Sunday, June 05, 2005

JB17980 - Jason#35:Final clarifications 

JB17980 - [Sun Jun 5, 2005 11:08 pm] (Jason #35: Final clarifications)


I noted that in addition to your closing summary (which as I have said I will not reciprocate) you posted a separate message in which you considered yourself to be saying something "fresh and instructive." Since the whole point of our exchange is for our audience to see what we both say on every particular, I think I am obliged to reply to anything supposedly new, and also clarify where you have apparently misunderstood my position. As for your choice of "just a few select
issues" from my previous post, I simply direct our readers to compare what I asked and said there to what you chose to answer, and what you chose not to answer.


In this section, you refer to handling EIMI in John 8:58 as an 'absolute' as "pervasive in Johannine scholarship." This takes us all the way back to the beginning of our discussion, and my contention that there are TRADITIONS of interpretation that this 'scholarship' participates in, conditioning their reading and creating unrecognized bias. That is why arguments from authority are worthless. Who are these scholars? How do their own beliefs shape how they read the text? Etc. Facts, not persons, are what count; accuracy, not numbers.

You go on to say that you "explained what it meant" when others refer to it as 'absolute' in John 8:58. But Rob, your explanation involved using 'absolute' in the sense of lacking a noun, pronoun, or adjective complement -- in other words, a sense of absolute that would only apply to the be-verb in its copulative use. If that is indeed what this vast Johannine scholarship means when it refers to EIMI in 8:58 as 'absolute,' then this scholarship has been ignored by the Bible
translators, who do not translate it as they do other copulative uses of the be-verb lacking explicit noun, pronoun, or adjective complements even in the immediate context of John 8. You have not responded to this contrast in any way though I have pointed it out several times. Treating EIMI in John 8:58 as a copula, besides being a very poor position, is not a defense of the traditional translation.

You go on to say that I am caricaturing your position when I say that it completely dissociates the main verb from the dependent clause. I say that, Rob, only because you insist that the main verb has a present tense meaning. I have repeatedly tried to point out that if the dependent clause modifies the main verb IN ANY WAY then it shifts it toward the past, in other words, makes it a 'progressive present.' You have agreed that the particular construct of the dependent clause typically makes the action of verb antecedent to the action of clause, which amounts to saying that it does shift the main verb toward the past. Yet somehow, you keep it as a present tense. This simply makes no semantic sense. Period.

On Robertson, I said that one would 'naturally assume' that any meaning of 'absolute' you tried to foist off on his enigmatic statement that EIMI in John 8:58 is 'really absolute' would be derived from how Robertson uses 'absolute' elsewhere in his Grammar. You found it more natural, you say in your post #37, to supply a meaning of 'absolute' from OTHER WRITERS. Now since we have seen how widely varied the use of the term 'absolute' is, how is your method at all justified? When we look at how Robertson himself uses 'absolute' applied to verbs, we see that for him it means a clause totally isolated from modification by the rest of the sentence (see 1092-1093, 1130-1132). And as I explained to you, this is the only meaning of 'absolute' that would make sense for Robertson to give as a reason for not considering EIMI in 8:58 a PPA. The sense of 'absolute' you tried to impose on Robertson does not in any way give a reason for not
considering a verb a PPA. Nor if Robertson thought that the term 'absolute' could still be used of verbs modified by temporal adverbs, as Kahn thinks, would he be able to say that by being 'absolute' EIMI cannot be a PPA, since obviously it is by temporal adverbial modification that PPAs are formed. Therefore, I have reasonably and systematically determined what Robertson must have meant by his comment, and my conclusion that he made an error stands.

You go on to say that, other than Psalm 89:2 LXX, none of the texts I have discussed as PPAs parallel to John 8:58 is an absolute construction in your terms, that is, lacking a noun, pronoun, or adjective complement to the verb. But Rob, the presence of such a complement makes absolutely no difference in the formation of a PPA. The PPA is an adverbial modification of the verb, not a nominal or adjectival modification. I have made this point repeatedly, and you even quote it back in this section, but you don't seem to grasp it.

But I must further note that you are simply wrong when you claim that "not one of the other texts you have cited . . . has a form of EIMI used in an absolute construction." You incorrectly identify John 14:9, 15:27 and 1 John 2:9 as "adjectival complements," when they are in fact adverbial complements. "With you" in John 14:9 is an adverbial complement; so is "with me" in John 15:27; so is "in the darkness" in 1 John 2:9. These are all adverbial depictive complements, just like "Jill is in the study." This, too, is a very basic grammatical mistake on your part that has kept us tied up far too long.

