In light of my last post, I thought it might be helpful to move beyond theory to actual translation. How would you translate the Hebrew ish and the Greek anthropos in the following passages?
- Genesis 2:24 [Hebrew]: “Therefore an ish leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife.”
- Genesis 2;24 [LXX]: “Therefore an anthropos will leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife.”
- Deuteronomy 17:5 [Hebrew]: “You shall bring out the ish or the woman who has committed this crime…”
- Deuteronomy 17:5 [LXX]: “You shall bring out the anthropos or the woman who has committed this crime…”
- Genesis 4:1 [Hebrew]: “…I have acquired an ish…”
- Genesis 4:1 [LXX]: “…I have acquired an anthropos…”
- Numbers 5:31 [Hebrew]: “The ish will be cleansed of sin but that woman will bear her sin.”
- Numbers 5:31 [LXX]: “The anthropos will be clear of sin but that woman will bear her sin.”
- Matthew 4:4 [Greek]: “The anthropos does not live by bread alone.”
- Matthew 12:12 [Greek]: “How much more valuable is an antrhopos than a sheep.”
- John 16:21 [Greek]: “When a woman is a labor she is in pain … but when her child is born, she no longer remembers the pain because of the joy of having brought an anthropos into the world.”
- Romans 3:4 [Greek]: “Every anthropos is a liar.”
- 1 Corinthians 7:1 [Greek]: “It is good for an anthropos not to touch a woman.”
My answers are as follows:
- Genesis 2:24 [Hebrew]: man
- Genesis 2;24 [LXX]: man
- Deuteronomy 17:5 [Hebrew]: man
- Deuteronomy 17:5 [LXX]: man
- Genesis 4:1 [Hebrew]: person*
- Genesis 4:1 [LXX]: person
- Numbers 5:31 [Hebrew]: man
- Numbers 5:31 [LXX]: man
- Matthew 4:4 [Greek]: people**
- Matthew 12:12 [Greek]: person
- John 16:21 [Greek]: person
- Romans 3:4 [Greek]: person
- 1 Corinthians 7:1 [Greek]: man
Do you agree? Disagree? Why?
(*) Rabbinic tradition actually understands the word ish here to mean “fully grown man,” as though Cain skipped over childhood and was born a malicious adult. In the context of that tradition, I might prefer “man” as a translation.
(**) A quirk of English grammar — at least in my dialect — doesn’t allow the general definite singular with the word “person.” Even though “the wolf is a mighty animal,” e.g., refers to all wolves, “the person” cannot refer to all people. So we’re forced into “people” here.
There seems to me — behind the so-called “formal equivalence” emphasis on source language syntax something of a hankering for a sacred language. By sacred I mean, in this context, especially appropriate for or capable of being a vehicle of divine revelation.
Read the whole thing: “Seeking a truly literal Bible translation.”
It seems that the default explanation for an unknown grammatical feature is to assume, often wrongly, that it is “emphatic.” Here are four examples, three from Hebrew (skip to them: one, two, three) and one from Greek (skip to it here).
From time to time, a nun will appear between a verb and its pronominal objective ending. For example, in Psalm 72:15, we find y’varachenhu. Breaking down the verb form, we find the prefix y’- representing third-person singular future; the verb varach, “bless”; and the suffix -hu for “him.” So far, the verb means “he will bless him.” But there’s also an added -en- in the middle. That’s the infixed nun, commonly called the “nun emphatic.”
Because nuns are frequently replaced by a dagesh in Biblical Hebrew, it is more common to find the “nun emphatic” represented by nothing more than a dagesh. Probably the best known example is in the Priestly Benediction from Numbers 6:24-26. The last verb of Numbers 6:25 is vichuneka, with a dagesh in the final kaf representing the “nun empahtic” that dropped out.
But there is no evidence anywhere to suggest that this nun has emphatic force.
