Monday, December 28, 2009

good will, again

I mentioned that good will overtook me while in church Christmas eve, but — sad to say — the words themselves more than the feeling. I thought of what the shepherds heard and wondered what it meant, then let my mind wander to variants. Good Will, I thought wouldn't be a bad handle for Shakespeare. A good will is one that survives probate intact, of course, and financiers like to trade in the goodwill of businesses, meaning something like the value of their reputations. It occurred to me that some believe the good will inherit the earth and, if so, it may be that no good will come of it. I wondered whether the phrase Good Will Hunting might have multiply layered meanings in the movie of that title (which I haven't seen). And some obvious variants came to mind: God's will, the goad that will prick, and, as my Indiana grandma might have said, 'it's a good while since I've seen you.'

What is there in this phrase?

Since it's Biblical, it's hardly surprising that there's dispute about it.

The Gospel of Luke is the only one that has shepherds being awed by glad tidings. Like the others, it was written in Greek. It's a bit of a surprise that the Greek word the author used — εὐδοκίας (eudokia) — was an esoteric word, appearing in Bible texts but rarely elsewhere.1 It's likely to have been brought over from a Hebrew word that appears frequently in the Torah, רצון (rason), meaning God's will, favor, or pleasure.2 Good will thus seems to be excellent English for the word.3

Although the King James Bible gives it thus, it's also rendered as good pleasure and similar phrases indicating God's pleasure. Still, the translations all convey well being.

So what's the dispute about?

The issue that has been argued over the centuries, and is still debated, is whether God is promising good will among people or making a wondrous announcement to people who please him, those, presumably, who will become Christians now that Christ is born. The King James version reads 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.' Should this be — as the Douay-Rheims Bible has it — 'Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will'?4 Most now say yes and I'm not going to disagree.5

There's a subsidiary dispute over whether God is addressing all people, including women, or just men. The word in the gospel is ανθρωποις (anthropos), which, in the singular, is literally man-faced, and thus means a man, or a human being. One writer suggests that internal analysis of the text indicates that the gospel author intended the latter.6 This makes sense since the author of Luke is more focused on women than the authors of the other gospels. As a wikipedia article points out, this gospel has more characters who are women, features a female prophet (2:36), and details the experience of pregnancy.

As I said in yesterday's blog post, the Gospel of Luke brings out the inclusiveness in the teachings of Jesus particularly with respect to outcasts and fringe members of society. It shows empathy with people who are poor and with oppressed minorities as well as with women. It's in keeping with this characteristic attitude that this gospel, alone of the four, says that the angels and assembled hosts gave the good news of Jesus' birth to a group of shepherds. A modern commentator explains: "To modern romantics the shepherds described by Luke take on the gentleness of their flocks, and in recent centuries they have triumphed over the magi as a better Christmas symbol for the common man. But such interests are foreign to Luke's purpose. In fact, far from being regarded as either gentle, or noble, in Jesus' time shepherds were often considered as dishonest, outside the Law."7 I try to imagine what it must have been like for the first people to read or hear this text and comprehend that these renegade types are pleasing to God, are among God's chosen people, and are being invited to become the world's first Christian believers.

Here are some images of ancient texts containing all or part of Luke's gospel. A set of web pages by Timothy W. Seid at the Earlham School of Religion shows how scholars cope with the difficulties of ancient manuscripts such as these. (See Interpreting Ancient Manuscripts and its contents page.) In many cases the pages are damaged and even the most complete and legible lack word spacing and punctuation. There are a lot of scribal errors of transcription. Where one text differs from another, there's often no easy way to determine which is the best.

