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Keith Williams

John, sometimes you are just too much (in a good way).

BTW, I'm going to quote you on this: "NLT Rocks!"

That's a keeper.



Always a pleasure.

J. K. Gayle

NLT rocks! So does LXX!

Εἶπεν ἄφρων ἐν καρδίᾳ αὐτοῦ
"Οὐκ ἔστιν θεός"

Without such biblish, Mark's Jesus and Matthew's Jesus might not have ever said (to the agnostic Sadducees) "οὐκ ἔστιν θεὸς νεκρῶν ἀλλὰ ζώντων." (Mark 12:27; Mt 22:32) "There is no God of dead-corpses but of alive-persons." Mark translates him further as saying: "πολὺ πλανᾶσθε." "Misters, There's much you're misunderstanding."

Good post, John.



That's an amazing play on words that you bring to our attention. I think it's your play on words, not that of the evangelists. But I might use it, if I were preaching in Greek.


Seeing that scripture describes those who do not acknowledge God as hateful to God, and who rebel against Him, I doubt highly the idea that they're really saying it "because I love you [God]", if that's what you intended to say in "After all you've....""I'm telling you".


Sorry about the double post; Typepad updates have been jacking-up blogs across its entire system (in the commenting department): on that note, I would back-up your blog if I were you. (On another note, using a singular mixed with plurals like that just boggled my mind: almost wanted to revert to thy/thee, or switch to Spanish!)



I was not referring to the practical atheists referred to in Psalm 14. As you say, they hate God. Their actions prove it.

I'm referring to another type of atheist, whose morality is impeccable (within the normal human range of what "impeccable" implies).

There are such, though you may not know any personally.

Rich Rhodes

This highlights precisely the differences in our approaches. As I keep saying, there isn't just a problem of meaning lost in translation, there is just as big a problem that translations can mean things that were never intended in the original.

There is no way I can read:

There is no God.

to mean:

God doesn't care.

Even the Nietzschean God is dead sounds like the denial of the (current) existence of God, taken out of context (the way it is known by most English speakers).

I argue it's a bigger a mistake to accept a calque that misleads people, than to render a periphrastic translation just to keep textual connections.

Another way to say it is, when push comes to shove, as it does here, you cannot sacrifice reference to allusion.

And I'll repeat the manta, if there were native Tiberian Hebrew and English speakers, they'd find the calques completely unacceptable.

In Bible translation the notion "paraphrase" is sneered at. In real translation between living languages where there are people who can tell the difference, and money is often at stake, paraphrase is so common (and, BTW, necessary) that no one notices.

His car is in the driveway.
Sein Auto steht vor der Tür.

Ich kann kein Blut sehen.
I can't stand the sight of blood.



Our premises are different. You are looking for a translation that does not require interpretation. The kind of translation a simultaneous interpreter makes good money providing, one as free of ambiguity as possible.

I am looking for a translation that requires a proactive reader, not a passive one. As Jesus said, "Whoever has ears, let him hear!" Not everyone did or does. They won't get the parables. But I digress (or maybe not).

Psalm 14 is a part of Scripture. As such it is be studied and pondered in the context of explanation from the pulpit or some other venue.

If that is true, "God does not care" is a paraphrase that belongs off-site in the realm of explanation. Of course there is no "off-site" in the situation of simultaneous interpretation. The analogy, in fact, is of limited value.

But I admire your willingness to go against the consensus on this one. Even true blue DE translations like GNB, NCV, and CEV retain "there is no God."

A principle of the Reformation is also at stake here. More on that in a future post on the new Zurich Bible.

Peter Kirk

John, we can agree on one thing here: "God does not care" is not a good translation of this verse. But I cannot agree that this kind of rendering, eschewed by the standard DE versions, is a genuine DE translation of the Hebrew original. (Yes, I know you took it from NJPSV, but that is not in general a DE version.) That is largely because this rendering does not give the correct meaning: "God does not care" implies acknowledgement of the existence of God but attributes to him certain characteristics which are quite different from the standard Judeo-Christian one; whereas, whatever Bratcher, Reyburn, and Craigie may say, the Hebrew is not saying that. I accept it is not outright philosophical denial of the existence of God, but if in Craigie's words it is about living "as if there were no God", that is not the same as living as if there were an uncaring evil God.