A much more common Hebrew construction is the “infinitive absolute” in conjunction with a conjugated verb form. For example, in Genesis 2:17 we find mot tamut, which the KJV notes in a footnote is literally “dying thou shalt die.” Based on the (wrong) assumption that this doubling of verb forms is emphatic, the KJV translates “thou shalt surely die” here. (As it happens, this Hebraism is preserved in the LXX thanatu apothaneisthe, “by death die.”)
But not only is there no evidence that this construction is emphatic, there is evidence that it is not. In Genesis 3:4 the snake tries to convince the women to eat from the forbidden tree; he (it?) reassures her that lo mot t’mutun. Obviously this doesn’t mean “you will not surely die.” It just means “you will not die.”
Frequently a verb form will have two imperatives: a shorter one, essentially the future without the prefix, and a longer one with an additional heh at the end. For example, from titen (“you will give”) we have both ten in Genesis 14:21 and t’nah in Genesis 30:26. Some grammars, such a Gesenius (wrongly, in my opinion), suggest that the latter is “give!” Again, there’s no evidence for an emphatic reading in these verb forms. (The forms are also not limited to the imperative, as we see in the continuation of Genesis 30:26, with elecha for elech.)
The forth example comes from Greek, which has two sets of 1st- and 2nd-person pronouns. For example, “my” is either mou or emou. The latter form is called “emphatic” because it is widely assumed to convey particular emphasis. Once again, though, there is nothing to suggest that the longer forms are necessarily more emphatic than the shorter ones. (Bill Mounce has a post — also available here — where he similarly notes that sometimes the “emphatic forms […] are significant, but when they are objects of prepositions, evidently not.” In other words, he notes a case where the “emphatic” forms are not emphatic.)
What all four of these cases have in common is that the supposedly emphatic forms are longer than the ordinary ones. I think there has been a general if misguided assumption that longer words are more emphatic that shorter ones. At one level, it seems reasonable. And there are even times when it’s true (I give some examples here). But it’s not a general principal.
I think we have to rethink all of these “emphatic” forms with an eye toward figuring out what they really represent.
Another great question from the About page:
I have a question about Matthew 27:54. The centurion and the rest of the detachment set to guard Jesus body cried out and said “truly he was the Son of God!” — or is that really what they said?
Since it lacks the articles in Greek, and Latin doesn’t have articles, is it possible that they really said “truly he was the son of a god!”?
It’s a simple question with a complex answer.
There are two parts to understanding the issue.
The first is how Greek conveys possessives like “God’s.” In Greek, a possessor is marked by the genitive case, similar to the apostrophe “s” in English. So “God” in Greek is theos and “God’s” is theou. This same genitive also plays the role that “of God” does in English. Similarly “Paul” is paulos and “of Paul” and “Paul’s” is paulou.
At first glance, this seems to be Greek 101, but there a very important nuances that hide in the details. To get a sense of them, we can look just at English, and note that there are three expression that look like they should mean the same thing but do not: “Paul’s,” “of Paul,” and “of Paul’s.” Moving to less religiously charged words helps, so we can better compare:
- I am a friend of Bill. / I am a vice-president of the company.
- I am the friend of Bill. / I am the vice-president of the company.
- I am a friend of Bill’s. / I am a vice-president of the company’s.
- I am the friend of Bill’s. / I am the vice-president of the company’s.
- I am Bill’s friend. / I am the company’s vice-president.
Some of these sentences are ungrammatical in English (“I am a VP of the company’s”) and some are odd (“I am the friend of Bill”). Proper names work differently that common nouns, which is why “friend of Bill’s” is so much better than “vice-president of the company’s.” Importantly, some of these phrases imply “the”: “I’m the company’s VP” most naturally means that the company has only one VP. In short, we see a lot of complexity, and subtle nuance related to (1) nouns vs. proper names; and (2) definite vs. indefinite readings.
