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.

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