Friday, February 15, 2019

How much time is needed to translate the Old Testament

Goldingay reports that translating the First Testament consumed an hour of his time daily for five years. (7 days a week?) That would be 7*50*5 = 1750 hours.

My estimate of what pace I could keep by the end of the project was 10 verses per hour. That would be 2,320 hours. From June 2015, I scheduled 4 hours a day 5 days a week 45 weeks of the year = 900 hours a year or about 3150 hours to November 2018.  Of course I could not do 10 verses an hour in the beginning. I took that whole first summer in 2006 on Psalms 1 and 2. (So I am just barely approaching my teen-age years in Hebrew.)

I was also developing strategies, gradually deriving a concordance by stem, writing a prediction algorithm, and methods of presenting the data over these past 10-12 years. 9000 hours is probably not a bad estimate for the whole project including the psalms (2006 - 2013), but it is hard to distinguish the time for learning, programming, translating, and now, correcting, and refining.

On gender:
[Goldingay] lets his translation stay gendered wherever “inclusivizing it obscures whether the text is using singular or plural.” So “he,” when it refers to an individual, is not replaced by Goldingay’s personal preference, “he or she” or “they.” Psalm 1:3, for example, says: He is like a tree planted by channels of water.
I have a real ambivalence here. The singular and plural are less important than what I first thought. Our singularities are only formed in community, and our communities are often addressed as a singularity. E.g. the single נפשׁ for the group that Abraham dealt with in Exodus 12:5. (KJV just pluralizes it as souls without a word. So do NIV and JB, people). So it is not as important to use thee and thou or he and she vs they as one might think. I sometimes use it as a personal pronoun. It is usually obvious when I shift into this style and it usually fits the character of the passage.

On names (Goldingay):
we get the Hebrew transliteration Yerushalaim for the expected Jerusalem, Hizqiyyahu for Hezekiah, Misrayim for Egypt, and Yehudah for Judah.
I pondered doing this and eventually left many names as they are traditionally for common names. But not always. The lists of names are not usually read, so I threw some gems in to lighten the load. There is also revealing music for some of these lists.

On the ark of Noah,
instead of Noah’s “ark,” Goldingay gives us “a chest of gopher wood,”
I give you Noah's תבה barge. I reserve ark for the ark (ארה) of the covenant. Different Hebrew stem, different English gloss - with very few exceptions.

On headings in the text, I have none apart from book names. All my verses are equal. Except in the Psalms, there are no extra spaces between stanzas. The form of the whole is in the music. I want people to hear the text, not just read headings from subjective structural decisions. The text breathes through the accents.

There is one verse I can compare.
Goldingay puts these words in the mouth of Cain as he trudges toward the east in his grief: “My waywardness is too big to carry.” Bray and Hobbins, trusting Tyndale but also the connotations of the Hebrew naśa, render Genesis 4:13 as “My iniquity is too weighty to be forgiven.”
My version is:
And Cain said to Yahweh,
Greater is my iniquity than I can bear.

Notice that there is a rest on Yahweh even in the midst of a verse on unbearable sin.
Genesis 4:13
I could not use big since I reserved it for הרה (big with child). Waywardness seems an unnecessary synonym for iniquity. I also used wayward extensively in Proverbs for הפך. Forgiven is a step too far. Yes, נשא has the dominant sense of lifting up. But forgiveness is an interpretation imposed, rather than a reading of what is there. If one uses forgive here, what will one use for סלח, the stem with the dominant sense of forgive?

James Howell praises the use of the Leningrad codex. It is certainly useful and has been my source for the most part, but for the music it is not the best source we have. That is the Aleppo codex, unfortunately not quite complete and not available in Unicode.

Whoever does the Unicode, try and avoid using a metheg. It cannot be distinguished from a silluq and the two are functionally different. The silluq is a shift to e as a reciting note, or the final cadence in a verse. The metheg is a vowel sound marker. Lambdin explains three conflicting uses of metheg, (page xxvii - a perpetually perplexing page) but he does not know about the music. I find the metheg useless. Later editions include more and more of them, seriously compromising the music by drawing it back to the tonic prematurely. I taught my music algorithm to avoid it with a little fuzzy logic.

Pastoral considerations and religious framework

Music and concordance. (Sounds like a poem, Concord, concord and time.)
Then there are a host of other issues.
Religious framework, the style and play of the Hebrew re e.g. parallelism and word play, audience, and modern cultural assumptions, like issues of gender inclusiveness, archaic language, etc.

