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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Psalm 68: Breasts and Mountains

This cannot be the first time that someone has remarked that mountains resemble breasts and are a symbol of fertility.

In seeking the meaning or connotation for El Shaddai I have come up with no answers but plenty of poetic allusions. Here are the three major connotations of El Shaddai - breasts and by association mountains, and destruction. These do not represent the known etymological roots of the word, but rather euphonic and associative connections.

In Genesis, El Shaddai is the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. In Genesis 49:25, Shaddai, - שַׁדַּי the Almighty, is the one who blesses with the blessings of the heavens and the deep and the breasts שָׁדַיִם (the shadayim) and the womb.

Shaddai not only blesses the patriarchs with children but he takes children away from Naomi. Shaddai is the God of Job, who gave him life and children, the God who will not afflict. (Job 37:23.) In Isaiah 13:6 and Joel 1:15, destruction, שֹׁד (shod) comes from שַּׁדַּי Shaddai.

El Shaddai is mentioned only 6 times outside of Genesis and Job. One of these times is in Psalm 68:14.
    When the Almighty scattereth kings
    therein, it snoweth in Zalmon.
    A mountain of God is the mountain of Bashan;
    a mountain of peaks is the mountain of Bashan.
    Why look ye askance, ye mountains of peaks,
    at the mountain which God hath desired for His abode?
    Yea, the LORD will dwell therein for ever.
In Psalm 68, Shaddai can be associated with fertility and the blessing of children and homes in verse 6, with the mountains of the subsequent few verses, and also with the destruction of enemy kings.

It is perhaps best to simply remark that Shaddai is an archaic and poetic name for God. Perhaps it is a name remembered uniquely by the composer of this psalm, whether woman or man, one versed in the ancient poetic traditions. One of the most interesting things that I noticed about this psalm is that so many of God's names appear in it.

Shaddai represents to me the mixing of traditions, contemporary with ancient, and feminine with masculine. However, I do not find any exclusively female association with the name Shaddai. After all, the promise of the blessings of breast and womb were made to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob - through their wives, of course. Bearing children was front and centre in the ancient Hebrew culture; it was the immortality that was promised to the patriarchs.

However, Shaddai does not seem to be mainstream by the time of the Psalms, a little counter cultural. This could possibly be explained by supposing that women had retained some of the ancient poetic traditions which had not become part of the temple worship.

I don't think one can attempt to find the original derivation of the name Shaddai, but as the Almighty He gives the blessing of life and immortality, He dwells in the mountains and has the power of destruction. He is sufficient.

Robert Alter transliterates Shaddai and simply remarks,
    El Shaddai. The first term as in El Elyon, means God. Scholarship has been unable to determine the origins or precise meaning of the second term - tenuous associations have been proposed with a Semitic word meaning "mountain" and with fertility. What is clear (compare Exodus 6:3) is that the biblical writers considered it an archaic name of God. The Five Books of Moses page 81
Reading "Shaddai" rather than "Almighty" reminds of the distance between us and the culture which first knew God.

Other recent posts on the psalms are by Bob and Stefan.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Psalm 68: scripture citing scripture

One of the most puzzling cases of a citation of the Hebrew scriptures in the Christian scriptures is found in Psalm 68:19. It is not only cited in Eph. 4:8, but it also contains a citation from Judges 5:12.
    Awake, awake, Deborah;
    awake, awake, utter a song;
    arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive,
    thou son of Abinoam. Judges 5:12 JPS

    Thou hast ascended on high,
    Thou hast led captivity captive;
    Thou hast received gifts among men yea, among the rebellious also,
    that the LORD God might dwell there. Ps. 68:19 JPS

    Thou hast ascended on high,
    thou hast led captivity captive:
    thou hast received gifts for men;
    yea, for the rebellious also,
    that the LORD God might dwell among them. Ps. 68:19 KJV
Look at how the King James version has altered the sense in the Psalm to make it match Ephesians.

Here is Eph. 4:8.
    Wherefore he saith,
    When he ascended up on high,
    he led captivity captive,
    and gave gifts unto men. Eh. 4:8 KJV
And one final allusion to his phrase is found in Revelations.
    He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity:
    he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword.
    Here is the patience and the faith of the saints. Rev. 13:10
The phrase "lead captivity captive" is fairly constant in these four citations. However, there is a significant difference between Ps. 68 and Eph. 4. In the psalm God receives gifts from people and in Eph. 4 God gives gifts to people.

There are three options for what has happened in Eph. 4:8.

1. The author has changed the citation on purpose to suit his intended meaning.
2. The author had a different text with a variant in the Hebrew or Greek.
3. The author is quoting from a different text, a hymn perhaps which has not been preserved.

Obviously, our expectations of quotes are different from what we actually find in the scriptures. Rick has a related post on Eph. 4:26.

PS I had this post all lined up with the citations in Greek and Hebrew but I didn't feel that it added anything to the discussion. Feel free to bring this up if it seemed significant to you.


of the sons, the daughter of Asher

For some obscure reason, people seem to think that I will like these things and so I am sent contributions to my collection. Serah, or Sarah, the daughter of Asher, was listed as one of the children of Israel who go out to war. Numbers 26.
    Take the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, from twenty years old and upward, by their fathers' houses, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel.' Numbers 26:2

    And the name of the daughter of Asher was Serah. Numbers 26:46
I don't think there is any doubt that only this one daughter was listed among the sons, because she also went out to war.

And in 1 Chronicles 7:24,
    And his daughter was Sheerah, who built Beth-horon the nether and the upper, and Uzzen-sheerah.
Of course, this is rare. But considering that most women were busy having children, it is notable that we do know of at least one woman each who was a warrior, builder, prophet, ruler, judge, composer or proclaimer of good news.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

adam, all women

I want to confess that I know that sometimes I make mistakes on this blog. Sometime they are pointed out immediately and other times no one notices. Often I become aware of a small error a few days later. Usually I don't remark on them and I don't have a list of them anywhere. But if you have noticed, believe me, I know.

Here is an example, and it is one I am very glad to find because it helps out my general thesis. I have a bias, I admit. If you are aware of any other errors I make, please, don't hesitate to write.

Last year there was a great roustabout concerning whether anthropos means "man" male and represents women also in a mixed group, or whether it actually means "human beings". I couldn't think of a place where a group of adam/anthropos were mentioned that was all female. I thought maybe there wasn't one. I was wrong.

Thanks to Ochuk, I now have an example. I was reading a post by Tim Challies with the predictable statement that God named the human race 'man.' Now it's true that in 1952, there was a Bible translation in which the human race was named "Man." That is a fact. However, the question is, does Adam really mean "human" or "man (male)" in English.

Ochuk responded to Tim Challies, not on this post, but on the same post the previous time the post was posted. Ochuk comments,
    It is not at all clear that the Hebrew ‘adam has any “male-oriented aspect” in this context. Certainly, it is used as a name of the first man, but it is being used as a generic which implies no male-orientation. To make such an inference fails to understand the nature of generics. In Numbers 31 we read of the spoils of war brought back by the Israelites were 32,000 women. These women are referred to by the Hebrew generic noun ‘adam no less than six times (28, 30, 34, 40, 46, 47). Therefore, no “male-oriented aspect” should be inferred when ‘adam is used as a generic as it is in Genesis 1.
Therefore, in Numbers 31, there is a case where all the men are killed and then all the male children, and finally any woman that has known a man. Then those who remain the adam/anthropoi, all women and thirty two thousand of them, become the spoils of war. And so we have a group of all females which are clearly named as adam or anthropoi. There are several other words in this chapter for referring to men or the males.

Surely we can agree that to translate adam or anthropos as "human" is not removing male meaning. (Interesting - Ochuk has something invested in this - his name is Adam.)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Hen Scratches 28-10-07

I have a few stories from my recent conference on First Nations language and culture. Some of the sessions dealt with translation and others with pure linguistics. My paper was on writing systems and pretty much irrelevant here, but well accepted there.

