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Showing posts with label #Texts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Texts. Show all posts

17 January 2019

The bible “in the original Latin”: The Vulgate.

For the longest time, the authoritative translation of Roman Catholics.

Every so often, when I tell people I study the bible in the original languages (not that I go round bragging I can read the original languages; it’s just they ask me how I do bible study, so I tell them) they comment, “Ah, in the original Latin.”

Nope, not Latin. I can stumble through Latin, but the bible’s written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. The very few Latin words in there, were transliterated into the Greek alphabet.

Most accept the correction. A few foolhardy few—you know the sort who’ve always gotta be right?—actually try to stand their ground. “But didn’t Jesus speak Latin? He did in The Passion of the Christ.” Yeah, that movie’s not as historically accurate as you think. The fact a white gentile plays Jesus—no matter how good a job he did—should usually tip you off.

Latin was the language of the western Roman Empire—and Greek the language of the eastern. Which includes Israel. Which includes Jesus and his apostles. When Christianity was legalized in the 300s, the western Romans of course wanted a bible in their language—just like the eastern Romans did, for the Septuagint and New Testament are both in Greek. Most of the bible had been translated into Latin already, but some parts were well done… and some parts sucked. Some OT books were translations of the Septuagint (the Greek OT), not the Tanakh (the Hebrew/Aramaic OT) —so, translations of a translation. There was no consistency throughout.

In 382 Rome’s bishop Damasus (they weren’t yet called popes), tasked his personal secretary, Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus—whom we nowadays call St. Jerome—to fix the Latin-language bibles by doing a fresh retranslation of the gospels. Jerome did way more than that: He went to Israel, learned Hebrew and Aramaic, translated the entire Old Testament, and updated other parts of the New Testament. He’s largely responsible for the Latin translation we call the Vulgate 'vəl.ɡeɪt, from the term versio vulgata/“common version.” It was the bible of the western Romans—and after the Roman Empire receded to the east and historians relabeled it the Byzantine Empire, the official bible of the Roman Catholics. Until 1979, when Catholics came out with the New Vulgate.

Calling the Vulgate “the original Latin” is just as inaccurate as assuming the King James Version is the original. (Or as good as the original.) But for pagans, and newbie Christians who know nothing of church history, they don’t know any better, so of course they’re gonna make that mistake. Correct them kindly.

11 January 2019

Transliteration: Because in some languages, you’re illiterate.

No offense, but if you can’t read their alphabet, you are illiterate. So here’s a quick fix.

By now you’ve likely learned the bible wasn’t originally written in English. (Although good luck informing certain King James Only folks of this. Most of ’em know better, but there are some holdouts who still think God speaks in King James English.)

The bible was written in three dead languages, languages nobody speaks anymore. The present-day versions of these languages are not the same. Languages evolve. Modern Hebrew uses western word order (subject-verb-object, “I go home”), and ancient Hebrew uses middle eastern word order (verb-subject-object “Go I home”). Plus the vocabulary’s way bigger, what with all the loanwords from Yiddish, English, German, Russian, and Arabic. Plus the pronunciation’s different, much like the differences between American English and British English. Modern Greek follows new grammatical rules. Neo-Aramaic speakers love to point out Jesus spoke Aramaic like them, but the Babylonian Aramaic of the bible (and the first-century Syrian Aramaic which Jesus spoke) is like saying Geoffrey Chaucer spoke English like us. He did… and kinda didn’t.

The Old Testament was written in what we call Biblical Hebrew—the older parts in Early Biblical Hebrew, and the Aramaic-influenced later parts in Later Biblical Hebrew. A few chapters were written in Aramaic, the language of the Babylonian Empire—the language Daniel put some of his visions into. After the Jews returned from Babylon, that’s what they spoke, and that’s what Jesus spoke, as demonstrated by the few direct quotes we have of him in the New Testament. As for the NT, it’s in a form of Alexandrian Greek we call Koine Greek, a term which comes from the word κοινή/kiní, “common.”

And I know; most of my readers don’t know these languages. I learned them in seminary, ’cause I wanted to know how to read the original texts of the bible. I wanted to read it unfiltered by a translator. Not that most translators don’t know what they’re doing; not that most English translations aren’t well done. They are. But if I’m gonna seriously study bible, I still wanna read the original, and go through the process of translation myself. That’s why I translate it for TXAB.

In so doing, I often need to talk about the original-language words. So I convert ’em into our alphabet so you can kinda read them. It’s called transliteration. People have always done it. Mark did it in the bible, converting some of Jesus’s Aramaic sayings into Greek characters, like so—

Mark 5.41-42 KWL
41 He gripped the child’s hand and told her, “Talítha kum” (which is translated, “Get up, I say”)
42 and the girl instantly got up, and was walking around—she was 12 years old.
They were amazed and ecstatic.