I wrote that my audience were my teachers of 70 years ago. My work is a product of the stone that I am, pulled back and shot from a sling of rebellion against cultural assumptions. I harbour anger against violence, male superiority, sexual repression, and the ongoing exploitation we see in the news every day. The Bible is not supposed to confirm our assumptions but undermine them. Babylon is fallen. It is not supportable. The Bible forms a community that has a critical response to culture. It does not support a culture that cannot criticize itself.

So what about the examples in the review of Bray and Hobbins, (Gen 1-11) and Goldingay (The first Testament) that I noted in an earlier post.

The Bray and Hobbins work is mostly commentary ("the actual translation of the text fills only 19 of the book’s 326 pages"). It is one of my problems that I am neither an academic nor a pastor. And John Hobbins is both. He is steeped in Hebrew from his youth. I began to learn in my early 60s. I should fear to step here. There is no commentary in my volumes except a short introduction, tailored to the volume, and the musical examples. The music invites the reader to stop and sing a verse in Hebrew. My English must stand on its own. 

So I would never say now: 'Let us make man in our image.' But John and I probably agree on God.
My Genesis 1:26a is this׃ And God said, Let us construct humanity in our image according to our likeness.

I cannot agree with the comment that the use of man serves recurrence. By itself, it does not. It depends on what one does with the stem throughout the translation. I can agree that this is a large problem.

What stem do I use man for? Never for אדם, (which is the stem used here), many times for אישׁ and in the phrases old man זקן and young man בהר, and man of valour גבר. When it comes to the recurrence of man in the scripture as we have it traditionally, it is a dog's breakfast. KJV uses the gloss man for several stems. Stirring a dog's breakfast is not a solution to the horror that our assumptions have brought upon us. (I cite the holocaust, gun violence in America, worship of Mammon, pervasive sexual misconduct and so on.)

I have a desire to know what this humanity is that we share from the ground, evolved from stardust, but I do not wish to use words carelessly as tradition has.

What is a mortal? for you remember it. And a child of humanity? for you visit it. אדם is repeated in Psalm 8, but not אישׁ, rather אנושׁ. Close but not the same. From the point of view of recurrence, it is not man and son of man. It is humanity and mortal. What is the son of man construct that we have created? "Does one bring up a snare from the ground and have caught nothing?"
Psalm 8:5 note the reversal of this frame in Psalm 144:3,
Yahweh, what is this humanity that you know it, a mortal child that you devised it?
Each of these poems is celebrated by the acrostic that follows (Psalms 9-10, and 145).
In Genesis, it seems to me that we have a progression from the cosmos to the emergence of a people. In chapters 1 to 3, the stem אדם has to move from the species to the specific named man and woman who begin the generation of what will become the people chosen for the role of example for the world. I have used several glosses for אדם.

אדם humanity (229) ground (210) human (198) earthling (127) ruddy (21) Adam (9) humus (8) 'the adam' (6) dyed red (6) debris of the ground (4) sard (3) ruddy stuff (2) Adamah (1) Ruddies (1) agriculture (1) dust-bowl (1). Hmm two artificial hapaxes.

James Howell, the reviewer, points out something that moved him to think about the words and that does serve recurrence.
And Bray and Hobbins can break away from old-timey English. I came up short when I read their Genesis 12:3, “And in you all the families of the ground be blessed,” but their commentary explains “ground” as an echo in Hebrew of the curse of the same ground after Adam’s sin. The notion that this cursed ground is about to be redeemed opened my eyes to something I had never pondered.
It is worth pondering, But I have to say it is a problem. Generally for אדמה, I also use ground, but not in this case, though it is the same word form of אדם as in the cursing of the ground. I have four instances where I use humanity for this word form. Genesis 12:3, 28:14 (but not 15), Isaiah 24:21 for one of the two instances and Amos 3:2 but not 3:5.

