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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Advent translation #7: flight to Egypt

There was a comment to our previous post, asking for more critique of the NKJV. So I'll evaluate a passage in the NKJV today. Here is Matt. 2:13-23, which tells how Joseph fled to Egypt with Mary and Jesus, to spare Jesus' life from Herod who wanted to kill him:
13 ¶ Now when they had departed, behold,
"behold" is not used in current English as the translation equivalent of the underlying Greek attention-getting form, idou. Instead, current translation equivalents could be "Pay attention!" and "Note this!" In some dialects of English, "Listen up!" could be used.
an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, "Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word;
More natural English would be "until I tell you" (NASB, NIV, TNIV, NRSV, TEV, CEV, NLT, NCV, GW, NET, ESV, HCSB). In current English we don't talk about "bringing" someone "word."
for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him."
14 When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night
"during the night" (NIV, TNIV, TEV, NCV, NET, HCSB) or "that night" (CEV, NLT, GW) sound more natural to me than "by night."
and departed for Egypt,
15 and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, "Out of Egypt I called My Son."
16 ¶ Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry;
"exceedingly" strikes my ears as dated. Today I think we would more often simply say "very."
and he sent forth and put to death
"sent forth and ..." does not sound right to me. I have blogged on this Hebraism previously. Apparently it works for some speakers of English. The following sound like good English to me:
gave orders to kill (NIV, TNIV, TEV)
gave orders to massacre (HCSB)
gave orders for his men to kill (CEV)
gave an order to kill (NCV)
sent men to kill (NET)
sent soldiers to kill (NLT, GW)
Translating the Hebraism literally creates unnatural English.
all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.
17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying:
18 "A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more."
19 ¶ But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,
20 saying, "Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead."
21 Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel.
22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee.
23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, "He shall be called a Nazarene."
What other translation issues do you spot in this passage, as worded in the NKJV?

10 Comments:

At Thu Dec 28, 02:18:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Was your final question addressed to everyone? Here are my answers for verses 13 to 16:

v.13: What is that funny sign ¶ supposed to indicate? This is not in normal use in English books, so why in the Bible?

v.13: "saying": this is not natural English syntax, and is ambiguous, suggesting that the dream was saying these words; I note that here "saying" is an action of the subject and not of the nearest sentence element, but in verses 15 and 17 "saying" is an action of the nearest sentence element and not of the subject.

v.13: "Arise": this is what our queen says to those she is dubbing as knights (but the angel did not say "Arise, Sir Joseph"), but I don't think anyone else uses this verb now. "Flee" also sounds unnatural, and so does "seek" in this context.

v.13: The use of capital letters for nouns and pronouns referring to the baby Jesus looks very odd.

v.14: "by night" in this word order looks like an attribute of his mother, perhaps to be contrasted with someone else who was his daytime mother.

v.15: "until the death of Herod": a noun following "until" is usually a noun of time; much more natural in English is "until Herod died".

v.15: "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken": this is not correct English grammar, for "it" cannot function as the antecedent of a relative pronoun, and relative pronouns can be split from their antecedents only under rather restricted conditions which are not met here; "that that which was spoken... might be fulfilled" would be correct but ungainly; better would be "that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled", or else rather like verse 17: "that there might be fulfilled what was spoken".

v.16: "all its districts": in English, I have never heard of a town having more than one district.

v.16: "from two years old and under": the word order suggests that this is a description of the districts.

v.16: "the time which he had determined": this means that Herod had chosen the time, which is not what the original Greek means.

 
At Thu Dec 28, 03:55:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Peter asked:

Was your final question addressed to everyone?

Yes, you plural, y'all!

:-)

v.13: What is that funny sign ¶ supposed to indicate? This is not in normal use in English books, so why in the Bible?

I noticed it also. I assumed it was intended to be a paragraph marker.

Thanks for all your comments, Peter.

 
At Fri Dec 29, 05:23:00 AM, Blogger Glennsp said...

¶ is used to indicate the start of a paragraph and/or the start of a new train of thought.

 
At Fri Dec 29, 08:26:00 AM, Blogger Bibleweb.com said...

Wow! Thanks.

 
At Sat Dec 30, 05:36:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Glenn, in what English literature is ¶ "used to indicate the start of a paragraph and/or the start of a new train of thought"? It is not used as such in any of the books on my bookshelf, except for a couple of very old Bibles.

 
At Sat Dec 30, 08:26:00 AM, Blogger hook said...