—turning the original טליתא קומי into ταλιθα κουμ for Greek-speakers who couldn’t read the Aramaic alphabet.

Until recently I’ve transliterated everything on this blog, and left the original Hebrew and Greek out. ’Cause foreign languages intimidate certain people. Throw some Hebrew-alphabet words on a page, and people flinch: “Oh no, he’s writing in Hebrew! I can’t possibly read that. I can’t possibly read anything he’s written; he’ll get too technical for me.” I know; to many of you this sounds ridiculous. But I assure you people really do get that way. And I didn’t wanna alienate readers.

I’ve lately come to realize in so doing, I’m accommodating people’s irrational fears. And shouldn’t. Such fears are wholly inappropriate for Christians. If foreign languages freak you out, you need to get over it. Need to. It ruins your ability to share Jesus with foreigners—and with anybody who has compassion for foreigners. You know, like Jesus, who includes us foreigners in his kingdom. So here on out, I’m gonna include the original text in TXAB—and relax, I’ll still transliterate it for you.

But I’ve received comments from people who aren’t sure I’m transliterating properly. Fr’instance when I write on love, I render the Greek word ἀγάπη as agápi. And they’re pretty sure I’ve done it wrong. Everybody they know spells it “agape,” with an E… and pronounces it ə'gɑ.peɪ, not ɑ'gɑ.pi.

Well, everybody they know is doing it wrong. Modern Greek speakers pronounce it ɑ'gɑ.pi, so I’m going with them.

True, ancient Hebrew and Greek is not modern Hebrew and Greek. Doesn’t matter. Today’s native speakers have the pronunciation way closer than Americans do. And for the most part Americans aren’t even trying to get the pronunciation right. They’re just repeating the way they heard other Christians and scholars say it. They’re following the crowd. Even if they learned how to pronounce these languages properly in seminary; even if they grew up in Israel or Greece! That’s just how corrupting peer pressure can be.

I strive for accuracy. So should we all. So I’ll include my transliteration scheme here, for transparency’s sake. And of course you can compare it with your favorite Greek or Hebrew dictionaries… including the mangled way they sometimes pronounce these words, which likewise bear no relation to how native speakers properly do it.

13 June 2018

The interlinear bible.

For those who want the illusion of being able to read the original.

INTERLINEAR BIBLE in.ter'lin.e.er 'bi.bel n. Bible which presents the same text in different languages printed on alternate lines.

First time I stumbled across an interlinear bible was back in high school. I was killing time in a Christian bookstore. (Remember those?) This one happened to have an interlinear Old Testament mixed in among the bibles. Never knew such a thing even existed, but I wanted it immediately: It had “the original Hebrew”—the Masoretic text of the scriptures, in a language I couldn’t read at all, ’cause I hadn’t even learned the alphabet yet. But its secrets were unlocked with a word-by-word translation, displayed beneath every Hebrew word. Looked like yea:


Acts 2.42-44 presented interlinear-style. Oak Tree Software

Wanted to buy it immediately, but the sucker was expensive. (A lot of interlinear bibles are. Low demand, y’see.) Something like $80 in 1980s money.

Ten years later I bought the NIV interlinear Old Testament, which was still a bit expensive: I paid $50 in ’90s money, plus shipping. Also got the NIV interlinear New Testament to go along with it.

Then I went to university, minored in biblical languages, and my Hebrew professor told me I had to get rid of my interlinears.

What? Why?

Because, he explained, it’s a “cheater bible.” Every time I pick it up to read Hebrew, I’m not really gonna read the Hebrew. My eyes are gonna drift down one line to the English translation. It’s like having an answer key: I wouldn’t have to practice my vocabulary. Wouldn’t have to remember any word-prefixes or word-endings. Wouldn’t have to remember a thing. The interlinear would be my crutch, and as my memory of Hebrew decayed—as it will, when you don’t practice—it’d become more and more of a crutch. I’d go right back to reading English instead of Hebrew. Yet I’d imagine to myself, “But I know Hebrew.”

Yeah, I had to admit he was absolutely right. Whenever I open up an interlinear text, that’s always what I catch myself doing. That’s why I’ve gotta turn off that software or close that book, and go back to a Hebrew-only text.

But that’s me, and anyone else who can read biblical languages. If you can’t—if you know a few original-language words, but certainly can’t read Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, and wish you had more access to those languages—that’s what an interlinear bible will do for you. It erases some of the barrier between you and the original languages.

