Better Bibles Blog has moved. Read our last post, below, and then
click here if you are not redirected to our new location within 60 seconds.
Please Bookmark our new location and update blogrolls.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Nahum 1:7 yada yada

No, not a Seinfeld episode. There are a few things many things I have never done, and watch a Seinfeld episode is one of them. The Marx Brothers, yes, Seinfeld, no.

I received a request to write about Nahum 1:7 today, with reference to the difference between the original Tyndale tradition and other translations.
    The LORD is good,
    a stronghold in the day of trouble;
    he knows those who take refuge in him. ESV
    The Lord is good,
    a stronghold in a day of trouble;
    he protects those who take refuge in him, NRSV
The Hebrew verb is ידע yada, which means simply "to know" and is the word for "know" in the most obvious sense in English, as well as "to have sexual relations with". It has a wide range of meaning. Can it also mean "to protect" or "to care for"?

Here is how the different Bible versions translate ידע in Nahum 1:7.
  • know KJV, ESV, NASB, JPS, D-R, CEV
  • is close to NLT
  • protects, cares for (T)NIV, NRSV, NET, HCSB, NAB, GNT
There are several possible reasons for a difference like this. First, it could be a text variant, different letters in different Hebrew texts, very unlikely and that is not the case here. Second, it could be that there are two different Hebrew words with the same consonants. Once again, this does not account for the variation.

All Bible versions are working from the same Hebrew text, and from the same lexical understanding. However, ידע is a word with a broader semantic range in Hebrew than "know" has in English. The Koehler-Baumgartner lexicon mentions,
  • observe, realize
  • find out, experience
  • recognize, perceive
  • care about, be concerned about
  • get to know, become acquainted with
  • have intercourse with
  • care about, be concerned with (theologically)
  • select, choose
  • understand
  • know, come to understand
  • know, have insight, judgement
I found it especially interesting to read these simple lines so typical of Hebrew,

    וַיַּעֲזֹב כָּל-אֲשֶׁר-לוֹ, בְּיַד-יוֹסֵ
    , וְלֹא-יָדַע אִתּוֹ מְאוּמָה
    , כִּי אִם-הַלֶּחֶם אֲשֶׁר-הוּא אוֹכֵל

    And he left all that he had in Joseph's hand;
    and, having him, he knew not aught
    save the bread which he did eat. Gen. 39:6 JPS
I guess we can easily suppose that Potiphar did not suddenly take on the intelligence of a potted plant, knowing about nothing but his own nourishment. Surely, it means that he doesn't have to worry about anything but his food. He leaves the responsibility for his own household affairs in Joseph's care.

Of course, the Hebrew is able to delightfully say that Potiphar puts everything in Joseph's yad (hand) and now he doesn't have to yada (know)! Or Potiphar puts everything in Joseph's care and now he doesn't have to care. (I wish I knew how Alter translates this.)

For Gen. 39:6 the following translations now translate ידע as "have concern for" or a synonym. (T)NIV, ESV, NASB, HCSB, CEV. However, as noted above, many translations have not made the change for Nahum 1:7. Is this simply an oversight rather than a disagreement? I would guess that it simply was not a concern - there is no theological issue at stake here.

So far, I have given just the short answer. The NET Bible notes point to a more detailed background and explicitly favours the sense "protect".
    When the subject is a king (suzerain) and the object is a servant (vassal), it often has covenantal overtones. In several ancient Near Eastern languages this term depicts the king (suzerain) recognizing his treaty obligation to protect and rescue his servant (vassal) from its enemies. For example, a letter from Abdi-Ashirta governor of Ammuru to the Egyptian king Amenophis III ends with a plea for protection from the raids of the Mittani: “May the king my lord know [= protect] me” (yi-da-an-ni; EA 60:30-32). Similarly, in the treaty between Muwattallis and Alaksandus, the Hittite suzerain assures his vassal that in case he was attacked, “As he is an enemy of you, even so he is an enemy to the Sun; I the Sun, will know [= “protect”] only you, Alaksandus” (see H. B. Huffmon, “The Treaty Background of Hebrew YADA`,” BASOR 181 (1966): 31-37; idem, “A Further Note on the Treaty Background of Hebrew YADA`,” BASOR 184 (1966): 36-38.
Still, I often like to turn the words over in my mind and see if there is not some way that is more concordant to express these same ideas. I like to imagine how "know" can extend its semantic range in English. I found myself saying "acknowledge" - it really should be "acknowledge".