You continue to claim that, "the dependent clause PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI is not the usual sort of PPA temporal marker expressing extension from the past into the present." I have shown repeatedly that dependent clauses often serve as the temporal marker of PPAs, and you have acknowledged at least one example of this. Other examples you have tried to dispute, and we can leave that to our readers to judge. But here you go on to say, yet again, that the PRIN clause marks "a point in the past to which the state expressed by the absolute EIMI is
denotatively antecedent." So let me just point out again that if the verb is denotatively antecedent to a past event, then it is in the past, and there is one and only one use of the present form of the verb so denotatively modified to the past, namely the PPA. Otherwise, you have semantic collapse and a grammatically broken sentence.


In this section, you say that both my rendering and yours are either equally correct English or equally incorrect.

"If `am' cannot be used to express existence," you write, "then neither can `have been.' . . . And this leads me to the observation that the NWT rendering, 'I have been,' would be just as faulty English in this respect as 'I am.' In fact, your proposed translation, 'I have been (since) before Abraham came to be' (_Truth in Translation_, 106; '…before Abraham was born,' our debate, pp. 216, 418), would also have to be judged defective in this respect."

Well, Rob, please read by book again, because I quite clearly say that the Living Bible translation ("I was in existence . . .") "comes out as the most accurate translation" (p. 111). You forget that you are defending the traditional translation; I am not defending the NWT. In fact, I have faulted the NWT translation of John 8:58 for inverting the word order like the traditional translation does. What I have praised the NWT for is getting the verbal tense right (which it
actually renders more precisely that the LB does). The "I have been" translation is less than felicitous because modern English prefers "exist" for this meaning, and I have made use of the "I have been" translation only as the most lexical, "interlinear" preliminary rendering to make a point about the verbal tense unclouded by switching to a different English verb.

I in fact do agree that "have been" as an existential statement is weak in modern English, and we should use "have existed" or "have been existing."

You say:

"On a related point, your claim that the conventional translation is poor English because it leaves "am" hanging without a complement actually applies equally to your proposed translation. You have argued that reversing the clauses, that is, having the dependent clause follow the main clause ("I have been" followed by "since before Abraham was born"), is essential to "comprehensible, good quality English" (_Truth in Translation_, 107, and several times in thisdebate). . . . However, . . . reversing the clauses does nothing to keep "have been" from `hanging' grammatically."

I think you have not paid sufficient attention to how dependent English is on word order for meaning. Obviously, by "hanging" I meant at the end of the sentence. Putting the dependent clause after the verb clearly does not leave the verb "hanging." Nevertheless, it is true that since the be-verb has so far disappeared from use as a simple existential in modern English, there is a less than felicitous quality to "have been" as there is for "am," in that a modern English reader sees the be-verb primarily as a copula or an auxiliary verb, or in some way leading to a complement of a certain kind, and expects something more to the verbal sense here. And that is why the best translation would use "exist" or something like it.

But such weaknesses of the be-verb aside, Rob, your claim that "have been" and "am" are equally fine or not in John 8:58 misses the more significant problem with the traditional translation, namely, the disharmony of verbal tenses that makes it a nonsense sentence in
English. "Have been" solves this more serious defect, while still not being fully contemporary in expression. "Am" has both defects. You have never answered the problem of tense disharmony in the traditional translation.

You go on to cite a set of PPAs where "we can translate the verse with the temporal marker of the PPA before or after the main verb and the sentence will be acceptable English in either case."

Now, Rob, I need hardly point out to you that almost all of these examples are distinctly different than John 8:58. One of these differences, in fact, you have repeatedly, and just earlier in this message, said was very significant, namely, they have nouns or pronouns in their predicates. So the verbs are not 'absolute' in your terms. But in fact, Rob, they are nearly all transitive verbs with objects. Now what happens in English (and let's be clear that we are only talking about conventions of English here, where different rules of word order apply than in Greek) is that the object of the verb gets priority over every other element of the predicate, and so displaces dependent clauses and phrases from a position immediately following the verb. This has nothing to do with the handling of depictive complements with an intransitive verb, where such preposing of the dependent clause would result in "Yoda English": "In the study Jill is."

The only exception to this is 1 John 3:8, where an intransitive verb is used in English as in Greek. Here I would only contend that the dependent clause following the main verb is more usual in English. The version with the adverbial phrase preposed is awkward. (2 Peter 3:4 also involves what is technically an instransitive verb, but the changes worked on the structure of the original Greek in your English translation are so pervasive that discussion of this sentence as an example here would be fruitless).

A similar problem arises in your citation of examples using the be-verb, where again the presence of a subject complement, as in the case of objects with transitive verbs, gets priority and displaces the adverbial. The only exceptions in this set are those with TWO adverbial modifications, one locative and the other temporal (John 14:9; John 15:27; 1 John 2:9) where English gives the locative priority as more closely bound to the function of the be-verb, with
the temporal shifted to secondary, and therefore flexible place.

