Saturday 7 November 2009

Concordance in translation

As you can guess, I am just starting on Biblical Greek. Yup I can read it about as well as I read Hebrew but colloquially speaking I am out to lunch when it comes to idiom in these languages. So? I still seek to sound alike, feel alike, game alike, and mean alike when I translate. But of course I have no confessional stance. I am neither an atheist nor a theist, neither polytheist nor monotheist, you could even say neither Christian nor Jew, neither Greek nor pagan when it comes to translation. I do sing and teach at an Anglican Church - neither Catholic but catholic, neither Protestant but one whose protests are sometimes rude. I sang and taught at an Anglican Church when I really called myself atheist in the old days 40 odd years ago. So what is my bias - an ignorant Anglican with an axe to grind? I have only one bias - that I have through a living set of metaphors come to know what my teachers did not know and what is hidden from many today. Life is a game of hide and seek. God hides behind a quirky character portrayal in the midst of a violent and deaf people. That covenant that God somewhat one-sidedly holds for us all has startling repercussions.

It is for this hidden joy that I dare to translate the psalms (my first project) or Job (my second project - over 100 links beginning at that link including a full translation as concordant as I could manage) or Ruth (project in process - I am taking longer with Ruth than Job - I intend to read it in Hebrew before I translate this time). It is for this hidden joy that I sing the full catholic liturgy, that I have traveled to Italy, Greece, and Turkey to see the places where these things happened and to write stories (a project which will never be complete). It is for this joy that I plant bulbs and bushes, flowers and trees in the garden - to watch the joy of the bees, to root out the morning glory that grips the soil and strangles others - to walk among the plants and not just to look, to hear them complain of the terrible soil and take action to mitigate their pain.

So how would you translate this?
אָז תִּפָּקַחְנָה
עֵינֵי עִוְרִים
וְאָזְנֵי חֵרְשִׁים
First listen and note the balance: az tipaqachenah // eyney `ivrim // veazneyim hershim // tipatachenah
It is a curious pair of words that begin and end the phrase. Quite apart from choosing a gloss or two, I would try and imitate the structure - in this case the sound - so I need two striking words in the target language and I begin with one and end with the other. They should differ by one or two letters and have a certain assonance.

Difficult - but when you read this slowly - all sorts of decisions become apparent that have nothing to do with communicating in the present to a target audience. Important though that may be - it is not really in your power as translator to do the work that your reader must do. What is in your power as you develop it is to choose words that match in tone and form the language that your ancient poet used. Your primary job is to communicate with that ancient writer and only secondarily to form a sentence or poem for the modern reader.

So what does it mean? Uh - meaning is not the first question. At least not for me. How could it be glossed? And where else are these words used in the Hebrew - and for Matthew - in the Greek? Also has it got multiple glosses that tell you this is really several words that are homonyms where a natural speaker would immediately recognize multiple meanings and possibly a pun?

Here's the real problem of concordance and I will only manage it one word at a time initially - the longest journey begins with such small steps. The first word פקח is glossed 'open' 20 times in the KJV. 19 of those 20 are about 'opening' eyes. The other one (Isaiah 42:20) is about 'opening' ears! It appears to be passive (Niphal) only in Genesis 3:5 and Genesis 3:7. This particular form of the word only occurs here and in Genesis 3:7. That may be significant - this is a positive eye-opener but Genesis was more ambivalent.

The second word פתח is more frequent: 107 times as open in the KJV occurring altogether 144 times. This is a more generic opening - the verb is used for opening all sorts of things besides ears - but only rarely eyes (Chronicles and Nehemiah). E.g. opening the heavens at the start of the rain on the ark.

Interesting that two different words are used for opening eyes (that have a lid) and opening ears (that have no lid but are much harder to open being usually metaphorically plugged.) So now - how does one translate this rare form with two matching openings in the order A-B-C B'C'A' where the initial sound of the temporal particle sounds also like the first part of ear (C'). But before we do that, let's look at the Greek where this is quoted in the New Testament in Matthew 11:5. Well - it's not an exact quote but really an allusion. It seems to me though with my limited Greek that it is a piling on of clauses saying about John - just listen and look at what's going on. The prior verse instructs them to 'tell him what you hear and see'. So eyes are open and ears unstopped.
τυφλοὶ ἀναβλέπουσιν καὶ χωλοὶ περιπατοῦσιν
λεπροὶ καθαρίζονται καὶ κωφοὶ ἀκούουσιν
νεκροὶ ἐγείρονται καὶ πτωχοὶ εὐαγγελίζονται
אָז תִּפָּקַחְנָה
עֵינֵי עִוְרִים
וְאָזְנֵי חֵרְשִׁים
After all this, we may just say there's no gloss I can think of that will be very striking and we may even compromise on the word order since English often does not do well with Hebraic thought sequence. And the King James is pretty good for us moderns - unstopped is a lovely strike. And I did learn something about the ancient poet. Isaiah was using a common word for eye-opening in a rare form. Perhaps he had the opposite of Genesis 3:7 in mind. If so - the meaning is figurative (not literal). So here's my English:

then cleared will be the eyes of the blind
and the ears of the deaf will be unblocked

At Sunday School, I may use a different rendering (image here),

then wide apart will be the eyes of the blind
and the ears of the deaf wide open
(but wide apart might be seen in the wrong dimension!)