But there is still a language barrier. So don’t get overconfident.

08 March 2018

Why the Dead Sea Scrolls are such a big deal.

Other than being our oldest copies of the Old Testament.

Round 1947—most likely some years earlier—Muhammad edh Dhib, a Bedouin goatherd, was chasing a stray goat through Khirbet Qumran, ruins near the Dead Sea. Checking the nearby caves in case the goat was hiding in there, he threw rocks into the blackness to scare out the goat. Instead he heard a pot break. So he went in to check that out. He found pottery which contained scrolls written in first-century Hebrew.

Figuring they were worth a sheqel or two, he sold them to an antiquities dealer. In November 1947, the dealer sold ’em to Eliezer Sukenik of Hebrew University. Word spread. Hundreds of Qumran caves were searched. Eleven were found to contain tens of thousands of scroll fragments, which altogether make up about 875 books.

Popularly they’re called the Dead Sea Scrolls. Sometimes they’re called the Qumran scrolls. They’re the writings of an ancient religious commune in Qumran, Jews from Jesus’s day who considered themselves neither Sadducee nor Pharisee. (In fact they had a lot of condemnation for the Judean leadership.) Other ancient writers never mentioned this group, but since Flavius Josephus and Pliny the Elder mentioned a denomination called the Essenes, various people claim the Qumrani sect was Essene. But there’s zero evidence for this theory. (Same with the theory John the baptist was Essene—or Qumrani.)

The Dead Sea Scrolls are significant ’cause among them are the oldest known copies of the Old Testament. Before they were found, the oldest known copy was a Greek-language Septuagint (originally copied between 250–100BC). Then a Latin-language Vulgate (from 385–420). Then a Hebrew-language copy of the Old Testament (from the 900s). It’s not good when your translations are older than your original-language texts; you’re always tempted to take the translations more seriously than maybe you oughta.

Well, now scholars have a Hebrew Old Testament that’s 10 centuries older than the previous version, ’cause some of the Dead Sea Scrolls date to 100BC. Arguably it’s the very same Old Testament read by the Pharisees, Jesus, and his students.

So they’re kinda important. For even more reasons than their age.

07 November 2016

Translating it myself. (And why that’s okay.)

’Cause sometimes it seriously bugs people that I dare to translate the bible.

During my church’s services, in between worship songs and sermon notes, sometimes I’ve put bible verses on our video screens. Not as part of the service; just as something to have on the screen in between the other stuff. Something other than a blank screen.

A few weeks ago I got asked,

SHE. “Which translation is ‘KWL’? What’s that stand for?”
ME. “Me. K.W. Leslie. I translated it.”
SHE. “Why’d you use your own translation instead of an official translation?”
ME. “What do you mean, official translations?”
SHE. “Well, like the Authorized Version. The NIV, the New King James…”
ME. “Those aren’t official translations. They were produced by publishers. The bible’s the most popular book in the world; there’s good money to be made by owning your own translation. So publishers hired scholars, and now they have their own translations. But none of them are official.”

(I should clarify: Some churches have made the KJV their official translation, and Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses have produced their own officially-approved translations. But neither our church nor denomination has an official translation.)

SHE. “Well, they were done by churches.”
ME. “They were not. They were done by publishers. Who did hire actual scholars to do the translating, so they’re not bad translations. But they weren’t done by any one church; they wanna sell bibles to every church, y’know.”
SHE. “But why do you do your own translation?”
ME. “As part of my bible study. When I’m studying a verse, I wanna really understand it, so I read it in the original, and translate it. I’m not trying to produce ‘the KWL version of the bible’; I’m just trying to understand it better. Sometimes I’ll use different words than other translations. But I’m not too far different than any of the other translations. In fact if I were too far different, it’d mean I’m doing it wrong.”
SHE. “But why use your translation instead of one of the official translations?”
ME. [letting go the fact she still insists there are official translations] “Certain words I used, which I like better than the words other translations used.”
SHE. “Well I would be nervous about that. Aren’t you changing the words of the bible to suit yourself?”
ME. “I’m trying not to do that. I’m trying to stay true to the original language, the original authors’ intent.”
SHE. “But why do you think you’ve done a better job than the official translations?”
ME. “Because sometimes I did do a better job. Certain translations bend the meaning to fit how popular Christian culture interprets the bible. The new edition of the Amplified Bible does it all the time. The New Living Translation does it a few times. The New International Version tries to hide all the bible difficulties. I tend to compare my translation with the King James Version because I’ve found that translation bends it least. But translators aren’t infallible. Everybody makes mistakes. Myself included.”
SHE. “So how can you put your translation up there like it’s authoritative?”
ME. “’Cause it’s just as ‘authoritative’ as those other translations. Which is to say, don’t take any one translation’s word for it. Compare it with other ones, just in case one of us made a mistake.”

