From mules to aliens

There are biblical subjects that we can not understand because they became obsolete. For example, on technological grounds, animal means of transport are not usual nowadays and so we have not any more the same degree biodiversity  among domestic animals than in ancient times. I intend to show now an instance of misunderstandings that translators try to dissimulate with defective expressions that sometimes look like enigmatic but that, in fact, are no more than mistranslations.

Let us look at our first text to read on this 28th Sunday on ordinary time. In 2Kings 5,17 … What on earth does Na’aman want to do with the earth? Nothing! The translation should be:

Not a single load of two mules (mules for working the earth) has been delivered by your servant, so your servant will not now make offerings or sacrifices to other gods but to the Lord (YHWH)”

Some keys for this translation from the Hebrew masoretic text:

-the sequence of nouns “load-couple-mules-earth” indicate that “earth” is a semantic determinant for “mules”, the substantive which is just before and has not to do with “load”, which is rather far in the ordered sequence of nouns;

-Na’aman shows himself very humble: not only he speaks of himself as a “servant” of the “man of God” -i.e. the prophet Elisha- but he employs an expression in the passive voice where he is the agent.

This translation has also the virtue of underlining clearly both the generosity of the prophet (he does not accept any gift , “benediction” says verbatim the Hebrew text) and the firm purpose of the stranger in order to change his cultic habits.

Conversely, now let us go into the Luke gospel, a text to read also on this Sunday, where the other prophet, Jesus, is throwing us towards an ideal future world where we will see how foreigners are included into our same people. At least if we take Luke 17:18 of Syriac Peshitta as the departure text. My proposed translation would be:

No one of them came to praise God but this one of the people; he, a foreigner.”

So according to this other prophet, the “foreigner” is not completely a foreigner, as he is one of the “people”, of עם or of ܥܡ, if you prefer the Syriac typing, word that in every case means “the group of people that is related to YHWH” if we pay attention to the use of this term in the Pentateuch, specially in Exodus.

My proposed moral: the Bible may be seen also as a time machine; we can find in it either extinguished varieties of animals or utopic futures with better integration among varieties of human beings.


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