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Friday, December 30, 2005

Unclear Message

Yesterday my wife and I read Psalm 114 as our after-breakfast Bible reading. We're reading through the Psalms again in The Message. Verses 1-2 read like this:
After Israel left Egypt, the clan of Jacob left those barbarians behind;
Judah became holy land for him, Israel the place of holy rule.
As we read that, neither of us could figure out who the referent of "him" is. Who is it for whom Judah became a holy land?

Today we read the beautiful opening verses of Psalm 115 (it's beautiful in any Bible version; take your pick). And we also harked back to the problem we had with "him" of yesterday's reading. Even after 24 hours we still cannot figure out who it is for whom Judah became a holy land. (Might you have an answer?)

It's not just literal or essentially literal translations that have translation issues. More natural English versions do, as well. We all know that natural English versions have passages about which we raise our eyebrows concerning translation accuracy. No translator or translation team is perfect, and language issues can appear in any Bible translation. That's why Bible translation needs to be part of the community of faith. We need each other helping the translation task. Translation teams need to reach out to others to get help checking their translations for adequate wordings, clarity, and, above all, accuracy.

Let us work together, as people who believe that the Bible is important, to help bring about greater awareness of translation issues and, ultimately, to contribute to the production of better Bibles. We have many good Bibles in English. All English Bibles have ministered to people. We are wealthy, indeed, when it comes to English Bible versions. Let's help each other understand how Bibles can be even better. And let's never forget the millions of people around the world who have no Bible in their languages.

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4 Comments:

At Fri Dec 30, 02:52:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

At face value, I would presume "him" or "his" is Jacob/Israel.

1 When Israel went out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language; 2 Judah was his sanctuary, and Israel his dominion. [KJV]

1 When Israel went out from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language, 2 Judah became his sanctuary, Israel his dominion. [ESV]

A couple more examples:

1 When Israel came out of Egypt,
the house of Jacob from a people of foreign tongue, 2 Judah became God's sanctuary, Israel his dominion. [TNIV, which injects the word "God's" into the text]

1 When the Israelites escaped from Egypt – when the family of Jacob left that foreign land – 2 the land of Judah became God's sanctuary, and Israel became his kingdom. [NLT, which does the same thing as the TNIV]

1 When Israel went out from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language, 2 Judah became God's sanctuary, Israel his dominion. [NRSV...Ditto]

1 When Israel went forth from Egypt, The house of Jacob from a people of strange language, 2 Judah became His sanctuary, Israel, His dominion. [NASB, which capitalizes as if it is referring to God]


Lastly, there's something about Psalm 114 that makes it look like it's part of a bigger Psalm. It almost reads like it's a continuing from a previous refrain, and not a complete Psalm in and of itself. Perhaps that's why the meaning isn't entirely clear.

 
At Fri Dec 30, 02:58:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

Umm...Wow. I can't believe I missed that. There's plenty of internal evidence within the verse itself that says it's referring to God. Nevermind what I said at the beginning of my post.

When Israel went out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language; Judah was his sanctuary, and Israel his dominion.

 
At Fri Dec 30, 04:36:00 PM, Blogger Tim said...

But since the original is ambiguous, is it right to translate it in a way that removes the ambiguity? I'm not a Hebraist, and perhaps those who are can tell us whether, in the original, the reference to 'God' would have been assumed, or whether they would have had to puzzle it out, as we are doing here.

 
At Fri Dec 30, 06:00:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Tim makes a good point. The original is ambiguous. And so The Message is doing here only what literal translations should do: retaining the ambiguity. But even an essentially literal translation like NRSV is making an addition here.

I wonder if the problem here is that the start of the psalm is assumed to be the start of the discourse. It is quite possible that the Hallelu-Yah at the end of Psalm 113 in fact should be at the start of Psalm 114 (as it is at the start of Psalms 111, 112 and 113), and this would provide a suitable antecedent for "his".

An alternative understanding would be for "his" to refer to Israel = the house of Jacob in v.1. This would make sense if "Judah" and "Israel" in v.2 refer to the lands or kingdoms rather than the tribes, although it would look a little strange for Israel to be the dominion of Israel. But could the sanctuary belong to the people rather than God? Probably not.

 

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