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Nathan Stitt

I wish my German was better. I only had two years in High School and that doesn't count for much unfortunately.

I'm not familiar with your view of the NJB, but it is one of my favorite translations of the Hebrew. I wonder if the Hebraisms are more frequent in the NJB than other translations across the board.

JohnFH

I think NJB is absolutely brilliant in spots. Anyone who loves the Bible might consider purchasing a copy of it.

I would like to add that there are pros and cons to Hebraizing English. I'm lifting up the pros, but I do not wish to minimize the risks.

Peter Kirk

the all-wise religious booksellers, who prefer to publish Bibles dumbed down to an 8th grade level or lower

If this is a dig at English rather than German language booksellers, it is a misplaced one. There have been several recent English translations aimed at higher reading levels. Consider ESV, TNIV, HCSB, The Message (yes, its reading level is quite high even though it is in some sense a "paraphrase") etc. These are widely available in bookstores. A variety of different translations are available to fit a variety of needs. It is not at all fair to blame publishers in general for preferring one variety to another.

Of course the question is whether the Bibles you refer to have been dumbed down or the ones you prefer have been wised up, or whatever the opposite of "dumbed down" is. A good argument can be made that the original Bible text was largely in the equivalent of 8th grade or lower language, and that translation into a higher level of language is unfaithful.

JohnFH

Do you know, Peter, of any studies that make your argument? I happen to be convinced that when NJPSV and NRSV come in at the 11th or 12 grade level, they are not "wising up" the source text at all.

Peter Kirk

John, the problem with the Hebrew text is that we have no way of knowing. Anyway it is quite anachronistic to speak in terms of grade levels in a society without the kind of widespread formal education we now have. But I see no reason to think that biblical Hebrew was written in a level of language which was beyond the comprehension of the majority of the contemporary population. Do you see any reason for that?

But there are statistics to prove that the 11th or 12th grade level of the translations you name is beyond the comprehension of most readers in North America and the UK. That implies the opposite of dumbing down, that the translation is less accessible than the original.

Of course I realise that most people would not have been able to read the original. So I am thinking in terms of comprehension of it read aloud. But the statistics on English comprehension are based on reading and so may not be fully comparable.

As for Koine Greek, there is more evidence to go on but also the anachronism of speaking in terms of grade levels. I accept that some small parts of the NT, such as the introduction to Luke, are written in a formal literary style which may not have been well understood by ordinary people. But the great majority is written in a rather simple style of Greek similar to that of the large corpus of personal letters found on papyri. This strongly suggests that the reading, or aural comprehension, level of the biblical text was that of the ordinary person, not of those with an above average education.

JohnFH

Peter,

we do have ways to get at the question. There is a body of letters, in epigraphic Hebrew and Aramaic, which can be compared to biblical literature. Lachish, Arad, Bar Kochba, Elephantine, etc.

I think it is crystal clear, and so do most scholars, that much of the Hebrew Bible is written is relatively high registers, as one would expect of epic narrative, law, and poetry in any language. You are making the issue seem hard when it isn't.

You are confusing, I think, intelligibility of all words and idioms, straightforward syntaz, and so on, with "Gestalt" intelligibility. Let me illustrate with an analogy. There is a poem that begins:

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

It ends:

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

My 4 year old Anna loves that poem, and knows line after line by heart. Does she understand it? Of course she does. She likes to point out to me that the poem forgets Rudolph. But if I ask her, "do you know what the down of a thistle is?", she doesn't. She doesn't know what a thistle is, or what the down of a thistle is.

A faithful translation of the Bible, I contend, will be like that. It will not, based on field testing, remove examples of 'down of a thistle.' It will retain them, perhaps with a footnote to help readers out, trusting, in any case, that the literature will be read in a context in which there is a living interpretive tradition that clarifies details like these.

Peter Kirk

trusting, in any case, that the literature will be read in a context in which there is a living interpretive tradition that clarifies details like these.

And here is the rub. Which of us Christians, when we try to read a translation of for example an obscure part of Ezekiel, are doing so "in a context in which there is a living interpretive tradition that clarifies details like these"? The average Christian will never hear such passages expounded in a whole lifetime, and if he or she asks a pastor to clarify some details the average pastor won't have a clue, except perhaps by reading a commentary.

So I'm afraid your trust is misplaced, for almost anyone in the modern world except perhaps for some religious Jewish groups. The implication is that a translation of Ezekiel has to be done in such a way that it can be understood apart from any living interpretive tradition.

JohnFH

I see your point, Peter.

But I think what you say is an argument in favor of using study Bibles like the Jewish Study Bible, and reading commentaries like that of Moshe Greenberg on Ezekiel in the Anchor Bible series.

Bernard M. Levinson

The New Zürcher Bibel

I completely agree with your praise of the new version of the Zürcher Bibel. That focus somehow got lost in the series of responses to your original posting. The translation is also available as a helpful CD-rom. If only it were also accessible somehow online, although that would be difficult, since it is still copyright. In any case, it is a valuable work.

Bernard Levinson
University of Minnesota/National Humanities Center

JohnFH

Hi Bernard,

I am licking my wounds after a first day of skiing at Claviere in Val di Susa, in the Italian Alps right on the border with France. In a little cabin in the woods run by the Archdiocese of Turin, here I am, thanks to a connection via a cellphone tower, replying to your comment on a translation that indeed deserves to be widely known.

I will have to look for the version in CD-ROM. That adds value. Of course, it would be fantastic if Logos and Accordance added it to the appropriate modules.

Gary Simmons

John: I made a similar comment on BBB that the Bible is meant to be read in the context of an interpretive community. I can't find the comment, though; it was a while back.

Honestly, I have trouble imagining that the Bible as a whole was written in everyday language. Some of the NT, perhaps, but the Hebrew Bible also? One must ask: in which century's vernacular is the Hebrew Bible? 5th century BC? Accepting the documentary hypothesis, I think, might make it difficult to also hold to the idea that any person from any century would consider the entire Hebrew Bible to be vernacular.

One must also ask if poetry and everyday language are mutually inclusive. I highly doubt people walked around speaking in chiasms like Matthew 6:17 or 7:6. Or in wordplays as elaborate as 6:22f. That one just makes zero sense apart from a context of what to do with finances.

Please be generous and don't give me an evil eye for sayin' so.

JohnFH

Gary,

We see eye to eye on these things, without any evil involved, except that we both wish to be delivered from evil.

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