Thursday, August 09, 2007

Dilemma of the Day

My current commute-book is Robbing the Bees: A Biography of Honey, the Sweet Liquid Gold that Seduced the World by Holley Bishop. Somewhat overly casual style and silly subtitle notwithstanding (a rant for another day), the book looked interesting, and I was enjoying it fairly well ... until the bottom of page 36, when Bishop, discussing the arrival of honeybees in North America via the English settlers, writes "Native North Americans at the time had never seen bees or honey and had no words for them. John Elliot [sic], the New England Puritan pastor who was translating the Bible into native dialects for the Algonquian and Cherokee tribes ..." (my italics).

The misspelling of Eliot's name I would have been able to deal with, but Bishop's inclusion of Cherokee among Eliot's translation projects is completely outrageous. Eliot worked in the mid-1600s (his translation of the Bible into the Natick dialect of Algonquian was published in complete form in 1663, and is something I've recently been researching). It wasn't until 1824 that efforts to create a Cherokee translation were even begun (and a full version of the entire Bible in Cherokee wasn't published until 1965). Not to mention the fact that Eliot, a New Englander as Bishop notes, was hardly in the correct region of the country for missionizing to the Cherokee even if he'd wanted to.

So, my dilemma: is this error of sufficient gravity that I won't be able to take any of the rest of the book at all seriously? I recognize fully the nit-pickiness of this, but such a blatant and frankly ridiculous error is quite troubling. I think I'm resolved to give it another chapter or two and see if I can manage, but it might be a tough go.

6 comments:

Pazzo said...

Two centuries? That's pretty egregious - definitely bad enough. Nice Blog!

- Tom, Pazzo Books

MMcM said...

The whole thing looks a bit muddled.

That the Indians called honey bees (there were other kinds) 'white man's flies' seems to be well-known. For instance, Jefferson said it.

And apparently the Bee Journal for July 1886 reported that Eliot needed new words for 'wax' and 'honey'.

Perhaps the author's notes were from this, which has the two stories one right after the other. Jefferson doesn't get a mention by Bishop that I see.

If you have access to an Eliot Bible (why can't someone reprint something so important?), perhaps looking at Isa 7:18 would help, since both flies and bees occur in the same verse. That book isn't online. Numbers is online, so we can see that Eliot just borrowed straight in sogkodtunk kah honey for 'milk and honey'.

Trumbull is online and doesn't seem to list any Eliot coinages for bee[s]. Mayhew's Psalter used aohkeomuasit, more or less agreeing with Cotton's Vocabulary's ohkeomm∞sog.

JBD said...

Tom, thanks - glad you like the blog!

MMcM - indeed, it is a bit muddled. You're right, I don't find a mention of Jefferson in Bishop's book. I will look at Isaiah 7:18 in the copy of the Bible at work on Monday and see what he uses; yes, it's really nuts that no one has ever reprinted the Bible (I guess its size is daunting to most publishers who might be otherwise inclined to do it). Your note reminds me, though, that I'd meant to be in touch with Applewood Books to see if they've got any interest in it.

I don't find a mention of bees or honey in Roger Williams' "Key into the Language of America". I will check in the Bible and see what Eliot used.

MMcM said...

Or at least scan a whole one and put that online, instead of just a few pages. Someday, I guess.

JBD said...

mcmm, your note reminded me to email Applewood Books; they've done some other early reprints. I suggested that they consider the Bible as well. I haven't heard back, but when I do I'll let you know. There is a copy scanned online as part of the Digital Evans collection, but unfortunately it's not freely available.

Very interestingly, Isaiah 7:18 reads "Kah pish nnih, ne kesukok Jevoah pish ... kah Bee noh Assyriae oh keit." So it appears that he's just using the English "Bee"; and in Isaiah 7:15 ("He will eat curds and honey...") Eliot writes "Butter kah hony pish meech ...", again just using the English word.

This seems to further bury Bishop's comment that Eliot is "credited" with "giving them some" - that is, providing words for bees and honey to native peoples.

MMcM said...

Turns out the BPL licenses Evans and they've set up an ezproxy. So, all of us in the Commonwealth do have access straightforwardly. Bad news is the scan (or the condition of the copy scanned) isn't all that good. I'd still buy a reprint.