The second part to understanding Matthew 27:54 is even more complex. “God” in Greek is either theos (“god”) or o theos (“the god”). In John 1:1, for example, the word was with o theos but the word was theos.
My guess is that the two ways of saying “God” convey different nuances, but I’ve yet to see a convincing analysis of the pattern, even though there are lots of partial explanations. Until we understand the pattern, though, I think it will be almost impossible to know how the two phrases for God interact with the genitive.
It’s perfectly reasonable to think that “[a] son of god” means “one son (among many) of one god (among many),” but that’s just based on our English grammar. The syntactically parallel “[a] son of Moses” is only likely — again based on English grammar — to mean “one son (among many) of (the one and only) Moses.” Yet the English “Moses’ son” might mean “(the one any only) son of (the one and only Moses),” even though the Greek would be the same in the last two cases.
We also have the word order to deal with. In Matthew 27:54 (along with 14:33), we find theou uios, instead of the more common reverse order.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I don’t think we can conclude that the Greek means what “a son of a god” would in English. So your interpretation is certainly possible, but I don’t think it’s more (or less) likely than the more common “Son of God.” (I also think that theou uios would have sounded very different in Greek than o uios tou theou [e.g., Matthew 26:63], with two determiners and a different word order — and as a guess, the word order adds more than it seems.)
I do think that we’re missing something important here, and Matthew 27:54 is a valuable clue.
The Greek word hosanna appears six times in the NT: three times in Matthew, twice in Mark, and twice in John. The context is each case includes the quotation, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,” from Psalm 118:26. Because Psalm 118:25 contains the Hebrew words hoshi’a na, the Greek hosanna is widely (and I think correctly) assumed to be a Greek spelling of those Hebrew words, or perhaps an Aramaic equivalent.
In Psalm 118, hoshi’a means “save,” presumably, “save us.” (The direct object is optional in Hebrew, and can be inferred from context.) And na is a word that’s hard to translate — it may indicate politeness (“please”) or, more likely, formality or elegance.
There’s a persistent rumor that hosanna literally means “save now,” as in the NLT footnote that explains the word this way. But even the NLT translates hoshi’a na as “please save us,” not “save now.” The NAB says hosanna means “(O Lord) grant salvation,” and the NIV’s footnote explains the phrase as “A Hebrew expression meaning ‘Save!’ which became an exclamation of praise.” The rumor about “save now” probably comes from the KJV rendering of Psalm 118, “Save now, I beseech thee…”
In English, hosanna becomes “hosanna,” because the English spelling is taken directly from the Greek, (h)osanna. But the Greek is — again, widely and probably accurately — assumed to be a simplification of the Hebrew. The word should be hoshana, with the “sh” that is consistently lacking from Greek transliterations of Hebrew.
So should we put the “sh” back in to the English? By comparison, what if a French publication took the English “North Carolina” and turned it into norskarolina. Should a transliteration of that transliteration perpetuate the mistake?
For that matter, is transliterating the word the best way to go? And if it is, should “hosanna” be italicized?
Compounding the confusion, in Matthew and Mark “hosanna” appears in a phrase that gets translated as the barely intelligable “hosanna in the highest.” It apparently is supposed to mean “praise God on high.”
I think the case of hosanna is interesting not just in its own right, but also because it highlights the question of how much a translation into English has to be written in English. If we allow the word “hosanna,” and assume that it means “praise God” (but only here) can we use “in the highest” for “(God) on high” (but only here)? Or “man” for “people” (but only here)? Or allow any of the other seemingly wrong translations to be “one time exceptions”?
What do you think?
Grammatical and Real-World Gender, Part II
Earlier, I wrote about the difference between grammatical gender and real-world (or semantic) gender. I noted that the former doesn’t always indicate the latter. For example, personne in French is grammatically feminine but semantically inclusive.
As promised, here’s a little bit about how to tease the two kinds of gender apart.
One good way is to use ellipsis, such as “and so did…” or “and so is….” because ellipsis requires meanings to match up (semantic identity) but not the grammar.
