God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

On Style

Different communities have different styles of conveying information. I think this is particularly important for understanding and translating the Bible.

I recently posted some thoughts about prophecies (and why they don’t “come true” in the NT). Along the way, the idea of a proof text came up.

In particular, I claimed that one style of NT prose consists of quoting part of the OT not for the truth value of the quotation, but rather just for the sake of using the words of the OT — even if those words are taken out of context. (Examples appear in the original post.)

By comparison, we also have unique styles now. Here are three of them:
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October 25, 2010 Posted by | translation theory | , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Doublets Are Part And Parcel of Bible Translation

Even though “part” means roughly the same thing as “portion,” and “parcel” means “division,” “part and parcel” cannot equally be phrased, “portion and division.”

Yet when I read many Bible translations, I feel like exactly that sort of error has taken place.

The phrase “Tohu and vohu” in Genesis receives lots of attention, because the common “without form and void” misses the assonance completely. “Dust and ashes” for the Hebrew “efer and afar” was originally just as bad, and even though it’s common now, it still misses the assonance of the original.

More widespread and less commonly noticed are pairs created by parallel structure, as, for example in Job 38:36 (I’ve mentioned this before) where two pairs become, respectively, “wisdom/understanding” (not too bad) and “inward parts/mind” (hmm?).

Isaiah 1:2 demonstrates the same common pattern with the doubly parallel words shim’u/ha’azinu and shamayim/eretz. The second pair is “heaven(s)/earth” (again, not too bad) but the first is often the dubious “hear” and “give ear.” (“Listen” is better.)

Psalm 95 works the same way, with n’ran’na/nari’a and adonai/tzur yis’einu, which typically become “sing/make a joyful noise” or “sing/cry out” and “Lord/rock of our salvation.”

And so it goes.

I’m not casting blame here — it’s hard enough to translate one ancient word poetically, let alone two — but I sometimes wonder if translators even try.

October 13, 2009 Posted by | translation theory | , , , , | 6 Comments