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Introduction

This area of the site offers a number of personal translations of portions of the Old Testament. There are a number of different purposes to them - some are for general interest, others with a view to highlighting certain textual parallels with other material. A number have been done in connection with research work towards an M.Phil being carried out under supervision by John Bimson at Trinity College Bristol.

Choices in narrative and poetic blocks

Any translator makes certain choices about how to render the original language into the desired target. As regards Old Testament translation, most modern translations have chosen to adopt a vocabulary and writing style that is quite unlike that of the original documents. For example, Old Testament narrative portions rely extensively on systematic repetition of specific words and phrases, in order both to establish a motif for a given character, and to create connections between superficially separate textual units. Most modern translations vary the words used in translation considerably, to achieve more variation in the passages, and so obscure this. In poetic portions, modern translators typically keep some of the literary devices used in the original (such as parallelism or progression) but lose others (such as chiastic structures or repetition of consonants). The aim is frequently to make the Old Testament text seemingly more widely accessible by using the sorts of techniques that a modern author might employ. There are good reasons for this, but it inevitably dilutes something of the power and simplicity of the original text. Along with this, there has been a trend to make all Old Testament narrative passages read in a very standard way, whereas the original text frequently exhibits great variation in complexity of style and word use. A glossary of some literary terms is included to assist with the technicalities.

The choices made here in narrative blocks are:

  1. A given word is translated in the same or very similar way, while in the same context. This allows the use of words as motifs to be more clearly identified by the reader.
  2. Word order has been broadly kept in situations where the Hebrew has adopted an unusual style. Routinely, Hebrew places the sentence verb first, then the subject, then the direct object and other clauses. This is of course different from English, where the subject comes first, followed by the main verb, and no attempt has been made to follow the original order in this normal case. However, Hebrew, like English, shows some kinds of emphasis by deliberately altering the order, and where this happens a similar pattern has been adopted. This can be especially important in highlighting larger text structures such as chiastic ones.
  3. Where a particular style is evident in the passage - perhaps solumn wording, or a simple direct style - attempts have been made to keep this.
  4. Hebrew frequently shifts viewpoint in the text from the perspective of the narrator to that of a key figure (typically via the word hinneh). These shifts have been kept, and highlighted by use of phrases such as "look!" or "see -".

The choices made here in poetic blocks are:

  1. Hebrew is a very compact language, and attempts have been made to keep the translation compact rather than wordy, though the English translation can never be as compact as the original because of fundamental differences between the languages.
  2. Word order is particularly important in many poetic contexts, and strenuous efforts have been made to keep it.
  3. Where the Hebrew has used sound patterns (especially consonants), a similar device has been attempted in translation - in many cases not the same consonant, but hopefully something of the same effect.
  4. Where the original has used similar sounding words to achieve a parallel or contrasting meaning, a similar device has been attempted in translation.
  5. An attempt has been made to make the overall result sound poetic in English terms.

I have found various works by Robert Alter stimulating while in search of appropriate translations, and frequent feedback from family members - who are informed both Biblically and in a variety of literary disciplines - has been highly appreciated.

 

Divine names and titles

Another tradition in Biblical translation - this time of long standing - concerns the various names of God used in the text. As well as a number of titles (Lord, Most High, etc), there is the frequently occurring divine name. Most English Bibles represent this name by LORD (in capitals, to distinguish it from the title Lord). The Hebrew consonants here are YHVH, and conventionally the vowel-pointing is that for the title adonay (Lord). There are also a number of epithets used that slide easily across the gap between name and title. In these translations, the different names and titles have been preserved - my belief is that the authors chose a specific word for a specific occasion, and we come closest to understanding their intention by retaining these words. The clearest example of this is of course for the divine name, rendered here by Yahweh. The principle has been carried out thoroughly with all similar names and titles, inviting the reader to decide whether name or title is more appropriate at any stage. The specific situations are as follows:

 EpithetTranslation hereFamiliar translationComments
 YHVHYahwehLORDSometimes referred to as the tetragrammaton
 YHYahLORDA shortened form of the above, used occasionally
 'ElElGod, godThe name of the chief god of the Canaanites, also used generically to indicate a god, whether true or false
 'ElohimElohimGod, godCan be seen as a plural form of the above, arguably sometimes also used of exalted or highly regarded humans. There is evidence of parallel usage in other ancient languages from the late 2nd millennium BCE onwards, to indicate a quality of deity or divinity. This would suggest that sometimes the meaning is something like "godlike", "divine", or "holy". In other places the word is used as a direct parallel to El or Yahweh.
 'adonayAdonayLordSubstituted for Yahweh for reasons of piety when reading the Hebrew scriptures

Comments and suggestions about these translations, or the principles used in them, to info@oldtestamentstudies.net are very welcome.

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