Better Bibles Blog has moved. Read our last post, below, and then
click here if you are not redirected to our new location within 60 seconds.
Please Bookmark our new location and update blogrolls.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Translation of biblical poetry

I hope you appreciated learning about poetic features in the translation work of Robert Alter which Suzanne focused on in her preceding post. I'd like to continue on the theme of translation of biblical poetry. It is a topic of great interest to me, because I enjoy poetry and have written some at times myself. I know that Suzanne has written some also, some beautifully lyrical poetry.

There is much on the Internet that has been written about biblical poetry. One article I would like to point you to is written by a scholar, United Bible Societies consultant Philip Stine. It is titled Biblical Poetry and Translation. You are most welcome to comment on the article in the comments to this post.

In the near future I want to post on some poetic features I have found in some translations of biblical poetry.


At Tue Sep 12, 04:30:00 AM, Blogger DavidR said...

Perhaps it is worth adding this interesting blog to the BBB roll: Ancient Hebrew Poetry.

At Tue Sep 12, 07:23:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Perhaps it is worth adding this interesting blog to the BBB roll: Ancient Hebrew Poetry.

Thanks for that suggestion. I did have that blog in the BBB roll soon after we created BBB. But that blog is not being maintained and we prefer to list blogs which are updated regularly. I have gone back and forth on this one and with your suggestion may decide to go forth again! :-)

At Tue Sep 12, 07:50:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


Do you have an electronic transliteration of the Hebrew scriptures, or do you know of one online. I don't feel that I can write about Hebrew poetry and alliteration without posting the Hebrew text in transliteration.

At Tue Sep 12, 09:24:00 AM, Blogger DavidR said...

Hi Suzanne:

I only know of two Hebrew unicode sites --

1. The TanakhML Project [link]; and

2. Mechon Mamre [link].

With the second you need to do a bit of digging.

Here's the sort of cut & paste result you get:

From TanakhML (using Firefox):
וְהֵשִׁ֤יב לֵב־אָבֹות֙ עַל־בָּנִ֔ים וְלֵ֥ב בָּנִ֖ים עַל־אֲבֹותָ֑ם פֶּן־אָבֹ֕וא וְהִכֵּיתִ֥י אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ חֵֽרֶם׃

From MM (using IE):
וְהֵשִׁיב לֵב-אָבוֹת עַל-בָּנִים, וְלֵב בָּנִים עַל-אֲבוֹתָם--פֶּן-אָבוֹא, וְהִכֵּיתִי אֶת-הָאָרֶץ חֵרֶם.

That verse would be interesting to blog on....

I'll scratch around on the transliteration question. Might be one out there!

Btw, that "Ancient Hebrew Poetry" blog does seem to be active -- it's just that it sorts oldest to newest, rather than the more expected "most recent first" method. I might be wrong about that, though.

Best wishes from fairly damp Edinburgh, David Reimer

At Tue Sep 12, 10:13:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Suzanne, I think you are looking for a transliteration, not the Hebrew text. I actually have one of some sort which I think I can let you have, but I don't have time to look it out just now.

At Tue Sep 12, 10:49:00 AM, Blogger DavidR said...

And as for transliteration -- like Peter, I thought I had something to hand but was dashing for the No. 45 which was typically late in any case.

Now home, a few things occur to me.

1. There is a fairly wacky transliteration out there on a couple sites: here and here.

At least, I think it's the same one.

2. I do have a copy of the MT in the Michigan-Claremont encoding scheme (like this). I don't think you'd want to use it "off the shelf" but if anyone is a whiz with perl, it would be pretty easy to write a script to convert this to unicode.

3. Speaking of which, I just ran across this site which links to an online Hebrew-unicode-to-transliteration tool, much like Google's autotranslation thing. In my wee test it worked a treat!

