God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

My Sister, My Bride

Dr. Joel M. Hoffman on Bible Translation:

With some reluctance — and with renewed appreciation for people who spend their professional lives in front of a camera — I’m posting this short video excerpt in which I discuss what can go wrong in Bible translation.


March 24, 2010 - Posted by | translation practice, translation theory, video | , , , ,


  1. That’s hilarious. I have absolutely no problem with this metaphor. It runs through the poem. There is also a curious prosodic problem too. My sister goes with one word and bride goes with the next – the ‘my’ is never applied to bride in the Hebrew.

    Don’t tell me you will use etymology to get around this striking set of central phrases in the Song.

    Comment by Bob MacDonald | March 24, 2010

    • You’re right about “my.” The Hebrew reads, “my achot, [who is a] kalah.”

      I devote a chapter to these words in And God Said. “Sister” is easier to poke fun at, but “bride” (or “spouse”) is also wrong: there seems to be no notion of commitment in Song of Songs.

      Comment by Joel H. | March 24, 2010

      • A good point, Joel, though it definitely bothers me to realize that.

        Comment by Gary Simmons | March 24, 2010

  2. No commitment? I don’t think so. You may be arguing from silence for a policy that is a failed attempt to codify impossibility. I have just done a reading of the Song – posts here. The Song represents for me the commitment of the Lord of Hosts and El Shaddai to me as if I was alone in the world. The commitment is represented in the shared cost of love (who is this that comes up from the desert – 2x) and in the charge at the end of parts 1 and 2 and the expectation of part 5 where the names of God are hidden in the sound of the animals.

    If the priests of the church had understood this commitment there would be no scandal today. There – I have said it.

    Comment by Bob MacDonald | March 25, 2010

  3. If the girl is Ethiopian, then for Solomon to call her his “sister” is to envelop her into family. This seems to be a theme in Ruth, where Boaz is a relative of Ruth, the Moabitess, both because of her relations with a Jewish man and her kindred hesed.

    Comment by WoundedEgo | October 15, 2010

  4. To me, “my sister, my bride” could be valid, as is, (minus the “my” before bride, as I just learned) in the fact that Solomon was her king, and therefore her protector. Also, many Christians refer to each other as “Brother So And So; Sister So and So”? We are all “one family” in Christ. I don’t know if there is the same type of labeling, so to speak, in Judaism.
    I think that the Lord knew we would have these translation problems and that it is something, that maybe He even designed in order to cause us (the ones hungry enough to need more) to seek Him in order to find out.
    I mean, why do you care whether the Bible is translated correctly or not? I just found out about your new book from an ad on Facebook, and read the first chapter today. I don’t know anything about you, so I am guessing it’s because something in you desires unity and for the people of God to “get it right”; am I correct? I doubt it’s a power trip, “I’m right and King James is wrong.” You want people to learn, and so does God.
    I learned somewhere that the word “seek” in Hebrew is akin to our word for research. I believe that God wants us to dig and look, and ask questions, and He will show us the answers (like in this case, through your books and this blog, etc) and also through His Spirit.
    I have no formal education and I’m sure that many times I have no idea what I’m talking about, but I desire to learn and grow and so I hope that you and the other commentators will be kind in replying to my posts.

    Comment by LauraB | December 13, 2010

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