Oct. 8-10. Promised Land

Write a reflection on the correspondences of the ‘promised land’ with the Tower of Babel.  Focus on how translation and transference (as we discussed in class) help us understand the histories of Beer-Sheba and the journey from the wilderness to the sea as literary engagements.

Please, post your reflection by Monday at 5pm.  Happy Fall Break, everyone!

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  1. After our discussion in class on Tuesday, my mind was buzzing with thoughts and ideas regarding the concept of a promised land or “The Promised Land.” I found myself questioning a term that I thought I was very familiar with. To me, the idea of a promised land was inherently biblical. As I had been brought up hearing stories from the Bible and learning about this promised land that God had promised to the descendants of Abraham, I believed that my understanding of the topic was quite resolute. After Tuesday’s class, I was forced to reconsider some of these preconceived notions. One of the questions left in bold in my mind related to the direct meaning of this term. Besides this land being a physical place, what could my promised land be? What did that mean as a larger idea and concept rather than just a concrete location that could be pinpointed on a map? How did my translation of the term affect my interpretation of it? Through this reflection, I came to rest on an idea that was explored a little in class. My promised land could be a path that secures my way through the chaos in my life. Through my own translation and my transference of these concrete ideas, these borders created by the promised land could be both explicit and implicit. It is both a literary and a literal location.
    The idea of the promised land being a set of myths is not a foreign one. However, it is a difficult posit to wrap ones head around because we as humans desire a need for constant clarity. We want to immediately translate an idea and transfer it so we can correctly process and understand it. One must remember that confusion is okay. As the idea of the Tower of Babel shows us, we do not need to know everything about a concept for it to be sacred and meaningful. Sometimes confusion is necessary to remind us that we do not know all the answers and that we cannot immediately transfer a concept to accurately understand it. Part of our journey to the promised land is meant for us to explore why we are confused and why, sometimes, we cannot immediately engage in translation.

    1. I was really struck by the concepts of the promised land and vision that was further elucidated in class on Thursday. Specifically the idea that if you don’t have vision and perspective you cannot reach that promised land. This made me think about how one can create and develop a vision for themselves. In my personal life, I have come to understand the importance of perspective. It is easy to get caught up in the meaningless issues that plague us on a day to day basis. But it is important to stop and take a moment to remove oneself from ones’ silly worries and remind oneself to be grateful. Additionally, the practice of checking in to ensure that ones’ actions are in accordance with ones’ vision for themselves is prudent regarding a goal of maintaining the path to the promised land.

  2. The tower of Babel is similar to the promised land in that the tower of Babel was a way for the Babylonians to establish greatness for themselves. In a sense, the Babylonians believed that their greatness was justified and could be manifested by building the tower and so to them, the completion of the tower to the heavens was something they felt entitled to. This entitlement to finish the tower relates to the idea of the tower being a promised land. Although I make this assumption, “Tours des babel,” makes it clear that because I do not read the text in its original form yet in a translated form, there might be some things that are missing from the translated version when reading about the story of the tower in English. In criticizing the translation of a French bible to English, the author of “De Tours de babel” states, “I do not know just how to interpret this allusion to the substitution or the transmutation of materials, brick becoming stone and tar serving as mortar,” which indicates how the subtle differences within translations that can amount to certain misrepresentations such as that of “Des tours de Babel.” Transference is also used in translations because translators may acquire certain feelings that they may use to translate the story but those feelings in different periods can affect how the translation of the story is interpreted which affects the meaning of the story, which in this case would affect the understanding of the story of babel. Because of the deviation that can concur from translation and transference, trying to understand the texts themselves helps does a great deal of help in attempting to decipher the true story in the context of the Tower of Babel. In other words, I believe the translations and transference in the context of the tower only lead astray in trying to understand the tower.
    On the other hand, translation and transference may help us understand “the journey from wilderness to the sea as literary engagements” in that the merisms such as “to” and “from” in referring to the wilderness and sea are not clearly understood in modern times and so they are compared to other merisms to try and make sense of it. Also, the ideas and emotions that are gathered form the concept can help understand the span of wilderness to the sea. Using the emotions and ideas from this concept, comparisons can be made to other instances that similar merisms were used to understand what specific merisms may mean in different instances that they are used in. This will, in turn, lead to a more understanding of what certain phrases in the bible may mean.

