Translation


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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