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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Micah 2:9 - dream homes

I continue to check the ISV translation. Occasionally I come across a wording that strikes my ears as particularly choice. The first sentence is Micah 2:9 is one of those:
You have evicted the wives of my people from their dream homes
"Dream homes" jumped off the page at me. That is a word combination that carries a lot of positive feelings (connotations) for native English speakers.

I compared other versions to see how they had worded the English at the end of that sentence. I wanted to be sure that the ISV translation was still accurate, while using such a nice turn of phrase. Here is what some other versions have (boldfacing added by me):
The women of my people have ye cast out from their pleasant houses (KJV)
The women of My people you cast out From their pleasant houses (NKJV)
The women of my people you drive out from their pleasant houses (RSV, NRSV, NAB)
You drive the women of my people from their pleasant homes. (NIV, TNIV)
You drive the women of My people away from their pleasant homes. (NJPS)
You force the women among my people out of their pleasant homes (GW)
The women of my people you drive out from their delightful houses (ESV)
You wrongly evict widows among my people from their cherished homes. (NET)
You've forced the women of my people from their nice houses (NCV)
The Hebrew word underlying the English adjectives ta'anugeha is inflected for 3rd person feminine as well as its syntactic role in the sentence. The basic stem can be glossed by several words, such as daintiness, luxury, exquisite delight, pleasantness, delight, comfort (BDB).

There are slight differences among the different wordings here, "pleasant," "delightful," "cherished," and "nice" houses (or homes). But they are all within the semantic range of the Hebrew word. So each of the versions above translate that word accurately. Each wording is natural English.

But I think that "dream houses" takes the prize. It requires translators with a particularly good grasp of attractive English style to come up with the occasional wording that sparkles within an English Bible translation, a wording that is used commonly enough and yet has connotations that help us understand as well as feel what the biblical text says. I like it when a Bible translation is not stylistically bland. When it is appropriate in a translation, it is nice to have wordings which help us *feel* the emotions of the text in a way that other wordings may not. But a translation needs to stay within some kind of norms for words that are widely used, while giving us savory idioms, figures of speech, and emotive connotations, when a biblical context calls for such literary color.

Translation is a balancing act between so many important factors: accuracy, faithfulness to English grammar, as well as English style that allows us to feel the style of the often picturesque, vivid, and powerful wordings of the biblical language texts.


At Wed May 02, 09:20:00 AM, Blogger anonymous said...

"Dream homes" brings a Neoplatonist, Hindu, and Buddhist touch to the text, by suggesting that the homes are merely a dream, that we are living in a dream-reality, maya, rather than in ultimate objective brahman reality. This is, indeed, a way of reading the Bible (although not this verse in particular) and your wording brings a heavy dose of New Age thinking.

Now, you may say this was not your intent, but you cannot deny this is the most natural way of deeply reading your proposed translation.

So according to your text: one can conclude that we live in dream worlds, construct dream lives, reside in dream houses, and our spiritual quest is to wipe away these illusions of "reality" and find the ultimate truth: Nirvana.

I am somewhat surprised because I did not think that such wording was consonant with your personal philosophy.

At Wed May 02, 10:48:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Now, you may say this was not your intent, but you cannot deny this is the most natural way of deeply reading your proposed translation.

I disagree. At least for me, and I believe for quite a few other people, the wording "dream home" carries no connections to New Age thinking. It is simply a phrase which has been used a long time by English speakers to refer to a house which meets so many of a person's desires. A person is very happy in that home because it is the kind of house that they like.

Similarly, people refer to a "dream job". There is nothing about that wording that implies any kind of dreaming, or day-dreaming, or transcendental meditation while working at that job.

At Wed May 02, 11:11:00 AM, Blogger Eric Rowe said...

"Dream home" is definitely more a modern American idiomatic way of speaking than the other examples, as you say, Wayne.

But I think, probably for that very reason, it trucks in connotations that go beyond what was intended. It may do a better job of drawing a modern reader into the text with a picture, but not a picture that lends anything to the accuracy of the translation. If home buyers today say they got their "dream home" doesn't that mean a home that is special, and set apart from all the other homes because of having some features that they always dreamed of having? That idea gets further away from what the Hebrew could have meant than the less picturesque, "pleasant homes".

Also, there's something distinctly trendy today in America where a premium gets placed on "pursuing your dreams." So that when people are deprived of their dreams they become a victim of some serious crime. I don't know if "dream home" brings that kind of value system with it, but if it does, that's another reason to steer clear of it.

One of the temptations that should be avoided by those translating the Bible for modern readers is the temptation to conform the Bible to modern categories so much as to make it seem as if its original context was somehow less different than a modern society than it really was.

One other example I've heard about how this was done in a very different (and I think more extreme) way was done by a translator in a tribe who always built their houses on sand by driving poles deep into it. The translator actually switched the two houses in Jesus' parable in Matthew 7 so that the one on the sand stood firm and the one on the rock fell flat. It would have been better to translate it more formally and help the tribespeople understand that the world of the NT was very different than their own rather than create a false picture of it being very similar.

At Wed May 02, 11:18:00 AM, Blogger Eric Rowe said...

