Monday, March 11, 2019

Translation without commentary

Can you imagine that it is actually harder to write a translation without commentary than it is to write one with commentary?

Your host language has to stand on its own. Without any explanation. Without footnotes. I would allow you an introduction, but not too long.

Today I was working on Jeremiah 15:1. When I read the English alone, I balked at what I had done with אֵ֥ין נַפְשִׁ֖י אֶל־הָעָ֣ם הַזֶּ֑ה

sort of literally it is nothing my soul to this people

of course I don't use that word soul - it would be strange to use it only once and that for Yahweh, who is the speaker in this sentence! I had written I would have no integrity to this people, but that reverses the sense of the God being with the people. And it really requires the word עוד still.

The preposition אל is awkward, the נפשׁ is awkward, and it is so terse.

JB has I would not warm to this people - Now that's sweet, but it disobeys my concordance rules. And creates an artificial hapax for נפשׁ.

I asked my coach. This is his reply,
The word you're looking for in this case is heart—as in "My heart was no longer in it."
The word נפש is often used in the sense of "want"—as when Abraham appeals to the Hittites in Hebron, saying (Gen. 23): im yesh et naphshekhem = "if it is within your hearts"
וַיְדַבֵּר אִתָּם לֵאמֹר אִם יֵשׁ אֶת נַפְשְׁכֶם לִקְבֹּר אֶת מֵתִי מִלְּפָנַי
– an expression that is still used in literary modern Hebrew.

See also: Ezekiel (23:18) for a very common Hebrew expression—naq'ah naphshi –
וַתְּגַל֙ תַּזְנוּתֶ֔יהָ וַתְּגַ֖ל אֶת־עֶרְוָתָ֑הּ וַתֵּ֤קַע נַפְשִׁי֙ מֵעָלֶ֔יהָ כַּאֲשֶׁ֛ר נָקְעָ֥ה נַפְשִׁ֖י מֵעַ֥ל אֲחוֹתָֽהּ
KJV translates this as:
then my mind was alienated from her.
but it is literally "my will is sprained", i.e. "I am fed up with..."
Now this is interesting - I just have to get it down to 5 words and check out those other places. (But I wasn't balking at those two places.)

Here's my meandering theological thought.

My first thought when I read this note was that Adonai's heart was no longer in 'the project on behalf of the people' or some such construct. Theologically, I could not imagine this. Of course I can't let my guesses on the nature of G-d get in the way of what is written! But one thing we imagine of G-d is steadfastness of purpose - perhaps wrongly of course. And it is generally clear that Israel is a project in which steadfastness is continuing. In other places, even later in Jeremiah, we read of promise and restoration and confirmation of the covenant invoking many names from the past.

What occurred to me yesterday is that there is in the Scriptures a complex intermingling of the human and the divine and the historical record of the ancestors - Moses and the prophets. The problem is to catch this in 5 words or less, without any commentary except for the music.

And of course I cannot use heart לב, לבב, or mind - well actually I could use mind. I have only used mind in the Song 3 times where it has the sense of 'keeping' נטר the vineyard. So I could allow it as an exception on the grounds of English homonym. But mind in this case in Jeremiah would be too abstract from an anthropological point of view - the very thing I don't like about soul.

There is only one other place where נפשׁ is preceded by אין, Proverbs 13:4 - וָ֭אַיִן נַפְשׁ֣וֹ. This is maybe helpful. In effect combining the thought of the two verses, Adonai would consider himself as a sloth if he let the people discourage him.

I was wondering if it might reduce to 'there is no me' an ungrammatical colloquialism I have used a few times for אינני. But I do think G-d 'has a horse in this race'.

Anyway ... I will try to get the idea of discouragement of heart in there without actually saying so. It turns out, I didn't get discouragement in there. I don't think G-d was discouraged in this case. Perhaps I don't think G-d can be discouraged.

Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, it would be nothing for me, against this people.

against is a sometimes rendering of אל - about 1% of the time. And the contrast is consistent, even Moses and Samuel would not save the current generation from the exile. It says nothing of Yahweh's discouragement, and much concerning his determination.

Let's have this as a footnote - and one for every word in every verse. It is not surprising that scholars don't often get around to translating. They would have too much to write. 


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