Time, Form, and Content: Franz Rosenzweig and the Secret of Biblical Narration

By Galli, Barbara E. | Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought, Fall 1995 | Go to article overview

Time, Form, and Content: Franz Rosenzweig and the Secret of Biblical Narration


Galli, Barbara E., Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought


In January 1928, Franz Rosenzweig wrote an article for Martin Buber's fiftieth birthday, entitled "The Secret of the Biblical Narrative Form." Its four appearances in print had been confined to German language editions until the welcome collection of writings by Buber and Rosenzweig in English translation, Scripture and Translation.(1) At the time of writing (henceforth referred to as the "Secret") Rosenzweig had been working with Buber on the Bible translation for almost three years. Rosenzweig attributes the discovery of the secret of the biblical narrative form to Buber, who, significantly, himself discovered it in the process of translating.

Rosenzweig's title underscores his objection to the view that privileges content over form. He argues that content and form are mutually dependent, and, moreover, that form discloses content. In translating any great work, therefore, to alter the form is to alter the content, and thus inevitably, on some important and sometimes crucial levels, also the meaning. Rosenzweig notes, although he takes exception to Goethe's view, that Goethe "touches...on a seminal question in the speaking and hearing of the biblical word."(2) For translations of poetry Goethe insisted undeviatingly upon content, so that the translated text would reach the widest possible audience.(3) "It is striking," Rosenzweig says, "that for Goethe as for anyone who takes the question seriously, the answer seems at first to have to be either one side of a dichotomy or the other. It seems, that is, that since there can be no truce between the claims of religious content and the claims of aesthetic form, the translator must choose between the claims of poetry and the claims of prose."(4) By contrast with Goethe, Rosenzweig stands in the company of those few translators and translation theorists who contend that poetry not only can be translated as poetry but indeed must be.

Where Rosenzweig perhaps stands alone is in his polar view of language. He argues that already in germ from the beginning of speech, there is only one language. From a biblical standpoint and as a believer he claims there is only one. In his translation of ninety-two poems by Yehuda Halevi, which renders every detail of form, Rosenzweig claims:

There is only one language. There is no language trait of one language that

does

not evidence itself, at least in germ, in every other language, be it in

dialects,

nurseries, pecularities of trades. Upon this essential oneness of all

languages

and upon the dependent commandment, namely that of universal human

mutual understanding [Verstandigung], is based the possibility as well as

the task

of translating, its Can, May, and Shall. One can translate because in every

language is contained the possibility of every other language; one may

translate

if one can realize this possibility through cultivation of such linguistic

fallow

land; and one should translate so that the day of that harmony [Eintracht] of

languages, which can grow only in each individual language, not in the empty

space `between' them, may come.(5)

With regard to translating poetic content into a matching or corresponding poetic form, Rosenzweig forcibly writes in the "Secret": "I genuinely believe that the individual structure of every hexameter in the Odyssey has a felt and sometimes perceptible relation with the individual words of that line; to translate is in fact to translate this relation, to make it once again felt and sometimes discernible."(6)

And, in the form of a bold challenge written in the afterword, Rosenzweig stresses his contention that form and content must not be dualistically opposed"(7) "If finally I may express a wish, then it is the double one that the level established here in this small selection will soon be flooded, but that not one of my successors in this territory may have again the daring of laziness to fall behind the measure of exactitude reached here. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Time, Form, and Content: Franz Rosenzweig and the Secret of Biblical Narration
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.