And so by quoting this as an example of a DE translation you are in fact setting up a straw man to use against the whole concept of DE translations. I can't decide if you are doing this out of ignorance, because you really don't have a clue what the DE translation method is all about and that ACCURATE rendering of the meaning is at the core of it; or whether you are maliciously using a misleading example to promote your own preferred translation principles.

Now I rather like the "God is dead" rendering, the sort of thing I would welcome in The Message.



A couple of clarifications.

(1) NJPSV is indeed on the DE side of the translation continuum. If you spend more time with it, I'm sure you come to agree with my judgment.

(2) Unlike you, I'm convinced that "God does not care" captures the sense of the source phrase rather well. ESVSB, as often, has an appropriate note to the same effect. Of course I don't expect you to come right out and agree with your bete noire, but there you have it.

(3) Like you, I think there is a place for paraphrase and DE translation. Unlike you, apparently, I think there is a place for more literal translations like ESV, though I want its syntax to be unweirded as much as the next BBBer.

For the rest, your rhetoric accusing me of ignorance is over the top and speaks for itself. Why you should choose to discredit yourself by such rhetoric is beyond me.

Rich Rhodes

I'm not beholden to any particular Bible translation. Of course, I have lots against essentially literal translations because they get so much wrong. The extant DE translations get a lot wrong, too, because an amazing amount of basic research on Koine lexical semantics hasn't been done. (Pace Moises Silva and Gene Nida.)

But, that said, I'm surprised by your assumptions. I know there are lots of theologians who believe things like this, as in the case of the Züricher Bibel, mostly because they aren't linguistically sophisticated. But, in fact, I'm ready to argue that the position is logically incoherent. If we were to take your assumption that a text has to be linguistically weird in order to get the audience to engage it and follow it to its root, then the original audience couldn't have had a experience of the Biblical text as Scripture. I just can't buy that.

I also think you underestimate the Scripture. Even if we translate to a clarity that you say "does not require interpretation", I still see a text that requires an enormous amount of interpretation. Jesus almost never said anything of significance literally. Everything was metaphorical or hyperbolic. For my money translating the first order meaning confronts the reader more directly with the difficult passages, and doesn't require wrestling with passages that shouldn't be difficult. When the language is weird, then it allows you to believe that the difficulty is in the language. And you can write it off too cheaply. Furthermore you get calques that mean utterly different things in the two languages, and you may not notice it at all. That's what the significance of the "There is no God." example is. It does not draw the English speaker in to the text. You read past it because it sounds natural. You don't know that it means something other than what it appears to say.

And doesn't it strike you as odd that the only place this kind of "translation" is tolerated is when the source languages are dead? Just image what Umberto Eco would say if you proposed this kind of "translation" on one of his novels.



Thanks for going back and forth on this. Here is a rejoinder.

(1) Are you sure you want to accuse the entire suite of Bible translators out there, with the sole exception of those who worked on the NJPSV, of lack of linguistic sophistication? You are unconvinced by my arguments for retaining the traditional calques in this instance - only fools say in their heart, there is no God (NLT). I'm fine with that. But perhaps the choice of FE and DE translation teams alike, across the board, to translate with a calque - often a double calque - has extra-linguistic justification.

(2) I agree that the biblical text always remains a text to interpret, whether the point of departure is a translation which deliberately preserves continuity with a history of reception - and of necessity is on the literal side, in accordance with that history, or a translation that makes a clean break with that tradition.

If I interpret Ps 14 from a DE translation, I will back up and explain it in terms of the difference between practical and philosophical atheism, just as the commentaries do. a phrase like "There is no God" is bound to come up.

If I interpret the same text from a translation that double-calques in Ps 14:1, I will do so as well. If that is the case, the real question is: What are the pros and cons of exposition based on one kind of translation rather than the other?

(3) Umberto Eco. What a great author - and theorist of literature. If I were to tell you that his literary theories go in the exact opposite direction of what you espouse, would you be surprised? At the very least, he seeks to carve out a middle ground between source-text and target-text loyalties. Eco worked closely with translators of Il nome della rosa. He comes down on the allusion / referentiality issue in the following way:

"Even an American reader who has not studied Latin still knows it was the language of the medieval ecclesiastical world and so catches a whiff of the Middle Ages [Weaver's translation of Il nome della rosa is full of untranslated Latin]. And further, if he reads De Pentagono Salomonis he can recognize pentagon and Solomon. But for a Slavic reader these Latin phrases and names, transliterated into the Cyrillic alphabet, suggest nothing."