Hi all. Just discovered this blog and had a couple of comments on this post. First one is that the symbol in question is a "proofreader's mark" for begin a paragraph and has been used for a long time. Here's Merriam Webster's list of marks. Microsoft uses the symbol internally in Word documents because it is a universal mark.

 
At Sat Dec 30, 09:24:00 AM, Blogger hook said...

Wayne -

About bring you word

Maybe I'm too old or too steeped in Biblical English, but this phrase doesn't sound outdated to me. Formal, yes, but outdated, not yet.

A Google search for the phrase provided some interesting results. About 14,000 altogether, and on the first couple of pages most of them quoted this passage in Matthew. The exceptions were the very first result which was an announcement from the gaming network, WarCry.net, several sites repeating the announcement. But just a couple of pages in the words were used in a news report about troops in Afghanistan on CNN.

 
At Sat Dec 30, 09:58:00 AM, Blogger Glennsp said...

Peter, all I was doing was confirming that that is what the symbol means.
Nowhere did I insinuate that it is used/should be used in today's books.
Lighten up Peter!!

 
At Wed Jan 03, 03:55:00 PM, Blogger daniel reed said...

Ooh - no one took on vv.16-23 (a fun exercise, by the way!):

16 all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under,

• "all its districts" sounds strange, but may be OK. I would probably prefer "in Bethlehem and thereabouts" or "in Bethlehem and the surrounding areas".
• "from two years old and under" is redundant. Standard English would omit "from" (and may have to rearrange the word order a bit - maybe "all the male children two years old and younger who were in Bethlehem...")

according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.
17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet,


• "then was fulfilled"? Who talks like that? I would word it "Thus Jeremiah the prophet's words were fulfilled:"

saying:

• Omit. Hebraism.

18 "A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more."

This one's not as clear-cut, since it is poetry, but the wording of it here is stilted and unnatural. And I'm sure I've heard the meaning and reference of "Ramah" and "Rachel", but can't think of it at the moment. As it stands, it's a great big ambiguous run-on sentence (at first glance, it appears that "Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning" is in apposition to "Ramah" - remember "I have a dog with a wooden leg named Spot"?). Here's my attempt at re-wording/punctuating:

"A voice was heard in Ramah -
a voice of lamenting, weeping, and mourning -
Rachel weeping for her children,
Refusing to be comforted - for they are dead."


19 But when Herod was dead, behold,

Omit "behold". Hebraism.

an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying,

Awkward - needs better punctuation. Maybe "an angel [do we need "of the Lord"?] appeared to Joseph in Egypt, and told him in a dream," (that gets rid of the awkward "appeared...saying" too).

"Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead." 21 Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel.

I think that the Capitalization of Divine Pronouns is Distracting. It also seems like these two verses are a similar Hebraism to "he spoke, saying" - in English, it's redundant and unnatural to repeat what is spoken by the angel in describing Joseph's actions. For more natural wording, I would prefer it to be condensed - something like

"...told him in a dream to return to Israel with the child and his mother, and that those who intended to kill the child were dead. So he did."

or better yet, starting back at 19,

"...an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, and told him that it was safe to leave Egypt, because Herod was dead. So he returned to Israel with the child and his mother" [I'm tempted to change this to "with his wife and child", but I understand that the awkward phrasing here is because Jesus was not Joseph's son. Still, I suppose we could do "with his wife and the child" - that sounds a bit more natural.]

22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod,

This is awkward. We wouldn't say "I heard that George W. Bush is president instead of his father Bush Sr." It should be "when he heard that Herod's son Archelos was reigning over Judea".

he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee.

Galilee is north of Judea. He wouldn't "turn aside into" it, he would "continue on into" it.

23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, "He shall be called a Nazarene."

"That it might be fulfilled" indicates that Joseph was consciously and purposefully fulfilling the prophecy. It should be "And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, fulfilling the words of the prophet [prophet, not prophets, right?], 'He shall be called a Nazarene.' "


Wow, that was fun. I didn't realize how messed up and unnatural the NKJV is until I took it line-by-line like that.

One of my theology teachers in college, when we would read Scripture aloud in class, used to ask [at least partially joking], "What travesty are you using today?" (because he considered all translations to be travesties compared to reading from the Greek or Hebrew).

Although, his travesty of choice tended to be the NASB.

 
At Mon Jan 08, 03:20:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Good observations, Daniel. Thanks.

 

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