In the session on translation I was impressed by one slide which showed a roomful of First Nations personnel, adult and teens, lawyers, legal aides, and translators all working together to establish vocabulary for translating legal documents and laws. It was fascinating to see the attention given to having English lawyers and people of various ages who would be users of the laws working together. They worked through interpreting the legal terms and translating them. As this was presented to us, speakers of related but distinct languages explained why close equivalents of these same terms would not be acceptable to their group. Each language group chose different terms.

In the following session a translator told how she had been required to translate the text of an art book without seeing the images which would be placed next to the text. She shared the difficulties inherent in such a task. I couldn't help but wonder if Bible translators are not more in her circumstance than in the situation I relate above, where access to interpretation was available.

One of the experienced Francophone academics graciously responded to her, saying "You do the best you can, and in the end, you hope - you hope that you have translated what is most important."

The best times, of course, are informal. The first day I had lunch with a fellow presenter, and we shared our papers over the meal. His was on gender in Cree. Not male - female, but animate and inanimate. The basis for this distinction has always been problematic but he had a reasonable theory, not untouched by ubiquitous Cree humour as we reviewed which body parts of male and female are animate vs inanimate. If you aren't familiar with Cree culture may I recommend the concept of Laughing Together. I am still chuckling.

Later that evening we were heading back to the parking lot, and completely lost, we hitched a ride with a student in a sports car. He drove us right into the lot as he was heading there anyway. More laughing together as we both realized that neither of us could figure out which way was north or south. That seems a little odd but I guess the lights were too bright to guide ourselves by the stars.

Looking back, I am relieved at one thing. In Cree, there is no way to have a masculine pronoun. In this language all pronouns are 'gender' neutral. The kinship terms are also fairly complicated so many stories simply contain a word meaning 'sibling.' If you go beyond that you would have to distinguish older vs younger brothers and sisters, so the generic sibling is more commonly used.

There was a lot of discussion about hymn singing, how to translate personal poetry and many other issues that we talk about here. I was impressed that there was a trend to represent the poetry twice, once with a literal gloss and then as a translation. Altogether, it was a great opportunity for me to reconnect with another world of ideas.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Excuse me, where is the toilet?

Oh brother, they have taken the toilet out of the gospel. I wouldn't dare touch the Torah in the toilet but that doesn't mean the toilet has to be entirely eliminated, does it? Who would have thought that a bunch of contemporary Bible translators could be so prissy!

I have been reading through Ann Nyland's New Testament "The Source" since I now have my own copy complete with notes. There have often been times when I have thought of a way to translate a phrase but it is not found in any translation but hers. She has moments of extreme clarity and closeness to the meaning of the Greek. This is one of them. Sometimes her translation is more faithful than almost any other translation I am familiar with. Other times, not so much. That puts it on par with every other translation I read.

What I am really trying to say is that I feel that most of her translation is more or less as good or bad as any other, but sometimes it is significantly better. Tonight I read Mark 7:19 in her translation and wondered immediately what every other major translation had done with the toilet.
    Because it doesn't go into the mind but into the stomach, and then it goes into the toilet. Nyland

    For it doesn't go into your heart but into your stomach, and then out of your body. (T)NIV

    It doesn't go into your heart, but into your stomach, and then out of your body. CEV

    because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated? NASB

    It doesn't enter your heart but your stomach, works its way through the intestines, and is finally flushed. Message

    Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. NLT 2

    since it enters not his heart(X) but his stomach, and is expelled? (Note: Greek goes out into the latrine) ESV

    For it doesn't go into his heart but into the stomach (AG) and is eliminated (Note: Greek goes out into the toilet) HCSB

    since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? NRSV

    Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught KJV

    since it enters, not his heart but his stomach, and so passes on? RSV
Now let's look at the Greek.
    ὅτι οὐκ εἰσπορεύεται αὐτοῦ εἰς τὴν καρδίαν ἀλλ' εἰς τὴν κοιλίαν καὶ εἰς τὸν ἀφεδρῶνα ἐκπορεύεται
Okay, Liddell Scott calls ἀφεδρῶν the "privy." I believe that means the toilet. So how did so many versions come to leave it out?

I think this little list affords a great opportunity to rate Bible translators on their squeamishness. Only Nyland is willing to call a toilet a toilet and leave it in the text where it belongs. A few other translations do offer an accurate translation of this word.

Addendum: I can't help but notice that Nyland also translates 1 Tim 5:23 accurately as " Don't drink the water only - you must use some wine instead - on account of the act that the water is causing you the ailment of bladder frequency." She also translates uncircumcision literally as "foreskin." The truth is that you get a whole new light on what really is in the Greek scriptures reading her translation. Refreshing.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Reading Through the English Standard Version

Joe Myzia has been Reading Through the English Standard Version. Joe is always fair in his blog posts and this one is no exception. Joe used his Bible study software to compare the RSV (from which the ESV was revised) and the ESV. If you read his post, you'll find out the percentage of difference between the two versions.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

New Greek Software Site

Greek Bible Study is a new site put up by Peter Coad to assist people in learning the Greek of the scriptures. HT Mark Goodacre.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Vir et Virissa

An interesting lesson on how to - and how not to - translate word play. Last week on the way from one thing to another I had an hour at the Thomas Fischer Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto. I borrowed a camera and a tripod, found one hour free parking on the street, and paid $20.00 for a 30 minute photography session with the Pagnini-Beza Bible. I was able to photograph a considerable amount, although the images are not exemplary so I won't post them.

Here is Gen. 2:23 in the Pagnini version along with other basic translations for comparison.
    Dixitq homo, Hac vice os ex ossibus meis, & caro ex carne mea propterea vocabitur Virissa, quia ex viro sumta est ista. Pagnini

    Dixitque Adam : Hoc nunc os ex ossibus meis, et caro de carne mea : hæc vocabitur Virago, quoniam de viro sumpta est. Vulgate

    Lors Adam dit : A cette fois, c'est os de mes os et chair de ma chair. On appellera icelle hommasse car elle a été prise de l'homme. Olivétan

    Et l'homme dit: Voici cette fois celle qui est os de mes os et chair de ma chair! on l'appellera femme, parce qu'elle a été prise de l'homme. Louis Segond

    Da sprach der Mensch: Das ist doch Bein von meinem Bein und Fleisch von meinem Fleisch; man wird sie Männin heißen, darum daß sie vom Manne genommen ist. Luther

    And Adam seide, This is now a boon of my boonys, and fleisch of my fleisch; this schal be clepid virago, `for she is takun of man. Wycliff

    Then sayde man: This is once bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. She shal be called woman, because she was take of man. Coverdale
Somehow I think the Wycliff translator missed the joke! It just shows how dangerous it is to translate from a translation. Virago, however, meant at one time a strong and courageous woman, and ended up meaning a scolding and domineering shrew. I don't know that terms referring to men have the same unhappy trajectory. Pagnini retranslated the pun with vir and virissa.

Apparently Augustine toyed with translating this pun as vir - virgo, but demurred. Symmachus has already used andris from aner. Heidl page 146. Symmachus was known as an idiomatic but literary translator. The LXX does not reproduce the word play but uses gune and aner.

PS. I know I am weeks behind in answering my email. I will try to catch up. Its been a busy few weeks. Pax.

The Law of Leasts

We’re coming up on the end of October and I’m a month behind in everything. (That’ll teach me to arrange for two trips out of the US within 10 days of one another.) I owe my discourse students two homeworks that are still ungraded and I’m sitting here facing a pile of midterms. So I’ll procrastinate a little more and post on a point I wanted to post on September 25th.

Why September 25th?

Because it’s the fourth anniversary of the death of my best friend.

