Thursday, February 28, 2008

Words Have Meaning, 2

We left off last time with Joseph and his brothers. We pick up at that same place. Compare the following translations of Gen 43:33-44:3. The first is the ESV, the second is the NLT.

Genesis 43:33 And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth. And the men looked at one another in amazement. 34 Portions were taken to them from Joseph's table, but Benjamin's portion was five times as much as any of theirs. And they drank and were merry with him.
44:1 Then he commanded the steward of his house, "Fill the men's sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man's money in the mouth of his sack, 2 and put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, with his money for the grain." And he did as Joseph told him. 3 As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away with their donkeys.

Genesis 43:33 Joseph told each of his brothers where to sit, and to their amazement, he seated them according to age, from oldest to youngest. 34 And Joseph filled their plates with food from his own table, giving Benjamin five times as much as he gave the others. So they feasted and drank freely with him.
44:1 When his brothers were ready to leave, Joseph gave these instructions to his palace manager: "Fill each of their sacks with as much grain as they can carry, and put each man's money back into his sack. 2 Then put my personal silver cup at the top of the youngest brother's sack, along with the money for his grain." So the manager did as Joseph instructed him. 3 The brothers were up at dawn and were sent on their journey with their loaded donkeys.

The first is, to my mind, a much more accurate translation, and a much more informative translation, than the second. Notice, for example, in the ESV, Joseph's brothers are identified simply as "the men" throughout the passage. This reflects the Hebrew. It intends to create a distance between Joseph and his brothers. The NLT removes that distance. Further, the NLT has, "Joseph told each of his brothers where to sit" while it is clear from the context that all Joseph's communication with his brothers is through intermediaries (again, keeping the distance).

In addition, Joseph puts his brothers in a difficult spot. He enables them to drink too much. That is really the meaning of the ESV's "were merry" and the NLT's "drank freely." Then he sends them out at daybreak. The NLT's insertion, "When his brothers were ready to leave" has no foundation in either the Hebrew text or in any of the ancient versions. This goes beyond paraphrase. The fact is, they are not ready to leave. They are hung over, and it is just barely daylight. In all this Joseph is testing his brothers, to see what they will do with Benjamin when they are forced into adverse circumstances. The subtleties of this interplay are at best muted and at worst eliminated in the NLT