The Invention of Jewish Identity: Bible, Philosophy, and the Art of Translation

Aaron W. Hughes writes in 2010:

* …I cannot agree with them that the Hebrew Bible preserves some transcendent power. I thus read Buber and Rosenzweig as I read everyone in this book: against the grain.

* The mythology engulfing the production of the Septuagint in many ways justified all subsequent translation of the Hebrew Bible with its insistence that the divine presence could encompass a derivative work, that the vernacular could invoke the same reverence for the original and sacred word, and that the new language could awaken the same piety in the believer as the old.

* When Jews in general and Jewish philosophers in particular translated the biblical narrative—whether in whole or in part—they imagined a new Bible: one that would simultaneously break with the confining shackles of existing dogma by returning to an encounter with a pristine past and that would both embrace a newly constituted set of memories in addition to all the cultural sophistications of the present.

* Reality is mediated in and through language. Attempts by philosophers to break through language’s perceived confines—perhaps encountered most vividly in Maimonides’ desire to shatter language’s inherent anthropomorphism so as to abide in silent contemplation—cannot escape language’s omnipresence. Even Maimonides, as we shall see, ultimately needs the very fabric of words both to express claims and to attempt to turn such words back on themselves. Translation derives both its necessity and its potency from the paradox that even though God’s presence cannot be confined, it is encountered in language (i.e., the biblical narrative) and through the act of reading.

* Words—agleam in the firmament—spread their traces, their residue, over the created order: revealing it, sustaining it, mimicking it, subverting it. Between texture and erasure translation seeks but never finds the silent splendor of the beyond, the unraveling of words to reveal the palimpsest of all language and the All-language. As such, no text can be completely original because intertextuality is inherent to language: the translation of the nonverbal word and world, every sign being the translation of another sign in a potentially infinite regress.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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