Translation


One of the exciting developments in recent scholarship is the series Baylor-Mohr Siebeck Studies in Early Christianity (BMSEC) edited by Wayne Coppins and Simon Gathercole. The initial volumes have already received much attention. Wayne has been involved in a range of translation work, and the idea to include some translations of Martin Hengel’s work in Earliest Christian History came from him. I’ve asked Wayne, Associate Professor of Religion at the University of Georgia, some questions about the series and translating German.

1. Before this series you produced several translations of German material. What led to your interest in German scholarship and particularly providing English translations?

After completing my B.A. in Greek and Latin at the University of Georgia in 1998, my friend Jay Weldon invited me to join him in Germany where he was taking part in a UGA exchange program at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg. Since I was already considering graduate studies in religion, this seemed like a great way to learn German and so I took him up on his offer and moved to Germany in January 1999. I initially planned on staying a year at the most, but at some point I discovered it was basically free to study in Germany (cf. Andy Bowden), which contributed to my decision to enroll at the University of Tübingen, while living at the Albrecht Bengel Haus. At this time, I first discovered something of the riches of German scholarship, especially through my classes with Friedrich Avemarie, Peter Stuhlmacher, Otfried Hofius, Bernd Janowski, Dorothea Wendebourg, and Eberhard Jüngel, but also through my friends and teachers at the Bengel Haus. And my appreciation for the German tradition continued to grow in the course of my M.A. an PhD studies in Durham and Cambridge. During my time in Tübingen, Friedrich Avemarie also gave me my first academic job working as a Wissenschaftliche Hilfskraft for the Tübingen-Durham Resurrection volume, and Peter Stuhlmacher asked me to translate one of his lectures for an upcoming trip to the States. These experiences gave me my first taste of editorial and translation work, and I found that I enjoyed it. This conviction likewise continued to deepen during and after my MA and PhD, when I had the opportunity to translate four essays by or about Martin Hengel. Against this background, I think my interest in translation has three main sources, namely a) my transforming experience with German scholars(hip) in Tübingen, b) the translation opportunities that I received in Tübingen and Cambridge, which helped me to discover how much I enjoyed this work, and c) my growing conviction that translation represented an excellent way for me to contribute to the advancement of my field.

2. What led to your involvement with the BMSEC Series

The short answer is that I wanted to create a framework in which my translation work could be part of a larger vision for facilitating increased dialogue between German-language and English-language scholarship. For a longer answer, see my interview with Michael Hölscher.

3. What do you hope this series will accomplish for scholarship?

Since I spend much of my existence translating and editing volumes for the series, it will come as no surprise that I have great hopes for it! Let me outline these in three points.

(a) First, I hope that each volume in the series will make important contributions to concrete areas of scholarship within the field. For example, I hope Jens Schröter’s book From Jesus to the New Testament will be taken up in discussions of historiography, historical Jesus, Pauline studies, Luke-Acts, the canon, and theology of the New Testament!

(b) Second, beyond their individual contributions, I hope that each volume will serve as a window into the wider world of German scholarship and thereby enable English-speaking scholars to become more conversant with emphases and developments that characterize cutting-edge German scholarship.

(c) Third, I hope—or at least dream—that the series will contribute to a resurgence of interest in German scholarship on early Christianity and that this will, in turn, motivate a new generation of scholars to commit themselves to learning German, so that they can interact even more fully with the German tradition in their research and teaching.

4. How do you choose which books to translate? The volumes so far have been recent books. Will the series also pick up some older material?

The short answer to your first question is that we—i.e. Simon Gathercole and I in conversation with Carey Newman and Henning Ziebritzki—look for works that are of incredibly high quality and written by respected authors, without requiring that they fit a certain genre. For example, the first five volumes will include two collections of essays (Schröter and Frey), three monographs (Konradt, Markschies, and Hengel/Schwemer), and one commentary (Wolter). For a longer answer, see my interview with Clifford Kvidahl (Part I and Part II).

