Sunday, December 02, 2007

Is the Virgin Birth a frame?

Adrenaline gets you through the morning, but then it's pay back time!! cough cough cough...

Anyhow, something I'm ruminating on at the moment.

Over at the Better Bibles Blog - often over my head but a great read - is an argument in favour of avoiding literal translation in order to convey the overall sense in more idiomatic English. Quote:
Words like experiment bring along large and complex agglomerations of associated concepts. Linguists call these associated concepts FRAMES. When we communicate, we use words to refer to frames, often in ways that seem quite tangential, and then we get to refer to parts of the frame, at no mental cost....Now when it comes to translation, the really good translators think in frames. They recognize the equivalence, or near equivalence in the frames, or the absence in one language of the frame and then use the normal linguistic tools of the target language to refer to the corresponding frames or the relevant part of the frame.

Now the example used is 'Moses' seat' - ie the reference to the authority which the Pharisees have, as symbolised or represented by their occupancy of a physical chair. So:
In the Greco-Roman world the frame that goes with the piece of furniture we would call a chair includes power, wealth, and authority. In Matt. 23:2, the chair is mentioned as a way to convey the notion of Moses authority. It’s not about the furniture.

My question: is the Virgin Birth a frame, in this sense? In other words, is the description of the Virgin Birth, in Matthew and Luke, something which needs to be culturally translated in order to be understood in our own times? Is the essential part of the story not the literal truth but the symbolic point (incarnation)? Is the story fundamentally culture bound in the same way that talking about Moses' seat is?

For my previous wrestling with the VB see here and here.

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