And so, belatedly, I turned to Rotherham and found,
    Good is Yahweh,
    as a protection in the day of distress, -
    and one who acknowledgeth them who seek refuge in him.
    Nahum 1:7 Emphasized Bible (Rotherham)
It is only with great reservations that I praise concordance in a translation. Concordance has very definite limits, it can be greatly misused; but in my opinion, Rotherham sometimes does some very good things with concordance in translation.

There is no such thing as a 'transparent' Bible, but I often think, there is such a thing as a 'translucent' Bible, a Bible that lets more light shine through. For me that is Rotherham's, an extraordinary translation. If you are thirsty for a translucent Bible, try Rotherham.



At Thu Aug 09, 08:27:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Genesis 39:6 is definitely peculiar. ידע yada seems to stretch semantically in the Hebrew. Interestingly, the Septuagint (LXX) translators chose the Greek word ᾔδει (ēdei; or the 3rd Person Pluperfect Active Indicative Singular of the verb οἶδα oida, meaning “to know”). They use the same Greek word in Genesis 3:5, 19:33, 19:35, 31:32 and 39:6: yada, yada, yada, yada, and yada. And, Lancelot Brenton, the translator of the LXX into English makes it “knew,” “knew,” “knew,” “knew,” and then “knew”:

And he committed all that he had into the hands of Joseph; and he knew not of anything that belonged to him, save the bread which he himself ate.

But for Nahum 1:7, the LXX translators use a different Greek word for yada: γινώσκων, or ginōskōn, which Brenton rightly translates into English again as “knew.”

So the LXX translators are inconsistent. Brenton may have looked at the Hebrew while translating the Greek into English to bring back the consistency. (But did you notice that Rotherham makes yada into “took note” for Genesis 39:6, which is inconsistent with his “acknowledgeth” in Nahum 1:7). So I wonder if the strangeness is with Genesis 39:6.

Nonetheless, since we’re looking now at Greek, consider Luke’s use of ēdei and ginōskōn in the same sentence (chapter 12, verse 39). KJV, ESV, and HCSB make both verbs “know” and “had known.” To the Hebrew using the Hellenistic language for writing, both verbs seem very close, seem very like yada, yada.

At Thu Aug 09, 08:51:00 PM, Blogger John said...

'Acknowledge' doesn't work for me in Genesis 39:6 or Nahum 1:7, nor, for that matter, Psalm 1:6, a locus classicus.

All languages have a few frequently used, highly context-sensitive verbs. Examples in Hebrew include yada and natan. The limits of the concordant approach are painfully evident in the cases of such verbs.

True, sometimes the target language will permit full concordance. For example, it is possible to translate 'Adam knew Eve' in the sense of carnal knowledge in some languages. But of course, in others it is not.

True, one can often find a translation that is transparent or, as you aptly suggest, translucent, to the basic or central meaning of the translated item. Rather than 'acknowledge,' 'be cognizant of' does that for me in this case, but that's because the Latin behind the English is trasparent to me. It gets complicated fast, doesn't it?

In Nahum 1:7, 'care for' fits the context well. REB and NAB so translate, as did I in a recent attempt. In terms of the concordant approach (like you, I believe it has merits, and is, at the very least, a useful heuristic exercise), that is: 'be cognizant of someone,' in the sense of 'caring for someone.'

John Hobbins

At Thu Aug 09, 08:56:00 PM, Blogger John said...

Perhaps the semantic vector I'm suggesting is still too opaque.

Try: 'be cognizant of someone' in the sense of 'be cognizant of someone's needs,' otherwise put, 'care for someone.'

At Fri Aug 10, 11:37:00 AM, Blogger InHim said...

A friend pointed out to me that Proverbs 3:6 uses the word acknowledge for yada in all the translations I looked at.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home