It is not impossible that the series will include some older material, but I doubt it. The reason for this is because I think much interaction with German scholarship is too backward looking. When people think of German New Testament scholarship they often think only of the formative period of the discipline or of the contributions of Bultmann and his students. This is not, of course, all wrong, since it is absolutely essential that scholarship continue to grapple with the contributions and issues raised by such key figures and movements (cf. e.g. here and here ). At the same time, part of my vision for the series is to communicate with all due clarity that contemporary German scholarship on early Christianity is alive and well, so that the future of German scholarship also lies in the present and not merely or even primarily in the past. And for what it is worth, I also think that engaging contemporary German scholarship is often an especially fruitful way to discover the strengths and shortcomings of past German giants, or at least this has been the case with my interaction with Schröter and Markschies in relation to Bultmann and Harnack.

5. Will you tell us a little about what will be out at SBL in November 2014 and in the future in the series?

The volumes that have been planned out so far are as follows:

Vol. 1 (2013): Jens Schröter, From Jesus to the New Testament (cf. my blog posts on this volume).

Vol. 2 (2014): I am very excited about this year’s BMSEC volume, namely Matthias Konradt‘s book Israel, Kirche und die Völker im Matthäusevangelium Israel, Church, and the Gentiles in the Gospel of Matthew, not least because of the ringing endorsements that the German and English versions have received from Ulrich Luz (‘die wichtigste Arbeit über das Matthäusevangelium der letzten zehn Jahren’Evangelium Ecclesiasticum, p. 285) and Dale Allison (‘Israel, Church, and the Gentiles in the Gospel of Matthew is full of original observations and fresh arguments. Konradt has built a new foundation for all future work on the crucial topic of Israel and the Church in Matthew’s Gospel’, Endorsement for the English Edition). And in addition to the high quality of the argument, I think that Kathleen Ess has done an absolutely wonderful job with the translation (cf. my blog posts on this volume).

And I am, of course, equally excited about my and S. Brian Pounds‘ translation of Jens Schröter’s book Jesus von Nazaret: Jude aus Galiläa - Retter der Welt  Jesus of Nazareth – Jew from Galilee, Savior of the World, which will also be at this year’s SBL, though not as part of the BMSEC series (cf. my blog posts on this volume).

Vol. 3 (2015): The next volume, which I have recently submitted to Baylor, is Christoph Markschies‘s book Kaiserzeitliche christliche Theologie und ihre Institutionen: Prolegomena zu einer Geschichte der antiken christlichen Theologie / Christian Theology and its Institutions in the Early Roman Empire (cf. my blog posts on this volume).

I think that this impressive volume will prove to be a major contribution to the study of early Christianity in the second and third centuries and especially to key issues such as (1) the value of an institution-oriented approach to studying early Christianity, (2) the need to attend to diverse institutional contexts, such as free teachers and Christian schools, the Montanist prophets and their circle, and the Christian worship service and its prayers, (3) the relationships between the New Testament canon and Christian institutions, and (4) the advantages of the complementary model of the identity and plurality of ancient Christianity as an alternative to competing models such as Walter Bauer’s Cultural Protestant model of ‘orthodoxy’ and ‘heresy’ and the Jesuit model of the ‘inculturation’ of Christianity.

The next volumes planned for the series are:

Vol. 4 (2016): Wolter, MichaelDas Lukasevangelium The Gospel According to Luke. Translated by Wayne Coppins and Christoph Heilig. Baylor-Mohr Siebeck Studies in Early Christianity 4. Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press (cf. my blog posts on this volume).

Vol. 5 (2017): Frey, JörgDie Herrlichkeit des Gekreuzigten. Studien zu den Johanneischen Schriften I The Glory of the Crucified One: Studies on the Johannine Writings I. Translated by Wayne Coppins. Baylor-Mohr Siebeck Studies in Early Christianity 5. Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press (cf. my blog posts on this volume).

Vol. 6 (2018): Hengel, Martin, and Anna Maria SchwemerJesus und das Judentum Jesus and Judaism. Translated by S. Brian Pounds and Wayne Coppins. Baylor-Mohr Siebeck Studies in Early Christianity 6. Waco, Tex: Baylor University Press (cf. my blog posts on this volume).

