On Transliteration of Hebrew and Greek

No doubt the publishers mean well. Supposedly they are trying to make a book look less intimidating, and more “user-friendly.” No doubt there are a (very!) few people out there who want to look up Hebrew and Greek words in their English transliterations, and thus do language study without knowing the language. But the rest of us fall into two categories: those who do not know Hebrew and Greek, and would skip over discussions of the original language, transliterated or not; and those of us who do know Hebrew and Greek, to which transliteration is a pain in the neck, because we always have to “back-translate” the transliteration into the original letters to know which word we are talking about.

I could be wrong about my impression, but it seems to me that there are very few people in the first category (people who don’t know the languages but still want to do word studies in transliteration). We are moving (and have significantly moved) away from being a word-based culture to being a visual-based culture. Interest in grammar and words is therefore on the decline, except in such areas as speech-act theory. Those who really want to do word studies are going the whole hog and learning the language.

One of most ludicrous examples of transliteration is the Yale Anchor Bible commentary series. This is one of the most scholarly, most technical series out there, and they always have Greek and Hebrew words transliterated! There may have been a time early in its history when it was more geared towards the laity. However, under the editorship of Freedman, the series as a whole has become one of the most scholarly series on offer. Why in the world, then, does it retain transliteration? This makes absolutely no sense to me. It only slows the scholar down, and most normal people who don’t know the languages will simply skip it anyway. There is no reason to keep transliteration anymore.

East and West on Spiration

When discussing the doctrine of the Trinity, something that comes up very quickly is the difference between the Eastern churches and the Western churches on how the Holy Spirit is spirated (or breathed out, or processing). The West added a small modifier to the Nicene Creed (this happened at the third Council of Toledo in 589). The original ran “We believe in the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father.” The Council of Toledo added the phrase “and from the Son,” indicating that the Holy Spirit proceeds not only from the Father, but also from the Son. This clause is called “the Filioque clause.” The Latin “Filioque” means “and from the Son.” This procession, of course, happens in eternity, not in time, in parallel to the Son’s eternal begottenness from the Father. The East objected to this phrase, since they believed that the Father was the only fount (Latin, fons) of divinity. They equated “fons” with the person of the Father. The West believed that, aside from unbegottenness, everything that the Father has He gave to the Son. If that is true, then the Father also gave the power of spiration to the Son. Attempts have been made recently to try to reconcile the two positions. The usual formulation is that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. This does not entirely solve the problem, since it could be interpreted to mean that the Son is a mere conduit through which spiration passes. It seems to me that there is a better way, and that is simply to make a logical distinction (not a distinction of essence, mind you) between the character of the Father’s spiration and that of the Son’s spiration. For it must be acknowledged, even by the most die-hard Westerner, that the Son’s ability to spirate the Spirit comes from the Father. So, why not simply say that the Father’s spiration is original, while the Son’s spiration of the Spirit is derived (eternally, of course, not in time, since we are speaking of a communication of essence)? That would preserve the East’s concern about the Father being the fount of divinity, while preserving the West’s concern that the spiration of the Spirit does not leave the Son “out in the cold,” so to speak. Spiration cannot be an attribute of the personhood of the Father, then, because, it is something that He communicates to His Son. The personal attributes are those that belong only to one of the three Persons. What do you think?