Fred and I met in graduate school in January of 1971. We had Linguistics 471 together with George Lakoff. I was literally fresh off the plane from Vietnam. Fred had come to grad school in the fall just back from a stint in the Army in Korea. We had a lot of other things in common. We had both been undergrad chemistry majors. We both liked sports. We spent the summer as roommates attending a linguistics institute at UC Santa Cruz that summer. I got married the next spring, but that fall, Fred started to have some strange pains in his legs. In January of 1974, just before my wife and I were to leave for a short term stint with SIL in Mexico, he was, at long last, diagnosed. It was a spinal tumor and he was whipped into the hospital for immediate surgery. The tumor was benign, but that doesn’t mean it was harmless. They couldn’t get it all surgically and had to use radiation to kill the rest. This meant that in the long run he would lose the use of his legs. He knew it was coming.

When I came to Berkeley in 1986 I left my tenured wife and my children behind in Ann Arbor for the academic year while we figured out whether we were going to move to California or stay in Michigan. Fred came along to be my roommate for that year. His legs were already greatly weakened, but he came because his maternal grandmother had lived in Berkeley and he knew that if you have to be disabled somewhere, Berkeley is possibly the best place in the world to be. When the nerves in his legs finally gave out completely in 1994, he got himself a power chair. Still it took more than a few years for him to get past the frustration and anger at the unfairness of life. He only started to re-emerge around 2000 – mostly in the form of becoming politically active in Berkeley. He loved the Berkeley library. On September 18th, he was on his way to a meeting where he was to discuss an Environmental Impact Report regarding the construction of a new apartment building which would ruin the view from the library reading room. He had earlier confided in me that he had evidence that a crucial section of the report had been fudged by the contractor. Just after he turned to go down Ashby, he was struck by a car, thrown from his chair, and landed on his head. He was medivac-ed to immediate surgery but he never woke up. He was in a coma for a week on life support when it became clear that his brain was shutting down. We were with him when he breathed his last.

How is this relevant to Bible translation?

Because Fred’s PhD work was interrupted by his tumor. He left a fair amount of unfinished work behind that contains no few brilliant linguistic insights which have never been published (or never been properly credited to him). One of them is of pinpoint relevance to the debate about the need to translate literally and stick to structure.

Fred noticed that when you want to talk about all (or none) of something, you tend to want to do so in emphatic ways. He further observed that languages achieve this emphasis by referring to the smallest amount of the stuff. (Or more accurately the conventionally smallest amount of the stuff.)

It’s good to the last drop. (= all of it)
A drop is the smallest amount of a liquid.

He doesn’t have a penny to his name. (= no money)
A penny is the smallest amount of money.

She was gone in an instant. (= in no time)
An instant is the smallest amount of time.

I didn’t hear a word she said. (= no communication)
A word is the smallest amount of language.

Previous folks (like Larry Horn) had believed that these were just a kind of negative polarity item – expressions that are, to all intents and purposes, restricted to negative (or implied negative) contexts. But Fred realized that negative context was not what is crucial for this class of data. Rather they are ways of expressing exhaustiveness whether it is all or none. He called his observation the Law of Leasts. (As far as linguists know, the Law of Leasts is a universal way to emphasize completeness.)

Such least based expressions are very common, including in Scripture. Some modern translations get it right some of the time in the case of ὥρα where Jesus heals someone.
καὶ ἰάθη ὁ παῖς αὐτοῦ ἐν τῇ ὥρᾳ ἐκείνῃ (Mat. 8:13)

... And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour. (KJV)
... And the servant was healed that very moment. (NASB)
Other places with the same expression include Matt. 9:22, 15:28, 17:18, Lk. 20:19, Acts 16:18, and 22:13. But translations, except for the TEV, don't generally recognize when ὥρα is being used as a least.
ὅταν δὲ παραδῶσιν ὑμᾶς μὴ μεριμνήσητε πῶς ἢ τί λαλήσητε δοθήσεται γὰρ ὑμῖν ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ὥρᾳ τί λαλήσητε (Matt. 10:19)

But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. (NASB)

When they bring you to trial, do not worry about what you are going to say or how you will say it, when the time comes, you will be given what you will say. (TEV) [marginally better: at that moment]

καὶ ἐζήτησαν οἱ γραμματεῖς καὶ οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς ἐπιβαλεῖν ἐπ' αὐτὸν τὰς χεῖρας ἐν αὐτῇ τῇ ὥρᾳ ... (Lk. 20:19)

The scribes and the chief priests tried to lay hands on Him that very hour, ... (NASB)

The teachers of the Law and the chief priests tried to arrest Jesus on the spot, ... (TEV) [more literal but still a dynamic equivalent: right then or then and there]

καὶ ἀναστάντες αὐτῇ τῇ ὥρᾳ ὑπέστρεψαν εἰς Ἰερουσαλήμ (Lk. 24:33)

And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, ... (NASB)

They got up at once and returned to Jerusalem, ... (TEV)

οἷς οὐδὲ πρὸς ὥραν εἴξαμεν τῇ ὑποταγῇ ἵνα ἡ ἀλήθεια τοῦ εὐαγγελίου διαμείνῃ πρὸς ὑμᾶς (Gal. 2:5)

But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you. (NASB)

... but in order to keep the truth of the gospel safe for you, we did not give in to them for a minute. (TEV)
A slightly more complex case is that sin is treated metaphorically as dirt, so another least is a spot.
... ἵνα παραστήσῃ αὐτὸς ἑαυτῷ ἔνδοξον τὴν ἐκκλησίαν μὴ ἔχουσαν σπίλον ἢ ῥυτίδα ἤ τι τῶν τοιούτων ἀλλ' ἵνα ᾖ ἁγία καὶ ἄμωμος (Eph. 5:27)

... that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. (NASB)
This is without any particular consequence for translation into English because the metaphor works in English as well.
He has an unblemished record.
But there is a piece of literalness debate which an understanding of the Law of Leasts clarifies. In Matt. 4:4 it says:
ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν γέγραπται οὐκ ἐπ' ἄρτῳ μόνῳ ζήσεται ὁ ἄνθρωπος ἀλλ' ἐπὶ παντὶ ῥήματι ἐκπορευομένῳ διὰ στόματος θεοῦ (Mat. 4:4)

In Matt. 5:18 it says:
ἀμὴν γὰρ λέγω ὑμῖν ἕως ἂν παρέλθῃ ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ ἰῶτα ἓν ἢ μία κεραία οὐ μὴ παρέλθῃ ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου ἕως ἂν πάντα γένηται (Matt. 5:18)

For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (NASB)
In the Old Testament there is Prov. 30:5:
ה כָּל-אִמְרַת אֱלוֹהַּ צְרוּפָה; מָגֵן הוּא, לַחֹסִים בּוֹ. (Prov. 30:5)

Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. (NASB)
Wayne Grudem, for example, uses these verses to argue that we have to have literal translations.[1]

Big mistake.

These are just instances of the Law of Leasts. They don’t say anything to privilege words theologically. Those who think they do simply don’t understand how language works. In fact, understood like this, it seems to me that a proper understanding of the Law of Leasts strengthens the doctrine of plenary inspiration, it just doesn't say anything about translation principles.

This is what makes us linguists want to tear our hair out when theologians like Robert L. Thomas smugly affirm that 18th century approaches to understanding Scripture are so much safer than an understanding of how language works that linguists shouldn’t be allowed say anything about Scripture.[2]

But the way I read John 1, it implies that there is no higher calling than to study language. If He is the Word, then we should want to study every thing about words to know Him better. Theologians who ignore a deep study of the phenomenon of language do so at significant spiritual risk.

[1] Wayne Grudem, Translating the Word of God. Chapter 1 “Are Only Some of the Words of God Inspired?”.
[2] “Modern Linguistics versus Traditional HermaneuticsThe Master Seminary Journal 14/1 (Spring 2003) 23-45.

TNIV Truth: Was this written in your behalf?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

NLT Study Bible

A member of the Bible Translation email discussion group just notified those of us who subscribe to that list of the upcoming NLT Study Bible. The publisher promotes a Genesis sampler of the new study Bible this way:
A sneak peak at the upcoming release of the new standard in study Bibles. Featuring the clear and accurate New Living Translation, the NLT Study Bible goes beyond textual notations and personal application to illuminate the meaning of the text in its historical and literary context. Serious study that reaches the heart.
I look forward to this study Bible since the NLT is one of the most readable, yet accurate, English Bible versions available today. And it is promoted heavily by its publisher, Tyndale House Publishers, unlike the TNIV which has not been getting adequate promotion from its publisher, Zondervan.

