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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Boundary maintenance

A couple of years ago I wrote several posts on my search for a mediating or neutral Bible translation. I grew up on the King James Version and had the pleasure of being able to share the same text with Christians in most denominations, and those of the Jewish and academic communities.

I experienced a real shock when I first read some of the translations published in the last 10 years. I realized that each one would only appeal to a relatively small segment of the Bible reading community. There would no longer be a common text.

I experience this as a real loss. At first I thought that a translation which was relatively literal could be acceptable to all. The KJV is very careful in many ways, not always, but for the most part, to not add interpretive words. No other translation since has been so careful.

I actually thought that we could have a translation today that we could share, that would keep Christendom from fracturing into a thousand pieces, that could be the reference text for dialogue with others. However, I was told that this was very unlikely.

Wayne has brought up this idea again, asking what points people keep as shibboleths or group boundary markers in Bible translation. I want to thank Kevin Sam for his response,
    “I fully agree that these exists when they really shouldn't. The disadvantage is that they discriminate against others who are outside the circle of insiders. Personally, I try not to use them and would discourage others from accepting shibboleths as a group identity.”
What a thoughtful response. We don't want to exclude others with the Bible translation we use. This thought has also been a view expressed notably by Chris Heard some time ago, and Iyov. (Unfortunately I cannot cite exact posts but I wish to acknowledge the posts they have made on this issue.)

I had an experience today of realizing that certain English translations published recently had a small feature of their translation which might make them quite unsuitable for a wider audience. I wonder what others think of this.

This is Psalm 51:11,
    Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. (KJV 1987 edition)
In most recent evangelical translations of the Bible "holy spirit" has been written as "Holy Spirit." This form is found in the (T)NIV, ESV, NASB, NLT, CEV, NKJV, HCSB. (The NLT provides this footnote: Or your spirit of holiness.)

The Darby translation offers this alternative.
    11Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not the spirit of thy holiness from me. Darby
The JPS does not capitalize "holy spirit," as one would expect. Nor does Robert Alter. It appears to me that the publishers of the Bibles mentioned above are well aware that these Bibles will not meet the needs of a wider community. They are for insiders.

Those Bibles which do not capitalize "holy spirit" are the
JB (1966); NAB (1969); NEB (1970); and NRSV (1989).

What I am wondering is whether capitalizing words in the Hebrew Bible which could possibly refer to members of the trinity is a shibboleth. Do those in evangelical circles expect this of their Bibles?


At Thu Mar 20, 12:10:00 AM, Blogger Bob MacDonald said...

re "capitalizing words ... trinity is a shibboleth."

What do we do with these markings? We force a first-time reader into 'one reading'. This is parochialism. Unavoidable to some extent but not a means to the end.

At Thu Mar 20, 04:12:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Suzanne, in your copious blogging on "Shaddai," you once said in a post:

"Some translators might wish to retain a traditional translational equivalent for Shaddai in consideration of the role of the Psalm in a particular faith community." (emphasis added)

In the post, you were linking and otherwise referring to a post of Ivoy. He considers there, not capitalizations, but marked pronouns and shows how Robert Alter, the Hakham translators, and the NJPS translation use English pronouns in Psalm 91. Then he makes the contrast for other communities: "I can understand that someone, such as Eastern Orthodox, who follow the Septuagint translation (which is most properly viewed as a Gentile version, since the non-Torah portion of the Septuagint was early disregarded by the Jewish community...may wish to change the pronouns." Ivoy's already noted how "the Septuagint corrects [unmarked parts of the text] the interests of consistency, [because] such unmarked transitions from one speaker to another [to guide the reader in knowing who's speaking when there are multiple speakers within a psalm, for instance] are not uncommon in biblical literature."

I think this is the same reason that Willis Barnstone, in his translation of Matthew 27:17, has "Pilatus" asking (in an unconventional English translation):

"Which one do you want me to release to you, Yeshua Bar Abba or Yeshua who is called the Mashiah?"

Barnstone is an acclaimed literary translator (whose translation Altar praises). His audience, his community is not necessarily Christian church, but rather a wider readership who would appreciate what traditional NT translation has done to exclude Jews. So there are clearly charged issues of inclusion and exclusion Barnstone is trying to mark. But very interesting is how he makes clear the contrast (as does Matthew's variant text) between the two men in Pilate's custody: they have the same Jewish name, but one is the son of an Aramaic father and the other is a supposed Messiah. The English brings this out. (But some in the church now might view the Barnstone as a mere "specialty" translation, excluding it from what we Christians might find readable).

At Thu Mar 20, 07:50:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

That post of Iyov (אִיּוֹב, I meant, which just goes to show another problem of transliteration--dysleksik Roman alphabetic typos!).

At Thu Mar 20, 08:07:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

What do we do with these markings? We force a first-time reader into 'one reading'. This is parochialism. Unavoidable to some extent but not a means to the end.

Good point, Bob. I suggest that at a minimum, if a translation team is going to capitalize to indicate trinitarianism in translation of the Hebrew Bible, they should footnote, to indicate the alternative.


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