GOT MILK? Literalism is a hoot. (It’s also dangerous, even deadly.) For Mexican readers, and others unfamiliar with this famous advertising campaign, things will become amply clear.
Anyone who has experienced attempting to speak a second language in a foreign culture knows it can be risky and embarrassing. This morning I went to breakfast with a friend at a concina economica, in a tiny pueblo, the kitchen of which is depicted above. He had been planning to cook breakfast, after doing a little work back at the ranch, but the eggs he bought the day before were bad. So, we went into town. While waiting for the cook to prepare huevos Mexicanos con frijoles on her smoky fire, Jim stepped into the tienda (a quick-stop grocery-wing of the diner) and asked the guy at the register ¿Tienes huevos?
Of course, this is a perfectly literal translation of English. But in colloquial Spanish he had bluntly asked the guy: Have you got testicles? A polite phrasing would be ¿Se venden huevos aqui? (Are eggs sold here.) Hilarious! We all had a good laugh.
Such are the pitfalls of translation. Anyone overhearing construction workers catcalling to each other as a woman walks past on the sidewalk — Did you see those melons? — quickly recognizes the difference between idiom and literal wording, the distinction between animal and vegetable, and word-play.
And so it is with biblical literalism. Yet many are those Christians who insist that their reading of scripture is based on good renderings of an ancient language, even tho’ filtered thru other languages several times over : Aramaic>Greek>Latin>English, for example — and therefore their opinion on the text must be accepted, bluntly.
Now, Jesus certainly never asked the woman at the well in Samaria GOT MELONS? — (the longest conversation scripture ever reports of Jesus talking with a woman) — but wait! Did you ever notice that she came onto him, basically saying Hey baby, I’m not married (hinting “I’m available” see v.17) — yet we miss it, due to literalism. I doubt the average pew-sitter has ever heard this preached.
Language is slippery. Yet so many are so quick to argue as if they know what scripture says, as though it were digitally mastered for us to replay the recording. Preachers are taught to avoid controversy, as being “bad for business.” Thus we suffer literalism, the great red dragon of fundamentalism, which portends disaster in whatever religion, sect, or denomination one cares to visit, across the globe, world without end, amen, be it Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc — ignoring the warning signs: HARD HAT AREA. (My point, folks: don’t hit people over the head with bible verses; instead, let them feel your compassion.) We’ve all embarrassed ourselves; but God is patient, and SHe will forgive, if we will allow it and receive it, and live the forgiveness by standing corrected.
NB: Anyone wishing for a fresh reading of scripture might look at The Message, by Eugene Peterson; or at Rabbi Jesus: AN INTIMATE BIOGRAPHY.