Translating Eco perforce involves the use of calques insofar as he uses phrases as untranslatable ciphers. But that's the problem. Psalm 14 is poetry after all. Can poetry be translated? Eco again:

"Thank God I am not a poet, because the problem becomes more dramatic in translating poetry, an art where thought is determined by words, and if you change the language, you change the thought."

Rich Rhodes

I don't think the translators of any current published English translation have much in the way of serious linguistic sophistication. I'll grant that most translators know about morphology, syntax (in some form), and historical linguistics, but that's just the price of entry. The crucial issues we're discussing require being conversant with current thinking in metaphor theory (linguistic, not literary), lexical semantics (including historical semantics), pragmatics, and knowing something about language contact, i.e., knowing how language actually works.

Most of the arguments I've made are based on knowing a lot about these areas.

(Minority language translators end up learning the pragmatics and metaphor theory on the fly -- forced by the facts of dealing with languages -- and cultures -- utterly remote from Euro-American.

The first time you run into a case, in such a language, in which the whole strategy of communication is different, where even the starting point is different, your view of what is necessary in translation will change. [Then, of course, you start to recognize that the same problems arise even between closely related languages.])

I brought up Eco for two reasons. One, because he provides a middle ground between the kinds of extremes you and I seem always to end up in. I'm not opposed to calques, per se. You keep what you can, but you don't force what doesn't work, and I think we are in different places about what works.

And two, because, in fact, I'm closer to Eco's position than you might expect. Eco can get away with believing what he does because he is Eurocentric. If he had to translate into Ojibwe, he'd be talking more like I am. But the overriding consideration for me, and I believe for Eco, is that the translator have an ear for the target language, and that, of necessity, trumps literality. As much as I rail against Orwell's Politics and the English Language he has a great line in it that applies to all writing, including translation:

“Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous.”

The true art of translation is to find the optimal solution the problem of balancing reference and allusion.

But at the same time, I will also grant that the long tradition of Bible translation has made some calques (especially from Hebrew) part of English, or at least part of Biblish, and one can from time to time use that, but I can't buy the distraction of insisting on calquing when it is possible to work out the intended meaning in the face of the wording meaning something else on first reading.

If one has an ear for good English, then Biblish doesn't work most of the time.

BTW, to see a case where I place parallelism in form above accuracy of reference, look at the end of this post, although it doesn't involve calques. (See also my current post on Biblish over on BBB.)



Always a pleasure discussing these matters with you. We remain on opposite ends of a number of arguments, but that's all right with me.

When all is said and done, I am a lover of translation per se and all sincere attempts at translation. The more translation of the Bible, the better.

I love DE translation. Precisely because I have some experience as a simultaneous interpreter, it pleasures me no end to translate from the gut as it were. I know exactly how to Psalm 14:1 in spontaneous fashion:

The fool thinks to himself:
God doesn't care what I do.

But I also love translation that manages to stretch the resources of the English language to their breaking point, all in the name of preserving unique content. That's what a double calque containing translation of Ps 14:1 attempts to do:

The fool says in his heart:
There is no God.

The poet in me prefers this translation, not to mention the lit crit in me attentive to the verse's place in the history of ideas. It really is no wonder that almost all translations calque the Hebrew in this locus.

Even linguists must know about the poetic function (Jakobson), about defamiliarization (idem), about the sense in which metaphors embody semantically deviant utterances. Poetry in general and metaphors in particular are based on perceived semantic boundaries which are then transgressed. As one of your guild has put it, Samuel Levin:

"In effecting these negotiations [beyond the margins of normality], the semantic potential of the utterance, instead of being nullified, seems rather to be augmented."

Ps 98:7 transgresses three times:

Let the sea thunder and all that fills it,
the world and those who inhabit it!

Let the rivers clap their hands,
the mountains together let out a resounding cry!

Thunder is what thunders, not the ocean, but we understand. Rivers don't have hands to clap with, but we understand. Mountains don't let out a resounding cry, but we understand.

