Books Catholicism Faith

Impressions of “Mary’s Voice in the Gospel of John,” by Michael Pakaluk

I read this translation of the Holy Gospel according to St. John because I previously read another translation by Pakaluk: The Memoirs of St. Peter, a translation of the Gospel of Mark. Once again, this is a solid translation marred by distracting notes. But in this case, the translation does not add as much to previous attempts as did Pakaluk’s translation of Mark, and the notes are even more irrelevant.

Pakaluk’s Previous Work

In Memoirs of St. Peter, Pakaluk kept rather than “corrected” the inconsistent verbal tenses that occur in Mark’s original Greek. This choice is brilliant. The rugged, street-like speech of the narrator (Peter) is contrasted with vivid and archetypal imagery. The experience of reading Pakaluk’s Mark is like reading a great mafia story, like The Godfather or The Irishman, where uneducated characters are present in a timeless story that touches all men.

Pakaluk’s approach fits within Church tradition, which saw Mark as written by St. Mark based on first-person reports from St. Peter. It also shows loyalty to the text of the Scripture, even when it is “embarrassing,” a virtue I first saw in Robert Alter’s translation of Genesis.

John’s Writing Style

But the author of John seems to have a solid understanding of Greek. There’s little to “correct,” as John wrote in a mostly formal, correct style that is appreciated by academics. Pakaluk’s contribution is largely to highlight John’s mastery of the language. To see this effect, consider Peter’s (in Mark’s) rugged language

Well, as for John, he was clothed in camel hair, with a leather belt around his waist. And for food he ate locusts and wild honey. And he cried out, “Right behind me comes someone greater than I! I am not worthy to stoop down and loosen the tie on his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he himself will baptize you in the Holy Spirit.”

So it was in this setting that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. And immediately, as he was emerging from the water, he saw heaven opened up and the Spirit coming down upon him as a dove. And there was a voice from heaven, “You are my son, my beloved one. I delight in you.”
Mark 1:6-11

compared with John’s mastery of dialog:

Along comes a woman, who is from Samaria, to draw water.

“Give me a drink,” Jesus says to her –
– as his disciples had gone to the city, to buy some food –

“How is it that you, a Jewish man,” this Samaritan woman says to him then, “are asking for a drink from me, a woman, and a Samaritan?” –
– as Jewish people have no dealings with Samaritans –

“If you knew God’s free gift, and who it is, who has saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’” Jesus said in reply, “it is you who would have asked him for a drink. And he would gave given you living water.”
John 4:7-10

Which is similar to, but easier to read, than say, the New Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition:

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.
John 4:7-10

John in the Qur’an

There is beauty in John, and you can still feel it in this volume if you ignore the translator’s notes. I had been puzzled, for instance, at the Qur’anic references to a drop of fluid giving life:

Then He made his progeny from an extract of a a base fluid. Then He proportioned him and breathed into him of His Spirit, and invested you with your hearing, sight, and hearts. Little do you think.

They say, “When we have been lost in the dust, shall we be indeed created anew?” Indeed, they disbelieve in the encounter with their Lord.
Qur’an 32:8-10

but that comes through in John…

Whenever I am in the world, I am a light to the world.

With that, he spat on the ground and made some mud from his spittle. He put the mud formed of his spittle like an ointment on the eyes of a blind man.

“Go,” he said to him,” wash in the pool of Siloam.”
– which has the meaning, “sent man.” He therefore went away, and he washed and he went on his way, seeing.

Read more