God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

Q&A: The Original Baptism

From the About page comes a question about baptism, the essence of which is the observation that the words we now translate “baptize,” “baptism,” “[John the] Baptist,” etc. were actually ordinary words in Greek, like our “wash” in English. They were not technical religious terms like the English “baptize,” and the Greek words did not mean what the modern English “baptize” does.

So perhaps instead of “baptism” we should translate “washing.”

But it’s a little more complicated than that.

Greek Baptism

The Greek word for “baptize” is baptizo.

We know from passages like Mark 7:4 that the word can mean simply “wash”: “[The Pharisees and Jews] do not eat after returning from the marketplace unless they have washed [baptizo] … [Other traditions include] the washing [baptismos] of [various eating vessels].”

We see similar evidence in Luke 11:38: “The Pharisee was amazed to see that [Jesus] didn’t wash [baptizo] before the meal.”

We also see the verb in the OT, once in II Kings 5:14, where it’s the Greek translation of the Hebrew taval (“dip” or “immerse”), and once in Isaiah 21:4, where the word seems out of context.

Equally, we find the verb baptizo in non-Biblical Greek texts — more on this below. In those contexts, too, the verb seems to be a general one.

From all of these sources, it’s clear that baptizo is a common verb, and the specialized “baptize” in English misrepresents the original Greek.
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August 24, 2010 Posted by | Q&A, translation practice | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

May I have my ear back, please?

Give Ear

At BBB, Wayne notes the oddity of the English phrase “give ear” for the Hebrew he’ezin.

I think it can be useful to look at what went wrong here.

The Root of the Problem

Hebrew has at least two words for “hear/listen.”

The first is shama. We find it, for example, in the imperative in the famous passage from Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear [shma], Israel…”

The second is he’ezin. As it happens, that verb shares a root with the word “ear,” ozen. Accordingly, some translators (wrongly, in my opinion) feel the need to translate the word into an English word or phrase that contains the word “ear.” That’s where we get, for example, the odd “give ear, O Shepherd of Israel” for Psalm 80:1 (a.k.a. 80:2) in the KJV and others.

The Reasoning

The reasoning is flawed.
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August 22, 2010 Posted by | translation practice, translation theory | , , , , | 1 Comment

Q&A: What is the correct pronunciation of the tetragrammaton?

I’ve just returned from my summer break, so I’ll be posting regularly again and also catching up on the questions from the About page.

I’ll start with Rabbi Morton Kaplan, who asks simply, “What is the correct pronunciation of the tetragrammaton?”

I’ve already explained a bit of the background. I have more information in my Jerusalem Post article (which, unfortunately, lost most of its formatting when the Jerusalem Post migrated to a new website), and I have even more in Chapter 4 of my In the Beginning.

But that information — the bottom line is that I don’t think the tetragrammaton originally had a pronunciation — is all about the original pronunciation of the tetragrammaton, which may be different than the “correct” pronunciation.

That’s because I think “correct” has to take into account not only the original text, but also what has happened with it over — in this case — roughly 3,000 years. There’s a long-standing Jewish tradition that the tetragrammaton represents the long-lost not-to-be-pronounced name of God, and that adonai is used as a substitute. I see no reason that modern scholarship should change this ancient tradition. (Whether Christians want to adopt the Jewish tradition seems like a more complicated question.)

More generally — and this is why I like Rabbi Kaplan’s question — I think that “original” or “scientific” is only one way of being “correct.”

August 22, 2010 Posted by | translation theory | , , , | 4 Comments