Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Origin of the Name "Jehovah"

Claude Mariotti wrote a nice post on the origin of the name Jehovah from the original YHWH as the personal name of God in the OT. Devout Jews avoid saying YHWH (pronounced Yahweh) out of honor for God, replacing it with either Adonai (Lord) or Hashem (the name). In the Hebrew Bible, the vowels from Adonai are transposed onto the divine name YHWH to remind the reader to say Adonai instead of Yahweh. This results in the Hebrew spelling YeHoWaH, although it is never pronounced that way. Modern English Bibles normally translate YHWH with LORD, Adonai with Lord, and Elohim with God.

What Dr. Claude pointed out that I was not aware of was that Jehovah was not used as a transliteration of YHWH until 1278 in the work of a Spanish monk.

Of course, you all immediately saw the significance of that date: If Jehovah was not in use during the 11th century (the first Crusade), then there is a mistake in one of the final scenes of the otherwise inerrant and inspired Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. One of the clues to avoid the traps protecting the Holy Grail involved stepping on the letters in Jehovah to avoid falling to certain death. My faith in Steven Spielberg is now destroyed forever.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Bible Translation Quotes

I came across some good quotes on the nature of Bible translation as I was preparing to lecture on the subject for my Bible Interpretation classes:

“If one translates a verse literally, he is a liar; if he adds thereto, he is a blasphemer, and a slanderer!” (Rabbi Judah, b. Kiddushin 49a, quoted in HTPAT, Fee and Strauss)

“Let them not drag me into court if the text does not agree with the original word for word, for, try as you may, it cannot be done.” (Erasmus, Apologia 170:20-1)

"You are urged therefore to read with good will and attention, and to be indulgent in cases where, despite our diligent labor in translating, we may seem to have rendered some phrases imperfectly. For what was originally expressed in Hebrew does not have exactly the same sense when translated into another language. Not only this work, but even the law itself, the prophecies, and the rest of the books differ not a little as originally expressed." (Preface to Sirach, ca. 200 BC)

“I must let the literal words go and try to learn how the German says that which the Hebrew expresses… Whoever would speak German must not use Hebrew style. Rather he must see to it – once he understands the Hebrew author – that he concentrates on the sense of the text, asking himself, “Pray tell, what do the Germans say in such a situation?” … Let him drop the Hebrew words and express the meaning freely in the German he knows. (Martin Luther, commenting on translating the Old Testament into German, quoted in HTPAT, Fee and Strauss)

And we can't omit the Italian proverb "Traduttore traditore" ("the translator is a traitor.")

The picture: Acts 15:22-24 in Codex Laudanius, a parallel Greek/Latin manuscript, 6th century. Note the scribal correction in the line fourth from the bottom: the original says etaran, but the corrector changed it to etaraxan (they troubled). Also note the faint lettering in the background, which is probably text on the other side of the page that has bled through.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Come on in, you wounded Greeklings

For all my Greek students, here's a post I read over at Dave Black Online (originally from Laudator Temporis Acti):

After the first three weeks of the beginning Greek class, 20 percent of the students are unfortunately conked, casualties of the masculine nouns of the first declension. Others are DOA thanks to the pronoun autos. They find that the autos monster can mean three altogether different things ("him/her/it/them," "-self," or "same"), depending on both its case and its position in a sentence. Students do withdraw from an introductory Greek class before they taste Plato or the Gospels, these bored, annoyed, and exhausted ninteen-year-olds, those very prospects who you once hoped would go on to Thucydides—and perhaps be one of the 600 each year in America who still major in Classics. They slide now across the hall to squeeze into the university's over-enrolled Theory of Walking, Rope Climbing, and Star Trek and the Humanities, which will assuage and assure them that they are, all in all, pretty nice kids, classes that will offer the veneer of self-esteem but will guarantee that they will probably lose what little sense of real accomplishment they had carried within to begin with. You can nearly hear those doctors of therapy, those professors of recuperation at the lecture-hall door: "Come on in, you wounded Greeklings. It's not your fault. They had no business subjecting you to all that rote; we do things a lot differently here. Relax, sit back, breathe deeply, and tell us how you feel."

The picture: First column of the Gospel of Luke, from codex Sinaiticus (ca. AD 350).