Text and notes

There has been a discussion about the NET Bible here. It got me thinking again of the relationship between the text and the footnotes. Here are a couple of examples from Psalm 51 which I have been working on. First, let me say that these notes are excellent. There is no doubt and I wish I had made more use of them in writing my paper.

However, the question is, do the notes justify the translation? What do people think about this? The translation is less than literal, somewhat interpretive and does not always follow the notes. Let me just say, yes, I like the notes, not always, but they for the most part great to have.

    Psalm 51:7

    Sprinkle me19 with water20 and I will be pure;21
    wash me22 and I will be whiter than snow.

      20 tn Heb “cleanse me with hyssop.” “Hyssop” was a small plant (see 1 Kgs 4:33) used to apply water (or blood) in purification rites (see Exod 12:22; Lev 14:4-6, 49-52; Num 19:6-18. The psalmist uses the language and imagery of such rites to describe spiritual cleansing through forgiveness.

    Psalm 51:10

    51:10 Create for me a pure heart, O God!
    Renew a resolute spirit within me!30
    Do not reject me!31
    Do not take your Holy Spirit32 away from me!33
    Let me again experience the joy of your deliverance!
    Sustain me by giving me the desire to obey!34

      34tn Heb “and [with] a willing spirit sustain me.” The psalmist asks that God make him the kind of person who willingly obeys the divine commandments. The imperfect verbal form is used here to express the psalmist’s wish or request.

    1 Tim 2:12 But I do not allow19 a woman to teach or exercise authority20 over a man. She must remain quiet.21

      20tn According to BDAG 150 s.v. αὐθεντέω this Greek verb means “to assume a stance of independent authority, give orders to, dictate to” (cf. JB “tell a man what to do”).

I am feeling pretty ambivalent about these examples. What do you think?

Posted in: NET

20 thoughts on “Text and notes

  1. Bob MacDonald says:

    Just a couple of quick thoughts. More and more these last 6 weeks I am thinking that a translation must stand on its own. I have ‘known’ and used the psalter and this psalm for many years – long before I read it in Hebrew. I think notes if used at all should avoid ‘explanation’ of meaning and should show language structural elements where they are impossible to see in the target language.

    This psalm unfortunately gets milked for its penitence – not that penitence is wrong but that milking is not the right approach to it. Repentance goes beyond sentiment. So this psalm goes to the heart – that God is right after all. In this it reflects a theme in the TNK and of course in many other psalms – that this God is not arbitrary – that this God’s creation is good and that this God will judge the earth righteously – e.g. the centre of Psalm 67.

    So ‘sprinkle me with water’ – is lame – and misses the reflection of hyssop in the crucifixion. And what does that adjective ‘spiritual’ in note 20 mean in this context?

    And ‘do not reject me’ – is also lame. What is wrong with ‘Do not cast me from your presence’ – where is the knowledge of the _face_ or presence of God that is another major theme in the TNK? Why dumb down the language and tell people in the notes what to think!

    More starkness – less explaining. My stark version is here

    My words only (admittedly with some textual marking) is here

  2. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    I love your spirit of free offering! That is such a tricky one to get right. Yes, I found hyssop to be a powerful image and relates to humility that is also expressed by “broken” or “crushed.”

    I am still going back and forth on the stand alone vs notes. They both are important.

  3. J. K. Gayle says:

    Bob, You say I think notes if used at all should avoid ‘explanation’ of meaning and should show language structural elements where they are impossible to see in the target language because you’ve said: “quick thoughts. . . a translation must stand on its own.”

    Suzanne, Aren’t you agreeing with Bob when praising his translation? Doesn’t he offer a fair qualification for any fn?

    What if the original language is provided side by side. Isn’t that worth a thousand words in a fn?

    El Shaddai has a fantastic post today showing translation comparisons (with discussion as fns might do). However, the commentary does what Bob suggests fns best should do.

  4. dru says:

    I quite like the NET notes, though some of them are a bit obvious, but I think the translation itself is a bit cloth eared.

    I also find the little little numbers for the footnotes get in the way of reading the text, but I suspect that’s a personal oddity.

    “Purge me with hyssop” has far more thrill about it than “sprinkle me with water” with just a footnote on hyssop – particularly after Suzanne’s recent commentary on hyssop. I also agree that ‘do not reject me’ is lame compared with ‘Do not cast me from your presence’, particularly as the word ‘presence’ is in the original.

    The psalms are poetry. My own preference is that they should be translated with some sort of rhythm, so that they read as free verse rather than prose that just happens to be set out to look like free verse.

    This is part of what I was getting at recently when I commented that different translations work better for different parts of the Bible, as their own registers often correspond better to some parts of scripture than other.


  5. J. K. Gayle says:

    Imagine having to read Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke, with little little footnotes. Listen to this psalming poetry:

    Then as thy self to leapers hast assign’d,
    With hisop, Lord, thy Hisop, purge me soe:
    And that shall clense the leaprie of my mind;
    Make over me thy mercies streames to flow
    Soe shall my whiteness scorn the whitest snow.
    To eare and hart send soundes auld thoughts of gladness,
    That brused bones maie daunce awaie their sadness.

    Thy ill-pleas’d eye from my misdeedes avert:
    Cancell the registers my sinns containe:
    Create in me a pure, cleane, spottless hart:
    Inspire a sprite where love of right maie raigne.
    Ah! cast me not from thee: take not againe
    Thy breathing grace! againe thy comfort send me,
    And let the guard of thy free sp’rite attend me.

