I often end a night of sleep with the words of some hymn running through my mind. Today the hymn was Come Thou Almighty King. As my half-asleep mind sang the words I paused at the name “Ancient of Days” which ends one of the verses.
For the first time I thought about the fact that the phrase “Ancient of Days” is not standard in my dialect of English (it might be in yours). It was too early to get up and I needed more sleep. But my mind wanted to think about the translation issue with. And so it did.
The syntactic formula is simple enough: X of Y, where X is an adjective and Y is a noun. But does English, current English, anyway, actually have this syntactic formula as part of its grammar? I’m not sure. I think I can recall reading phrases using the Adjective of Noun formula, but each example my brain generated, as I was groggy of sleep (!), did not sound natural to me. Possibilities could include “fleet of foot”, “full of face”, “thin of lips”, “sparse of hair”, “generous of heart”, “narrow of nose”, “thick of eyebrows”, “broad of knowledge”, “loquacious of speech.” Perhaps some of these phrases were natural English at an older stage of English.
I suggest that titles of people or deity in the Bible should be translated to standard varieties of English syntax, just as we should do with other language. The more that we can translate using the available grammatical forms of the target (e.g. English) language, the more accurately we can *communicate* the message of the biblical texts and the more clearly people can understand it (except, of course, for texts which were originally obscure).
What does “Ancient of Days” mean? I *assume* that it is referring to someone who is very, very old. If that is true, then how about translating the original biblical phrase as “The Ancient One”? Or what are some other ways you can think of which would have the same meaning as “Ancient of Days” has been intended to have, but is expressed using standard English syntax.
I’m leaving this morning for a quick visit with my parents in their nursing home in Alaska. My father has had a difficult time recently with intense pain all over his body. It seems that infection has spread from a bad sore throughout his body and into his bone marrow. The doctors are now treating the infection with antibiotics and he is improving. But his condition was scary for awhile, so I felt I needed to visit my parents before it was too late. I may not read any comments to this post until I am in the nursing home (of my parents, not for myself!), if there is a wireless signal there.