That being the case, I don't care what metaphor theory says. I could strangle the person who translated as follows: "Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise" (NLT). On what grounds is the metaphor eliminated?

I want to try for fraud the person who translated "Let the hills be joyful together" (KJV!). The verb in the Hebrew, ranen, is onomatopoeic. One may "ranen" in Hebrew out of joy or despair. Reference to joy or singing overshoots the point of the verb. To be sure, mountains do not ranen themselves, but if we call out in their midst, they ranen. If that is evoked here - and I think it is - the question then becomes how to reference it in translation.

Finally, your use of the language of commerce in relation to translation theory brought to mind another Umberto Eco quote:

"The job of translation is a trial and error process, very similar to what happens in an Oriental bazaar when you are buying a carpet. The merchant asks 100, you offer 10, and after an hour of bargaining you agree on 50."

Eco said that precisely in the context of conflicting loyalties to source and target.

Peter Kirk

John, I would like to draw to your attention the BBB comment guideline "Do not tell someone what they believe; rather, ask them if they believe something.", and suggest that you apply it to this blog as well. Despite your "Unlike you" assertion, I do believe that there is a place for translations which are more literal than DE translations. Indeed my own general purpose preference, TNIV, is more literal than DE. Or was your claim that there is a place for a larger number of literal translations? Well, I will agree that there is a place, albeit quite a small one, for an improved translation in the Tyndale tradition which is something like ESV but avoids the multiple categories of weaknesses that Mark Strauss has pointed out. NRSV is close, but too way out in its textual decisions for my endorsement.

Peter Kirk

As Umberto Eco really should know, the tradition in Slavic, or at least Russian, literature is to present quotations from Latin script languages, presumably including Latin itself, in the original Latin script, not to transliterate them into Cyrillic. It is assumed that literate Russians can read Latin script, although probably don't know Latin itself. Indeed I think this whole sentence, if intended as a generalisation to include Russians, is highly tendentious: I would expect a higher proportion of Russians than Americans to "know[] [Latin] was the language of the medieval ecclesiastical world and so catch[] a whiff of the Middle Ages".

But I like Eco's oriental bazaar illustration, having worked on translation in just this way with a team who did their daily shopping at bazaars like this - although one didn't spend an hour bargaining over a kilo of vegetables.



Thanks for the clarification. I know of your advocacy for TNIV, but don't remember having seen you defend its tilt toward the essentially literal end of the spectrum, relative to, say, CEV, NLT, GNB, and so on. Why do you prefer TNIV's relatively literal translation technique over that of more DE translations?

Umberto Eco, I'm sure you're right, is out of his depth when it comes to Slavic literature. Thanks for the background.

Peter Kirk

John, I don't see why I should defend something I have never attacked. I have never been opposed to the general translation principles of TNIV, modified literal, for a suitable audience. What I am opposed to is the excessive literalism and foreign syntax of ESV (not to mention the gender language issues). But even for that general style of translation there is an audience.



I'm not asking you to "defend something [you] have never attacked." Of course not. I am asking you to defend your preference, as a Bible translator with considerable linguistic background, for a "modified literal" translation technique.

A contribution of this kind from you on BBB would be most welcome in my eyes. You dwell on your disagreements with ESV. Why not spend some energy explaining why, on linguistic grounds, modified literal makes sense?

Peter Kirk

OK, John, I will see if I have time.

