultant shift in the verb from the simple present to the past or past progressive. (p.219)

To this, if I may so so, incredibly clear explanation, you have responded:

I believe the above argument misunderstands the concept of an adjunct dependent clause. The adjunct cannot stand alone, but the main clause to which that adjunct is related could stand alone-yet the adjunct contributes something to the meaning of the whole sentence.


Pardon me, but I did not say anything about the fate of the Abraham clause, but about the main verb and the fundamental misconstrual of its meaning without the information of the Abraham clause. You cite examples of temporal adjunct expressions and dependent clauses from _The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language_:


"I read your thesis _last week_" (p. 694).


Great example. Drop "last week." Is there a complete sentence there? Yes. "I read your thesis." Now is it past tense "read" (red) or present tense "read" (reed)? The Grammar assumes we know, and therefore "last week" is an adjunct because the force of the main clause is unchanged by the presence or absence of the dependent clause. But it so happens that this is a rare example in written (as opposed to spoken) English where the tense of the verb is ambiguous. Drop the "last week," and the verb might be misconstrued as a present tense. So if we drop the assumption of the Grammar that the sentence is heard, all of a sudden "last week" takes on a complement rather than adjunct function, in that it gives us necessary information about the verb's significance.

Your give two other examples:
"_When John attacked Bill_ the police arrested him" (p. 699).
"_On hearing this news_, he phoned his solicitor" (p. 699).


And comment:
Obviously, the adjunct expressions and dependent clauses in these examples-"last week," "when John attacked Bill," "on hearing the news"-cannot stand alone as sentences; they require the main clauses to gain their meaningful context. However, the main clauses are meaningful without the dependent clauses. One could write or say, "I read your thesis" or "The police arrested him" or "He phoned his solicitor" and these are coherent, complete sentences in their own right.


Absolutely right. Now, is "I am" a complete sentence? No it is not. All of your examples have objects of the verb, completing the action of these transitive verbs. "I exist" would be a complete sentence. But "am" leads us to expect a complement. Moreover, as in the case of "I read your thesis," the tense of the verb is COMPLETED for the reader by its relation to the dependent clause, something missed in the Grammar because they it assumes the sentence is heard rather than read. One thing you certainly cannot do is put the tense of the verb and the temporal quality of either its adjunct or complement at odds with one another, such as:

"When John goes home, the police arrested him."
"When the news arrives, he phoned his solicitor"


These sentences don't work because they have mixed verbal tenses, precisely as you propose to do in John 8:58. This is an issue even in the case of adjuncts, all the more when the two clauses have a complementary relationship as they do in John 8:58.

In none of this, however, have you demonstrated that "am" is an absolute. You have not defended that identification here, and none of the examples you cite involve verbal absolutes. Nor have you in any way refuted my basic point about word order and the be-verb, as you said you were in this post.

So that's disposed of; let's move on.

best wishes,
Jason B.

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