6. For those thinking about PhD studies or at the early stages, what advice do you have for them about how to acquire a better understanding of German? Is there a particular author or two that you think is good to ‘cut one’s teeth on’?

Hard to say. If at all possible, spend some time in Germany (or Switzerland etc.). But even if you can’t make it to a German speaking country, I suggest combining a “German-for-reading” approach with at least some “spoken German”. I’ve never used it, but David Lincicum has suggested that slowgerman.com is a helpful resource for the latter. For the former, I have heard that April Wilson’s German Quickly is a good place to start. After that you might want to move on to a German reader or work through my model sentences. But it could be just as effective to begin working through German texts that are directly related to your research interests. But if you take the latter approach, don’t start with the German text alone. Instead find a work that has been translated on your topic and work through the original German with reference to the English. In terms of tools, I have provided links to some of the better dictionaries on my resource tab, which also includes links to other sites for learning German. Finally, the serious student might consider participating in one of Thorsten Moritz’s courses.

Good question. Chris Tilling has suggested that Udo Schnelle is a good author to start with due to his clear writing style, and this could be done with reference to Eugene Boring’s fine translations, e.g., Paulus/Paul or Theologie/Theology. Martin Hengel’s German is also fairly straightforward, though it is problematic that the English and German versions often differ greatly in length. But some of his essays might work well, for example the essays that I translated in Earliest Christian History. Jens Schröter’s German is more complex in Von Jesus zum Neuen Testament, but he has clearly attempted to write in a very accessible manner in Jesus von Nazaret, so I think it could work well to use this volume in conjunction with the English translation, Jesus of Nazareth (cf. here). Finally, Peter Stuhlmacher could also be a good option, e.g., Der Brief an die Römer/Romans or Biblische Theologie des Neuen Testaments/Biblical Theology of the New Testament [Forthcoming; trans. Daniel Bailey].

7. Aside from your translation work for this series, what else are you working on?

Much of my recent research has carried forward past projects. Building on my previous publications on freedom, I wrote encyclopedia articles on freedom for the Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception and the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Ethics. More recently, building on my RBL review of Ernst Käsemann’s posthumously published essays, I submitted an article titled ‘Revolution and Violence in Ernst Käsemann’s Radically Lutheran Theology of Liberation’, which may or may not be accepted and published. My most recent teaching and research interests are squarely focused on the Synoptic Gospels, esp. Mark, but to date my only publication in this area is my 2012 Tyndale Bulletin article ‘Sitting on Two Asses? Second Thoughts on the Two-Animal Interpretation of Matthew 21:7’. If another book-length project emerges for me in the future, then I suspect it will be related to the Gospel of Mark.

Many thanks to Wayne for answering these questions. Be sure to check out his immensely helpful blog German for Neutestamentler where he regularly works through a section from a German author explaining the grammar and reflecting on the historical and/or theological claims.

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)

My colleague David Capes, who has been instrumental in helping direct the translation of The Voice, recently passed along these clips of readings from the new translation:

Ecclesiastes 1

 

Psalm 23

 

Psalm 150

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’.

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, the review committee of the 2011 edition of the ESV can be seen discussing how they translate terms to do with slavery (see here [edit – it is also available on YouTube]). Given their openness to the TV cameras, it would be interesting to know if they intend to publish their reasons for changes made. This is because the change on which they vote and agree at the end seems most surprising.

The vote is on how to translate doulos in 1 Cor 7:21-23. Almost all modern English Bibles, including previous editions of the ESV, translate this as slave. However, the committee decide to change this to ‘bondservant’ in the 2011 edition (see here). I find this a strange decision for a number of reasons:

