Category Archives: Translation

New book to add to my list

Reframing Biblical StudiesJust received the weekly BookNews email from Eisenbrauns (the last one for 2009). I’ve got quite a reading list going right now, but this new release has really caught my eye and will be something I will want to read in the not-too-distant future: Reframing Biblical Studies: When Language and Text Meet Culture, Cognition, and Context by Ellen J. Van Wolde.

This is the publisher blurb:

Until recently, biblical studies and studies of the written and material culture of the ancient Near East have been fragmented, governed by experts who are confined within their individual disciplines’ methodological frameworks and patterns of thinking. The consequence has been that, at present, concepts and the terminology for examining the interaction of textual and historical complexes are lacking.

However, we can learn from the cognitives sciences. Until the end of the 1980s, neurophysiologists, psychologists, pediatricians, and linguists worked in complete isolation from one another on various aspects of the human brain. Then, beginning in the 1990s, one group began to focus on processes in the brain, thereby requiring that cell biologists, neurologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, linguists, and other relevant scientists collaborate with each other. Their investigation revealed that the brain integrates all kinds of information; if this were not the case, we would not be able to catch even a glimpse of the brain’s processing activity.

By analogy, van Wolde’s proposal for biblical scholarship is to extend its examination of single elements by studying the integrative structures that emerge out of the interconnectivity of the parts. This analysis is based on detailed studies of specific relationships among data of diverse origins, using language as the essential device that links and permits expression. This method can be called a cognitive relational approach.

Van Wolde bases her work on cognitive concepts developed by Ronald Langacker. With these concepts, biblical scholars will be able to study emergent cognitive structures that issue from biblical words and texts in interaction with historical complexes. Van Wolde presents a method of analysis that biblical scholars can follow to investigate interactions among words and texts in the Hebrew Bible, material and nonmaterial culture, and comparative textual and historical contexts. In a significant portion of the book, she then exemplifies this method of analysis by applying it to controversial concepts and passages in the Hebrew Bible (the crescent moon; the in-law family; the city gate; differentiation and separation; Genesis 1, 34; Leviticus 18, 20; Numbers 5, 35; Deuteronomy 21; and Ezekiel 18, 22, 33).

No Distractions

In doing some searches in Accordance, I happened to notice that there are no distractions in the Hebrew bible.

No Hebrew word is translated by ESV, NIV, NRSV, NET (or many others) as “distract,” “distracted,” or “distractions.” The KJV does translate ‏אָפוּנָה found in Psalm 88:15 as “distracted,” but this word is found only here in the HB and does not have consensus for translation. In the NT there is only one verse that is translated with the word “distracted” (Luke 10:40).

I, on the other hand, am quite distracted lately.

Immanuel ‏עִמָּנוּ ‏אֵל

First semester Hebrew students usually have enough background to understand this Hebrew:

עִמָּנוּ ‏אֵל

Here we find the preposition עם with a 1cp suffix נוּ so we translate “with us.” This is followed by אֵל , which we translate “God.” So in context (Is. 7:14; 8:8), we are told that the child to be born will be named “Immanuel” meaning “God with us.” In the ESV, NET, and NRSV we find the spelling to begin with “I” but in many carols we read “Emmanuel.” Why is this? Because, when Matthew quotes the OT passage (Matt. 1:23), the Greek reads:
ἰδοὺ ἡ παρθένος ἐν γαστρὶ ἕξει καὶ τέξεται υἱόν,
καὶ καλέσουσιν τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἐμμανουήλ,
ὅ ἐστιν μεθερμηνευόμενον μεθ᾿ ἡμῶν ὁ θεός.

Thus, the English spelling renders the NT Greek as “Emmanuel.”

I still prefer to write the “I” in Immanuel, because my students can then remember that even the prepositions and suffixes that they learn are alive with meaning.

Using and Abusing Scripture

In light of some of the recent discussions on illegitimate word studies, this post by Scot McKnight seems appropriate to point out. McKnight highlights Manfred Brauch’s book, Abusing Scripture: The Consequences of Misreading the Bible, which Scot does not think is getting enough discussion. McKnight quotes 5 common ways that Christians abuse Scripture and then asks, “Which of these abuses do you see the most? Do you see others that concern you?”

Etymology Studies live

Yesterday, I heard that young Éva thought we should cheer for the Phillies because her dad’s name is Phil.

That reminded me of some other crazy intersections of words.

We usually drive on the parkway, but park on the driveway. Although, one can drive on the driveway (from the street to the garage) and also park on the parkway (if you aren’t too concerned about getting hit).

Why is it that kidnapping is a federal offense, while catnapping is merely an enjoyable pastime?

Why are things which are transported by ships called cargo and things transported by cars called shipment?

Why does your nose run and your feet smell?

If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?

Why do people recite at a play and play at a recital?

If people from Poland are called Poles, are people from Holland called be Holes? and are the Germans, Germs?

(A few of these and quite a few more can be found here.)

We laugh at these because we understand that the meaning resides in more than the form of the word. This is harder to see in another language and we are tempted to make connections where they do not exist. I think these English wordpairs highlight this type of (mis)understanding of language that we know as illegitimate semantic transfer.

If English isn’t enough of a potential hotbed of misapplied word etymology, try throwing Greek and Hebrew into the mix. Which is how you end up here:

Mounce on Translating

Bill Mounce answers a question about the ESV handling of Romans 2:27, 29 in Conflicting Translation Procedures on the Koinonia blog (you can also find it at Bill and Bob’s Blog). The ESV, in these verses, chose to use different English words to translate the same Greek word. He defends this choice by highlighting the following list of procedures to keep in mind when making translation decisions:

1. Concordance. As much as possible, use the same English word for the same Greek word so the user can follow the author’s train of thought, as long as doing so does not misrepresent the semantic range of the Greek word.

2. One for one. Prefer a single word translation for one Greek word.

3. Less interpretive. While all translations are interpretive, the ESV prefers the less interpretive. “Written code” is more interpretive; “letter” is less.

4. Euphony. The single word “letter” provides a nice poetic balance to the single word “Spirit” in 2 Cor 3:6. (The NIV/TNIV do the same.)

5. Must make some sense. But wait! There’s more! (Sounds like a Greek infomercial.) Why does the ESV use “written code” in Rom 2:27. Because saying “you who have the written letter and circumcision” makes no sense. Now granted, the ESV is content to make its readers work a little to understand the text, just as Paul was content to make his readers work a little to understand the text. But “letter” just sounds weird.

6. Open to misunderstanding. The ESV is especially sensitive to this problem, a problem all formal translations share. If the ESV read, “you who have the letter and circumcision but break the law,” would people unfamiliar with Paul’s theology think of an actual letter?

What would you prioritize in translating a text (Hebrew or Greek)? Would you add anything to his list?