Another helpful study Bible of a very readable Bible version is the CEV Learning Bible. I wish it were promoted more, just as I wish that the CEV were promoted more.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

more on literary translation

In line with Rich's preceding post and other recent posts on BBB on literary translation, including links to other blog posts on literary translation, note recent posts by Lingamish on literary translation:
Oh, what did you think of the opening sentence of this post? Does its length and repetition qualify it to be "literary translation"? I w0uld claim it does not. I would say that it is awkward English, not good quality literary English.

Let's not confuse awkward or obsolescent or esoteric English with literary English. "Foreignizing" a Bible translation (that is, translating it is such a way that readers feel they are reading a translation of an ancient document, not a current composition) does not create a literary translation. We do not create literary English by increasing the number of Latinate words used as we write. We do not create literary English by including outdated words such as "thee" and "thou". We do not create a literary Bible translation by using theological words such as "sanctification," "justification," "redemption," or "propitiation." We do not create a literary translation by translating literally. The words "literal" and "literary" have related etymologies but they refer to quite different things.

It seems to me that a literary translation is a document which sounds like it was originally by a native speaker of a language in the written (as opposed to oral/spoken) style of that language. A number of studies have investigated the different properties of written vs. spoken English. See the following which discuss such differences:
A good literary English Bible translation should have the qualities of a good piece of English literature, composed in English by a native speaker of English who has a good command of the English language. It should follow the grammar of written English, as opposed to spoken (oral) English. And it should sound no more awkward than a highly respected novel or other piece of good literature.

What are some of the characteristics of literary English?

Who are some contemporary (within the past fifty years) authors who write in good literary English?

Which, if any, English Bible versions read as if they could have been written by such authors?

This has not been a good week

Over the last few days more than my fair share of things have gone wrong in just those little ways which get under your skin. It's all small stuff, but, boy, it's been a lot of small stuff.

I'm sitting in my hotel room in Toronto writing this post because I had to come to the Algonquian conference a day early -- they put me at 8:30 am, the first paper on the first day, not thinking that that would be 5:30 am to someone from the West Coast.

And that would have been OK, except that because I was leaving a day early, I was up quite late Tuesday night, finishing my last minute responsibilities on email. So we were late getting up and, as my wife was appropriately worried about the commute to the airport, we rushed out of the house before I even got any breakfast.

Then, when we got to the airport and I passed through security, a little bell went off in my head, I looked in my luggage and discovered that in our haste to get on the road, I had left my handouts and the printed full version of my paper at home.

Well, that's not so bad. This is one of those things that can be solved by the application of a small amount of money. Go to Kinkos with your flash drive, or use the hotel's services.

OK, but this kind of thing puts us perfectionists on edge.

And in the airport the restaurants were all at the far end of the gate area from my gate, so I didn't have time to go get any breakfast then either. (As I said, I was running late.)

As if that weren't enough, when we had all boarded and were queued up for take-off, some secondary communications computer thingamabob malfunctioned, and we sat for nearly an hour on the tarmac before they finally decided that they did, in fact, have to taxi us back to the gate to get it fixed.

In the end we took off 90 minutes late. Well, not so bad for me, but I felt really bad for the folks that had connections. They would be spending an unplanned night in Toronto. Yessiree, been there, done that, and it's no fun.

Oh, and to add insult to injury, this was one of those flights -- 5 hours long, mind you -- on which you have to buy your meal at a less than modest price, and all offerings are cold.

Anyway, when I finally got to the hotel, which is on the York University campus (and therefore not close to anything like a real business district with actual food establishments), it was 9 o'clock and their restaurant was closed. Even the student grill next door was half-closed. I ended up eating an $8 cold sandwich.

Gee, thanks, United.

Why am I telling you all this?

Because somehow my recent post went awry too.

I made the mistake of talking about being on the same wavelength as the writers of Scripture and was punished for it. (Note esp. J. K. Gayle's amusing comment at the bottom.)

I'm teaching the discourse analysis class this semester at Berkeley, and the students there are having the same problem that we're running into here.

Texts of even modest complexity communicate at multiple levels. We get into trouble when we fail to recognize the differences between these levels. In fact, it takes some significant training to get to recognize the differences between first order communication and second and third order communication. Literary critics, who should know better, are actually the worst. If they understood these distinctions even a little we never would have gotten into this post-modernism mess.

Let me give an example of the difference between first and second order communication.


The first order communication is: "It hurts me."

But how you use that information to achieve some other communicative end can vary widely. Say it when you hit yourself with a hammer in the workshop where you are alone, and it's just an expression of pain. It's just first order. Say it in the middle of a discussion with a group of your friends when one of them has said something hurtful about another, and it can have layers upon layers of meaning. Those meanings are second, sometimes third order. What's important is that those second order meanings are ultimately dependent on the first order meaning which, in this case, is simply an expression of pain.

Much of the Sturm und Drang in the dynamic equivalent translation debate would be ameliorated by recognizing that most of the communicative impact of Scripture is in the second order communication -- the content of story being told is most of the meaning; the way it is being told is far less important. If the primary order communication is not transparent, we get distracted from the deeper second order meaning that is the real point.

Those who cry for a priori literary translations and complain that Scripture shouldn't sound like a sixth grader talking are missing the point. The first order communication should be as plain or as fancy in English or Swahili or Navajo as it was in Greek or Hebrew. Will some of the allusions be lost? Yes. Is that the part of the second order communication that is at issue? In the vast majority of cases, no.

One way to think about this is to think about what kind of non-Biblical literature translates well. Well, Tolkien does. Why? Because those apparently simple plots resonate. Pace Iyov, it isn't all that extra stuff that makes LOTR a good story. It's that, simple though the plotting may be, the story just speaks to our humanity at some deep level, and that transcends the language that is used to express it. It's no accident that those Icelandic sagas are still worth telling a thousand years later.

I'm arguing that Scripture is like that, too. The stories resonate with the human heart. Tell them like a sixth grader and they're more effective than if they are told in a stylized 17th century English that was even a touch archaic in 1617. Such language gets in the way of the story. That's the point that the dynamic equivalency crowd keeps trying to make that the literary crowd and the literal crowd seem not to be willing to acknowledge as a legitimate concern.

Is the GNB a good translation? Well, yes and no. Does it get more of the first order communication right than other translations? Yes. At least in the NT. If I had my druthers would I like to see the GNB upgraded for stylistic appropriateness? You bet. But do I use it? All the time. But then I like first order referential accuracy.

Well, I've gone on long enough. I have to go check out the lecture room for my paper tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

1 Corinthians 13 for the Bible translator

by Wayne Leman and Ellis Deibler,
based on the New Living Translation
first posted Valentine's Day, February 14, 2001