{Papyrus 75, a codex with 51 surviving leaves containing the earliest segments of the Gospel of Luke. The pages were originally about 10.2 by 5.1 inches and well preserved. Each page is written in a single column of from 38 to 45 lines and each line has 25 to 36 letters. The pages are not numbered. The handwriting is a clear uncial which when compared to other papyri dates the manuscript to sometime between 175 and 225; source:}

{Papyrus 45 fragment containing part of the Gospel of Luke, heavily damaged; probably created around 250 in Egypt.; source: wikipedia}

{St Luke's gospel, Codex Sinaiticus, c.350, one of the two earliest Christian Bibles; contains the earliest surviving copy of the complete New Testament. Consists of parchment from both sheepskin and goatskin. The parchment, originally in double sheets, may have measured about 40 by 70 cm. All codex consists, with a few exceptions, of quires of eight leaves, a format popular throughout the middle ages. Each line of the text has some twelve to fourteen Greek uncial letters, arranged in four columns. source: British Library}

{The Codex Vaticanus, a 4th century uncial manuscript in Greek of the Septuagint and the New Testament, written in Greek, on 759 vellum leaves; it is one of the two extant 4th century texts of the Old and New Testament in the form used by the early Christians, the other being the Codex Sinaiticus. The manuscript has been housed in the Vatican Library, founded in 1448, for as long as it has been known, appearing in the Vatican Library's earliest catalogue in 1475. source:}

{The Codex Vercellensis, earliest surviving manuscript of the Old Latin gospels, circa 350. The MS appears in silver letters, in very narrow columns, on extremely thin vellum stained with purple. Because the codex was used for the taking of oaths in the early Middle Ages, much of it is either difficult to read or destroyed. source:}

{Codex Bezae Cantabrigensis, circa 400; written in an uncial hand on vellum; Greek pages on the left face Latin ones on the right; source:}

{Gospel of Luke in Coptic; source:}



1 At least according to a highly-sourced Bible study text from Prairie View Christian Church: Euodokia [i.e., Eudokia] in pdf

2 "Hans Bietenhard commenting on the usage of eudokia in the LXX, writes, 'The noun eudokia occurs 25 times (only in Pss., Cant., 1 Chr., Sir.). In 8 places it is a translation of Hebrew rason (56 times in MT), good-pleasure, grace, the will of God (40 times in MT). Eudokia can denote the will or pleasure of man (cf. Ps. 141 &140]:5; Sir. 8:14; 9:12), but also the divine good-pleasure, God’s grace and blessing (Ps. 5:13; 51:19 &50:21]; 89 &88]:17; Ps. Sol. 8:22). Sir., in particular, displays the tendency to use eudokia to render Hebrew rason, in order to describe God’s good pleasure, His gracious will, activity and election (e.g., Sir. 1:27; 11:17; 15:15 et al.). Eudokia denotes the divine purpose or determination in, e.g., Sir. 33:13; 36:13; 39:18)' (The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology volume 2, page 818)." source: Euodokia [i.e., Eudokia] in pdf; and see The Gospel of Luke: a commentary on the Greek text by I. Howard Marshall (reprint by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1978)

3 εὐδοκία is also given as satisfaction, i.e. (subjectively) delight, or (objectively) kindness, wish, purpose -- desire, good pleasure (will), seem good. Other synonyms include kindness, kindly intent, benevolence, delight. -- source: Euodokia [i.e., Eudokia] in pdf.

4 The Biblos web site gives comparative translations from many sources. See also a post by Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden on their Making Light blog. They give many other renderings of the text in Luke, including Anglo-Saxon and the Middle English and Early Modern translations. A commenter adds one in Esperanto. Here is Lowland Scots: 'Glore tae God i the heicht o heiven, an peace on the yird tae men he delytes in!'

5 There has been quite a bit of blogging on this subject this Christmas season. See for example: Round-up of posts on Luke 2:14: And see Translating Luke 2:14 ('Glory to God in heaven and peace to people on earth who please him.') and comment upon this, December 17-18, 2009 ('Glory to God among the highest [beings] and peace on earth among people pleasing [to God].' And also see: The story of the Bible By Eugene Stock (Dutton, 1906) as well as my previous post on this: good will.

6 The writer is J.K. Gayle in Getting Luke 2:14 as Glorious Wordplay.

7 The Annunciation to the Shepherds (Luke 2:8-14) in Birth of the Messiah by Raymond E. Brown (Anchor Bible, 1999) See also Karen Armstrong's article, The season has meaning for all, celebrators and skeptics alike.

1 comment:

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