Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Is translation a free-for-all? In looking for a text-critical approach to Psalm 1 that would tell me why there is such a seemingly unnecessary addition in the Septuagint to verse 4, I came across this article by Albert Pietersma. It is a good article and worth the read just to see how he raises questions. Here are a few he asks related to 'how to translate':

(a) Does one want to have the translation play a primarily institutional role and thus give it a liturgical tone or pitch?
(b) Does one want to address especially the pew and thus seek to make one's translation as understandable as possible to the common worshiper?
(c) Does one want to address chiefly the biblically well-educated constituency and consequently give it a more academic and scholarly register?

O my common soul! Pitch me a scholarly tone? No - there must be another way. I have just returned from Bibletech08 which I greatly enjoyed for the quality of the presentations - particularly I must mention John Hudson. His talk on making the invisible visible began with a chant of Lamentations 1

- close your eyes, he said, and don't worry, it's not a motivational exercise

Then he dealt with some of the technicalities of font rendering, and showed the Bible as a series of numbers. Finally he presented some beautiful miniatures of the Leningrad codex, and ended his talk with a quotation from the creed, praising the God of all things visible and invisible. He was beyond imagination with his impact. He presented a talk on building a font and made it span 3000 years of human experience and beauty!

That's what the impact of a translation of the Psalms should be - not liturgical, or pious, or scholarly - but an invitation to life.

Now - how do we deal with the plurality of the text in which earlier translations may have taken a turn in the direction of piety or simplification or expertise? Did those first translators say of psalm 1:4

- the Hebrew is too short here, the wicked will be blown from the face of the earth by the wind.

Or was the Hebrew longer in those days? I expect the Hebrew was as brief as it often is. Less is often more.


J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks for sharing this and for your great questions. Here are two of mine, some related. How do you think C.S. Lewis would have translated Psalm 1:4? What do you think of his reflections on the Psalms (and if you know it what he says about translation and / or transposition)?

Bob MacDonald said...

J.K. Thanks for the question - I have C.S.Lewis Reflections on the Psalms and he doesn't hint what he would have done with 1:4 mentioning only the meditation on the Law in his comments in the chapter Sweeter than Honey. I had not read this for a while and it is nice to look at it again. (One has to read with recognition of his pre-holocaust writing.) I always think of Lewis (I think it is in the Great Divorce) writing about the end of evil - and saying how unfortunate it would be if there was no end to evil. This is the ultimate faith that God is indeed good and does right. As I have noted, in the face of David's sin and the subsequent offering of David's story as a sin-offering to the generations to follow him including us, that psalm 51 'circles' and in doing so 'underlines' the righteousness of God three times. But Lewis identifies the end of evil with the second coming of Christ - I find this problematical - God's presence wipes away every tear but I do not see the end of evil in the second coming but rather in the first and I see it anticipated in the first covenant in every respect through the Law and the Prophets and the Writings. (The end of evil in the first coming is in the crucifixion.) I am not familiar with what Lewis wrote on translation and / or transposition - and there is no index in this old copy. ($.95 is what it cost me in those early days!) I will keep my eyes open - and may sit down and read it again right now. (I suspect he would have translated 1:4 without the additional Greek.)