Genesis 4
Min Max Syll
וַֽיְהִ֖י מִקֵּ֣ץ יָמִ֑ים
וַיָּבֵ֨א קַ֜יִן מִפְּרִ֧י הָֽאֲדָמָ֛ה מִנְחָ֖ה לַֽיהוָֽה
3 And it happened at the end of days,
that Cain brought from the fruit of the ground, a gift for Yahweh.
3c 4B 6
14
Genesis 28
Min Max Syll
וְהָיָ֤ה זַרְעֲךָ֙ כַּעֲפַ֣ר הָאָ֔רֶץ וּפָרַצְתָּ֛ יָ֥מָּה וָקֵ֖דְמָה וְצָפֹ֣נָה וָנֶ֑גְבָּה
וְנִבְרֲכ֥וּ בְךָ֛ כָּל־מִשְׁפְּחֹ֥ת הָאֲדָמָ֖ה וּבְזַרְעֶֽךָ
14 And your seed will be like the dust of the earth, and you will break out seaward, and eastward, and northward, and southward,
and all the families of humanity will be blessed in you, and in your seed.
3d 4C 28
18
וְהִנֵּ֨ה אָנֹכִ֜י עִמָּ֗ךְ וּשְׁמַרְתִּ֙יךָ֙ בְּכֹ֣ל אֲשֶׁר־תֵּלֵ֔ךְ וַהֲשִׁ֣בֹתִ֔יךָ אֶל־הָאֲדָמָ֖ה הַזֹּ֑את
כִּ֚י לֹ֣א אֶֽעֱזָבְךָ֔ עַ֚ד אֲשֶׁ֣ר אִם־עָשִׂ֔יתִי אֵ֥ת אֲשֶׁר־דִּבַּ֖רְתִּי לָֽךְ
15 And behold, I am with you and will keep you everywhere that you walk, and I will return you to the this ground,
for I will not forsake you until I have done that which I have spoken about to you.
3e 4C 31
20
Isaiah 24
Min Max Syll
וְהָיָה֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֔וּא יִפְקֹ֧ד יְהוָ֛ה עַל־צְבָ֥א הַמָּר֖וֹם בַּמָּר֑וֹם
וְעַל־מַלְכֵ֥י הָאֲדָמָ֖ה עַל־הָאֲדָמָֽה
21 And it will happen in that day, Yahweh will visit the host of the exalted on high,
and the sovereigns of humanity on the ground.
3c 4B 20
13
Amos 3 Fn Min Max Syll
רַ֚ק אֶתְכֶ֣ם יָדַ֔עְתִּי מִכֹּ֖ל מִשְׁפְּח֣וֹת הָאֲדָמָ֑ה
עַל כֵּן֙ אֶפְקֹ֣ד עֲלֵיכֶ֔ם אֵ֖ת כָּל עֲוֺנֹֽתֵיכֶֽם
2 C Solely you I have known from all the families of humanity,
therefore I will visit upon you all your iniquities.
3e 4C 15
14
הֲתִפֹּ֤ל צִפּוֹר֙ עַל פַּ֣ח הָאָ֔רֶץ וּמוֹקֵ֖שׁ אֵ֣ין לָ֑הּ
הֲיַֽעֲלֶה פַּח֙ מִן הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה וְלָכ֖וֹד לֹ֥א יִלְכּֽוֹד
5 Will a bird fall into a snare on the earth and there is no trap for it?
Does one bring up a snare from the ground and have caught nothing?
3e 4C 15
16

I wonder if I can justify these exceptions to strict 1:1 concordance at the word level for this stem. I think it is never far from the Hebrew mind that humanity is from the ground. Rather than earthling, groundling might have been a preferable gloss (but I refrained). The example really stretches the mind. Genesis 4:1-14 is very much about the ground. The word for אדמה of the stem אדם occurs 6 times, 5 with the definite article. (KJV uses the earth for 2 of them, something I never do since earth is used for a different stem ארץ.) Should the first instance without the definite article have a definite article in English? Sometimes definiteness is implied. KJV assumes it as does JB and NIV. In this case, it is automatic in English to say the ground without thinking. NIV and JB have soil, a gloss I did not use for this stem. NIV and JB pay no attention to concordance in chapter 28. They both use earth for this stem.

How important is such detail? One can still ponder if one knows from the consistency of translation that the stem אדם applies to these glosses. Humanity is ground-based. And to curse the ground is indirectly to curse the human, the one who is from the humus. The phrase families of humanity occurs 3 times in the Bible, Gen 12:3, 14, and Amos 3:2. In Isaiah I might consider using the ground. In the others, I think the sense is awkward. The pairing of the words מִשְׁפְּח֣וֹת הָאֲדָמָ֑ה families of humanity, is my justification. It is possible that our language will change to say families of the ground. A Bible translation that did this might have such an effect. But it's a step too far for me at the moment.

There are times I am brought up short by my own work. I have to stop and reread. If I have to go back to the Hebrew, I know there's a problem if the English does not stand on its own.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Has translation of the Bible into English reached its apogee?