1. If I could speak any language of heaven or the 6,000 languages on earth, but didn't love others, I would only be making meaningless noise like a loud gong or a clanging cymbal. If I mastered exegesis so that my Bible translation was perfectly accurate, and mastered communication so that others understood the meaning perfectly, but didn't love others, my mastery would be worth nothing unless I loved others. 2. If I had the right eschatology and was right in all other areas of doctrine, but didn't love others, none of my doctrinal correctness would be of any real value. And if I had such trust in God that I could tackle a difficult translation passage and know that we would translate it accurately, communicatively, and quickly, but didn't love others, that faith would be worth nothing. If I received praise for translating meaningfully, but didn't love others, none of my efforts to translate would be worth anything. 3. If I translated so that everyone, rich, poor, highly educated, and uneducated, complementarians, and egalitarians, liked the language in my translation, and if I suffered burnout from working so hard at the translation desk that I could tell our suppporters about how much I was doing for God, yet if I did not love others, pleasing different audiences with my translation and burning out for God would have no value whatsoever. No matter how committed I am to helping translate the Word of God for thousands of Bibleless groups around the world, if I don't love others, as well, that commitment is worth nothing. 4. Instead, if I am loving, I will be patient and kind. I will not be jealous. I won't boast. I won't be proud about myself or how hard I am working for God. 5. If I truly love others, I won't be rude to them. I won't demand my own way. I won't tell others that my method of translating is the only right way and theirs is wrong. If I love others I won't get irritated with them. I won't even keep track of all the times others have wronged me. 6. If I love others, I will feel sad about injustices, but I will be glad whenever the truth wins out. 7. If I truly love others, I will never give up, no matter how difficult the work is and no matter how trying some of my interpersonal relationships with my colleagues are. I will keep trusting God even when translation progress has slowed to a near standstill. I will consistently expect what God has promised, and I will make it through every difficult situation. 8. We will go on loving others forever, but we will not need Bible translations forever. Some day we will all understand each other perfectly, no matter what language we speak. 9. Right now, even though we have so much training to make the best translations possible, we still don't know everything, and we aren't always right. 10. But when we find out in heaven what the perfect translation would be, I won't need my linguistic or exegetical skills anymore. In fact, they will disappear and I will be left with what can last forever, whatever was done because I loved others. 11. It's like this: when I was a child, I acted like a child. I thought that the way I understood the Bible was the only right way. But when I grew up, I put away such childish attitudes. 12. Even though I do not like to admit it, now I do not understand how to translate perfectly, but some day, when I myself am translated to heaven, I will understand everything perfectly and completely, just as God knows me now. 13. There are three things that will last forever, trusting in God, consistently expecting what he has promised, and loving others, but the most important of these is loving others.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Pagnini/Beza Bible

I was able to spend some time at the Thomas Fisher library reading the Pagnini/Beza Latin Bible today. I will go back on Thursday. If anyone has a passage that they would like me to look at I would be happy to do what I can. I expect to get a chance to photograph some pages.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Style in translation 1: Introduction

If you are interested in accurate translation of the various styles and genre in the biblical texts (and if you aren't, you should be), be sure to read Iyov's first post in his series on this topic, Style in translation 1: Introduction.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Gender language literally speaking

I have to wonder if most people really do think that gender neutral language is less literal than gender specific language. Each case has to be assessed in isolation and then the group as a whole.

First, brothers and sisters- (from LSJ)
    as Subst., adelphos, ho, voc. adelphe; Ep., Ion., and Lyr. adelpheos (gen. -eiou in Hom. is for -eoo), Cret. adelphios, adeuphios, Leg.Gort.2.21, Mon.Ant.18.319:--brother, Hom., etc.; adelphoi brother and sister, E.El.536; so of the Ptolemies, theoiadelphoi Herod.1.30 , OGI50.2 (iii B. C.), etc.; ap'amphoterônadelpheosHdt.7.97 : prov., chalepoipolemoiadelphôn E.Fr.975 : metaph., a. gegona seirênôn LXX Jb.30.29.
Other meanings are "fellow, kinsman, colleague, associate, member of a college"
As an adjective adelphos means equally "brotherly" or "sisterly".

Second, uioi - sons.

I have seen very few translations that translate the uioi of Israel, as the "sons of Israel", [except when referring to the named sons of Jacob.] Take a language like Hebrew, in which there is a word for "son" and a word for "daughter", and translate into English, in which there is a word for "son, daughter and child." In the plural, which is more literal - "sons" or "children"?

Third, fathers. (from LSJ)
    In pl.,

    1.forefathers, Il.6.209, etc. ; exetipatrônfrom our fathers' time, Od.8.245 ; ekpaterônPi.P.8.45 .
    2.parents, D.S.21.17, Alciphr.3.40, Epigr.Gr.227 (Teos).
    3.parentnation, opp. colonists, Hdt.7.51, 8.22, Plu.Them.9. (Cf. Skt.pitár-, Lat. pater, etc.)
Fourth, I hope we don't have to fight about whether anthropoi means all humans, or men only. In fact, I would argue that using "humans" produces a much more literal translation.

This leaves the singular "they". Excuse me. I have a code in the node. Pass the kleenex. Atchoooooooooooo.

Apart from the contentious S"T" is there any basis for arguing that gender neutral language is less literal? What is the evidence?

I am hoping that the literal translation blogabout, which I have been enjoying up until now, can continue without having to rework the gender issue. Surely we can set this aside for a bit.

Which is more literal, the NIV or TNIV?

Iyov and I have been blogging about whether the NIV or its revision, the TNIV, is more literal. Have you examined both translations enough to have an opinion on the matter? If so, why don't you vote in the poll I have just put up for this question, on the TNIV Truth blog.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

"Literary Translation" and Obfuscation

To me it is more or less axiomatic that a Bible translation should be clear, as well as accurate. I would normally add a third criterion here, that it should be natural; but I can conceive of circumstances where one might want to produce a translation which was not in the natural form of any language. But I cannot conceive of circumstances in which a translation might be deliberately inaccurate, and I would expect everyone to agree on that. And I thought I could not conceive of circumstances in which a translation might be deliberately unclear, at least in any place where the original language text is clear. But it seems that not everyone agrees with me on that.

For there has been a debate going on on various blogs about "literary translation". This started with a comment by Rich Rhodes on a post by Doug Chaplin, which was taken up by John Hobbins. John quotes with approval from an author who quotes the Spanish liberal philosopher José Ortega y Gasset:
To him, a translation is ... one that draws attention to the cultural and linguistic differences in order to “force the reader from his linguistic habits and oblige him to move within those of the author.” Thus, a good translation is one that allows the reader to undertake a metaphorical “voyage to the foreign, to the absolutely foreign, which another very remote time and another very different civilization comprise.” This enhanced “historical consciousness” has the beneficial result — or in Ortega y Gasset's words, the “splendor” — of introducing new perspectives that may challenge conventional beliefs.
John also writes:
The truth, furthermore, needs to meet us as a stranger. Its power to transform the familiar in our lives depends on its otherness coming through. An excellent literary translation accomplishes that.
Thus, if I understand him correctly, John is arguing that a Bible translation should be deliberately unclear, even that its power depends on its lack of clarity. This goes completely against what I have held as axiomatic. So it is no wonder that I commented in response to these last words:
I'm sorry, I cannot disagree more. Well, I guess this might work with a small minority of intellectuals trained to read and understand what is strange. But for the great majority of readers the strange simply leaves them with lots of question marks, or else walking away from the texts.
Now, as I wrote earlier in that comment, I can understand someone like our blogging friend Iyov, apparently an orthodox Jew, preferring literary translation, because he is coming at the Bible with a totally different perspective from mine. Similarly I suppose the liberal Ortega y Gasset. But I would expect John, as a more or less evangelical Christian, to have the same kind of perspective as me, namely that the purpose of reading the Bible is not to enjoy historical literature but to understand the inspired message which God has given to humanity. OK, that's a bit of an oversimplification. But if it is important to understand the message, we simply have no time for
allow[ing] the reader to undertake a metaphorical “voyage to the foreign, to the absolutely foreign, which another very remote time and another very different civilization comprise.”

Yes, maybe by domesticating the Bible in translation we are telling "a lie that tells the truth". I could argue that the New Testament authors' use of the Old Testament justifies this approach. I believe that we not only should but are obliged to do this if we are to bring the gospel message to a lost and dying world.

I think it was Eugene Nida who compared the Bible to an aircraft instruction manual. If a translation of the latter is unclear or inaccurate, a plane may crash and hundreds may lose their lives on this earth. But, he argued, how much more important it is that a Bible translation is clear and accurate, for if it is not millions may fail to find the way of salvation and lose their eternal lives. Now I realise that this argument is flawed in a number of ways, not least in its severely reductionist concept of the Bible as a set of instructions for gaining eternal life. Nevertheless, in a situation where (to put the evangelical perspective rather bluntly) most of the world is lost and in danger of eternal punishment, John and I should be in no doubt of the need for clear translations which all can understand.

