Languages


Clement of Alexandria on who wrote Hebrews (via Eusebius):

He [Clement] says that the Epistle to the Hebrews is the work of Paul, and that it was written to the Hebrews in the Hebrew language. Luke however, translated it carefully to make it available for the Greeks and for this reason the same style of expression is found in this epistle and in the Acts. (Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica 6.14.2)

This blog post by Ben Stevens is one of the best rationales for learning Greek that I’ve read of late: Lost in Translation

As with all forms of media, the eye catching title or blurb garners the most attention.  During my last few months in the UK I did some editing work for the Voice translation that just recently published the OT and NT together for the first time.  Due to some catchy titles like the one of this post, the translation has garnered some attention that might be unnecessarily negative.

One of the goals of the translation is to take terminology in the biblical text that didn’t have a specifically religious connotation at the time and use modern terminology that isn’t specifically religious.  For instance, ἀπόστολος is translated in the Voice not as “apostle” which is really only a transliteration and only has religious connotations today, but with “emissary” which does not.  Also for χριστός, rather than merely transliterating it like apostle, the translation goes with Anointed One.
When discussing this on USA Todayand other outlets the media has picked this up as taking Christ out of the Bible, when a better way to phrase it might have been taking “Christ” out of the Bible.  I’ll not take time to reduplicate the efforts by Daniel KirkLarry Hurtado, and Greg Garrett.
If you are interested in a copy to see what the translation first-hand, let me know and we can get one to you.

I’ve been trying to keep up my German in other ways since I’m not reading German articles/books for my research.  [Because of a short-term staffing issue in the department here I happen to be teaching 5 classes this semester (though only 3 preps).  It's not bad, and it does help fund summer travel plans, but it also doesn't leave any time for writing.  We like most teaching focused universities usually run 4/4 loads (i.e., 4 Fall/4 Spring classes, with summers optional).  And I'll return to that schedule in the fall.]  Anyhow, for my German my only contact is that most week days I read through (and sometimes listen to) the Deutsche Welle news (with the help of Dict.cc, of course).

I had the goal of being able to read a Harry Potter novel in German when I finished my PhD, but I wasn’t to that point, nor am I really there now, but I thought that I’d give it a go since the only way you get there is by practice.  And I don’t want to do something academic at night where I have to think about the content–in that way a novel would be ideal.  So I tried to download a German version of HP on our Kindle since I didn’t want to have to have one shipped.  To my dismay, I learned that Rowling wouldn’t license the books for e-readers because of her love of actual books–a bit hypocritical since she licensed them for audio books and movies, but that’s beside the point.  So, I just looked up free German edition books on the Kindle and found quite a few.  I settled on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or rather Huckleberry Finns Abenteuer und Fahrten (German Edition), since I know enough of the story to keep up with the text.  Though I probably only get about 1/2 of the sentences and don’t look up most things, I am picking up more vocab and grammar.  However, the German translator also keeps true to the poor grammar of Jim and others, and it took me a couple of chapters to figure out why some things didn’t square up.

Since our Kindle (a Kindle 3, in case it matters) has a built in dictionary for English books (just move the cursor and a gloss pops up), I thought that surely I could get a German one as well.  It turns out that you can get a German-English one even!  This site has Free (as in GPL2) translation dictionaries for the Kindle, and importantly the German-English is the most robust.  It doesn’t include inflected forms (though most past-participles are there) and some more colloquial terms, it’s perfect for my goal of just making it through a lot of text where I’m happy to only understand the general story.

I’m about 1/2 way through the story and may shoot for an updated novel for my next try, perhaps Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol or rather Das verlorene Symbol, since I’m planning on writing a paper about it because he pushes the idea of ‘apotheosis’.

I am entering late into this discussion (perhaps too late in blog time), but this is my first opportunity to do so. As is well known by now, Larry Hurtado has been expressing the view (here, here and here) that New Testament PhD students in Britain should have reached a certain standard of linguistic competency by the time of completion (which could include testing at the viva – no thanks, I’m scared enough as it is). For traditional NT PhDs, this seems a reasonable proposition. However, there need to be some fairly major changes to the teaching of theology in the UK if this is to be taken seriously.

At Durham, we naturally have opportunities to study both ancient and modern languages, but I wouldn’t like to have started any from scratch. I am doing this with Latin this year, but fear that I may not be able to devote the time to make it stick. Realistically, therefore, the British candidate needs a reasonable competency prior to beginning research.

In which case, there needs to be more emphasis on languages earlier in the education system. It is pretty much expected these days that applicants for PhD will have an MA in an appropriate subject. These degrees are described by the AHRC as ‘Research Preparation’ degrees since they are meant to be the preparation stage for the PhD. In my Biblical Studies MA at King’s College London, we had to take a module in a language, either ab initio or advancing previous study. This is good, but is it enough? Should there not be a larger language component if the PhD is the aim? However, one academic year is not a lot in the study of a language. This turns the spotlight on undergraduate degrees.