Discussion of Alter's translations are not new in the blogosphere. Here is an early mention in the archives of the NY Times from 1996
Two independent translations -- from authors widely known in circles of literary and biblical scholars -- now appear among the spate of books about Genesis. Stephen Mitchell is a poet of religious sensibility who has previously adapted the Psalms and translated Job. Robert Alter is a professor of comparative literature whose studies of biblical narrative and poetry have become classics.
I have in the first half of February, reviewed in detail the symposium on Alter from the Jewish Review of Books.

I know from my own writing history how I have agreed with Alter about his complaints. About soul, about recurrence, about the distractions from story that Biblical scholars have with specialization. It sounds as if he learned to walk before he ran. I did not. I am sure that many teachers of Hebrew that I have met would suggest that I be mute. It is a wise suggestion that I have ignored.

I have been wondering how a translation should be judged. In my intense analysis this month (links below) what criteria do I use to judge a translation? And is it a sufficient list?

Music: My first and consistent measure has been the music represented in the accentuation of the Hebrew text. (Don't be discouraged if you don't 'get' the accents. Just listen to the music.) Does this tie me too much to a Rabbinic interpretation? I can only say - which one? But Bob, there is no consensus on the key to the music that you are learning. Where are these signs in manuscripts prior to the 8th century? These are both true considerations, but the music convinces me by the transparency it gives to the text, whether I understand where the signs came from or not. I have not set my English underlay to the music for the entire Bible. If I had the time to do this, I know I would change some of my text to fit it better.

So my work has not reached the apogee.

Concord: My second measure, of equal importance, and always in competition with the music, is the requirement for concordance. I know exactly where my compromises are. I do not have enough information to judge Alter's but my initial investigations are not encouraging. A literary translation will take liberties that I would not consider justified. I made this provocative comment about Psalm 137 and Alter's use of recall.
remember or recall? As it happens, I don't ever use the gloss recall, but the resonance of remember will be lost if recall is a variation for זכר, The Name itself is at stake here.
Why is the Name at stake? Because memory is directly associated with it. See Exodus 3:15. My rendering is: This is my name forever and this is my memorial to the generation of the generation. I did not use call here as NIV does, nor invoked as JB does. I don't know what Alter used. The word is זכר. It is used 378 times in TNK. 88 of those are for the gloss male as in male and female. Of the remaining 290, 1 is a name, 11 I have associated with archive, and all the rest are about memory.

Suppose I admitted, with KJV, that I am invoking the idea of the Eucharist, this do in remembrance of me. Is that the intent of Torah? I am not saying I did that, but without respecting the word used, I could not draw that parallel. And it is not implausible. Consider Deuteronomy 5:3 for instance. Remembering is of the essence of both Christianity and Judaism. In any case, the act of invocation, or calling is not in the same semantic domain, and the forcing of that sense on the text is not justified unless there is a clear homonym implied by usage.

Again - where is the apogee? Have we achieved it? I don't think any single translator or any group process has. So go easy on the hype. We need the comparative language studies that Alter downplayed to tell if our concordance is sensible, if possible. (We need the music more, but how many scholars and preachers also study music?)

Given concordance, I think the English reader should have a greater advantage in seeing the patterns of recurrence evident in the Hebrew text. It is still not easy of course. Much of my criticism of what I have seen in Alter's translation has to do with concordance. I had 8 significant disagreements in 4 verses of Psalm 91.

Do I have a third criterion? If I look at the rest of my posts in this two-week period, In discussing the Song, I concur with his recognition that foreignness is suitable for an old text. Familiarity makes us read without thinking. Also that a translation should not explain but report. And like him, I have avoided a lot of loaded words, not just soul as he has done, but punish, loving-kindness, atonement. There's a bunch of others. This uncovers a third criterion: a translation should not reinforce one religious framework over others.

Have we reached the apogee? I doubt it.

I do not neglect parallelism, but the music never conflicts with it, so it is rarely needed except for word choices as to whether one is looking at a synonymous or an antithetical parallel. This comes up here: Qohelet 12:5-8.

I do not neglect story line. Job is a book the heart of which can be suppressed if a reader chooses a pro-piety framework and the friends are praised for their one-liners. [This was not uncommon in views of Job from 100 years ago.] If Alter does as Hart suggests, and sees raw rage in chapters 29-31, I would be very disappointed indeed. Here I hope that the reviewer is speaking from his own ignorance.