Now John is clearly someone who appreciates clear writing and is demotivated by what is unclear, for he wrote:
A most excellent thing about Rich Rhodes is that he writes in completely understandable prose. This is not a minor detail. There are days when I think: life is short; why even bother engaging people who can’t write crisply and clearly? But even on days when I think like that, I would still read Rich with pleasure.
Has he not considered that many readers of the Bible, especially those who are not committed Christians, will not "bother engaging" with the Bible text as translated by "people who can’t write crisply and clearly", or who choose not to do so in the name of preserving "the absolutely foreign"? If even academics like himself are demotivated by unclear writing, how much more the ordinary uneducated masses? Does he not believe that those who do not read the Bible because it is unclear, or who do read but fail to understand, might miss the gospel message and be eternally lost? Is this not a strong argument that not just blog posts but also Bible translations (at least where the original is clear) should be crisp and clear?

Meanwhile John has also been arguing, with a post title which summarises the post well, If a text is literary, its dynamic equivalent in translation must also be literary. The problem here is that he seems to assume that the Bible, in the original, is a literary text. He concludes from this that certain translations which are not in literary style "are improperly done". Here is my response to John, which I made in a comment on his blog (slightly edited):

John, there is an enormous hole in the logic of your argument. You argue in effect: A translation should be in the same style as the original. ... Therefore a translation of the Bible should be in a literary style. The missing part of the argument, the point which you don't bother to state but seem to simply assume, is that the original is in a literary style.

And at this point I beg to differ ... No, I won't be so polite, I will keep up my reputation in your sidebar of giving "A fearless take on issues": this point is simply untrue!

At least it is demonstrably untrue of the New Testament, or at least the great majority of it, which is in the style of personal letters and occasional works of the time and not of contemporary literature.

As for the Hebrew Bible, we have virtually nothing else surviving in the Hebrew of the time with which we can compare the style of the original. I suspect that it is simply an anachronism to suggest that there was a "literary style" of Hebrew distinct from a more popular style, a distinction which makes sense only in certain cultural settings within reasonably literate societies. On this basis I would argue that the Hebrew Bible was not written in a literary style.

The implication, if we agree that a translation should be in the same style as the original, is that Bible translations should NOT be in a literary style.

This further implies that the translations which are "improperly done" are not GNT and CEV but Alter and Kugel.

To be fair to John, he has responded to my comment on the earlier post as follows (an extract):
I'm all in favor of making Scripture comprehensible, but I'm not in favor of domesticating it. God's wisdom will always be foolish and scandalous in the eyes of the world. We can't save the world by minimizing the skandalon of God's word; I think you run that risk at times. But of course, we all do.
But I don't see how Scripture can be made comprehensible to an ordinary audience (people without a deep understanding of the ancient culture) without "domesticating" it so that it no longer appears as "the absolutely foreign"; the implication would seem to be that this is no longer a "literary translation". The skandalon or stumbling-block of God's word is not its foreignness, the fact that it comes from remote cultures. After all, God's wisdom was foolish in those cultures as well as in our own. It is, rather, the timeless call of God, equally relevant in all cultures, to follow his ways rather than that of the world. Of course this should not be minimised, but I don't see why a domesticating translation, if done well, need compromise this at all.

Indeed I would think that a completely non-literary version like The Message, which goes to extremes in domesticating the text, is especially strong in presenting the skandalon of God's word to its target audience. (There are issues with the accuracy of The Message, but that is a separate issue.)

On the other hand, a literary translation which avoids domestication and appears as "the absolutely foreign" will succeed only in obfuscating the skandalon of God's word by hiding its challenge under all kinds of culturally conditioned obscurities. I would think that the reason why many readers prefer "absolutely foreign" literary translations is that their obscurity provides an excuse for those readers to escape from the challenge which God's word is bringing to their lives.

Let us put an end to obfuscation of the Bible. This includes obfuscation for which the excuse is "literary translation" based on the wisdom of the philosophers of this world. And let us present the true skandalon, the stumbling-block of the gospel, in all its stark clarity:
Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
1 Corinthians 1:22-25 (TNIV)
And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God's power.
1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (TNIV)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Literary Bible translation

Be sure not to miss these important recent posts by John Hobbins on literary Bible translation:
John responds to a recent comment by Rich Rhodes of Better Bibles Blog to a post by Doug Chaplin at Metacatholic.

I wish to add to the discussion by Rich, John, and Doug by stating that there is no inherent conflict between Dynamic Equivalence translation and literary translation. In fact, DE translation is actually better equipped to display the qualities of literary translation than is more literal translation. The reason it is is that DE translation uses the grammatical and lexical structures of a translation target language (in this case, English) far more than does literal translation. (UPDATE: Literary language is natural language. It has characteristics which distinguish it from spoken language, but both use natural language forms.) We discover the grammar of literary English by analyzing good quality English literature, just as we discover the grammar of spoken English by analyzing spoken English utterances. The grammar of literary English should be used in any literary English translation of a text in another language.

DE translation is not, as some suppose, a "simplification" of literary biblical texts. It is, instead, an accurate translation of those texts. Accurate DE translation should be expressed in the same kind (register, genre) of language as that of each part of the source text. The best DE translation should not only reflect low level (e.g. words, phrases, clauses) meanings but also higher level (such as idioms, paragraph, episode, rhetorical) meanings. And to be most accurate, it should express these meanings using the forms of the target language which are equivalent in genre (poetic, proverbial, narrative, hortatory, conversational, literary, etc.) to the genre of the biblical texts.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Malachi 2:16

    For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless." Mal. 2:16 ESV

    "I hate divorce," says the LORD God of Israel, "and I hate it when people clothe themselves with injustice," says the LORD Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful. TNIV

    When thou shalt hate her put her away, saith the Lord, the God of Israel: but iniquity shalt cover his garment, saith the Lord of hosts, keep your spirit, and despise not. D-R

I know we have covered this before but I just came across this interpretation in the writings of Martin Bucer and was curious about where it came from - the Vulgate.

    But in Mal. ii. 15, 16. is read the Lord's command
    to put her away whom a Man hates, in these words:
    Take heed to your Spirit, and let none deal
    injuriously against the wife of his youth. If
    he hate, let him put away, saith the Lord God of
    Israel. And he shall hide thy violence with his
    garment, that marries her divorc'd by thee, saith
    the Lord of hosts; but take heed to your Spirit,
    and do no injury.
I am not sure what this verse means but it does show how proof-texting can shift over the centuries. Another verse which exhibits similar fickleness is Gen. 3:16, where woman's curse ranges from lust/desire for her husband to resisting her role and everything in between.

We have covered this territory before, except for the D-R and Vulgate interpretation of Mal. 2:16. Any thoughts?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Book by Henry Vaughan

Eternal God! Maker of all
That have lived here since the man’s fall;
The Rock of Ages! in whose shade
They live unseen, when here they fade;

Thou knew’st this paper when it was
Mere seed, and after that but grass;
Before ’twas dressed or spun, and when
Made linen, who did wear it then:
What were their lives, their thoughts, and deeds,
Whether good corn or fruitless weeds.
Thou knew’st this tree when a green shade

Covered it, since a cover made,
And where it flourished, grew, and spread,
As if it never should be dead.
Thou knew’st this harmless beast when he
Did live and feed by Thy decree
On each green thing; then slept (well fed)

Clothed with this skin which now lies spread
A covering o’er this aged book;
Which makes me wisely weep, and look
On my own dust; mere dust it is,
But not so dry and clean as this.
Thou knew’st and saw’st them all, and though
Now scattered thus, dost know them so.

O knowing, glorious Spirit! when
Thou shalt restore trees, beasts, and men,
When Thou shalt make all new again,
Destroying only death and pain,
Give him amongst Thy works a place
Who in them loved and sought Thy face!

Henry Vaughan 1621-1695

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Matt. 9:5: Which is easier?

