Friday, February 10, 2012

Tone Of Voice

Understanding of scripture varies depending on the tone of voice we imagine in the speaker.  The Rich Young Ruler, if he is irritable, challenging, asking Jesus what the technical minimum he has to do to be okay, then he's just a prick, and we rather hope that Jesus lets him have it.  If, on the other hand, he asks humbly, a sincere and devout young man who genuinely wants to do what God asks of him, and goes in search of people like Jesus who might be able to tell him, then the entire scene is quite poignant, and we hope to meet him in heaven one day.

So too with Nicodemus, who may also be trying to find some technical minimum he can believe about Jesus without offending God, while keeping his previous life intact.  The tone we hear in his voice matters greatly in how we interpret what is said.  Paul in his epistles writes things that are arrogant if taken one way, humble if heard in another tone.

I suspect we don't notice what our assumptions are on these tones of voice, and how much they eventually influence our understanding of an entire passage or even parts of the faith as received.  Try some different tones of voice on the words of the people Jesus speaks with.


Marie said...

Interesting point.

Perhaps we can ascertain the tone of some of them by Jesus' response.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Smart girl. That would be a later lesson, but you are clearly advanced.

james said...

The Syrio-Phoenician woman was told that it wasn't reasonable to give the dogs food meant for the kids. Given that Jesus had already helped at least one other non-Jew, it seemed obvious that there was more going on in that scene than the text supplied.

Some chunks of Ecclesiastes read as though dramatic pauses and sweeping gestures are missing.

David Foster said...

In the introduction to his translation of Goethe's Faust, Walter Kaufman makes some interesting remarks about the problems of translation, taking as an example, the Biblical story of Joesph. In the King James version, the father's reaction after Joseph's coat is found covered in blood is rendered as:

And he knew it, and said, It is my son's coat; an evil beast hath devoured him; Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces.

...whereas according to Kaufman, a more accurate translation from the original Hebrew would be more like this:

He knew it and said: my son's coat! an evil beast devoured him! torn--torn is Joseph!

Clearly, the emotional temperature of the two translations is quite different.

About the King James version as a whole, Kaufman says that

The King James Bible is not only an imposing work of English lierature but also, on the whole, amazingly accurate. Even so, its style, mood, and atmosphere are often antithetical to the original. The austerity and laconic simplicity of the Hebrew gives way to a richly ornamental medium, and agonized outcries are refurbished "to be read in churches."

Assistant Village Idiot's wife said...

I like the second translation better.