Then there is the problem of mistakes. I know I have mistakes I have not yet seen. And I have pointed out several of Alter's in the post on a snippet of Torah, missing words, missing other jots and tittles.

Consistency: [Stir carefully at a rolling boil.] In the area of consistency, I have some control and still some trouble, because translation is a hard job, and a one-person translation both easier and harder. Anyway, Alter is not alone. John Hobbins and Samuel L. Bray have recently begun a new old translation, and at the same link is a review of The First Testament, a new translation by John Goldingay, and I have completed a translation which will appear in e-book form soon with hundreds of musical examples as illustrations, and a full 2500 page glossary as well as an English Hebrew alphabet book, A is for Abandon. So you all can see a copy and be able to critique it. The whole canon that we have received is really rather remarkable. I sure wouldn't have bothered if I didn't think so.

Audience: Adele Berlin is not effusive in her praise, but allows that dark might be a better choice than black in Song 1:5, 'for an American audience'. Clearly a translator must be clear on audience? Really. I am not so sure. And I certainly would not want to have influence only in one market for fear of reinforcing assumptions. I think my audience is sometimes for those who can no longer read in this life, my teachers from the '50s, and for those who can read, the biases I see in my culture. The Bible is a book that undermines and questions assumptions. A translation should retain the criticism that it was to its first hearers.

In summary: music and concordance arm-wrestle. Religious framework bias has to be avoided, parallelism has to be considered, mistakes have to be corrected, consistency needs feedback from others, audience is of limited consideration. [This is an unsatisfying list after the first two. I know there are other considerations that I take into account, but it's hard to articulate them.]

One last comparison, Psalm 23, for application of the criteria.

Alter: In grass meadows He makes me lie down, / by quiet waters guides me. / My life He brings back. ... And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord / for many long days”

I have to agree with some of Alter's decisions here. I hope grass is a misprint in the review. It doesn't scan. I used grass for חצב. My rendering has a few differences.

2 In verdant loveliness he makes me recline.
Psalm 23:2
By waters at rest he refreshes me.
3 My being he repairs. ...
6 Surely goodness and kindness pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will sit in the house of Yahweh for length of days.
Psalm 23:6, note how the final verse begins on a high recitation note (as does verse 4).
This technique explicitly connects a verse to what precedes it.
recline רבץ to distinguish it from שׁכב, lie down.
repair, I missed this as an available gloss later, but I have let it stand for a long time.
sit ישׁב, or settle, or inhabit. This was an early Psalm, from 10 years ago. (It is here - Nov 22, 2008. Funny, I used settle there, I wonder what made me change it.) ארך I rendered as length about 2/3 of the 157 times this stem occurs. I don't use long any more for that stem. I did 10 years ago. I would allow prolonged as an adjective. I.e. I doubt it is about long life. (Certainly not for ever which would involve עד or עלם.)

Another potential post. I just noticed that Alter may not distinguish clearly the divine names, Lord, Yahweh, etc in Scripture. Issues with names abound. But addressing God is an important distinction from addressing a lord or master in another context. I wonder what his strategy is?

Links referenced: More on the Song of SongsA snippet of IsaiahA snippet or two of TorahSnippets of JobQohelet 12:5-8The Song 8:13-14Ruth 2:3-7, Psalm 91Psalm 137:1.

More on the Song of Songs

The choice of words for an English writer is of course conditioned by the audience that the work may target. Adele Berlin drops the note that "dark is certainly a better word for American readers than black." I doubt this. But it shows me several parts of Alter's glossary of terms for his choices in English that I would like to consider.

Songs 1:5: Alter: I am dark but desirable

Berlin writes: “Dark” is certainly a better choice for American readers than “black,” because the reference is to sun-darkened skin, not to African ancestry.

Was this not written in Africa? Why should we think that it is not African? Niger sum sed pulchra. The black goes back a long way.

My version is: 
Black am I but lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem,
like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of Shalmah.

The word for black is also the word for dawn and for rising early.
Kedar קדר is also wan, and I break my rules and use blackness for it in a few places.
Shalmah is the same stem as Solomon. This is one of many hints that all is not well concerning the king in the Song.

"Surprisingly, Alter does not follow the Hebrew word order." I agree with Adele Berlin on this point.
As she continues to note: "Most translations render na’vah as “lovely” or “beautiful.” In his commentary, Alter justifies “desirable” and uses it elsewhere (but not at Song of Songs 1:10 and 6:4, where he has “lovely”); but one wonders whether in this case he is also aiming for the alliteration in “dark” and “desirable.”"