Read Matt. 9:1-7 in any version. Here it is in the ESV, if you wish to read this version:
1. And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. 2. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” 3. And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” 4. But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? 5. For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 6. But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” 7. And he rose and went home. 8. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.
What is the answer to Jesus' question in verse 5? Or is it a rhetorical question for which Jesus is not expecting any answer? What is Jesus trying to communicate to his hearers in verse 5? What are any implications for translation?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Of Crescendo and, and, and....Climax!

Excellent post, Rich! If you, my reader, haven't read it, ignore me. Read The Culture of Perfectionism.

Those with a popular understanding of music think crescendo means climax. That's not the Italian meaning; nor is it the musical meaning. A crescendo never arrives; it's always in the process of becoming a climax. Once the music reaches the climax, the crescendo is done.

I think Bible translation is in crescendo. It has been for quite some time now.

At the risk of sounding like I'm arguing for the perfect solution, Rich's point is one of the main reasons I stress that translators and Bible-studiers need to think more along the lines of how the text coheres.

It's true that an exegete needs to analyze the details so as to home in on the precise meaning; however, the precision of the details tends to rob the completeness (τέλειος) of the text from the text itself. Unless, of course, the exegete allows coherence to chip away at the sharp edges of the precision. The better exegete approaches the text with a humility that allows the pieces of the text to be less precise as the whole arises from the piece-wise, extensive, pervasive, grinding interaction within the text itself.

To pick up the gentler metaphor of music, the notes of the text verberate with each other, sometimes quickly, sometimes in slow motion. A rhythm forms, a movement flows, a song sings, which no note composes. But, we appear to be destined to be ever in the process of this textual tune--ever in crescendo, never in climax.

The more literal translations, or, I think more precisely put, translations which focus on the preciseness of the specific words, tend to sound a lot like striking single notes on a piano. All of them fortissimo. There's no crescendo; there's no climax. Sometimes there's a lot of thud.

Ultimately, the goal is not the text arriving at perfection (the English word, not the Greek). We need Rom. 12:1-2 "translations." Eph. 4:13 also comes to mind (where τέλειος is used). This, too, I think unsurprisingly, speaks to the ambiguity, since the subjectivism we bring to, and wrongly inject into, the text creates in our own minds a lack of clarity. To ever so slightly compose a variation on something I read recently: we do not grasp the Bible text as it really is, but rather from the vantage-point of our own interactions with it. This subjective "ambiguity", too, needs chipped away as we become more like Christ. We have to enter the symphony; we have to become part of the music itself, tuned to the composer's will. And therein rests the pianissimo of gentle humility.

I wonder if Beethoven and Bach would have made good translators? I don't know. But somehow I think with their music, they, too, have entered into the crescendo.

Culture of Perfectionism

Yes, it's been awhile. A crazy summer and crazier fall. And it isn't over yet.

I'm up at 5:30 in the morning because I just got back from a week in Austria. It was good. I attended my conference and got to spend time in the growing church in Graz that I worshiped with a year ago.

I don't have the time to do this; I have to have a different paper ready for a conference in Toronto in a week and a half, but I'll give up some sleep and procrastinate the preparations of this week's classes a bit to join in this conversation.

The Lord has been assailing me from all sides with reminders of the failure of perfectionism. It is the bane of my family. Two perfectionist parents, the children of perfectionists, raised three perfectionist kids. It has an upside to society -- my daughter has a successful career in the theater in New York, and my older son is tearing graduate school up at Berkeley, my younger son just finished a degree in music performance (in case you don't know, perfectionism is the price of entry for music performance). We went 2 for 3 on Phi Beta Kappa. I could go on.

Bragging? No, not really, because I tell you it's no way to live. Each of us has some pretty big dents because of our perfectionism.

Perfectionism assumes there is a right way to do things and a right way to live and if we could just get the right answer, we'd have it made. After all the Bible says: "Be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:48)

Oh how, we misread that verse!

Remember when your children were born. Just after each one entered the world, the doctor said, "She's perfect." And you ate it up. Well, in obstetrician talk the word perfect is used the same way as in King James English. It simply means what ordinary folks would use the word complete to mean. Your baby had all her parts: two eyes, two ears, two arms, two legs, ten fingers, ten toes. The doctor did not mean this new human is flawless, which is what we, the parents, heard.

My wife is reading a book called The Spirituality of Imperfection. It's about coping with not being able to control our lives. I know I'll get a lot of flak because it isn't a Christian book. But even if you factored out all the non-Christian parts, the point would still be the same. It's the journey (for which read "our relationship with Jesus") that's the point of life, not the things we accomplish.

Why do I bring this up in the middle of a conversation about ambiguity?

Because everyone participating is thinking in terms of right and wrong. If we only spoke Greek or Hebrew even the ambiguities would be exact. (And God wants us to understand the ambiguities perfectly.)


Language is always vague. It's just precise enough to solve the speaker's communicative problem. In everyday life this is mostly below notice. We spend so much time surrounded by people who are on the same wavelength that we don't notice how much verbal shorthand there is.

"Could you move the wash along, dear?"

"Turn left at the corner."

"That'll be five-fifty."

The problem comes when we're so far removed from the writer of a text that we can't be sure we're on the same wavelength. This is the essential problem with reading the Bible, in whatever translation.

And I'm sorry but literal translations are no guarantee of accuracy in this regard. In fact, this whole blog is about showing that literal translations effectively lie to us. They make us think we're on the same wavelength as the authors, when they lead us away.

C. S. Lewis addresses this issue in the one book of his that every Christian should read, but few have, The Discarded Image. Don't be fooled by the fact that it appears to be about Renaissance Italian. It's about how to read a text from a time we are no longer in touch with.

Suzanne is right about being humble in the face of the text. But the whole discussion is taking place in the context of assuming that there is a "right" answer, a "right" translation, even a "right" reading of ambiguity.

No, there is only a right relationship with God. If you think that you get there by getting all those other things "right", you're getting waylaid.

That kind of perfectionism is the essential problem of evangelical Christianity today.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Ambiguity and more humility

I can't respond usefully to all the issues raised on this issue. However, I would like to point out that I have held this view since I came on this blog. I do not regard my views on translation to have any intellectual or spiritual superiority. Call it a wish list, if you will.

However, I have recently encountered two instances where after some research I have decided that the meaning of a word or verse in the Bible must remain obscure for me. First. Psalm 68:11. Who divides the spoil? Women, if we go back to Deborah's song. But I have utterly no insights into what the Hebrew says in this verse, and I will have to leave it this way. It may or may not be a word meaning "women."

Second, authentein. I have looked at the evidence in minute detail and I have discussed this with some complementarian scholars. It is evident that there is only one citation contemporary with the epistles which is relevant to authentein. It is "Therefore, if Saturn alone takes planetary control of the soul and dominates (authenteō ) Mercury and the moon ..." Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos III.13 [#157] (second century A.D.)

I do not expect to gain any further insight into the vocabulary involved in these verses. I must let them rest as ambiguous, mysterious unknowns.

So, that is what I mean by ambiguous. Now for what I don't mean. I do not mean that a translation should contain something that sounds the opposite of what it probably does mean. It does not have to be arcane or archaic. There does not have to be one single way of handling unknown words. Since I am thinking of the Greek scriptures, there are few instances where a word is entirely unknown. Usually some meaning can be assigned to it. However, if the meaning is not clear, then the translation should be unclear also.

This translation would exist only as an alternative among other translations, a first among equals, so to speak, not superior or arrogant about its purpose. Perhaps it would open up freedom for the less literal versions, since it would soon become clear that those translations which now call themselves literal are really just one more member of the rabble. So the goal would be to create open space for differing translations and defeat hierarchy in translation. I want my holy grail to sit on a round table.

