Friday, January 04, 2008

Long Time Gone

It's been about ten months since I posted anything, so it's time to get back to work. I'll be posting at minimum once a week this year. The posts will usually be prompted by the readings from my daily Bible reading calendar.

I try to read through a different version of the Bible every year, so after thirty years or so of doing that, I've obviously read through the English versions that are readily available. I have not, for example, read through the 1881 English Revised Version. As part of my reading this year, I am reading through Robert Alter's The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary, and Willis Barnstone's The New Covenant: Commonly Called the New Testament. The latter is a translation of the four gospels and Revelation by Barnstone, who is a professor of comparative literature at Indiana University, previously professor of Greek at Colgate University. Both of these translations have the strengths and weaknesses of individual translations. Translations of the Bible by individuals can certainly be more interesting than committee translations, because the committee system weeds out the eccentricities of the individual. A translation by an individual can be brilliant and insightful. It can also be pedantic and odd.

Alter's translation is generally quite good, and he makes an attempt to render Hebrew word-play into English. These attempts he usually highlights in his commentary. This is the sort of thing that most translations reserve for marginal notations, and it is nice to see them in the text. Some of them obviously work better than others.

Barnstone's translation tries to bring out the Semitic (Hebrew/Aramaic) background of the gospels. The most obvious way in which he does this is by rendering all the names in what amounts to the modern Israeli transliteration of Hebrew names. For example, Jesus is Yeshua; John is Yohanan; and Zebedee is Zavdai. He also renders John the Baptist as Yohanan the Dipper (Matt 3:1). This is certainly infelicitous. It assigns a meaning to baptizo that can certainly be defended, but probably not in every case. In addition, he then becomes inconsistent about it, because he renders the verb "immerse" in Matt 3:6, but "dipping" in 3:7. Still, it is refreshing to read a translation that makes one think about what the underlying Greek says. On the other hand, it also gives one a fair amount of respect for those early English translators who decided to simply transliterate with "baptize," rather than making an almost impossible choice regarding an English equivalent for the Greek baptizo.

If anyone has any questions or comments, please feel free to send them. Although I will be posting only once or twice a week, I will be checking the site every day.

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