For those who keep track of such things, Jim West is mentioned 3 times. I only bring it up so that I can use my "Jim West" category here.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
For those who keep track of such things, Jim West is mentioned 3 times. I only bring it up so that I can use my "Jim West" category here.
Monday, September 29, 2008
Here are the seven most important insights about Bible translation that I took away from the Nida School 2008.
1. Translation is hard work. It really is impossible to fully translate a text.
2. That's because translation involves making difficult choices.
3. Those choices inevitably involve loss on the balance between form and meaning.
4. There is a high degree of subjectivity involved in making those choices.
5. Translation is an art, not a science.
6. Functional equivalence (or dynamic equivalence) becomes more important when translating the Bible for a non-Western culture. Sensitivity to the target culture is absolutely essential. Western culture was shaped by the Bible. The same categories do not apply to cultures that developed independently of the Bible or Western influence.
7. Many modern theories in Translation Studies involve significant change and adaptation of their source material. That level of change is considered unacceptable for most people involved in translating sacred texts such as the Bible.
My research at the Nida School focused on the strategies that English translations have used to render sexual euphemisms in the Hebrew Bible. I'll summarize my findings in a future post, so you all have something to look forward to.
So, I was completely taken aback to read the following quote from Dr. Eilat Mazar who was profiled last week in the Jerusalem Post magazine. You'll recall she is the archaeologist who found the Gedalyahu ben Pashur seal earlier this summer.
"I work with the Bible in one hand and the tools ofI guess I was wrong. There are still a few biblical archaeologists running around with the Bible in one hand and a tool of some kind in the other. My program at the University of Wisconsin used to have that old style Book and the Spade emphasis back when Biblical archaeology was a bigger part of what was taught.
excavation in the other," she says. "The Bible is the most important
I should've known better. There will always be people out there using archaeology as a tool of apologetics to defend the inerrancy of the Bible against all attackers. If you're interested in learning more about them, visit The Book and the Spade or Bible and Spade. Those are the people who will get really upset about the upcoming Nova special, The Bible's Buried Secrets.
[Hat Tip to Todd Bolen where I first heard of the Mazar interview. I also read the story via Jack Sasson at the Agade mailing list and saw Jim West's post on it (even if I have 3 other sources, I'm required to mention Jim West. He gets testy if he's not acknowledged.) I also read the story directly from the Jerusalem Post (via Todd Bolen's link). The Nova special about the Bible was on my mind also because of yet another of Jim's posts today (where he unfairly disparaged the legacy of W.F. Albright, in my opinion. Yes, Albright produced G.E. Wright and a school of theological archaeologists, but he also created 2 of the greatest bible and ANE scholars of the latter half of the 20th century, Frank Moore Cross and David Noel Freedman.) I'd also like to thank Google for providing the search capability that led me to the links for The Book and the Spade and Bible and Spade. Ok, I think I've acknowledged everybody...oh wait, thanks to Scribefire for providing the interface where I typed my post.]
Sunday, September 28, 2008
The Aleppo Codex is important because it's probably the best exemplar we have of a carefully done Masoretic manuscript where the textual notations and the consonantal text align well. It was ascribed to Aaron ben Asher whose notation system eventually came to be considered the most accurate and most authoritative. The next best complete Masoretic manuscript that we have is the Leningrad Codex which clearly bears the masoretic notes of a different manuscript. That is, the notations don't line up with the consonantal text in areas like word count, etc.
So if the Aleppo Codex were complete, we would have a better manuscript to use as a base text for all text editions of the Hebrew Bible. Currently, most critical editions of the Hebrew Bible are diplomatic editions based on the Leningrad Codex.
The search for the Aleppo Codex is important and the story that appeared yesterday via the Associated Press gives a good overview of what's being done.
HT: Jason Gile, Jim Davila
Scholars hunt missing pages of ancient BibleBy MATTI FRIEDMAN, Associated Press Writer Sat Sep 27, 2:19 PM ET
JERUSALEM - A quest is under way on four continents to find the missing
pages of one of the world's most important holy texts, the
1,000-year-old Hebrew Bible known as the Crown of Aleppo.
Crusaders held it for ransom, fire almost destroyed it and it was
reputedly smuggled across Mideast borders hidden in a washing machine.