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    Nick Norelli's fabulous blog on Bible and theology
  • SansBlogue
    by Tim Bulkeley, lecturer in Old Testament, Carey Baptist College (New Zealand). His Hypertext Commentary on Amos is an interesting experiment
  • Ancient Near Eastern Languages
    texts and files to help people learn some ancient languages in self study, by Mike Heiser
  • Midrash, etc.
    A fine Hebrew-to-English blog on Midrash, by Carl Kinbar, Director of the New School for Jewish Studies and a facultm member at MJTI School of Jewish Studies.
  • Phil Lembo what I'm thinking
    a recovering lawyer, now in IT, with a passion for a faith worth living
  • Roses and Razorwire
    a top-notch Levantine archaeology blog, by Owen Chesnut, a doctoral student at Andrews University (MI)
  • Scripture & Theology
    a communal weblog dedicated to the intersection of biblical interpretation and the articulation of church doctrine, by Daniel Driver, Phil Sumpter, and others
  • Scripture Zealot
    by Jeff Contrast
  • Serving the Word
    incisive comment on the Hebrew Bible and related ancient matters, with special attention to problems of philology and linguistic anthropology, by Seth L. Sanders, Assistant Professor in the Religion Department of Trinity College, Hartford, CT
  • Singing in the Reign
    NT blog by Michael Barber (JP University) and Brad Pitre (Our Lady Holy Cross)
  • Stay Curious
    excellent comment on Hebrew Bible and Hebrew language topics, by Karyn Traphagen, graduate, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia PA (archive)
  • Sufficiency
    A personal take on the faith delivered to the saints, by Bob MacDonald, whose parallel blog on the Psalms in Hebrew is a colorful and innovative experiment
  • The Sundry Times
    Gary Zimmerli's place, with comment on Bible translations and church renewal
  • Sunestauromai: living the crucified life
    by a scholar-pastor based in the Grand Canyon National Park
  • ta biblia
    blog dedicated to the New Testament and the history of Christian origins, by Giovanni Bazzana
  • Targuman
    by Christian Brady, targum specialist extraordinaire, and dean of Schreyer Honors College, Penn State University
  • Targuman
    on biblical and rabbinic literature, Christian theology, gadgetry, photography, and the odd comic, by Christian Brady, associate professor of ancient Hebrew and Jewish literature and dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State
  • The Biblia Hebraica Blog
    a blog about Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, the history of the Ancient Near East and the classical world, Syro-Palestinian archaeology, early Judaism, early Christianity, New Testament interpretation, English Bible translations, biblical theology, religion and culture, philosophy, science fiction, and anything else relevant to the study of the Bible, by Douglas Magnum, PhD candidate, University of the Free State, South Africa
  • The Forbidden Gospels Blog
    by April DeConick, Professor of Biblical Studies, Rice University
  • The Naked Bible
    by Mike Heiser, academic editor at Logos Bible Software
  • The Reformed Reader
    by Andrew Compton, Ph.D. student in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures (focus on Hebrew and Semitic Languages) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
  • The Sacred Page
    a blog written by three Catholic Ph.D.s who are professors of Scripture and Theology: Michael Barber, Brant Pitre and John Bergsma
  • The Talmud Blog
    a group blog on Talmud News, Reviews, Culture, Currents, and Criticism
  • Theological German
    a site for reading and discussing theological German, by Mark Alter
  • theoutwardquest
    seeking spirituality as an outward, not an inward quest, by David Corder
  • This Lamp
    Incisive comment on Bible translations in the archives, by Rick Mansfield
  • Thoughts on Antiquity
    By Chris Weimer and friends, posts of interest on ancient Greek and Roman topics (archive). Chris is a graduate student at the City University of New York in Classics
  • Threads from Henry's Web
    Wide-ranging comment by Henry Neufeld, educator, publisher, and author
  • Tête-à-Tête-Tête
    smart commentary by "smijer," a Unitarian-Universalist
  • Undeception
    A great blog by Mike Douglas, a graduate student in biblical studies
  • What I Learned From Aristotle
    the Judaica posts are informative (archive)
  • Bouncing into Graceland
    a delightful blog on biblical and theological themes, by Esteban Vázquez (archive)
  • Weblog
    by Justin Anthony Knapp, a fearless Wikipedian (archive)
  • Writing in the Dust
    A collection of quotes by Wesley Hill, a doctoral student in New Testament studies at Durham University (UK), and a Christian who seeks the charism of chastity
  • גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב
    by David Miller, Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Judaism, Briercrest College & Seminary, Caronport, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • ואל-תמכר
    Buy truth and do not sell: wisdom, instruction, and understanding - a blog by Mitchell Powell, student of life at the intersection of Christ, Christianity, and Christendom
  • משלי אדם
    exploring wisdom literature, religion, and other academic pursuits, by Adam Couturier, M.A. in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)

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  • Ancient Hebrew Poetry is a weblog of John F. Hobbins. Opinions expressed herein do not reflect those of his professional affiliations. Unless otherwise indicated, the contents of Ancient Hebrew Poetry, including all text, images, and other media, are original and licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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