Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Never blindly trust a translation


Jewish date:  26 Ṭeveth 5770 (Parashath Wa’era’).

Today’s holidays:  Tuesday of the First Week of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism).

Topic 1:  More coverage of anti-Semitism:  “Canadian Muslim Paper Condemned For Blood Libel”.  Some people either do not know how implausible organ theft is (disembodied human organs under the best of conditions have lives measured in mere hours, which make the logistics of such a crime very tight at best) or do not care.  Major rule:  If it sounds implausible, be suspicious.

Topic 2:  “Sikhs strive to keep language alive”.  The gist of this is that Sikhs in the United States are finding they have an urgent need to make sure all their people know the Punjabi language and Gurmukhi script the Guru Granth Sahib, their scripture, is written in.  Now, many out there might ask why knowing Punjabi matters.  The Guru Granth Sahib has been translated into English, and thus American-born Sikhs can always read it in translation.  The problem is that translations are imperfect.  There is the obvious issue that words and constructions in one language do not always correspond exactly to words and constructions in another language, which alone is enough of a reason for Sikhs to learn Punjabi (and the rest of us to learn the language of our own religion).  But there is another, less famous reason:  even given the constraints of the former problem, sometimes the translations get it wrong.  To illustrate, I present here two examples which have been bugging me recently.

1) Thus is it written in the King James Version (KJV) on Exodus 6:2-3:
And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the LORD:  And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them.
The KJV, while in some aspects a good translation, utterly mangles Divine names.  Anyone who had not read the Hebrew Bible in the original Hebrew and reading the KJV from the start would think this is the first time that the Tetragrammaton (= “YHWH”, rendered here with the wrong vowels as “JEHOVAH”) is mentioned.  And he/she would be wrong.  The Tetragrammaton first appears in chapter 2 of Genesis.  Usually the KJV, following the Septuagint, renders it “the LORD”, but on a few occasions it uses “JEHOVAH” instead, thus creating the illusion of a distinction which does not exist.  Furthermore, the KJV, following the Seputagint, has a tendency to give interpretations of personal Divine names instead of transliterating them.  This erases distinctions between certain names (“’El”, “’Eloahh”, and “’Elohim”; “YHWH” and “Yahh”) and gives the illusion that certain interpretations are the only ones there are.  In this passage, “God” really stands for “’Elohim”, but “God Almighty” stands for “’El Shadday”.  As such, the KJV, by its translation errors, gets the text wrong.

2) Thus is it written in the KJV on Mark 12:35-37:

And Jesus answered and said, while he taught in the temple, How say the scribes that Christ is the son of David?  For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The LORD said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool.  David therefore himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he then his son? And the common people heard him gladly.
The KJV here reflects the Greek text well, but that is not where the problem is.  The problem is with Jesus’s argument.  Jesus cites Psalms 110:1, claiming it “my Lord” refers to Mashiaḥ (the Messiah/Christ).  Since “Lord” refers to a god, Jesus claims, Mashiaḥ must be a god.  Besides the fact that Jesus does nothing to show this verse actually refers to Mashiaḥ and this interpretation flies in the face of everything taught about Mashiaḥ in the Hebrew Bible, this interpretation is untenable, even completely ignoring the context of Psalms 110:1.  Thus is it written in Psalms 110:1, my translation:
For (or by) Dawidh:
Spoken by YHWH to my lord:  “Sit at my right
Until I place your enemies as a footstool for your feet.”
In the original Hebrew, YHWH is talking to a human.  There is no single term used twice, period, and the second term is not a Divine name or a general term for a god.  So why does Jesus think the same term is used twice?  Because in the Greek the same term is used twice.  “YHWH” is conventionally (and wrongly) rendered Kyrios (“Lord”) in Koinē Greek, and Hebrew ’adhon (“lord”) is also rendered kyrios in Koinē Greek.  By relying on a translation, Jesus (or someone putting words into his mouth) makes an inference which is untenable in the original Hebrew.

The moral of all this:  Do not rely blindly on translations, because translators make mistakes and give the impressions of things not found in the original text.  This is why it is important for Sikhs to know Punjabi and for everyone to know the languages of their scriptures.

Topic 3:  Today’s religious humor:  “Little did you know that the freezer…”.
funny pictures
I am really not sure where the idea of a porthole to Hell comes from.  If anyone knows, please tell me.


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