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Thursday, December 01, 2005

Psalm 100:4 -- Have you entered gates?

I returned home late last night. I took a few days to visit my parents in Alaska. Sunday morning I worshiped with my brother and his wife at their church. Typical of many churches these days, all the songs (choruses) and main Scripture passage were displayed on a screen at the front of the auditorium. A main verse was Psalm 100:4 which was projected to the screen with the traditional wording of:
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving
I'm very familiar with this wording, having heard it all my life, and I might, without further thought, have simply enjoyed the traditional sound of this translation wording. But as a linguist and Bible translator I have learned to reflect on Bible wordings even if they are familiar to me. As I thought about the traditional wording of Psalm 100:4, I concluded that, in English, it is inappropriate to speak of "entering" a gate. In English we only enter spaces which can contain us. Enterable spaces can be physical such as:
a room
an auditorium
the house
a hallway
the tent
a castle
a corral
or they may be metaphorical "spaces" such as:
the sunset years of our lives
this Christmas season
the university
There are many things which we cannot enter, including:
a telephone
the book
a carrot
We cannot "enter" a gate since we view a gate as a solid piece of matter, which humans cannot enter. (Perhaps we can speak of termites entering a gate, although even this sounds a bit odd to me.)

If we want to use the verb "enter" with the noun "gate" one grammatical way to do so is to include a preposition. We might, for instance, say:
We entered at the gate.
It is, of course, also grammatical in English to say:
We went through the gate.
Better Bibles are translated by people who reflect upon the wordings they use as they translate. The result of such reflection should be that Bible translations only use word combinations which are appropriate within the lexicon of a target language, such as English. Such better Bibles will sound better to those who use them and more accurately communicate what the biblical source texts meant by what they said.

Is English "gates" the most accurate translation of Hebrew shahar of the first line of the poetic couplet of Ps. 100:4? (I suspect it is not.) What might be a better way to translate Psalm 100:4 so that the Hebrew meaning of the verse is accurately expressed in English and also follows the rules of English which specify what words can properly go with each other?

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At Thu Dec 01, 12:27:00 PM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...

I don't have my Hebrew Bible, nor am I trying to translate from the text (obviously). But would syntax, etc., support an obvious rendering like: "enter through his gates with thanksgiving"? (I really haven't tried to translate the Heb text- or Gk either, for that matter- for some years now, so question whether I should even try).

At Thu Dec 01, 01:24:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Ted, I don't think the Hebrew would support "enter through" in Ps. 100:4. The problem, as I see it, is that traditional translations of this verse are using the word "gates" for parts of the temple which we may not call gates today. I suspect that if we found a more accurate way to translate the underlying Hebrew noun, we would at the same time remove the lexical collocational clash.

At Thu Dec 01, 02:23:00 PM, Blogger Talmida said...

Wouldn't this just be a very simple poetic device?

"Open the door and come in" is good spoken English. You're not coming into the door, though, but what is behind it.

Isn't that the same situation with "enter the gate"?

Psalms are poetry, and this one does reflect the Hebrew, which is just 2 words: enter and his-gates. Gates usually refers to towns, temples and palaces, and enter is also translated come, come in, go in, penetrate, bring among other meanings.

It seems to me that the version you were looking at kept a very nice balance between the actual meaning and the poetry of the Hebrew original.

At Thu Dec 01, 04:39:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Talmida asked:

Wouldn't this just be a very simple poetic device?

"Open the door and come in" is good spoken English. You're not coming into the door, though, but what is behind it.

Isn't that the same situation with "enter the gate"?

I don't think so, Talmida, but my intutions on this only count as one vote! :-)

We need to transcribe people talking about gates to find out if they ever naturally say "enter the gate" or "enter his gates."

IMO, you hit on the crux of the matter when you said:

Gates usually refers to towns, temples and palaces

I suspect that in this psalm the English word "gates" is not the most accurate translation of Hebrew shahar. I think that the poetic couplet form here gives us a clue to that when it uses the Hebrew for "courts". Translation of the shahar in the first couplet should give us an English word which reflects the parallelism of the Hebrew poetic couplet form. I don't think gates is poetically parallel with courts.

But the jury is still out. We need a better handle on what shahar means in this context, as well as a better handle on whether on what verb plus noun combination would be considered good quality (and accurate) English in translation here.

At Thu Dec 01, 04:44:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I think the problem here is that the gates in question are not quite like modern gates. Ancient city and temple gateways - and some not quite so ancient ones - had a large space in the middle with side chambers, and narrower openings at both ends which could be closed off. So it was possible to enter a gate, or at least a gateway. Perhaps "Enter his gateways..." would work better?

Actually I have another problem with "Enter into his gates..." That "into" is redundant, at least in modern English, and is not normally used with physical motion. But "enter into" is used in some idiomatic uses e.g. "enter into the game", "enter into the spirit of..." So the use of "enter into" here leads one to expect some such idiomatic usage.

At Thu Dec 01, 09:39:00 PM, Blogger Talmida said...

Peter, like a gatehouse? Are there any still standing? Would Google have a photo?

At Fri Dec 02, 04:30:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Yes, Talmida, there are extensive remains at Megiddo. Try a Google image search for "megiddo gate", and you will find a lot of photos, also some plans. The Bronze Age gates may be too early to be relevant to the psalm, but the one which is supposed to be from Solomon's time (but may actually be later) is relevant.

By the way, Wayne, the Hebrew word in question is not "shahar" but שַׁעַר "sha`ar", the middle consonant is an ayin ע, originally a voiced pharyngeal fricative although more likely pronounced as a glottal stop in modern Hebrew.

At Fri Dec 02, 06:40:00 AM, Blogger Talmida said...

Excellent, Peter, thank you! I found one of the Megiddo gate rebuilt, too. One could certainly enter that gate.

By the way, how do linguists know how sounds used to be pronounced? I understand about rhyme in languages where that is an element of poetry, but I didn't think it was in Hebrew.

At Fri Dec 02, 04:28:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Talmida, your last question is an interesting one! I suppose the answer is that no one really knows, for anything before Edison, but many scholars have put a lot of time into reconstructing ancient pronunciations of various languages from clues given by variant spellings, transliterations, forms of loan words, rhymes etc, as well as from the variety of modern pronunciations. There are also some ancient phonetic descriptions.

Hebrew ayin is still pronounced as I described above by certain Jewish groups, Yemenites I think, who are thought to have very conservative pronunciation, and the equivalent letter is pronounced in the same way in Arabic which is also very conservative. So it seems fairly certain that the ancient Hebrew pronunciation was rather similar, although not necessarily identical.

At Sat Dec 03, 07:21:00 AM, Blogger Talmida said...

Thanks, always wondered about that.


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