Please note again that you incorrectly identify the locative adverbial complements in the above three examples as examples of "adjectival complement." They are adverbials, in both Greek and English.

You once again discuss "am" in John 8:58 as if it is a copula, and an "absolute" one at that, continuing to ignore the point that that is not how the traditional translation treats it. But what happens next is particularly amusing, since you offer a series of examples of "okay" and "problematic" sentences to illustrate what is acceptable and unacceptable in English uses of the be-verb. What you don't seem to realize is that you offer as "problematic" in each case a sentence exactly parallel in form to the traditional translation of John 8:58. I note the parallel form in brackets beside your examples labelled "(problematic)."

> "I am at home today." (okay)
> "Today I am at home." (okay)
> "I am today." (problematic) [compare my rough translation]
> "Today I am." (problematic) [compare traditional translation]
> "Jason has been a member of this group for almost a year." (okay)
> "For almost a year Jason has been a member of this group." (okay)
> "Jason has been for almost a year." (problematic) [mine]
> "For almost a year Jason has been." (problematic) [traditional]
> "I have been in California since the beginning of 2001." (okay)
> "Since the beginning of 2001, I have been in California." (okay)
> "I have been since the beginning of 2001." (problematic) [mine]
> "Since the beginning of 2001, I have been." (problematic) [trad.]

You comment:
"In each group of sentences, the first two sentences are both grammatically "okay" regardless of where the adverbial is placed in the sentence. The third and fourth sentences in each group are "problematic" because the sentences are formally incomplete: they are missing the obligatory complement that normally should follow the linking verb. This is just as true of the sentences in which the be-verb precedes the adverbial as it is of the sentences that end with the be-verb."

So, Rob, by your own comparison, you have declared "problematic" the rendering of the be-verb in this fashion, that is as an "absolute" copula, regardless of tense. Your last example in each set is a sentence in which the be-verb appears alone in a sentence with an adverbial, just as in John 8:58. I agree, of course, that this is problematic. So we agree on that. I also agree that even with the adverbial following the verb, the be-verb does not really work. That is because, as I have said, "there is no such thing as an absolute copula." You now seem to agree that this is so. Therefore, as I said in my last post, your whole discussion of John 8:58 as if it is a copula is utterly irrelevent. This substantiates the quote you cited from me about the English be-verb's current status in the language, which is such that it does not normally appear uncomplemented. That is why I prefer, and have always preferred, using "exist" instead for conveying the meaning of John 8:58.

You go on, however, to say:

"Now, what about the existential use of the English be-verb? You asserted that even when it is used existentially, the English be-verb requires an explicit or implicit complement. This is an odd assertion, given your other claim that the English be-verb in modern English cannot be used existentially."

You have misunderstood me. The English be-verb is still used existentially when certain kinds of depictive complements are present. Remember "Jill is in the study"? That's an existential. So are John 14:9, 15:27, and 1 John 2:9. What I have said is that the English be-verb no longer is favored for absolute existential statements. You seem to be still having trouble with the definition of an existential.

You then add:
"In any case, I see no evidence to support your assertion. When either "have been" or "am" is used existentially, there is nothing formally incomplete or ungrammatical about the verb occurring in a sentence without such an obligatory complement following it. The be-verb can come at the very end of the sentence when it is not functioning as a linking verb or copula. There is nothing grammatically wrong with such a sentence."

Oh really? Well look again, Rob, at your examples above:

These sentences are not just "problematic" and ungrammatical when we know them to be defective copulas. They are problematic and ungrammatical just as they are, as apparent existentials. We simply do not talk or write that way in modern English, do we Rob?


