Sunday, September 5, 2010

Revised versions of the Bible

I came across a translation of Psalm 139:18 today which does not appear to me to be the 'meaning' of this verse at all. It is in the Revised English Bible. If I were to count them I would have to live as long as you. How do the translators get that from the Hebrew or the Greek?

אֶסְפְּרֵם מֵחוֹל יִרְבּוּן
הֱקִיצֹתִי וְעוֹדִי עִמָּךְ
 18  ἐξαριθμήσομαι αὐτούς καὶ ὑπὲρ ἄμμον πληθυνθήσονται
ἐξηγέρθην καὶ ἔτι εἰμὶ μετὰ σοῦ
I count them more in number than sand
I awake and still I am with you

Another variation with a note is in the Net Bible
Even if I finished counting them, I would still have to contend with you.
The emendation depends on whether you think the 20th century has a better grip on the faith than the prior 2500 centuries. See their page for this note 30: A reference to the psalmist awaking from sleep makes little, if any, sense contextually.

This is a misleading question-begging, void-of-justification emendation. No reason is given. Making sense is just what it does. Have they no imagination? This is not a revised translation - it is a revised Bible. Don't get me wrong - I don't worship the Bible. But I am not at liberty to consider such revisions as helpful. They do not reach the mind of the psalmist.

What then is the mind of Psalm 139? Read the progression of darkness in the prior verses - coloured below. The awaking from sleep is clearly a perfect progression in the Psalmist's mind from his or her imagination to the light of a new day. So too the awakening in resurrection from the darkness implied in death.

This is a psalm about personal knowledge. Surely it is right for the psalmist to share the personal knowledge of waking up. It makes sense even if you are insensible. It makes sense even in the abstract. But these words are not an abstraction - they are life and Spirit. And the scholars of the 20th century are lacking in this case.

For the leader
of David
A Psalm
יְהוָה you have searched me and you know

You know my sitting and my rising
you understand my thought from afar
my path and my lying down you sift
and all my ways you know intimately

For there is not a speech on my tongue
but יְהוָה knows all of it
behind and before you secure me
and you lay on me your palm

Wonderful - knowledge from me
high - I cannot accomplish it
where will I go from your spirit
and where from your presence flee

if I ascend into heaven, there you are
and spread out in Sheol, there you are again

I take the wings of dawn
I live in the farthest part of the sea
also there your hand leads me
and holds me
your right hand

and I say surely darkness will crush me
and the night be light about me

even darkness is not darkness with you
and night like day shines
as darkness as light

for you have captured my insides
you overshadowed me in the womb of my mother

I will thank you
for fearfully I am separated
wonderful your doings
as my life knows well
not hid are my bones from you
that were when I was made in secret
embroidered in the lowest parts of earth

your eyes saw my embryo
and in your book all of them were written
days were fashioned when not one was of them

and to me how precious your thoughts, O God
how numerous their source
I count them more in number than sand
I awake and still I am with you

If you slay O God the wicked
so, mortals of blood, depart from me
who speak of you against discretion
and take to vanity your cities

will I not hate those hating you יְהוָה
and those rising against you - will I not grieve?
a consummation of hatred - I hate them
enemies they are to me

Search me O God and know my heart
try me and know my ambivalence
and see if a way of trouble is in me
and lead me in the way that is everlasting