  3. The concept of a promised land had always seemed to be something physical to me. A sort of paradise or utopia that one always strives to achieve. However, upon further consideration, I have found that the promise land is always more of an abstract goal than a physical place. Once someone finds their promise land, they may be satisfied temporarily, but eventually, they will wish to seek a further promise land that they have not yet found. This process speaks to the human tendency to always desire what has not yet been achieved. The promise land may satisfy at first, but eventually it will not suffice. The Tower of Babel serves as a kind of promise land in the sense that it has been discussed as a concept but has never been physically found. Many scholars have claimed that certain buildings are the Tower of Babel but its physical structure has never been officially found. Instead, it serves as a conceptual promise land that indicates power of translation and language. The Tower of Babel, more specifically its completion, also served as a promise land to the Babylonians. Its completion was their promise land and they believed that its completion would give them great power. But similar to a conceptual promise land, the completion of the Tower of Babel was never achieved, and the Babylonians were stuck searching for a promise land they would never fully find.

  4. This week’s readings taught me that translation (or lack thereof) can define or inadequately define a sacred place. Since many sacred places are defined through ancient readings, understanding those readings are the key to understanding the what those sacred places are and what they represent. However, in the case of the Promise Land, a lack of translation (or complete mistranslation) can lead to ill defined conception of what the sacred place is. Many scholars have interpreted the references and descriptions of the Promised Land in biblical texts as border descriptions, when they represent spatial merisms. For example, the river Euphrates for many scholars was considered a possible northern or eastern border for the Promised Land. The wilderness, which is mentioned in most of the sources relating to the Promised Land’s location, is also a potential border, in which two different desserts, Sinai Desert and the Syro-Arabian Desert, have been referred to as this area when scholars have been trying to find a missing border. The problem with these geographical locations being used to mark borders is that the text was not referring to them as specific borders, but as spatial merisms, equivalent to the phrase “high and low” when someone talks about how they looked everywhere for an item. This mistranslation has thus caused creations of incomplete and ill-defined maps of the Promised Land, signifying why it is important that proper translation is needed to accurately define a sacred place.
    The Tower of Babel I feel suffers the same fate. The lost of translation between the people working on the tower led to an incomplete version of it. If anything, the incompleteness of the tower could symbolize and failing in translation within itself. The same could be said about the lack of definition of the Promised Land. Both are places that you could argue are not completely defined due to a translation between languages or figures of speech being inadequate. However, something that I still ponder is the role of transference in this lost of translation.
    Transference, as defined by Sigmund Freud, is when you apply the lessons and experiences of your child and past to present day situations. In many cases, translation fails when the translator tries to take the place of the author. Could it be that transference is the cause of a failure of translation then? Does someone trying to apply personal past experiences to what they see or read hinder their ability to translate faithfully the item of examination? If this is the case, then could it be said that the scholars who tried to interpret accurately the texts concerning the Promised Land and the Workers of the Tower also failed because of transference? Could it be that they were trying to be the authors instead of translators? Of this, I am not sure, but I would potentially like to examine more in the future.

  5. The Tower of Babel can be viewed as a mythical concept that was referred to as the “the city” in Genesis. By reading Des Tour de Babel by Jacques Derrida (Graham translated edition), it helps us to understand the concept of the Promised Land.

    Translation and the idea of transference were brought up during class. Bible as a sacred text can be understood as a sacred place that we as readers delve into, and yet the fact that it is translated to all languages contributes to its sacredness. I began to realize that translation is the art of compromise, of getting the perfect balance between the literal and virtual meanings of the text. Similarly, when it comes to the transference with the broader concept of a sacred place, how do we transfer the emotional experience, spiritual meaning, and original understanding of a certain place to others, transforming form into the content? If we can achieve the transference of the sacred place in terms of the meaning and experience, then the original physicality of the place may not be the most vital in this context, just as the idea of “deleting the origin” – focusing on the truth of pure origin in Des Tours de Babel. Whether “lèvres” and “langues” are translated as lips and tongues, the truth of the emotional presence and sacred significance is the most important aspect we should consider in the translation.

    In comparison, in From Dan to Beer-Sheeba and from the Wilderness to the Sea, Wazana highlights the concept of spatial merism. Merism is the idea of contrasting points, from high to low, whereas spatial merism is grounding it to a specific geographical space – from Dan to Beer-Sheeba. The use of the wilderness to the sea as literary engagements is translating the sacred place with a sacred understanding of spatial merism.

  6. My understanding of the Promised Land comes from the Christian Biblical context. I have always used the term Promised Land interchangeably with the land of Canaan due to the stories which I had learned growing up as a child within the Christian church. From my early days hearing Sunday school teachings, I learned that this land was the land promised by God to the people he saved from slavery in Egypt, or God’s chosen people. The Tower of Babel, from my knowledge before taking this class, was a tower that was built by people who were commanded by God to spread themselves throughout the lands. Instead of doing so, however, they disobeyed God’s command to spread out over the earth and tried to build the tower so that they may prove to themselves that they are capable of reaching God or reaching the heavens. Because they disobeyed God, God punished them by creating languages forcing them to spread out throughout the earth, humbling them and showing them that they are, in fact, inferior to the power of God.

