Don’t laugh too hard reading this post. I review my own translation of Psalm 1:1-2 (referred to as JHV for convenience), and find it terribly wanting. The problem, as Stephen Barkley notes, is that reading the Bible in English is like sipping a fine wine through a tea bag.
The goofiest thing about my translation is that it does not make sense without a set of footnotes. It is usable for personal study and, at least in theory, in the context of worship, but would go right over people’s heads without explanation.
JHV reads as follows:
Happy the one
who has not walked
in advice of the wicked,
and has not stood
in the way of villains,
and has not sat
in the seat of scoffers,
rather, his pleasure is in יהוה’s instruction,
and he recites that instruction
day and night.
A set of notes to JHV Psalm 1:1-2 might go like this:
1:1. Shorn of metaphors but with the rhetorical crescendo highlighted: “Happy the one who has not followed advice of those of criminal intent, or - worse still - permanently chosen the way of villainy, or - worst of all - taught others to do likewise, as scoffers do, from an endowed chair in the department of philosophy at Princeton University.” [Okay, I’ve jazzed up the paraphrase too much, but I bet it got you thinking.] Happy: according to Rashi: worthy of praise. Happy/ blessed (is), more literally, O the happinesses of, is the way a macarism typically begins in ancient Hebrew. Psalm 1 is an extended macarism. For a list of macarisms in the Psalms and beyond, see the Glossary. The wicked: used here as the opposite of the term that appears in 1:5-6, traditionally rendered righteous. The reference in the first instance is to those who willfully violate the moral order established by God; in the second instance, to those who are innocent of such wrongdoing, and faithful to God-given principles of morality. Villains: traditionally, but misleadingly, sinners. The sense of the term is clear from the context of passages like Numbers 32:14 and Isaiah 1:4. Hardened transgressors of injunctions understood to be passed on with divine authorization are in view. Stood in the way is a metaphor for sticking to a particular pattern of behavior. In ancient times, one sat in a seat (cathedra, as in ex cathedra) to judge or teach. Scoffers: someone who is insubordinate to the moral order established by God and who mocks those who conform themselves thereto.
1:2. Pleasure, or possibly, without an emotional overtone: preoccupation. Instruction: teaching (Heb. torah), traditionally: law. Moral instruction is inseparable from exemplifying narrative in torah as handed down, for example, in the book of Deuteronomy. Furthermore, said narrative is filled with accounts of God’s benevolence and explication of God's promises. In this sense, law is a misleading translation. Recite: repeat out loud, specifically, portions thereof. The Hebrew, more exactly, has recite from. Compare Josh 1:8.
My deepest gripes with JHV are the following. They are not minor details.
(1) As SE [Stylistic Equivalence] translations are wont to do, JHV maps onto English a number of features the impact of which, on ears attuned to English and not Hebrew, is not equivalent to the impact said features would have had on the text’s original Hebrew-speaking audience. The statement holds true for translation in general, of course, but it helps not at all to pretend that a SE solves a problem which in fact cannot be solved. An SE translation will be useful to someone who wants to get a sense of the nitty-gritty of the text, but will be subject to misunderstanding without a thorough prior grounding in biblical literature from a cultural, anthropological, and theological point of view.
(2) As SE translations tend to be, JHV is not an easy read. Put another way, I find it easy to read and understand – because I know the underlying Hebrew backwards and forwards. Is the ideal reader of an SE someone who is thoroughly conversant with the parent text? The answer is yes. To be sure, I think the same holds true for DE and FE translations. In other words, dear reader, learn Hebrew if you want to understand the Hebrew Bible. Learn it from an excellent teacher, preferably, someone who is versed in the entire Jewish tradition. It’s that simple.