I think alliteration is used in Hebrew. I have noted several instances in the Psalms. E.g. Psalm 73:10b וּמֵ֥י מָ֝לֵ֗א יִמָּ֥צוּ לָֽמוֹ. Note the repeated m's. In my rendering I managed one m and an l or two. "So! his people will return here, where they can be fully milked."

 And in the Song particularly, the foxes (shualim) are paired with the Shulamite woman.

Adele Berlin points out a half-dozen examples in Alter's translation. They raise questions for me. 
  • “cushion me with quinces” (2:5); Why did I separate apricot from quince? They are both the same word and same stem. This is the traditional apple. Perhaps no one is quite sure what tree it is. I could reduce the number of stems by 1 now that I have noticed, but it is scarcely significant. I have left obviously related stems separate on other occasions. I will also leave unresolved the uncertainty of the fruit. My rendering is 
Support me with raisins, outspread me with apricots,
for ah, I, I am writhing with love.
  • “peering . . . peeping” (2:9); My words are peering through the perforations, blossoming through the lattice
  •  “[i]ts posts . . . its padding . . . its curtains crimson” (3:9 [actually 10]); My version shows no particular alliteration. I am not sure where he gets curtains (ירע) from.
Its pillars he constructed of silver, its outspread of gold, its chariot purple,
its centre tessellated with love, daughters of Jerusalem.
  • “watchmen of the walls” (5:7); watchmen fits my rules. I used the keepers of the walls. 
  • “[l]ike Lebanon his look” (5:15); I have his appearance like Lebanon. The stem is ראה with a dominant sense of seeing. Appear, show are secondary senses depending on the word form.
  • “a fearsome flame” (8:6). I have Its fire-brands are fire-brands of fire, that are its flame. There is no fear in the text. 
I will end with Song 4:3:

Alter: Like a scarlet thread, your lips, / and your tongue—desire
NRSV: Your lips are like a crimson thread, / and your mouth is lovely.
Music: Like the thread of scarlet are your lips and your words lovely,
like a slice of the pomegranate your temple from within your headscarf.

We only have the first half of the verse from Alter as reported by Adele Berlin.
Song 4:3 Default mode using the deciphering key of Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura
Time will tell if Alter's translation will have the literary impact he desires. Altogether as I see so far, his work is going to be too free with its synonyms for my taste in translating. I wonder whether he is concerned about rendering two different stems by the same English gloss. I agree that the Hebrew corpus exhibits literary techniques under its own constraint of reporting multiple traditions. I think a translation must also accurately report to the reader of another tongue or other tradition. I would put accurate reporting as a priority over literary technique in the host language.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

BS Carnival for February

I will be hosting the Biblical Studies Carnival again this month. Part way through the month, I noted that Phillip Long had no volunteer to date, so in the glory of the artificial light of the snowbound, I offered. Phil is a full time teacher at this time of year, and is grateful for volunteers.

Have you'all any posts I should know about? Please tweet me @drmacdonald or leave a comment here.

A snippet of Isaiah dissected

I have said, as have others, that Isaiah seems to have more uniqueness about his language than other parts of the Hebrew components in the canon. Yet in English, partly because of the libretto of Handel's Messiah, we know the lilt of the language like no other book. According to my notes from the Oxford conference on the Psalms in 2010, Isaiah is the third most popular book among the DSS. So this work is and was loved by many. What then do we do with the translation of its 'purple passages'?

You know I was raised within Christendom. And I am still on speaking terms with my invisible Lord. I am supposed to be secure and I have no reason to doubt it. But - there is always a but - Christendom is not a good example of purity of religious policy. Violence and fear and suppression abound in this history. I have noted that much of it seems to come from the translations we read. Whether violence from our own need for self-defense, or the violence against each other through 'punishment'. This word in English has no dominant stem in Hebrew. You can read punishment into Hebrew stems, but it is never the only possible gloss for that stem. I never use it in my reading (among many words I never use). I never required it. Particularly, God's visitation פקד does not need to be read as punishment. Humans punish each other for perceived violations of rules or codes of honour. Not so with God. Thieves and prostitutes get into the kingdom of Heaven faster than the righteous. How come?

By the way, Christendom is not the only religious tradition with examples of terrible religious policy. (I won't go on. If you are of some different religious tradition, just look around you. And stop being violent, fearful, suppressing or exploiting others, or self-protective).