    After our class discussion, I was intrigued by the idea of translation as “an art of compromise”, as stated on page 134. Here the translator notes that “the best translation is merely better than the worst [translation] to some extent, more or less.” This section of the reading points out that any piece that is translated, is never going to be as accurate or as exact as its original. This very idea of translation plays a much bigger role than I originally understood in the event that took place at the Tower of Babel. With the creation of languages, and therefore the need for translation, comes compromise and confusion. No speaker of one language can truly understand the complete truth and form of a phrase from another language. When one involves translation or transference in any context, he creates the opportunity for compromise and confusion in the translation and communication. When we look at this in the context of Beer-Sheba, we can then understand that any journey that crosses foreign lands with foreign languages is a great challenge riddled with frustration and confusion.

  7. During this week’s discussion, I was intrigued by the concept of translation and how translation allows us to connect with places and people. In Derrida’s Des Tours de Babel, I appreciated his commentary on translation when he said, “This story recounts, among other things, the origin of the confusion of tongues, the irreducible multiplicity of idioms, the necessary and impossible task of translation, its necessity as impossibility” (109). The story of Babel gives us a mythical account of how people began to speak different languages, which inherently posed problems of communication. This is when translation became ever so important. But Derrida notes something crucial to our understanding of translation in regard to Babel: “it comments, paraphrases, explains, but does not translate” (109). When reading this I started to ask myself, how people are supposed to reconcile something that is untranslatable. For example, Babel could translate to confusion for one person, as the text notes, and something entirely different for the next person. However, translations are important and crucial to our understanding of the histories of Beer-Sheba. While a translation will never directly mimic the originality of the author, it allows us to conceptualize ideas that otherwise would have been completely out of reach due to language barriers.

    I found an interesting connection to the concept of the promised land. While the promised land is traditionally recognized as Israel for the Jewish population, promised land can be translated to mean something different for each individual. When moving beyond the physical constructs of the land, we can see that promised land can be merely seen as a variety of sacred spaces that vary according to the individual. In addition, Israel is not just a home for Judaism and the Hebrew language, but rather a multitude of religions with their own sacred languages. The same religious texts, for example, are offered in almost every language, but it is clear that the translations are not exact. These texts made me realize how much I take translation for granted, but it also made me realize that translation, while it pays homage to the original idea, may not directly copy the text in its original form.

    1. After class on Thursday I began to think about the Tower of Babel and translation. I thought about how people can share in meaningful experiences even without verbal communication. If there are translation barriers I still find it possible to share in sacred experiences. For example, I traveled to Israel to have my Bat Mitzvah and shared in meaningful jewish experiences with people who only spoke Hebrew and not a word of english. Despite there being a huge language barrier and translation was clearly fragmented, we were still able to cherish those experiences. This made me think back on Derrida’s argument about how translation will never be the exact words of the originator, but how I still believe we can surpass these boundaries entirely through other modes of communication.

  8. The Tower of Babel is a biblical tale used to explain the creation of different languages. As people built a tower intended to be tall enough to reach heaven, God made everyone speak different languages so the building could never be complete. The Tower of Babel was intended to be a holy space, but its name has now been tainted with confusion and separation of people. This idea of chaos and its interpretations can be seen in Nili Wazana’s piece “From Dan to Beer-Sheeba”, where chaoskampf myths are used in promised land interpretations. The promised land is never given direct borders, only using merisms, that show its containment. These chaoskampf myths generally are about man vs the chaos of the sea. It is the promised land that which secures a way to deal with this chaos. The promised land is not a physical space, but a journey of religious understanding.
    The misunderstanding of the promised land comes from translation and transference, as mentioned by Jacques Derrida in “Des Tours de Babel”. The need for translation was not necessary pre-Babel, as everyone spoke the same language. Post-Babel, ideas/concepts needed to be translated from one language to another. Translation, however, must take into account intended meaning and feeling of the original piece. The transference of emotion is an important part of translation, and if lost can totally change the meaning of the translation. Translations are never copies of their original piece- they are always new. This may be why our interpretations of the promised land being a physical space exist. Original translators did not account for the meaning, and did literal translations. People so badly wanted the promised land to be a physical space, so their translations reflected this. “From Dan to Beer-Sheeba” is not directions, it is the emotional and religious journey one must make.

  9. The Promised Land to me is living a happy experience on earth. From the two readings, I understand this literary use of “Promised Land” to be gaining a sense of meaning in life through understanding what you do not comprehend. The Tower of Babel was created as a means for the Babylonians to get closer to God. By creating this tower that would allow close proximity to God, the people would have been able to directly communicate with God and have their questions about life answered. Therefore, the close proximity to God that this tower would have created would allow the people to reach their Promised Land. While the Babylonians created a physical tower to reach their promised land, others have embarked on pilgrimages with the final destination being their idea of a promised land. An example of this is the people who traveled closer to the sea to reach their promised land.
    The idea of a physical Promised Land is subjective and from my point of view, not always applicable to everyone. As we can see — both groups had a different vision for what their promised land was. This is due to problems with translation where keywords could be lost, misinterpreted, or changed — changing the true meaning of the original text. It could also be due transference where humans inevitably insert their bias of what or where the Promised Land is.