I would also say that, if you did one of your polls on this verse with a representative sample of Bible readers, a lot today would say that "dream home" "sounds" better. That kind of opinion probably provides the impetus for translators to translate like that. But, truth be told, while that version might "sound" better, it actually isn't even a slight bit easier to read. The other renderings may be more bland but, if anything, they're probably easier to understand.

If the ISV in this case is neither more accurate nor easier to understand, and it runs the risk of bringing in foreign connotations, then is there some other value translators pursue that it might satisfy?

At Wed May 02, 11:25:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Eric responded:

If the ISV in this case is neither more accurate nor easier to understand, and it runs the risk of bringing in foreign connotations, then is there some other value translators pursue that it might satisfy?

Sure, stylistic sparkle. But that must never trump accuracy. And if you are right that "dream house" brings in connotations which reduce the accuracy of the translation, then a less idiomatic wording should be used.

It's good, isn't it, that we can work through these issues together? I like cooperative translation. I sure(ly) can't think of everything. Each person can contribute something of value, their own presence and reactions, if nothing else.

At Wed May 02, 11:31:00 AM, Blogger anonymous said...

"Dream house" pretty clearly has a double meaning -- I would say one meaning is as you describe, but even a poorly read person can grasp the second meaning.

I have followed with interest the ISV translation and it seems to me be a brave approach -- one which (unintentionally perhaps) seems perfect for modern day Gnostics. The situation is akin to the glee with which the Russellites greeted the American Standard Version (in part because of its heavy use of the word Jehovah -- the ASV is by far the closest translation to the New World Translation.) While the ASV translators did not set out to make a translation for Russellites, it served that role perfectly.

The idea of this being just a dream world that we should awake from is an ancient one in Gnosticism.

For example, as you may have recently read in the Gospel of Judas, Jesus explains to Judas that his suffering is just a dream -- that this was a secret mystery that Jesus taught only to Judas.

From the Nag Hammadi Library (Robinson 4th revised ed, Brill 1996):

Yet you are sleeping, dreaming dreams. Wake up and return, taste and eat the true food! Hand out the word and the water of life! Cease from the evil lusts and desires. (The Concept of Our Great Power)

I am curious, are there are any Gnostic believers or specialists on the ISV translation team?

At Wed May 02, 11:55:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Anon., I am Skyping with the Exec. Director of the ISV as I write this. There are no gnostics nor New Agers on the ISV translation team. They are all conservative evangelicals.

Don't read too much into their dreams!

At Wed May 02, 12:44:00 PM, Blogger Eric Rowe said...

I can see how stylistic sparkle can be a value in a translation of the Bible, just as it was in the original. But don't think the use of cliches really accomplishes anything stylistically unless it somehow fits into the context in an artful way. It may have a certain ephemeral attraction. But the kind of skill commanded by the real masters of the English language is something too rare for the evangelical (or most other) publishing houses to think they have it in their staff. If somebody's idea of stylistic sparkle means translating the words for "I walked" with "I decided to stretch my legs". They're better off just sticking with "I walked".

At Wed May 02, 03:54:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Wayne, you seem to be getting a lot of quite unnecessary stick for your support for this rendering. "Dream homes" is not Neoplatonist, Hindu or Buddhist at all. I'm not quite sure that it is fully accurate to the situation, but it is very likely the general idea here. It's a shame that ISV spoils it with "the wives of my people" which doesn't sound very natural. "My people's wives" would be better.

At Wed May 02, 05:22:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

I can certainly believe that it is probably the case that the text was not intentionally crafted by a Gnostic/Buddhist/Hindu/Neoplatonist advocate. However, there is little advantage gained in comprehension, and the resulting text supports misinterpretation -- both deliberate and accidental.

Why unnecessarily introduce a double meaning not in the source text?

At Fri May 04, 07:45:00 PM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

I can just imagine Plotinus reading this and wondering why anyone would expect him to get excited about owning a particular kind of physical house, never mind spending a lifetime desiring a particular kind of house. That is, after all, what a dream house is. He was much more interested in getting away from things like dream houses and conforming his soul to the One to be worrying about where his physical body might dwell.

Reading "dream house" as a house in some dream world rather than as the house one dreams of one day owning is certainly not the most natural way of reading it. It is a contrived and over-literalistic interpretation that could only arise if one is looking for ways to read the English translation way out of context and exactly in that context.

Just because you can take "Jesus wept" out of context as an indication that we ought to be crying all the time, so too you can rip this verse out of its context, interpret in a way that a normal English speaker would never think of, and use it to support some funny Gnostic idea. But we don't translate based on ways people will deliberately twist perfectly normal turns of phrase into interpretations no normal English speaker would ever come up with. We translate in a way that a normal English speaker will be able to understand the meaning.

Imagine if dream dates were ways of conversing with other people while astral projecting, and your dream job is some task you perform while off in the other world you go to while meditating in the Buddhist temple. While we're at it, let's just take each idiom involving the word 'dream' and never use it again out of fear that someone who doesn't know English might think we mean something other than what the expression means. It sounds like a good way to rob the language of much of its beauty.


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