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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

On Translations and Teaching

Jim Getz of the Ketuvim blog has posted on the dilemma of selecting an English Bible version for an Introduction to the Hebrew Bible course this coming fall.

He wants a translation which will be as true to the Hebrew text as possible. And he wants one which does not impose New Testament interpretations upon Old Testament passages.

He concludes:
All this points back to my current quandary. If we use Ps 2:12 as an accurate sample (which to my mind, it might be), then the best translations for those of us in OT/HB are the RSV, NRSV and NET. Unfortunately, of these only the NRSV uses gender neutral language. Which really leaves me only one choice for teaching this fall. While I am not happy to have my choices so reduced, it is at least a comfort that this is the same translation I was told to buy when taking intro to OT at Eastern back in the day.
Click on the title to this post to rest the rest of Jim's post.

(UPDATE1: Chris Heard of Higgaion blog has linked to Jim's post and continued the discussion.)

(UPDATE2: Jim Getz appreciated Chris' post and followed up with On Translation and Teaching Part II.)

(UPDATE3: Tyler Williams of Codex blog takes the discussion of the text critical issues of Ps. 2:11-12 even further.)

(UPDATE4: John Hobbins concludes that the Hebrew in question does not refer at all to "son," but rather means "kiss purely." HT: Suzanne McCarthy)


At Tue May 08, 03:49:00 AM, Blogger Glennsp said...

So his choice is more about his own bias than about true literalness from the Hebrew, as evidenced by his desire to have a 'gender neutral language' as one of his requirements.
Since when did the original Hebrew make general use of 'gender neutral language'?

At Tue May 08, 07:38:00 AM, Blogger Eric Rowe said...

I left a comment on his post. So I won't repeat it here. But his explanation of the problem is inaccurate. The truth is, "son" is the only translation that is true to the actual words and syntax of the MT, Aramaism or not. Translators shouldn't labor to inject messianic readings. So using the capital-S is a little too much, I think. But they shouldn't labor to remove the possibility of them either. In this example, the RSV, NRSV, and NET do the latter. I tend to think the same is true in the other examples he lists. But those can be addressed as they arise.

At Tue May 08, 08:35:00 AM, Blogger Eric Rowe said...

Actually, now I'm beginning to second guess myself, not about the translation "son", but about not capitalizing it.

I'm not completely sold on the idea that divine pronouns and words like father, son, and spirit ever need to be capitalized. But I'm not completely against it. And if a Bible does follow that convention, I'm not sure why it shouldn't be done in this verse. Yes, that is Christianizing it. But calling it the Old Testament is Christianizing it. And so is packaging it in a volume with the New Testament and putting the words Holy Bible on the front.

To read the Psalms as prophetic works about the Messiah is to read them the way a Christian is supposed to read them. Jesus read them that way. The apostles read them that way. The great majority of Psalm quotations in the NT use them that way. And they were almost always read that way by Christians until the modern era.

In fact, reading the Psalms as prophetic Scriptures about the Messiah was already being done before Christ, as evidenced at Qumran. My understanding is that the inclusion of Psalms and Daniel in the Ketuvim (writings) came about later, and that both books were first grouped among the Nevi'im (the prophets). Frankly, it's probably the case that the reason the Psalms are in the Bible at all is because of their acceptance as prophecy within Second-Temple Judaism.

So if I'm going to endorse reading them that way, then I don't see how I can say that translations shouldn't facilitate that in the way they use conventions for divine names and pronouns in the OT. (But, again, dropping the convention of capitalizing those words altogether might be a safer bet anyway).

At Thu May 10, 10:51:00 AM, Blogger anonymous said...

For me, the issue is less about what the text "means" (because, it is not always clear to me that this is well defined -- this text may "mean" different things to different readers) than understanding how different people read this verse.

I checked a number of widely used Study Bibles and translations to compare how they handled this verse. There are two places I looked for notes: in textual notes to the translation and study notes in the study Bible.

For textual notes: Here is what I found

NET: Gives a full discussion in notes

RSV, NRSV, NJPS, NLT2: Indicate that the Hebrew is unclear.

REB, NASB95: Gives an alternative translation in notes

NIV, TNIV, NKJV, NAB: Gives one translation with no textual note

Of the study Bibles I checked the Oxford Jewish Study Bible (NJPS) and New Interpreters Study Bible (NRSV) both had a discussion of the issue.

Other study Bibles [New Oxford Annotated Bible (both RSV 1977 and NRSV 2007 editions), HarperCollins Study Bible 2nd ed. (NRSV), Orthodox Study Bible (NKJV), Zondervan TNIV Study Bible, and the Oxford Study Bible] had no textual discussion.

Conclusion: For understanding the issues in the verse, readers will be best served by a small number of available study Bibles, namely --

Best options:

NET Bible
Oxford Jewish Study Bible (NJPS)
New Interpreter's Study Bible (NRSV)

Minimal information:


No information


At Thu May 10, 12:01:00 PM, Blogger Eric Rowe said...

