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Saturday, June 14, 2008

It's all about the endnotes

There are some books in which the endnotes are simply better reading than the main text. If you have not read Desire of the Everlasting Hills because you fear that you will not learn much from the author's main premise, read the endnotes. Of course, it helps to read the book itself, but it is light reading for the most part.

I am enjoying Cahill's book as a review of the major historical markers before and after the time of Christ. The book is unremarkable in some ways, although I appreciate the readability and don't feel that I have to agree with him to find pleasure in his prose.

But, in one aspect, Desire of the Everlasting Hills stands out. Each time Cahill cites the Bible or another ancient text, he choses from a variety of translations or supplies his own. At first, I found it disconcerting. There is no fixity of style in the translations. It is somewhat irritating that one has to turn to the endnotes for each chapter to find out where the translation comes from. But, it is worth the work.

Most striking are the passages he translates himself. Here is an excerpt from the sermon on the mount (Matt. 5:22). It has the feature of maintaining "thou" in the citing of the commandments and using a more idiomatic style overall,
    You have heard that it was said to our People long ago, Thou shalt not kill and whoever does must face judgment. But I say to you: Whoever is angry with a brother must face judgment.
In this way Cahill allows for different registers of language. One is forced to hear the language as part of a particular discourse. In the endnotes, Cahill comments,
    In this chapter and throughout the remainder of the book all translations from the Greek of the New Testament (except as otherwise indicated) are mine - but with an eye to other translations, especially two at opposite ends of the translation spectrum: the New International Version (NIV), which is moderately literal, and the NJB, which in its assiduously idiomatic English sometimes approaches paraphrase. page 324
More insights into translation from this book later.

PS This post is a followup to Iyov and Holdfast on the use of the singular in the Ten Commandments. It is a good discussion.

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