Which is a problem, because it is quite possible to get a degree in Theology and Religious Studies in the UK without studying any ancient languages. Then again, there are plenty of subjects within this field which do not require them. However, if we are hopeful that there will be future generations taking up the discipline, then they will need the tools to enable them to do so. This is particularly acute with ministerial training in almost all denominations (a route which many PhD students have typically taken), where courses often avoid original language study altogether.

If we enforce Hurtado’s language requirement for the PhD and do not change our earlier theological education, then I fear for those educated in the British system. I fear that this will mean in practice that the subject of traditional NT Studies will remain open to (a) those who are self-motivated enough to do the language study on their own (good for them); and (b) those who have studied Classical languages at school, which in the UK, almost entirely means public school (i.e. private school). I am not comfortable with the potential class implications of this, and indeed, it would be interesting to know how many of our current senior figures in the subject have a public school background which has contributed to their linguistic ability.

In other words, this is an important topic with implications for the structure of theological education as a whole, and not just for reasons of academic competence.

I just came across a new (and better) way of inserting different text critical symbols.  I have done a post on the papyrus symbol, and there I mentioned that you need a different font.  I use Gentium for Greek and English (because it’s unicode), and so I didn’t want to have to switch fonts for just one symbol.  I just learned that the text critical symbols are in Gentium, but you can’t find them through MS Word’s Insert Symbol function (see the HT link below for details).  Here’s how you do it:

  1. Type in the unicode number for your symbol.  E.g., 1D510 (see below).
  2. Keystroke: Alt-X
  3. Voila – the symbol appears

Majority Text symbol, 1D510
Papyrus symbol, 1D513
Septuagint, Greek Old Testament, 1D516
Lectionary symbol, 1D459

HT: NT Resources

Another original language resource website: Παρακάλυψις.  It’s got OT, NT, Apocrypha/Pseudepigrapha, Patristics and classics.  Some stuff comes up online, and other stuff you have to use djvu (like pdf) software. 

HT: Roger Pearse

In my hunt for something to do for the next couple of years, I’m planning on applying for a postdoc fellowship to translate Cyril of Alexandria’s Pauline commentaries.  I was given advice that my chances of success would increase greatly if I have a publisher locked in and if I could say that I’ve already done some work on the project.  After trading a couple of emails with a publisher recommended to me by a professor here, I’ve gotten a positive response on the idea but they said they would need a sample of the translation before making any commitment.  I definitely don’t have enough time to translate enough to warrant a contract so they said they would make a formal ‘expression of interest’ if I can get a substantive pience done.  With just a month or so before the application deadline, that is all I could ask for, so I’m shooting to do 1000 to 1500 words by the end of the month. 

So, I dipped my toe in Cyril’s commentary on Romans earlier this week.  After poking around my different links to sites that host copies of PG but without success because they were down, etc., I went to TLG.  I was happy to find that they use the standard critical text by Pusey.  I copied a chunk of the Greek into Word and tried my hand at it.  I made it through a bit, and fortunately it wasn’t too bad.  There were a few unknown words and a couple of optatives.  The nice thing about TLG is that it is tagged so if you turn on the links it will pull up parsing and basic glosses, though sometimes you have to look up a different version of the word yourself.  This TLG facility is quite helpful, and so it becomes a task of just putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

Roger Pearse notes that Charles Sullivan has a 9 page document giving tips on the basic tools and techniques of translating Greek patristic writers: Translation Tips on the Greek Church Fathers.  He’s got lots of detail, but let me boil down his argument and supplement it with the little bit of experience I’ve gained here at Durham:

  • Look at LSJ first for words.  He recommends Perseus for this, but I’ve got it on Logos/Libronix and it’s quite handy that way.  I use the Logos and TLG versions in tandem because Logos is so much easier to navigate.
  • If you have a particularly theological word, you may also want to look in Lampe.  But know that Lampe is not exhaustive.
  • Use electronic databases (like TLG, etc.) to find parallel phrases in other writers/texts that have already been translated.
  • Avail yourself of the Latin translation in PG to help if you can’t figure something out in the Greek.

HT: Roger Pearse

I came across Theologie-Skripten the other day, and thought I’d pass it along.  It focuses on theology, but as the author addresses various issues, he gives a nice overview of ancient sources–biblical and non-biblical.  So if you are looking for 2-3 page translation excercises that relate to different topics or are just want a quick idea of texts that relate to a subject, this might be a helpful place to peruse.  Also, it’s got a decent amount of German bibliographical lists about different topics.

I’m trying to compile the top German works on Paul for the good bishop.  I think I’ve got a fairly comprehensive list of works, along with their abstracts from NTA, that I’ve now categorised.  I know the strenths and weaknesses of the stuff that pertains to my research, but I’m not sure an easy way to rank the others.  So I thought I’d put the question to the blogging world.  Which works do you think should be included in a top 20 list (articles and/or books) from the last 15-20 years?

I’d also be willing to share the full list with someone who will commit to provide feedback on what’s missing and what is most important.  Takers?

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