But in 1958, when it finally reached Israel, 196 pages were missing — about 40 percent of the total — and for some Old Testament scholars they have become a kind of holy grail.
Researchers representing the manuscript's custodian in Jerusalem now say they have leads on some of the missing pages and are nearer their goal of making the manuscript whole again.
The Crown, known in English as the Dead Sea Scrolls., may not be as famous as the
But to many scholars it is even more important, because it is
considered the definitive edition of the Bible for Jewry worldwide. [More]
Thursday, September 11, 2008
My experience at the Nida School has been very eye-opening so far into the many different perspectives on translation studies. We have quite a bit to read, and I came across this quote describing the problem with the debate over whether a literal or idiomatic translation was the better approach.
As is the case in many debates, those in the two camps often wind up talking past each other. This is sometimes because of differing definitions of or assumptions behind key terms, and sometimes because of differing perceptions of the nature of the subject matter under debate. ... It is always desirable, but never easy, to agree on terms so that those debating can at least be talking about the same thing. It is even more difficult, but at least equally desirable, to achieve a perspective which will allow one to understand both sides, to see not so much what was wrong with each, but what was right as well, and how intelligent people could reasonably see each as not just reasonable but right (Tuggy 2003, 244).
That last part describes what I'm trying to accomplish here - get a perspective to understand the different approaches to translation and see what is good about each of them.
Tuggy, David. 2003. “The literal-idiomatic Bible translation debate from the perspective of cognitive grammar.” In Kurt Feyaerts, ed., The Bible through metaphor and translation: a cognitive semantic perspective, pp. 239-288. Bern: Peter Lang, 2003.
Monday, September 8, 2008
The weather is beautiful here in Misano Adriatico, Italy. The Nida School for Translation Studies is now underway. The program for the next two weeks includes sessions focused on cognitive linguistics with David Tuggy and sessions with Edwin Gentzler focused on translation theory from the perspective of cultural studies and comparative literature. There's a whole wide world out there of translation studies that bible scholars and bible translators rarely ever encounter, so I anticipate a very educational experience over the next two weeks.
Here's a view of the San Pellegrino Institute hosting the Nida School.
Here's the view of the ocean from my room.
The beach is only a short walk away. I went down this morning to discover that even early in the morning (around 9 am) one can see the native retiree population in all their speedo-ed glory. I quickly withdrew from the area and went to read some linguistics articles.
If I gave you a full-resolution pic, you'd be able to see some of the natives in the center of the picture. Apparently, Misano is something like an Italian version of the Riviera and the place was swarming with tourists only a week or two ago.
Unfortunately, I'm not on vacation. I'm working.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
I tend to agree with Jim West that "the Israelis are onto something here." The same scenario could easily be applied to the situation with English Bible translation today. A dumbing down of all literature is under way as noted by Iyov, and the argument over dynamic equivalent translations could lead to a similar banning of translations as envisioned in a wickedly humorous spoof by John Hobbins. Peter Kirk has also posted some thoughtful comments on the story, following on issues raised by John and Iyov.The Education Ministry is to ban Bible aid booklets
that help elementary and junior high school students by "translating"
the text into simple Hebrew. Private publishers defend the booklets by
arguing that biblical Hebrew is a foreign tongue to young Israelis.
Teaching experts lambast the booklets, warning that children will
skip reading the Bible and opt for the simplified version. This will
not only deteriorate Bible studies but also impact the Hebrew language,
which is based on the Bible, they say.
The idea of translating the Bible into simple
contemporary language is "scandalous," Drora Halevy, the ministry's
National Supervisor for Bible Studies, told Haaretz. The booklets
present the text in "skimpy slang" that cheapens the Bible, she added.
"It's a purely marketing initiative intended for the below-average; it's a
disaster," says Professor Yaira Amit, a Bible instruction expert.
Booklet publishers Rafi Moses and Reches Publications say the Bible
is a foreign language to Israeli children, who need to read it in
simple language to understand it.
Halevy and other Bible and Hebrew language experts fear that
children will simply not bother to read the Bible, but use the simple
language version instead.