There is no shortage of violence (חמס) in the world or in the Scriptures. But it is not good to imitate it.

Aviva Kushner begins her review of Alter's 'one-man translation' of the Hebrew Bible with Isaiah 2:2. First the music.
Isaiah 2:2 with English underlay (adjusted from the textual order)
She quotes Ginsberg, one of Alter's mentors, who seems to take every accent as an excuse for a new line.
In the days to come,Hebrew וְהָיָ֣ה ׀ בְּאַחֲרִ֣ית הַיָּמִ֗ים, first 3 words,
the sense of word 1 is included in to come
The Mount of the Lord’s HouseHebrew הַ֤ר בֵּית־יְהוָה֙ words 6 to 8
Shall stand firm above the mountainsנָכ֨וֹן יִֽהְיֶ֜ה ... הֶהָרִ֔ים words 4, 5, 10
And tower above the hills;וְנִשָּׂ֖א מִגְּבָע֑וֹת words 9 and 10 (repeated)
And all the nationsכָּל־הַגּוֹיִֽם words 13 and 14
Shall gaze on it with joy.וְנָהֲר֥וּ אֵלָ֖יו words 11 and 12

He has to be happy with having some of the lines out of Hebrew word order (as must all translators in many places. But this is far from true in all places in the text). Ginsberg uses a phrase 'gaze with joy' for נהר. This is a curiously passive sense for an action verb that takes its motion from a river. I think he does as many do, interprets as he reads. His next reading will be a different aspect of the same stem. Language works that way and so do readers. But translations need to take care to let the reader interpret.

Kushner explains that 'Ginsberg follows the medieval grammarian Ibn Janah and Ginsberg’s academic colleague Baruch Schwartz in deriving it from the term for “light” in biblical Aramaic, and thus he has the nations gazing toward Jerusalem.'

Obviously then, it is not a translation of the Hebrew. The stem is not אור. There is only one word-form of light in the Hebrew of the Bible that begins with nun. That is in Psalm 76:5 נאור. I have never seen this stem morph into נהר.

Alter:
And it shall happen in future days
that the mount of the Lord’s house shall be firm-founded
at the top of the mountains and lifted over the hills.
And all the nations shall flow to it . . .

KJV: And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD'S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.

Bob:
And it will be, in the aftermath of the days, established will be the hill of the house of Yahweh as the first of the hills, and it will be lifted up among the hillocks,
and all the nations will flow together to it.

This is my word for word with stem visible through the hover function of the mouse.

והיה and it will beהיה באחרית in the aftermath ofאחר הימים the daysיום נכון establishedכון יהיה will beהיה הר the hill ofהר בית the house ofבית יהוה Yahwehיהוה בראשׁ as the first ofראשׁ ההרים the hillsהר ונשׂא and it will be lifted upנשׂא מגבעות among the hillocksגבע ונהרו and will flow togetherנהר אליו to itאל כל allכל הגוים the nationsגוי

Translation is a lot to take in. I can only just get away with the word order I have chosen. Slow down and it will make sense. I look at every jot and tittle (and some I choose not to include in the English). KJV has left out an explicit definite article. 


I have chosen hill and hillock rather than mountain and hill as contrasts. I do use mount and mountain and hill - all for הר. Hillock is גבע.

I seem to have added together to the stem for flow. I did this 5 times - Here and in the parallel in Micah. Also Isaiah 60:5, Jeremiah 31:12, 51:44. Don't read too much into it. KJV does this in those three places but not here or the parallel in Micah. My use of it may have happened through my automated translation which I ran frequently when doing my work to save me typing. (Yes you would call this translation the lazy-one's translation too.)

I never use the word future. The Bible is concrete as Alter says, and future is not yet concrete. There may not be 'punishment' but there are consequences. The Bible is not fatalistic. Yahweh is the one who is, who was, and who is to come. This is immanence, becoming itself, with us, establishing us. Are we up to it?

I don't see that firm-founded is an improvement on established. My glosses for this are prepare, establish, base, reliable, for the most part. God prepares, establishes and is a reliable base. The stem occurs 284 times. We should get used to the idea.

Here's a verse at random that includes establish.

