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Monday, December 25, 2006

Advent translation #5: wise men wait

As regular visitors to this blog probably remember, I consider the CEV to have the most natural English of any major English Bible translation. It resolves many translation issues which other versions do not, most in ways which I like. But the CEV, like any translation, is not perfect. Well, today is Christmas, so let's not get too analytical. I'd like to share the story of the coming of the wise men and make a few observations:
Mat 2:1 When Jesus was born in the village of Bethlehem in Judea, Herod was king. During this time some wise men from the east came to Jerusalem
What time span is referred to? I have the idea that it was anywhere from a few months to a couple of years after the birth of Jesus that the wise men visited. Some other versions handle the time sequencing a little better, IMO.
Mat 2:2 and said, "Where is the child born to be king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."
Mat 2:3 When King Herod heard about this, he was worried, and so was everyone else in Jerusalem.
I can understand why Herod would have been worried. He was paranoid of anyone who might be a potential competitor to his place on the throne. But why was everyone else worried? Wouldn't they be glad that a new king had been born? Or were they concerned at what Herod would do this time when faced with a competitor?
Mat 2:4 Herod brought together the chief priests and the teachers of the Law of Moses and asked them, "Where will the Messiah be born?"
Is there something significant in the restatement from "king of the Jews" to "the Christ" (or "the Messiah")?
Mat 2:5 They told him, "He will be born in Bethlehem, just as the prophet wrote,
Mat 2:6 'Bethlehem in the land of Judea, you are very important among the towns of Judea. From your town will come a leader, who will be like a shepherd for my people Israel.' "
I wonder how long people had understood that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem? I wonder how many rabbis today would give the same answer today? Views of Jesus sure changed when he did not fulfill Jewish longings for deliverance from foreign domination.
Mat 2:7 Herod secretly called in the wise men and asked them when they had first seen the star.
Mat 2:8 He told them, "Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, let me know. I want to go and worship him too."
What can we say to such blatant falsehood?
Mat 2:9 The wise men listened to what the king said and then left. And the star they had seen in the east went on ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.
Mat 2:10 They were thrilled and excited to see the star.
We need to check "thrilled and excited" to see how accurate this phrase is in translation. English conjoined terms imply that they are semantically different. But I don't know if "thrilled and excited" is a term frozen enough to be regarded as a single semantic unit. I suggest that Matthew's Greek here, echaresan charan megalen sfodra ('rejoiced with joy exceedingly great') is imitating a Hebrew infinitive absolute. If so, we need to be sure that, however we translate the Greek semantic unit, the English sounds intensive. Translation as "rejoiced exceedingly" is semantically better but is not natural English. NIV and TNIV "overjoyed" strikes me as both accurate and natural, as is NLT "filled with joy." There has been some discussion about a CEV revision but I don't know if it will ever take place. If I were revising this verse, I would strike "and excited". The verb "thrilled" by itself very nicely translates the meaning of the Greek form here.
Mat 2:11 When the men went into the house
The fact that they visited in a house, not in the stable, is often pointed out. Wise men wait! The shepherds probably didn't mind the smell and sounds of the stable. But I think the wise men would have.
and saw the child with Mary, his mother, they knelt down and worshiped him. They took out their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh and gave them to him.
Mat 2:12 Later they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, and they went back home by another road.
Merry Christmas, everyone!


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