For example, here is the verse I gave above in Hebrew, autotransliterated:

wəhēšîḇ lēḇ-ʾāḇôṯ ʿal-bānîm, wəlēḇ bānîm ʿal-ʾăḇôṯom--pen-ʾāḇôʾ, wəhikkêṯî ʾeṯ-hāʾāreṣ ḥērem.

There's something to be going on with anyway.

(I know what you mean about feeling the need for transliteration in discussion of Hebrew poetry. For some reason, actually for more than one, Paul Dion also used to default to transliteration in discussion of Hebrew poetry.)

David Reimer

At Tue Sep 12, 11:47:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Btw, that "Ancient Hebrew Poetry" blog does seem to be active -- it's just that it sorts oldest to newest, rather than the more expected "most recent first" method.

How right you are, David. Thanks. AHP is now back in our blogroll.

At Tue Sep 12, 01:19:00 PM, Blogger Ian Myles Slater said...

There is a basic transliteration (directed largely at Bar/Bat Mitzvah students, apparently) available at

It does cover the comple Tanakh, and navigation doesn't seem too difficult. It may be too much of a blunt instrument for analyzing poetry, but it may be helpful.

At Tue Sep 12, 01:27:00 PM, Blogger DavidR said...

Hmmm... just noticed that autotransliteration stumbled over the qāmeṣ in אֲבוֹתָם thus: ʾăḇôṯom. Oh well. Pretty good all the same!

At Tue Sep 12, 03:55:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I don't think there is any way that autotransliteration can distinguish between the two versions of qamats. Certainly it can't if not presented with accents, and I guess that since the autotransliteration has retained the strange double hyphen it was working with the unaccented MM text. If it had started with the TanakhML text, it would have noted that the qamats in question is in an accented syllable and so must be a long "a" rather than a short "o". But even the best rule-based processing will stumble over exceptions like בָּתִּים battim "houses".

I did find a (Unicode UTF-8) text file of the Hebrew Bible transliterated into IPA (at least, a rather simplistic understanding of Tiberian Masoretic pronunciation in IPA). If anyone is interested please e-mail me, peter AT qaya DOT org. Here is Genesis 1:1-5:

gn1:1 bə̆reːˈʃiːθ bɑːˈrɑːʔ ʔɛ̆loːˈhiːm ˈʔeːθ haʃːɑːˈmajim wə̆ˈʔeːθ hɑːˈʔɑːrɛsˤ
gn1:2 wə̆hɑːˈʔɑːrɛsˤ hɑːjˈθɑː ˈθoːhuː wɑːˈvoːhuː wə̆ˈħoːʃɛx ʕal-pə̆ˈneː θə̆ˈhoːm wə̆ˈruːaħ ʔɛ̆loːˈhiːm mə̆raˈħɛfɛθ ʕal-pə̆ˈneː haˈmːɑːjim
gn1:3 waˈjːoːmɛr ʔɛ̆loːˈhiːm jə̆ˈhiː ˈʔoːr ˌwajhiː-ˈʔoːr
gn1:4 waˈjːarʔ ʔɛ̆loːˈhiːm ʔɛθ-hɑːˈʔoːr kiː-ˈtˤoːv wajːavˈdeːl ʔɛ̆loːˈhiːm ˈbeːn hɑːˈʔoːr uːˈveːn haˈħoːʃɛx
gn1:5 wajːiqˈrɑːʔ ʔɛ̆loːˈhiːm lɑːˈʔoːr ˈjoːm wə̆laˈħoːʃɛx ˈqɑːrɑːʔ ˈlɑːjlɑː ˌwajhiː-ˈʕɛrɛv ˌwajhiː-ˈvoːqɛr ˈjoːm ʔɛˈħɑːð

but this will only display sort of OK in some browsers, others may see boxes where primary and secondary stress marks are intended. If I remember correctly I used quite a sophisticated analysis of the accents in the original to distinguish as far as possible between the different types of qamats and sheva, but it is far from perfect.

At Wed Sep 13, 07:58:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I will need some time to work on these. Unfortunately tme is something I don't have a lot extra of these days.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home