"For understanding the issues in the verse, readers will be best served by a small number of available study Bibles, namely --..."

I can't quite go along with this. I agree that those notes can be helpful to discerning readers. But to really understand this issue you have to be able to access the Hebrew itself so that you can critically evaluate the arguments those study notes use.

The truth is, those study Bibles that you are praising are made by people with opinions, just like every other Bible. The way they use those notes is as a means of supporting the opinion they endorse in the main text. I am sure they intend to be objective. But part of their idea of objectivity includes axioms that they don't express to the readers. One of those axioms is that they should try to present the Psalm as it must have originally been intended by its anonymous author in whatever time and religious context they believe the Psalm was written. Thus it must conform to their reconstruction of the history of Israelite religion. A second axiom is that the messianic expectations that were around in the Second temple period were not around in the monarchical period when this Psalm is presumed to have been written.

Neither of these axioms is going to be taken for granted by scholars and readers with different goals and different views of Scripture.

For example, some might think that the time horizon in which the Psalm should be read today is not the unknown ancient reconstructed monarchy in which it might have been used for some kind of enthronement ritual. They might, instead, want to read it the way it would have been read in the Second Temple period when we know the canonical collection of Psalms circulated as a unified body that was understood as a prophetic work about the coming Messiah. The NRSV translators are looking at the Psalm as we have received it, and they judge that the word בר reflects the language and religion of that later context, so it needs to be replaced with some conjectural emendation that comports with their reconstructed original context. They may stun you with philology in their footnote. But the myth of objectivity that goes with it can be more misleading than no note at all.

I'm certainly in no position to prove or disprove their conceptions of ancient Israelite religion. But for a translation of the Bible, I would like to have something that provides me with what the Hebrew actually says, whether the translators think that is anachronistic or not, rather than what they believe it ought to have said.

At Thu May 10, 01:40:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

I think you may have missed a point in my original post: my interest is how the verse has been interpreted. (The notion of the "original meaning" may not exist, and we may or may not have an uncorrupted Hebrew text.)

A note that failed to note the historically important messianic interpretation would certainly fall short in my book.

The notes I praised, which were made by groups different than the translators (except perhaps for the NET Bible -- here I do not know the authorship of the note) briefly explain different historical interpretations of the note. All of them concede that the meaning of the Hebrew is unclear.

The point is not to make a definitive answer (as some translations attempt to do) but to highlight points where there is controversy.

At Thu May 10, 02:33:00 PM, Blogger Eric Rowe said...

OK, I see what you're saying. And you're right about most of those study Bibles' notes probably not being the work of the translators. I was thinking more along the lines of the notes that come with the versions themselves or in annotated editions, such as annotated NRSV's (NET as well). But I wasn't really thinking clearly about the kinds of study Bibles you had actually mentioned.

I think you're right about notes in Bibles like that being a way to see the array of options that a single translation can't. But, especially when you can have a Bible that provides notes like that, it's even more important for the actual text to present something as close to the original as possible. Leave conjectural emendations to the notes. As far as the actual Hebrew as we have received it in the MT, there is one clear best way to render Ps 2:12, and that's with the word "son". The translation itself should just say that, leaving mitigating issues for discussion in footnotes.

Now that I see what you really meant about some Study Bibles, I think, for clarification, your earlier post isn't really comparing apples with apples. All of the translations that you list as having no information are available in various study Bible formats where that information can be found. Likewise, with the study Bibles you list as having the most information, that's not part of the translation per se (except with NET) so much as it is part of the particular edition you mention.

At Thu May 10, 03:19:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I confess to being puzzled about how the NET Bible fits in here. Take the cases of 1 Cor. 11:10, and Rom. 16:7, the notes are restricted to comments which reinforce the view of the translators. There are absolutely no alternatives provided. How does that compare with the notes in other Bibles where alternative interpretaions are provided? It is especially odd in the case of Rom. 16:7 since the translation chosen is so farfetched.

At Thu May 10, 04:17:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

If you note, I limited my remarks and conclusions in this thread to Psalm 2:12, since that was the scope of the original post. One can certainly ask the question about all of the verses in Scripture, but since the KJV contains in excess of thirty thousand verses, perhaps it is best to spread such analysis of multiple posts.

At Thu May 10, 05:40:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Yes, you did. But I wanted to bring up the concern I had about the NET Bible out of context. Very rude of me, I am sure. No reflection on your comment.

Possibly the oddities of the NET Bible are restricted to references to women in leadership. I note that the NET also translates prostatis is Romans 16:2 as a "great help". That is a step backward. "

However, back to the main point. Certainly notes which briefly explain different historical interpretations are to be desired. In the meantime the original discussion of Ps. 2:12 has travelled through many other blogs. I don't wish to detract from that.

At Sat May 12, 09:48:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

John has also posted on this verse here.


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