On this subject, you simply have not understood what I mean by "the I AM nonsense," despite my careful explanation of what I mean. So let me say it one more time. The "I AM" nonsense is ANY notion that "I AM" serves in the Bible as a name of God, whether in Exodus, Isaiah, or John. It is the mistake of extracting "I" and "am" from a sentence in which the subject and verb serve their normal function in relation to other elements of the sentence, and treating it as if it is a name, whose extraction, of course, collapses the sentence into an ungrammatical pile. In my book I connect this mistake to Exodus 3:14 (p. 107-108) AND TO ISAIAH (p. 111), on which I comment, "Yet obviously the 'I am' is not a name or a title." You certainly know that what God says through Isaiah is ANI HU, "I (am) he," where there is no verb present at all. The Greek translators of the LXX rendered this Hebrew idiom into a corresponding Greek idiom meaning the same thing, "I am he." Only in Greek the idiom is written EGW EIMI rather than ANI HU. In each respective language a different element of the statement is left implicit. This Greek idiom is employed throughout John, but it is not considered to be present in John 8:58 by any major translation. I stated nine months ago, and you concurred, that the use of the all-capitalized "I AM" signals subscription to the idea that I have been calling the "I AM nonsense." Both Harner and Brown employ this all-capitalized term, and Brown goes into considerable detail about how "I AM" could have come to be regarded as a divine title, involving, if you have read Brown with comprehension, the influence of the existential emphasis of God's identity in Exodus 3:14 on the idiomatic Greek rendering of the "I am he" statements in Isaiah (Notice that according to Brown's hypothesis, this is a development that occurs in the medium of Greek.). So my representation of where Harner and Brown stand on what I mean by the expression "I AM nonsense" is fair and accurate, and you should not have tried to foist a different meaning on the expression because, unlike Robertson, I am still alive to contradict you. Nor when we have the book you reference right in front of us, should you claim that Brown "barely mentions" Exodus 3:14 when, as you now acknowledge, he devotes a whole paragraph to it. Let's just breakdown Brown's six page discussion of EGW EIMI. John's usage gets two and a half pages. The background to John's usage gets two and a half pages. And the Synoptic usage gets one page. Any discussion of Exodus, of course, would fall into the two and a half pages of "background." But in that section, actually only a page and a half is on the Old Testament background. That is a very reduced discussion, and still Exodus 3:14 has a key place, as I explained and you have now quoted.

Now let me refer back to Brown's hypothesis that "I AM" came to be construed as a title in the Greek medium. Let's be absolutely clear on this. You have consistently referred throughout this debate not just to what John wrote, but what Jesus said. You have discussed John 8:58 as a conscious quotation or invocation by Jesus of the language of "I am" from the Old Testament. Rob, there is no "I am" language in the Old Testament as Jesus knew it. Jesus knew and quoted Isaiah in Hebrew or Aramaic, not in Greek. If he was quoting those passages, he wold have said "I am he," not "I am." Now if you want to say that John, working in the Greek medium, came up a new existential rather than identification meaning of the Isaiah passages, based on the pun
created by the Greek idi om for "I am he" (that is, that he took the idiom hyper-literally in order to make it mean something else than the idiomatic usage), and imposed that on what Jesus said in a way that Jesus never said or meant it, you go right ahead. I happen to think that John faithfully rendered into Greek what he heard Jesus had said on that occasion, that he "had been in existence since before Abraham was born."


Finally, you take what can only be characterized as a pot-shot at the references in my book. Here again, you should have thought twice about claiming to accurately represent something where both the book and the author are present to check your claims.

First of all, as anyone can see who has read my book, I kept notes to an absolute bare minimum. I wrote the book from my own knowledge and experience, and do not cite authorities for observations that anyone can make of the biblical text. My citation of references is actually IN MY TEXT, not in my notes (i.e., the social science method), a fact that you misleading omit to mention. I only used notes to make specific additional comments that I felt did not need to be in the body of the text, and sidebars on what one of the few other writers who takes my position on this subject says fit there. Likewise, my bibliography only serves to give full entries for works actually cited in the book, and is not meant to represent my reading on the subjects. So the very premise of your criticism is wrong and egregiously misleading.

Second, you claim:
"It appears from the eight endnotes of that chapter (p. 112) that you are entirely dependent on one secondary source regarding John 8:58. That secondary source is Greg Stafford's book _Jehovah's Witnesses Defended: An Answer to Scholars and Critics_, 2ded."

As I just said, my notes are not the place to check my dependence, such as it is, on secondary sources, but rather what works are cited in the body of my text and in my bibliography -- and this involves only those sources whom I wanted to specifically quote or cite. But if we do look at those notes you mention, look what turns up:

If we turn to my text, where I actually cite the secondary sources for the chapter, we find:

Now what was it you said -- "entirely dependent on one secondary source"? And how did you characterize my remark about your "consistent pattern" of misrepresentation -- "bravado"? It takes no bravado to point out again and again that you have some sort of serious problem either comprehending or communicating accurately what you read. Now since you go on to actually note most of the other sources I cite either in the notes or in my text (although you miss one), it is not in the details but the overall representation that something goes wrong, where you employ your own "bravado" to state an absolute falsehood, trying to subsume the contrary facts to your
misleading characterization. It is indeed a sad and pathetic note on which to end, but it is a fairly representative issue for the experience of this debate as a whole. You have displayed all the tools of "that kind" of apologist, and I think it fair to say that you are an accomplished debator. But I am afraid the lack of substance in your position shows through.

Jason B.

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