A last thought for today. There is no logical connection between literalness and masculine language. It is time now for a literal Bible in which woman is also anthropos - human. Let us toss aside the notion that it is only further down the scale of literality that woman becomes human. Even the translators of a literal Bible are going to have their basic beliefs and treasured presuppositions.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Ambiguity and humility

I have been reading The Work of Poetry by John Hollander recently. The essay on the psalms ties in nicely with a couple of recent posts on translation. Lingamish alludes to the ambiguities and mysteries of certain passages in Please be so kind as to laugh, then Iyov, Least common denominator wrote,
    Yet, some advocate producing Bible translations as if they were just another piece of writing -- written in everyday speech. This is a great disservice to Scripture. First, it causes us to forget that the Bible is kadosh/holy/separate from other literature. Second, it obscures the highly specialized style in which the Hebrew Scripture is written. .... Third, it causes us to lose humility, because we can master the language of some simple translations -- but in our generation, we have no sage who can fully understand the original Hebrew, much less the profound wordplay and connections present in the language.
Forgive me for taking such a short excerpt from a fascinating post. The psalms are uniquely suited for the study of commentary through the centuries, for seeing how diversely and personally the Hebrew has been translated by one generation after another, for simply surrendering the rational mind to an acceptance of ambiguity in the original text.

Along similar lines Leland Ryken writes the following in The Word of God in English: Criteria for Excellence in Bible Translation (now available through Google Books) which devotes a considerable amount of space to a discussion of ambiguity.
    I can imagine that some of my readers have been uneasy with the emphasis on ambiguity that has surfaced at several places in this book. As a literary scholar, I deal regularly with that quality of literary discourse. But I also found while doing the research for this book that the word ambiguity has been entrenched in discussions of translation for a long time. That the original text possesses the quality of multiple meanings, multiple interpretive options, and an open-ended or mysterious quality is widely recognized by Bible translators. The question is whether an English translation should preserve these qualities of the original.

    On this matter, as on many other translation issue, the crucial question is whether priority should be assigned to what the original text says or the assumed needs of modern readers. When translation committees assign priority to their audience, they have in that very act decided that certain qualities of the original text are expendable. ... I believe that a good English translation passes on the qualities of multiple meanings and mystery that the original text possesses. Another way of saying this is that a good translation resists the impulse to spell everything out. page 289
I would like to share part of the chapter by John Hollander (see image) on his experience growing up with the psalms. He compares his first response to the psalms, in his Jewish childhood, to learning Hebrew and studying the commentary of the psalms throughout his later life. Near the beginning of the essay he uses this story to illustrate his point.
    The child in the American joke who innocently deforms Psalm 23's penultimate verse, assuring her adult listeners that "Surely good Mrs. Murphy shall follow me all the days of my life," will only learn with "a later reason" as Wallace Stevens called it, that she was getting something more profoundly right about the line, the psalm, and poetry in general than any of her correctly parroting schoolmates. For the "mistake" personifies the "goodness and mercy"- the tov vachesed of the Hebrew - as a beneficent pursuer (the Hebrew lines imply that they are the poet's only pursuers, dogging one's footsteps, perhaps, but never hounding). Good Mrs. Murphy following the child about like a beneficent nurse is a more viable, powerful homiletic reconstruction of what had otherwise faded into abstraction than any primer's glossing. The child rightly attended to the trope set up by the intense verb "follow me" and supplied fan appropriate subject for it, thereby turning mechanical allegory into poetic truth. Losing, in mature literacy, the ability to make such mistakes can mean being deaf and blind to the power of even the KJV text, let alone that of the Hebrew.


    In short, losing the mysterious poetry of engendered by mistranslation, or even by distance from the English usage of a much earlier text, is compensated for many times over by reentry into the original. Confronting the psalms in yet another identity, decked out and bejeweled by linguistic and homiletic commentary, had been an activity of my later life. More and more mysteries open up in these versions as well.

    For example, back in Psalm 23:4, the famous crux of "the valley of the shadow of death" comes from a tendentious repointing of the word tzalmavet, which could mean either "deep shade" or "death shade"," and probably the former. ... But knowing all this in no way makes the poem shed its outer garments for the sake of a naked linguistic truth, and the various translations and versions and misprisions all coexist, and inhere in every phrase.


    The layers of misreading and rereadings are part of the poetry of the text itself in the poetic portions of the Bible. And the problems and puzzles of the psalms will remain eternal occasions for the reader's negative capability as well as for the interpretive with that turns every reader into a poet, if only momentarily. (chap. 7 Hearing and Overhearing the Psalms, page 113-128 in The Work of Poetry by John Hollander)
He expresses for me the initial frustration and eventual fascination which I have enjoyed in reading the various commentaries with which Ps. 68 is 'bejeweled." I soon realized that I would not be able to reduce even one of the ambiguities of the text, but could rather open up more each time I looked at the Hebrew text.

I regret that there is no recent Bible version which reflects this pattern of multiple meaning in the way the KJV does. Leland Ryken makes a good point with respect to ambiguity and literary quality. However, I am slowly coming to the realization that the Christian scriptures are not represented in any modern translation in a manner which does justice to the literary style, the ambiguities and multiple meanings of the original. Have we 'lost our humility' vis-á-vis the text?


Thursday, October 04, 2007

Dynamic Equivalence vs. Essentially Literal

A friendly debate has taken place recently on the Out of Our Minds Too blog. The issue is whether dynamic equivalence or essentially literal translation is the better approach to Bible translation. The two friends, Chris and Michael, wrestle with questions like: "What do you do when a translation language doesn't have a word for a word found in the biblical text?"

Often the debate between advocates of DE and Essentially Literal translation becomes rather rancorous. This one does not and is actually informative. Be sure to read the comments to the post. That's where the substance of the debate takes place.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Is bitter beer for better Bibles?

Peter Kirk has posted on the wording "the beer is bitter to its drinkers" in Is. 24:9. There is a dialect issue here which American English Bible translators may not be aware of. Read Peter's post to find out more.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

new url for TNIV revisions suggestions

We've been getting some helpful suggestions for revising the TNIV. I will forward them to the CBT by the end of this year. But we could be getting many more suggestions. Whenever you are reading the TNIV, if you spot a wording which you think could be improved. please consider posting it to the list so it can be forwarded to the CBT.

You can click on the posting link in the margin of the TNIV Truth blog, or if you prefer, you can use a new url which will redirect you to the revision suggestions form:
(If that url doesn't work for you, click here.)

Please feel free to distribute the new url widely on your own Internet websites or blogs and in email messages to friends.

The form does not ask for your email address, so you will not be spammed by the Bravenet service which hosts the form.

pronoun switching in the Psalms

Have you ever noticed how some psalms begin talking about God and then switch to talking to him? Or maybe the opposite happens: they start out talking to God and switch to talking about him? Apparently such switching was acceptable for those who composed the psalms in Biblical Hebrew. But I find it distracting as a native speaker of English. I can figure it out who is spoken to, but I find it easier to follow if the pronouns don't switch around within a single psalm.

Notice the pronoun switching in the well known Psalm 23 (KJV):
Talking about God:
Psa 23:1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
Psa 23:2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
Psa 23:3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Switch to talking to God:
Psa 23:4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Psa 23:5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Switch back too talking about God:
Psa 23:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
Some English translators adjust the pronouns so that they are in natural English style with no pronoun switching (if there is no referential switching) all the way through a psalm. The CEV has the psalmist talking to God throughout all of Psalm 23:
Psa 23:1 (A psalm by David.) You, LORD, are my shepherd. I will never be in need.
Psa 23:2 You let me rest in fields of green grass. You lead me to streams of peaceful water,
Psa 23:3 and you refresh my life. You are true to your name, and you lead me along the right paths.
Psa 23:4 I may walk through valleys as dark as death, but I won't be afraid. You are with me, and your shepherd's rod makes me feel safe.
Psa 23:5 You treat me to a feast, while my enemies watch. You honor me as your guest, and you fill my cup until it overflows.
Psa 23:6 Your kindness and love will always be with me each day of my life, and I will live forever in your house, LORD.
What do you think? Do you prefer the pronouns to switch exactly as they do in the original Hebrew? Or do you prefer pronoun consistency? Or perhaps your own preference doesn't enter into the question for you, but, rather, translating the original with the switching left intact, for you, indicates greater accuracy or respect for God's Word?

Do you think there is any rhyme or reason for the pronoun switching? Does it mark anything of rhetorical (or even theological) significance?