"The Bible is the Hebrew language's dictionary. It's the foundation
of everything," says linguist Zvia Valdan. "If you read it without the
original expressions and rhythms, it will lose its impact and power."
It's a difficult issue because on the one hand, Peter's right that the difference between Modern and Biblical Hebrew is roughly equivalent to the difference between King James English and modern English (the time separation with Modern and Biblical Hebrew is actually much much greater - but the analogy holds as comparing a classical form of the language with a contemporary form). On the other hand, the expectations for students in America have been getting lower and lower. Challenging students is what drives real learning, not making things easier on them.
Friday, September 5, 2008
The goal of the school is to get experts in translation studies talking to experts in Bible translation and biblical languages. Bible translation is a bit of a unique category in translation studies and Bible translators are often blissfully unaware of the new ideas and methods brought in to contemporary translation approaches. The theme of the seminar this year is Cognitive Linguistics, an area I have some interest in.
When I get back, I'll start to work on my Mangum Opus - the Best English Translation Ever Version or BETEV. I predict it will become the new standard in English Bibles with at least 400 years of staying power. Everyone will immediately set aside their TNIV's, their ESV's, their NLT's, and yes, even their KJV's, once they read it.
I may not finish for 20-30 years, though, so be patient.
Anyway, now you'll know where I'll be for the next 2 weeks. I'll try to post my thoughts on the seminar discussions and maybe a few photos of Misano.
Thursday, September 4, 2008
The argument over which translation is "better" often comes down to personal preference.
Most of the commenters realized and respected the fact that this was my ranking based on my personal preferences. My top ten is still a work in progress. It's hard to come up with ten. I've only read extensively in 4 or 5 of them. I probably should have done a top 5 list.
So, to be a better evaluator of all the translations, I will start regularly reading several of them in parallel. I also plan to try to read these in full: ESV, NLT, HCSB, NET, and TNIV.
I've also decided to look into the TNIV more closely and give it a chance. It was brought to my attention that I might not have been fair and consistent in my opposition to the TNIV compared to my acceptance of the NLT or NRSV on gender language issues, so I'm reconsidering the issue. I'll let you know what I find out.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
For example, TC Robinson explained today why he no longer prefers the NASB95. (TC, I'm glad you agree that "there's no perfect translation.") The same qualities that led him to reject the NASB95 could be why someone else likes it. The opposing gender translation policies of the HCSB and the TNIV cause many people to accept or reject either translation based on their view of gender-issues. Personally, I'm in favor of letting the text stand on its own without imposing any ideology on the translation itself. (Of course, with a patriarchal text like the Bible I'm in the same camp with the HCSB policy by default for gender issues which automatically aligns me with a misogynistic ideology, at least in the minds of those who favor the gender-sensitive approach of the TNIV. Just remember that having a conservative position on how the Bible should be translated doesn't necessarily mean that the people involved are misogynists. I don't happen to think that leaving the gender of the language alone is a form of doctrinal bias.)
People pick their favorite translation for a variety of reasons. Most of them have nothing to do with the accuracy of the translation because most people don't have the training to evaluate that. My generation grew up on the NIV. It came to dominate the Bible market in American evangelical churches for reasons that are a bit unclear to me. I guess at the time the choices were limited and the NIV was most readable. There's nothing particularly excellent about the quality of the NIV to make it the favorite of most people. It's decent, but it messed up a lot. The TNIV fixed that (but it's far from perfect, too). The next likely candidate for most popular translation is probably the KJV. It's a classic. A few people have gone off the deep end with their devotion to it, but it's main weakness is the manuscripts issue. Once you get past the archaic English, that is. I've heard of rare cases where someone has become singularly attached to the first edition of the NLT.
So, I thought I'd give my ranking of the English Bible Versions. It doesn't include all of them, only ones that I'm reasonably familiar with. The ranking is most to least favorite. Keep in mind my personal preferences. I read the languages, so I like literal. I speak Biblish, so I don't mind biblical idioms and theological jargon. Transparency to the original is more important than literary quality for me.
