Translating an ancient text
Some people believe that when an ancient text is translated, we should do so in a way that makes it sound ancient. This typically means that if there are older words or syntactic forms in the target (translation) language, these should be used to produce reader responses that can include any or all of the following:
Others, however, believe that a translation should accurately preserve all references to events, people, places, and other cultural aspects which were from long ago, but do so in the current language of those for whom the translation is made. By current language we mean that language which is widely known by speakers of the target language and which would be considered to be of good literary quality, as, presumably, the original biblical texts were considered, on the whole, by their readers (or hearers). This idea that an ancient text can, and should, be translated in current language, should never lead to translation that allows any translation user to feel that the events described in the ancient text occurred recently. That would not be accurate translation.
- The translation sounds classical to me.
- The translation sounds sacred to me.
- The translation stirs up feelings of mystery within me.
- I cannot understand all of the ancient language.
- The translation feels distant from me.
- The events of the translation happened long, long ago.
I happen to believe in the second approach to translating an ancient text, believing that there is no need to use outdated words or syntactic forms of English, for instance, in order to accurately preserve all the ancient references within the Bible. In fact, I would contend, as I often do in my blog posts, that using current English allows English readers to more accurately understand the ancient text of the Bible. Accuracy in communication is, in my opinion, the most important aspect of making a good translation of the Bible. Such accuracy leads to better Bibles.
That's what I think. What do you think?
Categories: literary quality, Bible translation, sacred language