God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

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 | , , , , ,


  1. I’d give the LXX translators an A:

    παρέστησαν οἱ βασιλεῖς
    τῆς γῆς καὶ
    οἱ ἄρχοντες συνήχθησαν

    (ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ
    κατὰ τοῦ κυρίου καὶ
    κατὰ τοῦ χριστοῦ αὐτοῦ)

    and Robert Alter a D:

    Kings of the earth take their stand
    _____and princes conspire together
    (__________against the LORD and against His anointed.)

    And JPS a D- :

    The kings of the earth stand up, and the rulers take counsel together,
    (against the LORD, and against His anointed.)

    So how’s this English?

    To stand together, Earth’s kings
    And queens do all hold against
    (G*d and against His anointed)

    Comment by J. K. Gayle | October 13, 2009

    • Thanks for providing this.

      I’d give the LXX a B. They get the semantic chiasmus (which is much easier to do in Greek and Hebrew than in English), but not the pattern of one word followed by a pair in each line. And while determiners are notoriously tricky, I wonder about oi and tis here, particularly because they seem to break the pithy rhythm of the original.

      The idea of “kings/queens” is interesting. It’s surely not exactly what the Hebrew means (after all, there’s a word for “queens” in Hebrew), but it may still be closer than “princes” or “rulers.”

      Comment by Joel H. | October 14, 2009

  2. How’s about:

    Rulers conspire together; Conspiracies engage the powers
    [against G-d and against G-d’s anointed]

    Comment by Will Fitzgerald | October 13, 2009

    • Except for the repetition of “conspire,” I like this direction of making “the powers” the object of the second half, so as to preserve the chiasmus.

      Comment by Joel H. | October 14, 2009

  3. (It would help if I knew any Hebrew).

    Comment by Will Fitzgerald | October 13, 2009

  4. This was my translation from a year or so ago:
    They set themselves – these kinglets of earth
    these rule-makers reasoning as one
    against יְהוָה and against his anointed

    of course I had to match kinglet with the ending too

    So kinglets all, be wise
    be warned you many who make earthly judgments
    pay attention to יְהוָה – tremble in joy
    kiss hello to purity

    Comment by Bob MacDonald | October 14, 2009

  5. I just happened across this today: Part of Isaac Watts’ versification of the Psalms:

    Why did the Gentiles rage,
    And Jews, with one accord,
    Bend all their counsels to destroy
    Th’ Anointed of the Lord?

    Comment by Will Fitzgerald | October 15, 2009

  6. Again at the risk of showing my poor grasp on Hebrew (and English), I’ll give this a shot:

    oligarchs of earth are convening,
    conspiring in unity, rulers are
    hostile toward YHWH
    and malicious toward his Anointed

    Of course, that’s rather awkward and I would be quite unhappy to see it in a Bible. Sometimes I wonder how close we can ever get to the Hebrew without just learning it.

    Comment by Mitchell Powell | December 10, 2009

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