(1) John went to the party and so did Mary.
It’s clear that the second half of the sentence is short for “Mary went to the party,” even though “and so did Mary went to the party” isn’t grammatical in English. In other words, ellipsis here copies the meaning of “went” but not the grammar of “went.”
Another example comes from:
(2) John loves his mother and so does Mary.
This is ambiguous. Either Mary loves John’s mother, or Mary loves her own mother. This second meaning is particularly interesting for us, because it shows us again that the “and so” ellipsis construction copies meaning and not form. (We also learn that “his” and “her” in English mean the same thing.)
Ellipsis In English
With this in mind, we can compare four sentences:
(3) John is an actor and so is Mary.
(4) John is a parent and so is Mary.
(5) *John is a father and so is Mary.
(6) *John is a king and so is Mary.
The asterisks indicate the ungrammatical sentences.
The examples in (3) and (4) are fine because “actor” and “parent” in English are gender-neutral in the real world. That is, men and women can both be actors and parents, even in the dialects that use the word “actress” for a woman actor.
By contrast, in English, only men can be fathers and kings.
Ellipsis In Other Languages
The reason this is so important is that the pattern in (3)-(6) is the same even in languages that have grammatical gender. For example, in Modern Hebrew:
(3′) John sachkan v’gam Mary [lit.: John actor and-also Mary]
(4′) John horeh v’gam Mary [lit.: John parent and-also Mary]
(5′) *John aba v’gam Mary [lit.: John father and-also Mary]
(6′) *John melech v’gam Mary [lit.: John king and-also Mary]
Just to be clear, (3′) is grammatical in Hebrew even though *Mary sachkan [“Mary actor”] is not, because Hebrew requires Mary sachkanit [“Mary actress”]. In other words, Hebrew has masculine and feminine words for “actor” (sachkan and sachkanit, respectively). Generally, the masculine word is used for men, and the feminine for women. But we see from ellipses that this difference is purely a matter of grammar, not of meaning.
Toward Two Kinds of Gender
The pattern in (3)-(6) and (3′)-(6′) works the same way in modern languages across diverse language groups: German, French, Russian, Arabic, and more. In other words, kings and queens seem to be different in ways that actors and actresses are not, and the difference doesn’t depend on which language is used to express it.
Some languages have masculine and feminine forms for “actor” and “actress,” but even so, ellipsis shows us that the words mean the same thing.
Further investigation shows us that the following kinds of words are the same for men and women: nouns in general, including jobs, positions, functions, roles, etc. By contrast, the following are generally not: royalty (king, queen, and sometimes lower ranks), family roles (father, mother, and sometimes son, daughter, brother, sister), and gender roles (man, women).
A Note on Parenthood
We stop to note that this answers an important question: In languages that have grammatical gender, what’s the difference between “father” and “[male] parent,” or between “mother” and “[female] parent”? The answer is that, like in English, “parent” is the non-gendered word, while “mother” and “father” are the gendered words. In other words, both men and women can be parents, but only men can be fathers, and only women mothers. This fact doesn’t depend on the grammatical gender of any of the words involved. (As chance would have it, “parent” in Modern Hebrew is horeh, and the word is masculine. There is no feminine word “parent.”)
Because all languages seem to work the same way in the core cases, we can use the data about modern languages to understand ancient ones. What we expect, and what we find, is that ancient Greek and Hebrew have grammatical gender that only sometimes matches up with real-world gender.
In particular, basileus and melech are specifically a man (“king”), while basilissa and malka are specifically a woman (“queen”). They do not mean “ruler.” Similarly, patros and av are masculine in the real word (semantically) as well as grammatically, and meter and em are feminine. They do not mean “parent.”
It is tempting to extrapolate the pattern we have seen with singular nouns and apply it to plural ones, too, but it’s a mistake — a topic I’ll turn to soon.