Pretty sure I didn’t convince her, though. When you grow up thinking of certain bible translations as absolute authorities… it kinda bothers you to discover they’re not the work of extra-special anointed creatures, but ordinary women and men. Especially once you personally know any of those ordinary women and men.

27 January 2016

The bible in “the original Greek”: The Septuagint.

Still the authoritative translation of a lot of Christians.

SEPTUAGINT sɛp'tu.ə.dʒɪnt noun. An ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament.
[Septuagintal sɛp.tu.ə'dʒɪnt.əl adj.]

When you read the New Testament, and one of the apostles quotes the Old Testament, most of the time they’re not translating it from the original Hebrew. They’re quoting a Greek translation.

There wasn’t just one translation. Same as English versions of the bible nowadays, different translators had taken different shots at putting the Hebrew scriptures into Greek. Some Greek-speaking Jew in Jerusalem might put together something like a “King Jonathan’s Version,” or KJV; some Greek-speaking Jew in Egypt might’ve cobbled together an “Egyptian Standard Version,” or ESV; some curious gentile in Laodicea might’ve put together a “New Laodicean Translation,” or NLT… I could come up with more hypothetical reasons for these familiar initials, but you get the gist. But over time, copyists smooshed all these different Greek bibles together into one sorta-kinda-the-standard copy, and we call it the Septuagint.

Why’s it called the Septuagint? Funny story. According to a Pharisee legend, told in the Letter of Aristeas, King Ptolemy Philadelphius of Egypt wanted a copy of the bible for his famous Library of Alexandria. So he asked Jerusalem for translators; they sent him either 70 or 72 scribes, who cleverly answered Ptolemy’s test questions and got the job. Each were given their own room, got to translating, and when done all their translations miraculously matched, word-for-word. Therefore this is an inspired, inerrant translation of the bible. (Oh, and septuaginta is Latin for 70. It’s why people tend to use the abbreviation LXX, the Roman 70, for the Septuagint.)

Yeah, it’s as bogus as the myth KJV-only adherents have for their favorite translation. Because if it really were an infallible version of the bible, the New Testament authors would’ve quoted it, and only it, for their scriptures. Instead some apostles quoted it. And others translated the Hebrew for themselves. Paul went back and forth. Seems sometimes he just didn’t care for the way the Septuagint put it, and decided to phrase the original Hebrew in his own way.

19 January 2016

The King James Version: Its history and worshipers.

Some of ’em have crossed the line from fandom to idolatry.

Most of the verses I’ve memorized were in the King James Version.

Hey, it’s my upbringing. The hundred English translations of the bible that exist nowadays? Weren’t around back when I was a kid. There were maybe a dozen in the Christian bookstores. But my church used the KJV, so that’s largely what’s in my brain. Even though I later got a Good News Bible, then a New International Version, when it came to memory verses my Sunday school teachers drilled us in KJV.

In adulthood, for a lot of years I memorized verses in NIV. (Which they’ve updated three times since, so sometimes my memory verses don’t match the current NIV.) After I learned biblical languages, I memorized verses in my own translation. Makes it tricky to look up memory verses in my bible software, which is particular about which translation I’m searching. Google isn’t so picky.

Still, I quote KJV a lot, which surprises a lot of people. They assume I’m more “modern” or “postmodern” than that, whatever the mean by those terms. Supposedly a with-it guy like me (who’s not that with-it, admittedly) should think the KJV is old-timey, or out of date, or not reliable, or once I left my Fundamentalism behind I left the KJV as well.

Nope. I still like the King James Version. It’s a good translation.

Not infallible, of course. No such thing as an infallible translation. There are those who believe otherwise—that the KJV is the only reliable bible. No, not the only reliable English bible; the only reliable bible, period. I’ll deal with them in a bit.

But you’ll notice when I write about my translation of the gospels or of the apostles, I tend to compare it to the KJV. For two main reasons: Loads of Christians, especially Evangelicals, still consider it the authoritative translation of the bible, even when they like other translations better. And loads of translations have, when in doubt or whenever possible, deferred to the way the KJV originally put it. (It is, after all, the way most of us remember those verses.)

For better or worse, the KJV is still the English-language standard for bibles. It wasn’t the first English translation, but it’s definitely the most influential.