God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

Q&A: trei asar – The Twelve Prophets

Another question from the About page:

The Twelve Prophets . I find it strange that the abbreviation for these books is given as תרי עשר

Why are the 12 called 10? Please could you say more about the grammar of this phrase. Thanks

The word תרי (trei) is actually Aramaic for “two,” so תרי עשר (trei asar) is “twelve.”

The prefix is most commonly known in Modern Hebrew from the word tresar, “dozen,” though unlike its English equivalent, tresar is formal.

October 13, 2009 Posted by | Q&A | , | 1 Comment

Translation Challenge: Psalm 2:2

Psalm 2:2 exhibits particularly clever structure, with meanings that form chiasmus and word combinations that pattern in straight parallelism.

The Hebrew reads: yityats’vu malchei erets//v’roznim nosdu yachdav. Yityatsvu means the about same thing as nosdu yachdav, and malchei eretz is like roznim. That’s the chiasmus. But equally, each line has three words, and both times the first words stand alone while the 2nd and 3rd form a pair.

Obviously, the KJV “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together” preserves none of this.

Can anyone think of a translation that captures the structure and meaning and beauty of the original?

October 13, 2009 Posted by | translation challenge | , , , , , | 8 Comments

Doublets Are Part And Parcel of Bible Translation

Even though “part” means roughly the same thing as “portion,” and “parcel” means “division,” “part and parcel” cannot equally be phrased, “portion and division.”

Yet when I read many Bible translations, I feel like exactly that sort of error has taken place.

The phrase “Tohu and vohu” in Genesis receives lots of attention, because the common “without form and void” misses the assonance completely. “Dust and ashes” for the Hebrew “efer and afar” was originally just as bad, and even though it’s common now, it still misses the assonance of the original.

More widespread and less commonly noticed are pairs created by parallel structure, as, for example in Job 38:36 (I’ve mentioned this before) where two pairs become, respectively, “wisdom/understanding” (not too bad) and “inward parts/mind” (hmm?).

Isaiah 1:2 demonstrates the same common pattern with the doubly parallel words shim’u/ha’azinu and shamayim/eretz. The second pair is “heaven(s)/earth” (again, not too bad) but the first is often the dubious “hear” and “give ear.” (“Listen” is better.)

Psalm 95 works the same way, with n’ran’na/nari’a and adonai/tzur yis’einu, which typically become “sing/make a joyful noise” or “sing/cry out” and “Lord/rock of our salvation.”

And so it goes.

I’m not casting blame here — it’s hard enough to translate one ancient word poetically, let alone two — but I sometimes wonder if translators even try.

October 13, 2009 Posted by | translation theory | , , , , | 6 Comments