    Here’s Sidney’s entire Psalm 51.

    If not the William Shakespeare herself, Sidney does sound like the Bard.

  6. dru says:

    That’s 10,10,10,10,10,11,11. Does anyone know a tune in that unusual metre?

    Am I right that ‘Discerned’ and ‘learned’ (v 3) are 3 and 2 syllables respectively?

    Is leaprie leprosy? I can’t find it in the old edition of the OED.


  7. J. K. Gayle says:

    What great questions. Deborah Uman claims that “for Sidney translation and originality were inextricably linked” and calls “experiments” her “form, meter, and rhyme.” (Beth Wynne Fisken says hers is “The Art of Sacred Parody”: “voices that are amplified through the media of complex syntax, multiple speakers, and direct and specific characterization of the audience common to both the psalm and the sonnet form. . . In these translations, [she] possibly invents on a literary level an androgynous identity analogous to that offered in the ambiguous modes of self address used by Queen Elizabeth to defuse male discomfort at being ruled by a woman.”)

    My count at least of the syllables is the same is yours.

    OED online, does have what you suspect.

  8. Dana says:

    I too think leaving out hyssop, and not acknowledging the Presence, are not helpful. I really like Bob’s sense of the Ps 51 speaker being the offering that God accepts, as the speaker acknowledges the greatness of God.

    Dru, the only thing I can come up with on the fly (printed matter in my house) for a tune with that meter is 10 10. 10 10. 10, Old 124th by Louis Bourgeois. You could tack on an 11 11 as the second half of something else, say Welwyn by Alfred Scott-Gatty, that would fit the character of the Bourgeois. This courtesy of the Episcopal Hymnal, 1940. Otherwise- search the ‘net 🙂

  9. David Ker says:

    I agree with Bob on all the junk we surround the text with (He wouldn’t say it like that). In a pre-literate society people don’t know what to do with all those squiggles. In a post-literate society, people spend all their time studying the notes or jumping from one hyperlink to the next. Last weekend I sat down with a clean translation of Beowulf and I was sucked into the text and enraptured by the foreignness of the experience. The strange thing that happened in my brain is that I felt Beowulf was more foreign than the Bible. Actually it’s the other way around. We’ve domesticated a complex, unfathomable text and blinded ourselves that our notes and references make everything clear.

  10. David Ker says:

    Dru, I interpreted leaprie as “leaperie” being the state of my mind when I’m leaping from one thought to another. Drat. I think you’re right.

  11. Bob MacDonald says:

    What lovely stuff the Countess has given us! The repetition she achieves has some affinity with the microforms of the Biblical poet – though of course she has constrained herself by design with the rhyme and meter of English poetry.

    Picking up on Dana’s comment. The phrase “purge me with hyssop” (lovely touch, capitalizing it in the Countess’s version), can be read as “you will ‘sin-offer’ me”. Dahood has “unsin me”! But I like the recognition of the offering which anticipates the resolution of the third section of the Psalm. It is true also that at least 3 billion people have King David and his troubles in their tradition. If they read it, they will profit from David’s sin-offering for us which also anticipates the perfect sin-offering we have in the Lamb of God.

  12. David Ker says:

    When you said Countess, I thought you were referring to Suzanne. Can we call you that, Sue?!? 😉

  13. J. K. Gayle says:

    Long live the Countess, who’s brought to us the Countess before in Psalm 51.

    Thanks also, your Highness,
    —for showing us Beck’s work;
    —for letting us hear Ellison-Rosenblit “call forth Bat Sheva herself and [watch the former] compose a radical reading in two voices, hers [Bat Sheva’s] and David’s”;
    —and for reminding us to mind Hobbin’s great efforts “not to resolve issues so much as to pose the right questions and suggest a path or paths by which the questions might be explored” with respect to translating Psalm 51.

    All three links you give us Suzanne are wonderful and worth reading. Looking forward to hearing more from you, as time allows.

  14. J. K. Gayle says:

    And don’t think Bob’s translation is as “stark” as he makes it out to be. If you haven’t looked yet, it’s a visual treat (which makes the pain of reading Psalm 51 almost bearable).

    Bob, I think your stereotexting, the interlation you offer, is just amazing. I see so much more there, with your willingness to show the Hebrew of David, in your English!

  15. Bob MacDonald says:

    Blumenthal writes: How do the rabbinic sages, committed to painting David as a man of holy devotion and progenitor of the messiah, confront issues of deception, adultery and murder in their beloved king and psalmist?

    Suzanne – thanks for pointing this essay out – Blumenthal’s page was perhaps the first web page I ever visited a decade and a half ago. So good to read him again.

    What an interesting way to invoke Bathsheba – would make a very good story – but should be written by a woman.

    The key in the Samuel story that the rabbis could use is that ‘the child will die’. This phrase – that the seed of David will die – but that David himself will live, points to the recreation of the world in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    JKG – thanks for your word – let me say that I welcome collaboration in the discovery of structures in the psalms.

  16. dru says:

    I think it’s a big mistake to see Bathsheba solely in a passive role, a victim of exploitation by a lecherous man who was more powerful than her. It is quite clear from 1 Kings 1 that she had rather more about her.


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