DEUTERONOMY326הֲ־לַיְהוָה֙ תִּגְמְלוּ־זֹ֔את עַ֥ם נָבָ֖ל וְלֹ֣א חָכָ֑ם
הֲלוֹא־הוּא֙ אָבִ֣יךָ קָּנֶ֔ךָ ה֥וּא עָֽשְׂךָ֖ וַֽיְכֹנְנֶֽךָ
Do you reward this to Yahweh, senseless people and unwise?
Is he not your father? He purchased you himself. He made you, and he established you.
ויכננך and he established you

My work has a very high degree of consistency. Perhaps you can begin to see my motivation also. It is not primarily literature, not primarily religious, but it is a consequence of my faith in God, the discipline he established in me for programming, and the love he placed in me for language and music.

Monday, February 11, 2019

A snippet or two of Torah

Thus far we have looked mostly at items in the translation of the Writings of Tanakh by Robert Alter.

At the beginning of my journey, I never imagined that I would translate Torah. It was someone else's story. Sure, I knew the stories, but I was not a part of it like someone who was raised in Judaism. It was not part of my tradition the way the Psalms were. I felt it was specifically for the people that were chosen, that the world (of which I was a part) might learn its own trouble.

The examples from Torah in the symposium review of Alter's translation are rare. Shai Held mentions some of Exodus. He begins with Exodus 14:5 and 11. Quite independently, both Alter and Bob (me) arrived at compatible positions with respect to what Held points out. Both of us concentrate on recurrence, so both of us translated עשה as do or make. That is the most common choice of glosses for this very common stem. I also use construct, act, undertake and deal for this stem in some situations. There are some contexts where these seem to work, and I did not need them for other Hebrew stems. This stem appears early in Torah together with ברא create as the main words to recount the construction of the cosmos. In English do and make are also helping verbs. We use them to form the sense of other verbs.

14:5 Alter: What is this we have done [mah zot asinu], that we sent off Israel from our service?
Bob: What is this we have done? For we have dismissed Israel from serving us.
14:11 Alter: What is this you have done [mah zot asita] to us to bring us out of Egypt?
Bob: What is this that you have done to us to bring us forth from Egypt?

I am glad to see Alter here uses sent off. I wonder what he did with that stem in the earlier scenes of the Exodus. Over a year ago I was wrestling with this issue as noted here.

Shai Held is critical of Alter's commentary here. But he likes the play on a rising tide in 15:1.
Thus, in the triumphant Song of the Sea that follows upon God’s miraculous salvation of the people, Alter displays his ingenuity as both translator and commentator. Exulting in God’s decisive defeat of Pharaoh and the Egyptians, the Israelites declare that they will sing to the Lord ki ga’oh ga’ah, ordinarily rendered as “for he has triumphed gloriously” (15:1). Noting in his commentary that the Hebrew word ga’ah is also the verb used to describe the sea’s rising tide, “a concrete image that is especially apt for representing God’s overwhelming the Egyptians with the waters of the Sea of Reeds,” Alter beautifully captures the Bible’s “vivid pun”: “Let me sing unto the Lord for He surged, O surged.”
I do not find myself warming to this rendering. I am not sure it is a pun so much as a derived homonym. I don't much like triumphed gloriously either. The proud waves of the sea are known from Job 38:11, so I have used a simple rendering of pride is proud. Now I note that I have not used the word surged at all, so I must admit it is appealing, but then I would have to use it in relation to the sea in Job also. And I would lose the emphasis of pride.
And I said, To here you will come and no farther,
and here mark the pride of your waves.
Here is a bit of the music for the song of the sea:
Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this particular song to Yahweh and they said, saying,
I will sing to Yahweh, for pride is proud. Horse and its rider he has deceived in the sea.
Exodus 15:1
I am a little surprised by Alter's  verse 16 of this chapter: the people You made Yours. It is not the stem עשה (noted above) but קנה. Eve's first comment after giving birth to Cain, I have acquired someone with Yahweh, (קָנִ֥יתִי אִ֖ישׁ אֶת־יְהוָֽה) uses the same word as we find here, and Alter doesn't use a gloss related to acquiring or purchasing, e.g. this people that you purchased. (עַם־ז֥וּ קָנִֽיתָ) or acquired. I have never seen it used with the sense of create. I would need at least one other example. Held may have misquoted Alter, but Alter is also missing this in the verse.

Exodus 15:16
Horror and dread will fall on them by the greatness of your arm. They will be mute as a stone,
till your people have passed through, Yahweh, till have passed through, this people that you purchased.
Great place for the silence of a rest on the caesura after the cadence on the subdominant on the word stone.