  10. As was discussed by Wazana, a promised land is something that transcends geographical lines or property and it is more of an ideal that people hope to reach to either end suffering or find peace. Some find it in a more physical sense while others perceive promised land to be more divine or immaterial. For example, many people believe Israel to be the promised land for those of Jewish descent while others believe something more like Nirvana or heaven is a promised land. Dan to Beer-Sheba is used as a way to try and make sense of a more physical promised land. It refers to the land between the two areas which is often considered the promised land of Israel and is used to refer to all the land in between. Additional meaning is added to it because it is a phrased used nine ties in the Hebrew Bible to refer to the settled area of Israel. This exemplifies how people try and give meaning to the thought of a promised land in order to make it more attainable.

    Similarly, Derrida talks about the origins of the Tower of Babel and how human interpretation has skewed its purpose and meaning. The Tower of Babel is actually an origin myth that exists within the book of Genesis to explain why the world’s people speak different languages. In a way, it is its own promised land because it is supposed to be an astounding place of multitudes of languages. As people have tried to make sense of the Tower of Babel, it has gotten more confused even though, “The proper name Babel, as a proper name should remain untranslatable” (Derrida, 104-105). Babel shouldn’t be translatable because we can’t pinpoint it to any one language and it should be traced to any one specific meaning because the whole point of it is to describe why so many languages exist in a sacred way. However, when we try and define it and put a name on it, the name is less sacred and more tainted. If translated literally it could mean confusion or if left alone, “the city would bear the name of God the father and of the father of the city that is called confusion.

    Ultimately, chaos and confusion are aspects in our lives and the promise land can be seen as a way to deal with the chaos that does exist. Some try to make sense of material promised lands in ways such as designating the promised land as a place between Dan and Beer-Sheba. Meanwhile sacred promised lands such as The Tower of Babel are also interpreted and translated. Due to the sacred emphasis placed on promised lands, people obsess and try to make sense of them. It is all a part of discovering one’s beliefs.

  11. I was left in confusion following my reading of “Des Tours de Babel” until in our discussion in class on Thursday we discussed translation and transference. Translation is the literal transcribing of meaning–probably what I was doing–whereas transference is the translation of meaning and emotion. In this interpretation, I could see a through line from The Promised Land to the Tower of Babel and through both authors’ messages. I think we often, as I did this week, like to take things very literally, when in fact we can better understand meaning through a more liberal and literary interpretation. The issues of the Promised Land, as Wazana mentions in her essay, lie in this distinction of literal and literary; the problem in the Tower of Babel as meaning confusion also lies in this distinction. Perhaps we can also personally find more meaning in the Bible when we read it with this intention and with the understanding that we are reading a translation.
    In connecting this week’s readings back to our central topic of sacred spaces, perhaps it is also true that sacredness lies in transference of emotion and in less literal understandings of our surroundings (whether they be concrete or otherwise).

  12. On Thursday, Professor Carrión stated, “Promised Land is coordinates without a defined path”. This line in particular stuck with me because it is so counter to the idea of Promised Land I have constructed in my own mind. Having never truly considered this subject academically, I just had the notion of Promised Land in terms of a physical location God had promised to his chosen people. However, in our reading by Wazada and our class discussion, Promised Land is much more than a physical location. Perhaps what is so sacred about Promised Land is that the journey to find it leads one on an inner exploration. Finding sacredness may involve finding meaning inside of one’s self. The biblical understanding of Promised Land is messy and Wazada reached the conclusion that the sacred space of Promised Land was perhaps meant to be all encompassing and ever expanding. Therefore, in connection with Thursday’s reading, sharing Promised Land with others entails the importance of translation.
    As Derrida emphasized, it is not the goal of translation to create a new piece or to transform a message. He writes that in translation, “original and translations become recognizable as fragments of a larger language.” There is a larger truth/meaning at work and translations are essential to allow others access to this greater idea. What is important about this is that a translator cannot just take a meaning and claim it as their own. They are not the author. In the same way, one cannot simply take their beliefs, their interpretation, or their translation and give it to others as if their idea of sacredness came solely from themself. Rather the receiver in his or her own mine must reconstruct meaning, which demonstrates the importance of transference in interpretation. All of these ideas still feel rather abstract to me but I think a major conclusion from our discussions is that sacred texts are meant to spark an inner change within the self and perhaps sacredness comes from the meaning already found within people.

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