Dr Hoffman’s Translation Guide for The Jesus Project (c)

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by Neil Godfrey

Given recent attempts by the leader of The Jesus Process to persuade lay readers into thinking that words with common roots are in effect “the identical word” as far as anything we need to understand when interpreting Paul is concerned, it is instructive to turn to what Hoffman really knows and what he wrote about this sort of thing only a couple of years ago.

Before continuing, I should address anyone who may be thinking I am speaking about a “completely different” academic since I have used the form of the name with one “n” instead of that which ends in a double “n”. Not at all. Hoffmann has recently explained to us the principle (some might even call it “a clincher”) by which we can be confident that Hoffmann and Hoffman are “identical” words — clearly referencing the same person.

This is confirmed by the observation that the author of a 2010 book on translation goes by the name of Joel, and our recent guest on Vridar is known as Joseph. Note the Jo root, from Yah or Jah or whatever transliteration you want to use for that Hebrew god, from which the variant forms arise.

So it is with complete confidence I can “clinch” the argument that the Dr Joel Hoffman who wrote a book about Bible translations (And God Said) is “the identical” person who has lately forgotten his most elementary principles of translation.

Hoffman writes:

“Why do you drive on a parkway and park on a driveway?”

“When a house burns up why does it also burn down?”

“If the ice-cream man brings ice cream in the ice-cream truck, shouldn’t we fear the fireman in the fire truck?”

Word plays like these — and many more like them — show us something important about how language works. We see that the most straightforward way to understand words and phrases just doesn’t work. (p. 15)

There’s another principle our Hoffman points out:

We also have to recognize that most people who care about the Bible already have a sense of what they want it to mean. Whether taking cues from the [other] Testament, later commentaries, religious leaders, childhood religious instruction, or personal spirituality [or the desire to find support for our “scholarly” interpretations], we all have baggage when it comes to the Bible. An honest inquiry demands that we leave that baggage behind. (p. 18)

Now Hoffmann is all huffy over mere lay readers not being deferential to his opinion (those he contemptuously looks down upon as mosquitoes, ticks, incapable of original thoughts, spreaders of ignorance, buggers) but there is a good reason for their resistance to his arguments that he fails to recognize. The problem for Hoffmann is that lay readers are experts in human language and have some idea how it works. So when he tries to sell a used car to people who know cars better than he realizes, he has hit a brick wall. And it’s not because those he despises are fools. No, it’s because although there are many obvious differences across human languages, there is a fundamental level at which they all work the same way.

Some academics are so lost in their rarefied atmosphere that they need to find the right books to remind them how reality still works. (Only obsequious scholarly peers will be impressed by Hoffmann’s display of intellectual sorcery that would wish for us all to believe his thesis is as magnificently and imperially clothed as any other in the guild of NT studies and only beggarly neophytes would dare blurt out the obvious.)

Here is where another passage by Hoffman is pertinent:

One of the most important results of modern linguistics has been the discovery that certain elements of all human language work basically the same way. Even though literally thousands of details can differ — everything from word sounds to what order they go in — human language is all fundamentally the same.

Noam Chomsky’s theory of “Universal Grammar” is one way of understanding this similarity among languages. Chomsky’s position is that language is like other things for which humans are suited. Just as the human being can breathe only air and not water, so too the human brain can learn only certain language patterns. Other researchers, like Hilary Putman, explain the similarity among languages differently. But the debate tends to focus on why languages are the same, not whether they are the same.

This is good news for us, because it means that we can safely use modern languages like English or Modern Hebrew [/Greek] or even Swahili to help us probe various ways of understanding ancient Hebrew [/Greek] . . . . (p. 20)

So we know not to be fooled if someone tries to tell us that patently is “identical” to patent because of a common root; or that hostile and host are also “identical” for a similar reason; or intern and internal; or that progress is (aside from the joke) the opposite of congress.

Hoffmann clearly has no ability to respond to any of my rejoinders to his argument over the Greek words for “born” and “assemble, etc” beyond his less than humble attempt at saving face with more nonsense and smoke and mirrors. He certainly has no stomach to respond to any of my other criticisms of his argument — he is obliged to take care of everything by saying they are merely old and cobbled arguments presumably squashed in 1912 by Shirley Jackson Case. If this be the standard of intellectual discussion from the leader of TJP(c) what on earth will his troops beget or give birth to, or should that be assemble or create or make up?


by Dr Joel Hoffman
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Neil Godfrey

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