God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

What Reading Level is “Magi”?

I’ve only just glanced at the new CEB translation of Matthew (available on-line here), so I’ll have more organized and thorough thoughts soon, but as I was paging through it, I saw this:

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judah during the reign of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. [2:1]

This surprised me, because one of the goals of the CEB is to provide a translation in elementary English. The preface notes:

The CEB is presented at an average 7th grade reading level, with most books (e.g., Matthew) scoring in the 6th grade range. [Emphasis in original.]

So I have to wonder: Is an irregular plural of a rare word compatible with the goals of the CEB? What were the other considerations that made more common English translations undesirable here? Wouldn’t “maguses” work just as well (or as poorly)? Should “magi” (or maybe even the Greek magoses?) be italicized, to give readers a clue that it’s not an English word (which for most people it isn’t)?

While we’re at it, I also have to wonder if the point is “magi came from the east,” or “magi from the east came….” I tend to think it’s the latter, that is, that “from the east” describes where the people were from, not where they were coming from.

(And by the way, I think the version on-line is still a draft. For example, still in verse 2:1 ioudaia is translated “Judah” — perhaps having been confused with ioudas — even though in 2:5 it’s the more common “Judea.”)

[Update: More more about the CEB is available on BBB here.]


November 5, 2009 Posted by | Bible versions, translation practice, translation theory | , , , , , , , | 7 Comments