Aviya Kushner Grammar of God

Photo via aviyakushner.com

Aviya Kushner explains the importance of grammar in the Bible in her book The Grammar of God.

Aviya Kushner has obsessed over translating the Bible into English, and the notes from her translations have been turned into an amazing read. In The Grammar of God: A Journey into the Words and Worlds of the Bible, she explains the many stories contained within the text and how grammatical nuances change their meaning. A renowned writer, she has written travel columns in The International Jerusalem Post, as well as poetry and essays for Harvard Review and The Wilson Quarterly among others. Currently, she teaches for Columbia College Chicago, contributes as an editor for A Public Space and provides mentorship to the National Yiddish Book Center.

Lost in Translation

There have been a wide number of Bible translations over the centuries, and Kushner says that one of the biggest feelings that first came over her as she read through them was a sense of loss. She says that a lot of what went missing was the personal narratives that interconnected the stories. In a sense, these were the parts that helped the Bible survive for so long. There were two reasons: “the Bible is actually many books at once.” It tells the story of man as a people, while providing base laws, songs, poetry, creation and so much more. The other reason is “people cannot stop translating the Bible.” Everyone reads the bible, from the religious to secular, educated to uneducated.

Writing Herself into the Words

In order to create a personal sense, she added her own commentary. The book is a combination between personal narrative and commentary on the world. Just as the Hebrew Bible is personal, all Bibles should be. She feels that her decision provided a sense of life, writing in “interesting and relevant” grammatical moments without producing a “dry, technical book on grammar.”

Three Issues of the Bible for Today’s Conversations

Kushner touches on a number of topics in The Grammar of God, but there are three main issues.
Creation Myth / Evolution – The grammar of The King James Bible puts creation firmly in the past tense with the word “created.” That makes it sound as if God created the world and the creation process is over. In Hebrew, the verb “created” could be read as either past tense or as the infinitive form of the verb, opening a door to a new understanding of evolution.

Slavery / Man’s relationship to God – In the King James Bible, the work that the slaves in ancient Egypt are forced to endure is called “rigour”; a more accurate translation of the Hebrew would be something like “back-breaking labor.” This translation affects our understanding of God’s relationship to humanity.

The Ten Commandments vs. The Ten “Talking Points” – In Hebrew, the word that is translated as commandments, dibrot, comes from the verb ledaber, which means “to talk.” The Ten Commandments, then, are more like “talking points” or a conversation between God and the people rather than commandments from on high. What might be different if Christians were taught the commandments as “a conversation”?

Resources

Follow the Conversation on Twitter