1. English Standard Version (ESV) - readable and accurate
2. New American Standard Bible (NASB) - accurate
3. New Living Translation (NLT) - readable
4. King James Version (KJV) - classic
5. Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) - readable, fairly accurate
6. New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
7. New English Translation (NET)
8. Jewish Publication Society (JPS) - for the Tanak, refreshingly different at times
9. New International Version (NIV)
10. New King James Version (NKJV)
The ones that didn't make the list have particular qualities that bug me. Those same qualities might make you love those versions. I don't like the Contemporary English Version (CEV) because it was targeted at a 4th grade reading level as a kids' Bible. The test group of parents who looked it over loved it and wanted one for themselves. The publisher repackaged it, gave it a new name, and sold it to adults who should be reading a bit past the 4th grade level. I have reservations about the approach to gender language in Today's New International Version (TNIV). I admit the translation is better than the NIV, but I can't help but wonder how far we should go in translating the Bible so as not to offend. The Message was a good paraphrase, but I can't stand paraphrases.
Again, no translation is perfect. This is my top ten list. For other views and regularly lively discussions about Bible translations, there's a lot going on at the blogs by TC Robinson, ElShaddai Edwards, Rick Mansfield, and Scripture Zealot. I think they should all just get together and make their own translation, but they seem to like just constantly consulting 4 or 5 of them. I'm beginning to lean toward the "everyone needs to learn the biblical languages position" favored by my friends Calvin and John. I use Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia more than I use any English translation - except for the ESV on Sundays.
There you have it. An authoritative ranking of bible versions according to quality. Completely objective and based entirely on how close all the translations are to the original autographs. Enjoy.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Now, I'm ready to compare the study notes in the NLTSB with the ESVSB for the Book of Jonah. I'm not going to give you a side-by-side look at some of the notes since that's already been done well. This final post on these fine study bibles will focus on how thorough and accurate their notes are. Notes related to interpretation of the Hebrew text will get more attention.
Many so-called study bibles are pretty stingy when it comes to study notes. For Jonah ch. 1 (17 verses), ESVSB has 14 notes including 3 summary sections and a chart about the key word "evil, disaster." NLTSB has 12 notes for the same section. I compared this to my ESV Scofield III Study Bible - only 5 very brief notes and a barebones introduction. So on the count of thoroughness, I think both ESVSB and NLTSB have done quite well. I didn't count, but it looks like the majority of verses are covered by both study bibles. It's annoying to have a question on a verse only to look down and find nothing in the notes. That happens to me a lot using the ESV Scofield III, but it looks like I won't need to worry about that with these new study bibles.
The question of the accuracy of the notes is somewhat subjective. Generally, I think both provide good information and nothing jumped out at me as unforgivably inaccurate. However, both have tendencies that I felt detracted from the overall interpretation. The NLTSB (at least for the notes on Jonah) has a tendency to offer irrelevant speculation about the text. For example, the note on 1:5-6 reads:
"Jonah's ongoing sleep was perhaps induced by God to advance the crisis to a point where it was clear that the sailors' gods could not help (1:6)."
Objection! Irrelevant and speculative. Granted they couched it with "perhaps," but there's nothing in the text to suggest God induced Jonah's sleep. They do something similar on 2:1-9 trying to explain how a well-structured literary poem such as ch. 2 could have been composed ad hoc by a man inside a fish: "it may have been composed after the event, as Jonah recalled his emotions and concerns."
The NLTSB for Jonah offers little in the way of notes based on an interpretation of the Hebrew. The only notes I found discussing Hebrew words were "arranged for" in 1:17 and "the pit" in 2:6. I find that it's always best to hang as little of your interpretation as possible on the grammar or lexicon of the original language. This is where the ESVSB has gone wrong for Jonah.
After stressing in the intro that Jonah was a historical narrative, not a parable or allegory, the note on 1:1 says that "Jonah will be true to his name. Son of Amittai means 'son of my faithfulness'; Jonah will remain the object of God's faithful love." The historical main character has a thematically relevant surname. You may as well call him "Pilgrim." (see Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan, an allegory).
I get annoyed with attempts to overly theologize the grammar of the original languages. For myriad examples of this in practice, see Mounce's Basics of Biblical Greek. The ESVSB does this a lot in Jonah. For 1:2, the Hebrew word ra'ah which can mean "evil" OR "calamity, disaster" leads to the statement that the "Ninevites were evil, and they were in line for disaster." This is technically true, but we learn it from context in the book of Jonah, not from knowing that ra'ah can mean both "evil" and "disaster."
