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.

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