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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Zechariah 9:9

John Hobbins, of Ancient Hebrew Poetry, posted recently On the Interpretation of Zechariah 9:9. He has written at some length in his article (PDF) about many of the translation issues which we often mull over here.

For example, what role does translation tradition play in the production of new translations? John shows how earlier interpretation consciously or unconsciously contributes to contemporary understanding of a verse. The influence of tradition is not necessarily a negative thing, but we should always be aware of it and look at this aspect of translation critically. The history of translation tradition is regrettably often an overlooked discipline. (But, of course, we are trying to turn this around!)

John demonstrates the role of tradition in the translation of Zechariah 9:9 in many fascinating ways.

גִּילִי מְאֹד בַּת-צִיּוֹן
הָרִיעִי בַּת יְרוּשָׁלִַם
הִנֵּה מַלְכֵּךְ יָבוֹא לָךְ
צַדִּיק וְנוֹשָׁע הוּא
עָנִי וְרֹכֵב עַל-חֲמוֹר
וְעַל-עַיִר בֶּן-אֲתֹנוֹת.

χαιρε σφοδρα θυγατερ σιων
κηρυσσε θυγατερ Ιερουσαλημ
ιδου ο βασιλευς σου ερχεται σοι
δικαιος και σωζων αυτος
πραυς και επιβεβηκως
επι υποζυγιον και πωλον νεον LXX

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Proclaim, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King comes to you;
Just and saving is he;
Gentle and mounted on a beast of burden
And a young colt. LXX (tr. from Ancient Hebrew Poetry)

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O daughter of Jerusalem:
behold, thy King cometh unto thee:
he is just, and having salvation;
lowly, and riding upon an ass,
and upon a colt the foal of an ass. KJV

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
Righteous and having salvation is he,
Humble and mounted on a donkey,
On a colt, the foal of a donkey. ESV

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion,
shout, O daughter of Jerusalem;
behold, thy king cometh unto thee,
he is triumphant, and victorious,
lowly, and riding upon an ass,
even upon a colt the foal of an ass. JPS 1917

Throb with abandon, fair Zion!
Let out a shout, fair Jerusalem!
Behold your king, He will come to you;
He is just and victorious;
Lowly, mounted on an ass,
On a donkey, a foal of she-asses. (John Hobbins of Ancient Hebrew Poetry)

John works through the translation issues in detail line by line. I found the following to be of special interest. First, there is the tendency to move from a concrete word in the Hebrew to an abstract one in the Greek or English, i.e. "rejoice" instead of "throb", and "proclaim" instead of "shout".

Next, there is a discussion about how best to translate "daughter of". John opts for a phrase which maintains the meaning but not the form with "fair Zion".

Word order is a recurring puzzle. Note how the different translations have dealt with line 4. The KJV does not attempt to maintain the original Hebrew word order but the ESV does. I am not aware of the history of the ESV decision for this verse. I wonder if there is a precursor to this inverted syntax in another translation.

Of special interest is the variation in translating צַדִּיק. John remarks,


    The translation "Righteous and having salvation is he" is wrongheaded on several counts. It reproduces the word order of the Hebrew, but that word order is the normal one in Hebrew. The equivalent word order in English is with the subject first.

    Righteous" (צַדִּיק) is a frequent stand-alone descriptor of right-behaving as opposed to wrong-behaving people in biblical literature. For a man of means, right behavior involved protecting the rights of others and helping those in need (Job 31). The sense in which a king is to be righteous is not far removed from the sense in which every individual is expected to be righteous. A righteous individual is one who does all in his power to advance the good of his fellows.

    A king is expected to secure the rights and freedom of those in his care and vanquish those who mean to do them harm. In Zech 9:9, another descriptor, "victorious" (נוֹשָׁע), helps to bring this out. Just and victorious is what a king is supposed to be. The ideal king is described more extensively in Jer 23:5. ...

    JPSV renders the phrase under discussion with "He is triumphant, and victorious;" NJPSV with "He is victorious, triumphant." These translations allow the sense of צַדִּיק to be swallowed up in that of נוֹשָׁע. ESV’s "having salvation" is a clumsy rendering of נוֹשָׁע. The participle’s active sense and adjectival force are clear from the context.
I recommend John's article to you. I am delighted to see an analysis of translation decisions laid out with such detail. John is currently working on a book about ancient Hebrew poetry and recently gave papers at professional conferences in Edinburgh and Washington DC.

PS This is an excursus from Tamar, but the discussion of צַדִּיק is relevant. I wanted to offer this interesting article while I continue to mull over Tamar's dilemma.

1 Comments:

At Mon Jan 15, 07:31:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Word order is a recurring puzzle. Note how the different translations have dealt with line 4. The KJV does not attempt to maintain the original Hebrew word order but the ESV does. I am not aware of the history of the ESV decision for this verse. I wonder if there is a precursor to this inverted syntax in another translation.

The ESV word order is retained from the RSV. It is also retained in the NRSV. I have not found the Hebrew word order in any translations prior to the RSV, including any prior to the KJV.

 

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