Then for 1:3, the repetition of "Tarshish" is used "to underscore that Jonah is not going to Nineveh." Repetition doesn't necessarily indicate "emphasis." Emphasis is kind of a catch-all category that has become meaningless because it's used too often to explain things that don't need to be explained. It's possible the note was intended simply to indicate that Tarshish was explicitly identified in each clause to avoid ambiguity and confusion over where he was going. However, it's not clear that was what was intended.
In 3:3b, the ESVSB note takes "an exceedingly great city" (which literally is "a great city to/for God/gods") and concludes that "Nineveh is important to God and will be the recipient of his great compassion." Again, that's technically true looking at the story from the perspective of the end, but the implication of italicizing great in that statement is that the Heb word used for "great city" is also used in Jonah for the "great compassion" that God will have. But out of the 14 times it is used, it never refers to God as having great mercy or great compassion. It's not used related to God at all. (For more on the size of Nineveh based on Jonah 3:3, go here.)
What I found to be the worst misuse of Hebrew in ESVSB Jonah was in the note for 3:5 - "Believed is the first word of the Hebrew text of the sentence, and the grammar underscores the immediacy of Nineveh's repentance." Believed is the first word because the verb form is waw-consecutive, the usual narrative past. I was unaware that the use of waw-consecutive implied any sort of immediacy. It is simply the verb form that carries the story along from one action to the next. It always leads off the sentence and while the waw-consecutive can imply sequence, I think it's too much to read in immediacy.
The NLTSB got off easy on this point by simply not basing interpretations on issues of language and grammar. I'm sure those of you sympathetic to the approach of the ESVSB who think theology is encoded in grammar will disagree with me, but I think the ESVSB has overdone it on Jonah.
I look forward to the release of the complete ESV Study Bible so that I can get a better feel for the entire project, but what I've seen so far leads me to think it will be a worthwhile addition to the study bible market.
I'm very pleased with the quality and style of the study notes from the NLT Study Bible. I think it would be a great choice for anyone looking to buy a new study bible right now based on one of the newer translations.
This is the next segment in my comparison of the Book of Jonah in the NLT Study Bible (NLTSB) and the ESV Study Bible (ESVSB). The first segment focused mainly on the NLTSB generally with a few comments about translations. I ended discussing the way the NLTSB discusses authorship issues.
The ESV Study Bible makes a similar distinction between the main character and the writer for Jonah, but it doesn't comment on what effect anonymity has on the integrity of Scripture as the NLTSB does. I appreciated that extra comment in the NLTSB and felt it added an important point.
In general, I felt that the study notes for each translation were good but the depth and style of the notes seemed to roughly parallel the translation approach of each. The NLTSB notes are more dynamic and written in a clear, natural style (giving the sense). The ESVSB notes are more formal with a more academic tone (essentially literal).
For the introductions, the NLTSB was more concise but still communicated the essential background clearly. The introduction in the ESVSB was more formal and read more like a commentary. By contrast, the NLTSB intro was much more satisfying in its clarity. The NLTSB has a feature where a short paragraph giving the main theological point of the book leads off the introduction. The intro felt more unified and flowed better. The intro in the ESVSB has no lead-in and nothing particular unifies the sections besides a matter-of-fact style. The reader is met first with "The title of the book is the name of the main character, Jonah" in the ESVSB versus the more engaging "Jonah is well-known and loved for the amazing and ironic events it recounts" in the NLTSB.
On the other hand, the more in-depth notes of the ESVSB would be appropriate for someone interested in formal bible study who wanted a mini-commentary. The ESVSB includes a discussion of salvation history and neatly lays out the key themes of the book. The discussions on genre and literary features include many useful things left out of the NLTSB introduction.
So, I would recommend each study bible depending on your interest as a reader. If you want clear, easy to understand notes that tell everything the average reader wants to know, the NLTSB gives you that. If you're interested in more serious study, the ESVSB looks like it will provide more information of interest to you.
However, my primary litmus test for any study bible is whether or not it gives answers to the questions I have when I come to the text ... that's not really fair, I have questions that only occur to commentators and even then ... ok, my primary litmus test is whether or not it gives answers to the questions most serious students or average readers would have.