  1. In 1 Cor 7:15, they have translated the cognate verb as ‘enslaved’. I think this is the right translation, but if they can stomach it here in relation to marriage (!), why not six verses later when the actual institution of slavery is in mind?
  2. In 1 Cor 12:12, they have translated douloi as ‘slaves’, probably because of the opposing eleutheroi. Yet we have this same combination of terms in 7:21.
  3. Bondservant is an archaic term which hardly makes the meaning plainer to the average reader.
  4. Although dictionaries suggest that ‘bondservant’ is synonymous with ‘slave’, as far as I know, it is not the same. The former represents so-called ‘debt slavery’ (or similar forms of bonded labour), while the latter is ‘chattel slavery’. In the former, the individual sells their labour whereas in the latter, they sell themselves (in neither case should this necessarily be taken to imply that it is the slave’s decision). This distinction can be seen in the Torah’s different approach to Hebrews and non-Hebrews who are enslaved, although the ESV there uses the term ‘slave’ for each. But by the 1st century CE, doulos had become the most common word to refer to a chattel slave. What evidence did the reviewers have that supported this different kind of slavery here?

I worry when I see translations of doulos other than ‘slave’, that we are hiding from the reader some of the hardness of the text and the reality of the ancient world. I’m not sure this is the intention here, and to be fair to the reviewers, the footnote says that doulos might refer to slaves, and refers the reader to a preface to which I do not have access. Perhaps all would become clear if I could read that. Moreover, in general, the ESV is an improvement on many versions since it regularly translates doulos as ‘slave’. This makes the review committee’s decision all the more surprising. If this is true elsewhere, why not here?

Rob Bradshaw has pointed out a clip on the BBC (apologies if it doesn’t work for viewers outside the UK [edit – it is also available on YouTube, ht John Byron]), which shows part of the discussion between the 2011 ESV review translators on how to translate terms for slave. I am particularly interested as this impinges on my current research on slavery in the Synoptic Gospels. The clip shows something of the challenge of translating a subject which carries so much historical freight, especially for those in the States, the main market for the ESV I suspect. Peter Williams suggests that ‘ebed should be translated as ‘servant’ everywhere, since the implication of translating it ‘slave’ would make Israel to be slaves to God. It seems to me possible that this is precisely the meaning of the term. Gordon Wenham picks up the idea and argues for a consistent translation as ‘slave’, but Wayne Grudem has concerns about the ‘irredeemably negative connotations’ of the word today. I presume he means that since we see slavery as a bad thing, this would colour our reading of the Bible which often uses the concept without any sense of disapproval. However, I disagree that this would be importing ‘highly inaccurate understandings of the meaning of the term.’* The discussion then moves to a vote on 1 Cor 7:21-3. I will comment on this in part 2, but I take it that their discussion was ultimately seeking to encompass slavery in the NT which is what I want to comment upon here.

I fear that this is evidence of the persistent idea in biblical scholarship that slavery in the ancient world can’t have been all that bad, because we hear of some slaves being well treated, some slaves gaining riches and positions of authority, and some (even many) being manumitted in the Roman world. This, however, is a highly selective reading of the evidence. In NT times, the majority of slaves worked in the harsh, even brutal, conditions of agriculture, and as far as we know, were rarely manumitted, perhaps because they did not live long enough. Those who were household slaves had the dubious privilege of being close to their owners. For younger women and boys, this often meant sexual attention, and all household slaves were the recipients of physical violence at the whim of their owner, as the parables indicate. The slave owner decided slaves’ relationships, and owned any children produced. Slaves experienced terrible punishments under Roman law, even when their offence was carrying out the criminal intentions of their owner. Moreover, slaves’ testimony could only be received under torture. The majority of slaves were cut off from their places of origin, their culture, language, and kin, never to return to them. And this included those lucky slaves who found freedom and fortune. On any level, such an account of slavery is bad, and attempts to see ancient slavery in any kind of rose-tinted light should be abandoned.

I rather like the ESV as a modern ‘word-for-word’ translation (as they put it), and I’m glad the reviewers paid such care and attention. But they ought not to try to protect the Bible from its readers (or is it the readers from the Bible?). Slavery is there and slavery was and is bad. We do an injustice to the biblical texts, and to the unnamed and unnumbered slaves, if we try to pretend otherwise.

* I recognise that the clip is edited, so the discussion was no doubt more nuanced than it suggests.

[21/9/2011 Edited to remove the non sequitur between paras 1 and 2]

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