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Wayne Leman

Well, John, now that you've blogged that DE translations are no good and now, FE translations, we're left with what you love, the original languages. There's nothing like making jobs for ourselves when the economy is in a slump!

:-)

Angela Erisman

Hi John,

You say: "an FE translation of the verses misleads the reader."

I see your point, but I think this is only the case if one expects that a reader of the Bible in English translation will/should learn nothing of biblical culture (including tropes like a 3-day journey). By your argument, one would have to translate every idiom into a 21-st century American equivalent. To my mind, that destroys the cultural integrity of the Bible, and doesn't give the reader much credit, either, for his/her ability and/or interest in understanding the people who wrote this literature.

It's a bit like saying that when we're in Italy (where I just returned from), we should expect Italians to speak American English and use American cultural idioms, otherwise they're misleading us.

John Hobbins

Wayne,

Since I do not teach Hebrew for a living, your remark doesn't quite apply. But you are right nonetheless that I think that far more people could learn to read the biblical languages than currently do.

More generally, if the trend toward monolingualism were reversed in our culture, it might even save us from fighting needless wars. It might bring about more understanding between cultures. With respect to the Bible, it might foster a renaissance in theology, faith, and practice.

For the rest, I don't mind pointing out ways in which FE translations tend to be unreliable. That does not make FE translations "no good" - your words, not mine - but it does mean that they must used with caution, and are not likely to be understood rightly without sufficient grounding in biblical culture. This last point is one that Angela eloquently makes.

Tim Bulkeley

Nice post, except:
(i) If "three days" is idiomatic where are the examples of this idiom? Since figurative language that is not in "common use" is not an "idiom". I.e. I accept the language is figurative, but question whether it is idiomatic.
(ii) Why bring "inerrency" into it? It is a shibboleth in the USA, but seems of little concern elsewhere...

John Hobbins

Angela,

Welcome back! I hope you had a great time in the bel paese.

You make an excellent point. I am sympathetic to the view that the best point of departure for the study of the Bible, academic or otherwise, is a translation that is as literal as possible and as free as necessary. The best point of departure, of course, for those bereft of the original languages.

Once upon a time, the translation that fit that bill was the RSV, though it strayed from the MT all too often, with the result that the text it translated was neither fish nor fowl. The ESV, thankfully, returns to the MT on most occasions.

But a translation in the KJV-RSV-ESV trajectory, in order to be understood, requires, as you also point out, a fair bit of background knowledge of the biblical world.

My "Texas-style" translation, though it may be said to capture something of the intent of the language if Charles Halton is right, would not be my first choice to appear in a study Bible.

Something like the more literal translation I offer would be my first choice, with discussion in the notes about what is going on.

Another possibility, one that you might be sympathetic to, is that the book of Jonah is a deliberately "tall tale" which, like other tall tales, is admirably suited to entertain and teach at the same time.

If the book of Jonah is, in terms of genre, a "tall tale," that would not be in contradiction with the traditional perception (which I share) that the book conveys hard-edged cultural truths and is prophetic in perhaps more than one way.

John Hobbins

Tim,

You are my favorite mispeller. "Inerrency" probably sums up the discussion fairly well on most days.

You may not think "inerrancy" is relevant here, but I think it is for a variety of reasons, at least in the sense that for many people the world over, their faith as they currently understand it would be compromised if they were told that the book of Jonah in all details is not literally true. But if you think I am wrong about that, let me know. You are better traveled than I am.

I subscribe to a qualified version of inerrancy very close in many ways to that found in the Catholic Cathechism and re-discussed at the highest levels in Rome this past month.

So the issue may seem unimportant to you in some sense, but if that is your position, I'm not sure it reflects the current consensus among evangelicals, Catholics, and the Orthodox world-wide.

For the rest, Halton argues that "three days' walk" is not idiomatic per se, but in context.

Charles Halton

John, nice post, I appreciate it.

Kevin P. Edgecomb

Hmmm. Well, it could also just be a different reflection of how little some people are willing to walk! There are plenty of people I know who could easily take three days to cross the site of Nineveh, judging by their standard daily amount of walking: house to car, car to desk, desk to car, car to house. This could be another poor reflection on Jonah, in that respect, who's depicted in general like kind of a whiner in other respects as well. Anyhow, fun post!

Karyn

John said, "More generally, if the trend toward monolingualism were reversed in our culture, it might even save us from fighting needless wars. It might bring about more understanding between cultures."

I couldn't agree more. I find that Hebrew students who come from Africa and Asia understand firsthand the issues at stake in communication via a translation. I have much less work to do to show them the "practicality" of learning BH for those who desire to become "specialists in the Bible" than the struggle I have with their mono-lingual American counterparts.

Peter Kirk

John, congratulations on your conversion, on accepting the gospel that we have been preaching to you at BBB in the midst of much ridicule from yourself and others, that source language idioms cannot always be translated literally, but have to be adjusted to fit the understanding of the target audience. If you concede the point here, I assume you soon will, at least in principle, concerning "open someone's eyes", that this is an idiom which will not necessarily be understood correctly by all target audiences and so may sometimes need to be adjusted.

John Hobbins

Peter,

The gospel according to BBB strikes me as rather one-sided. However, the mild version of it that you propose in your comment is difficult to have issues with.

I've been field-testing NRSV Matthew 9:27-31 with interesting results. So far, the result is that "Their eyes were opened" is understood without difficulty to mean "their sight was restored." Those very words are often used to describe what takes place in the pericope.

I have to point out to people that we don't use the expression "open someone's eyes" to refer to restoration of physical sight. "Oh yeah," they reply, but they do not therefore suggest that the language of the translation be changed.

As far as I can see, it requires a linguist with an axe to grind to suggest that. I have already made clear why I think the removal of the figure of speech is too high a price to pay.

I am glad that there are translations like CEV (David Ker's favorite), NLT1 (Rick Mansfield's wife's favorite), and NLT2 out there. But they are not my first choice as a basis for serious Bible study. For prose, it is instructive to ponder why they translate as they do. In terms of ancient Hebrew poetry, you must admit, they leave a great deal to be desired.

NLTSB is excellent in many ways (in other ways not so much), and I'm glad to have it. But I say the same thing about ESVSB. Furthermore, I get more use out of the Jewish Study Bible, the HarperCollins Study Bible, and the NISB. Each one is less than perfect and each one has something to offer.

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