I have stuck with the passive in both cases and only changed the word order to hold to the ancient poet's order. If I chose this word, I would have to chose clear for each of the 20 other uses of the word. And certainly for Genesis. Any takers for other thoughts? (This is a low volume blog - so no one may see these words or be listening.)

Wednesday 4 November 2009

A curious experiment

One can't copy Matthew but one can translate it into other tongues. (I translated the whole document into French - it worked! And Hebrew - and Greek.)

Here's what Google translate makes of
“Change your hearts and lives, because the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
"Changer vos cœurs et des vies, car le Royaume de cieux est proche."
Here's automated translation into Hebrew 
שינוי לבבות שלך חיים, כי מלכות עדן הגיע ליד
and this is the Greek

Αλλαγή καρδιές και τη ζωή σας, διότι το βασίλειο των ουρανός έχει έρθει κοντά
and this the Biblical Greek
Μετανοεῖτε ἤγγικεν γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν
Vulgate - just to get a feel for it
Pœnitentiam agite: appropinquavit enim regnum cælorum.

A non-automated Hebrew version
שׁוּבוּ כִּי־מַלְכוּת הַשָּׁמַיִם קָרְבָה לָבֹא

So what does this mean from the lips of John to Judea?

New English Translation

I have not paid much attention to New English translations. I think I have been too busy learning Hebrew. But this one may be a sign of what is to come. And I shouldn't lose my capacity with my own native tongue. The sample is here and though downloadable cannot be printed for offline reading - I can't imagine why such security is required. But who am I to say. Anyway - note to self - read this! (HT BBB)

Well - I read a couple of chapters - and it is really easy to read. Too easy. I am at the moment working so slowly through some things that the speed at which I pass over the English is disturbing. Then of course I am stopped by 'Change your hearts and minds' in 3:2. That is jarring to me. One word in the Hebrew New Testament - turn. Yes it is a change. But it is a turn - of behaviour - not just an internal thought process or a psychological tour de force. Turn - return - yes 'repent' but turn is OK. So what is the Greek, I ask? One word also - and change of mind related, perhaps. So I should get over my jarred nature. Second person plural - not collective but multiple singularities? I suppose.

Saturday 31 October 2009

Nice video on Matthew

This is inspiring - Particularly I want to see the Beatitudes in Hebrew or Aramaic to get a sense of their verbal compactness. 

I wonder if I will ever get to the New Testament. Thanks to Mark Goodacre.

Saturday 19 September 2009

Sheep may safely graze

Kurk Gayle has been exploring some Matthew texts here and Joel Hoffman here.

Some day I must do a diagram on these patterns.

Friday 17 July 2009

In case you get here

If you get here and are searching for stuff - do visit the Biblioblog list here and this is a list of my personal blogs St Barnabas Sunday School where we do 5 minutes of Hebrew a week and some under 11 can read it as a result. Bob's Log - including my translation of the psalms in pictures and words Sufficiency - with a concentration on Job, some work on Romans, a little on the Song, and the Gospels via story and coloured parallels from years ago

Sunday 24 May 2009

Matthew in my limited blogosphere

I am not going very far very fast - but the time is right - this is a fascinating article and so refreshing compared with the analytical complexity of what I eavesdropped on 10 years ago.

Tuesday 19 May 2009

Sea of Galilee

Steven Notely has an intriguing article 'The Sea of Galilee: Development of an Early Christian Toponym' in the Spring 2009 JBL (Matthew 4:12b-16). Considering just the words describing the region: ὁδὸν θαλάσσης דרך הים, the way of the sea; πέραν τοῦ Ἰορδάνου עבר הירדן, along the Jordan, Γαλιλαία τῶν ἐθνῶν גליל הגוים - is that Galilee or region of the Gentiles? Is this a lake (fresh water) or a sea (salt water)? He points out how the 'Sea of Galilee' as a name carries Isaiah's prophecy forward in a unique way.
The tripartite topographical combination by Isaiah, "Way to the sea", "Gelil Haggoyim" and "Beyond Jordan" was intended by the prophet to define the frontiers of Israelite settlement in the north that stood in imminent danger before the Assyrian threat. ... Isaiah's intentions notwithstanding, the LXX's translation of גליל with Γαλιλαία signals that by the Greco-Roman period the Jewish community understood Isaiah to mean Galilee. ... the term θάλασσα - which is the LXX's rendering of ים in Isaiah 8:23 was still intended for the Mediterranean Sea - was transferred to another body of water, namely, the lake of Gennesar.
This is a fascinating introduction to Matthew for me - showing the great barrier presented by the Hebrew-Greek divide and creative Matthean exegesis.

Monday 18 May 2009

A rhythmic start

This week we have been invited to sing this with the symphony - it is really quite fun. And it's from Matthew. Enjoy - and do listen to the MP3. My link is to a different performance than the link on the words with translation.