So, in the third segment, I will discuss the text notes of NLTSB and ESVSB on Jonah - how thorough they are in answering important questions and how accurate the answers are.
[N.B. I've noticed that Jeff at Scripture Zealot is maintaining a list of all reviews of the NLT Study Bible that appear on blogs, so you can go there to find many many other perspectives.]
Monday, September 1, 2008
Back on August 8th, the ESV Study Bible Blog posted a preview of the entire Book of Jonah with study notes from their forthcoming study bible. Esteban expressed interest in a comparative review of Jonah in both the ESV Study Bible and the new NLT Study Bible. Since I recently acquired an NLT Study Bible (many thanks to Laura Bartlett at Tyndale), I decided to compare the two. Since then, I see that the NLT Study Bible Blog has posted a long list of others who have done reviews and TC Robinson has done a good comparison placing some of the notes from both side by side and commenting on them. My remarks will be more general.
First, let me say that both of these study bibles appear to be excellent choices if you're looking for a new study bible. In this review, I plan to focus mainly on the study notes of each bible since you can find discussions of the relative merits of each translation elsewhere. (For the NLT, I recommend Rick Mansfield's lengthy post. For the ESV, they link to many testimonials at the ESV Bible Blog.)
The argument over which translation is "better" often comes down to personal preference. No translation is perfect (except for the KJV 1611), so we can all find individual verses where each gave a rendering that was less readable or slightly inaccurate. I personally prefer formally equivalent versions like the KJV, ESV, and NASB for my own reading. Part of that is because I was raised speaking "Biblish" and I like the retained KJV-like phrasings of the ESV. I also read the biblical languages, so I like the transparency back to my critical Hebrew and Greek texts.
The claim that the ESV is more "readable" depends on the reader. Yes, it's more readable than the NASB usually, but the NLT uses more natural contemporary language that people who didn't grow up learning Biblical idioms like me find easier to understand. The NLT also removes the need for some study notes because they already updated things like time and date (i.e., Ezek 1:1 in NLT). If you're looking for a new translation, check out the ESV or the NLT for yourself.
In comparing the ESV and NLT Study Bibles, I looked over the NLT first. I have the finished product to examine instead of just a printout of Jonah. I agree with Jeff's comments at Scripture Zealot about the book itself. The bleed-thru can be significant and distracting because the pages are very very thin. However, it has 12 pages of full color maps, a timeline, and a diagram of the Second Temple at the back. It also has an extensive 118 page Dictionary/Concordance, a 142 page subject index, and an 11 page Hebrew/Greek word study dictionary and index. The comments about the common mistakes committed with word studies are very helpful, and I may post a longer discussion of that section in the future.
The introduction is thorough, but (like any Study Bible for the masses) they make some uncertain, messy decisions that scholars have made about the text sound like they're clean, clear, and concrete (see "Outline", p. A9). I liked the Master Timeline (pp. A20-A25) and the Introduction to the Old Testament. I also liked the fact that the issue of authorship in the Pentateuch is discussed, rather than just dismissed or ignored. I appreciate that they at least mention the work of critical scholarship, even if they disagree. A lot of study bibles simply list a book's traditional author (like Proverbs and Solomon) and then move on (i.e., my ESV Scofield III).
For Jonah, they make the distinction that Jonah is the main character, but he may not have been the author. "Jonah may have written the book, though whether he wrote it or not does not affect its integrity as Scripture" (p. 1475). Too often the issue of authorship becomes a controversial issue because people believe that a book's status as Scripture is dependent on having an absolutely correct identification of the author (almost always, we must defend the traditional author against all attacks). For the most part, biblical books were anonymous. The Pentateuch may have started with Moses but others had a hand in its composition and transmission. The same goes for much of the Hebrew Bible. Many hands make light work. While tending to support traditional conclusions (such as Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch), the NLT Study Bible at least acknowledges the fact that the OT was written down over a period of at least 1000 years and that we don't know many of the contributors (p. 4).
To be continued...
Update: Michael has graciously updated his carnival post with the correct spelling of my name. A minor detail, but I appreciate his attentiveness.