Suzanne McCarthy, requiem

Suzanne McCarthy was a BBB blogger. She died of cancer in 2015. Yesterday I learned that her husband, daughter, and a sister brought a book to publication that she had been writing before she died. It is titled Valient or Virtuous?: Gender Bias in Bible Translation. I am reading it. It is a good book that reflects Suzanne’s scholarship in the biblical languages and her keen interest in Bible translation.

One of the issues Suzanne raises is that the Hebrew word chayil is translated by many English Bible translations as “valor” when it refers to men, but as “virtuous” when it refers to women. Better Bibles translate a word the same way unless context requires a difference in translation.

What do you think? Can a woman be a woman of valor?

Suzanne was a woman of valor. We honor her.

Mike Aubrey, who blogs about the Greek of the New Testament, also honored Suzanne, on his blog.

blog guidelines

This is a reminder to follow all our blog guidelines when posting any comment. Our blog guidelines are found near the top of the right margin of our blog. If your comment does not follow the guidelines it will either be deleted by a moderator, or if it is a mixture of permissible comments and some not permitted, the wordings which are not permitted will be deleted, as described after the guidelines. The BBB is a moderated blog, so if you do not see one of your comments posted in a day or two, assume that it did not follow the blog guidelines.

We welcome vigorous debate that deals with Bible translation issues as objectively as possible. But we do not permit any comments which question the motives of any Bible translators. We do permit comments which question, on scholarly grounds, the translation of any specific passage in the original languages of the Bible. So, question translations, yes, question motives for translations, no.

Poetic Acts

The preceding post, by Peter Kirk, was about “poetic” and “accessible” language. This post is another about scripture set to poetry.

I have just received a copy of The Apostles’ Acts — In Verse, by my friend James Vasquez. James has written seven books of poetry based on scripture. James writes in classical poetic metre and rhyme.

Here is James’ rendition of Acts 17:22-34:

Paul in Athens

Within the Areopagus
Paul stood to view each person there.
He raised his hand and then his voice
Rang through the morning’s balmy air.

You men of Athens, hear me now,
For you are a religious lot,
And everywhere I look are seen
False idols that your hands begot.

And viewing each most carefully
As I in passing sauntered by,
An altar most remarkable
With its inscription caught my eye.

For “To An Unknown God,” it said.
Now what you worship as unknown
This day I will proclaim to you,
That you may all his wisdom own.

The God who made all things we see,
The world and every denizen,
Is Lord of heav’n and earth nor does
He live in temples made by men.

Nor do our hands yet serve him well
As though in need he looked to us,
For he gives life to every man,
His breath, and all things prosperous.

And from one man he made across
The earth all nations in their place,
And set the times for each and where
They were to live, each tribe and race.

He did this that all men might seek
And hap’ly find him reaching out,
Though close to every man he’s found,
His faithful promise leaves no doubt.

And thus, “In him we live and move,
And have our being as well,” one said.
“We are his offspring,” we are told,
By your own poets now long dead.

And since, O men of Athens, we
Are very offspring of this God,
Think not that like an idol he
Is made of gold or wood or sod.

For these are images and made
By man’s design and errant skill.
They hear not your petitions and
Your prayers remain unanswered still.

Now in times past God overlooked
Such ignorance and soul’s decay,
But now repentance he commands
For he has firmly set a day,

When he will judge the world at last
With justice foretold long ago,
By one whom he appointed and
Has given proof that all may know,

By raising Jesus from the dead,
The One whom I proclaim to you,
Though words I speak will never serve
To praise his name for honor due.

At once the air was filled with sneers.
Philosophers take pride in naught
But what their forebears have declared,
And oft their teachings have forgot.

But some asked Paul to speak again
And bring his message without shame,
While others who believed his word,
True followers of the Lord became.

ISV nears publication

The International Standard Version (ISV) is now on its last revision before publication. Note its features on its website:

The ISV is the first modern Bible translation in any language to provide an exclusive textual apparatus comparing the text of the famed Dead Sea Scrolls with the traditional Masoretic text of the Hebrew Tanakh (i.e., the “Old Testament”).

  • Over 5,000,000 electronic copies of the ISV New Testament have been distributed worldwide.
  • The first press run sold out in less than a month.
  • The second press run sold out before it was printed.
  • The ISV has been universally praised for its readability and accuracy.
  • The ISV is respected by professional Bible translators.
  • The ISV renders the book of Isaiah from the reliable Dead Sea Scrolls, using the Massoretic Text as a comparative.
  • Other Dead Sea Scrolls translations are coming soon.

Why (Bible) translation matters

I have been skimming descriptions and reviews of the book Why Translation Matters, by literary translator Edith Grossman. I hope I can read Grossman’s book someday, because many of the things she advocates about translation ring true for me as a Bible translator.

The first reviewer on the webpage for this book excerpts these lines from Grossman’s book:

[T]he most fundamental description of what translators do is that we write–or perhaps rewrite–in language B a work of literature originally composed in language A, hoping that readers of the [translation] will perceive the text, emotionally and artistically, in a manner that parallels and corresponds to the esthetic experience of its first readers.

“To my mind, a translator’s fidelity is not to lexical pairings but to context–the implications and echoes of the first author’s tone, intention, and level of discourse. Good translations are good because they are faithful to this contextual significance. They are not necessarily faithful to words or syntax, * * * because words do not `mean’ in isolation. Words `mean’ as indispensable parts of a contextual whole that includes the emotional tone and impact, the literary antecedents, the connotative nimbus as well as the denotations of each statement.

Anyone concerned about full-throated accuracy in Bible translation, including accuracy at literary levels, must take seriously the principles of translation that Grossman promotes and practices.

doves or pigeons?

A commenter from The Wuggy Chronicles just asked in our Share section:

I have been wondering why in many translations, “peristera” is translated as “dove” in John 1:32, but rendered “pigeon” in 2:14,16. An important layer of poetry is lost by using a different word there, so I’m curious about what tradeoffs motivated that (pretty common) decision.

I enjoy answering this kind of question since it involves looking at a number of different English Bible versions which I like doing.

First, I can’t speak to tradeoffs that motivated the decision not to use the same bird name in the two passages in John. I seldom have any idea what motivates a translation team to translate as they have unless they explicitly say what their motivation is. I agree with you: I see no reason to use a different bird name in the two passages. I believe that the versions that use the same English bird name to translate the same Greek New Testament bird name are clearer for English readers that the same bird is referred to.

Now, to the first part of your comment, the versions I have viewed which use the words “dove” and “pigeons” in the two passages are RSV, ESV (essentially the RSV with doctrinal revisions of a few verses), REB, GNT, and GW.  I cannot think of anything these versions have in common that are different from other versions.

Versions which use “dove” and “doves” are: KJV, Douay-Rheims, NASB, NWT, NKJV, NIV, NRSV, CEV, NJB, NAB, NLT, NCV, TM, NET, HCSB, ISV, and CEB.

By my count, the score is 4 versions (5 if ESV is counted as a different version from RSV) that use “dove” and “pigeons” and 17 versions which use “dove” and “doves.”

theopneustos or theo pneustos?

A BBB visitor has asked:

Question: didn’t early Greek manuscripts eschew spaces between words?

Yes, that Greek was written without spaces between words.

How do we know that 2 Timothy 3:16 says “pasa graphe theopneustos” instead of “pasa graphe theo pneustos”? That last one would make the English translation something like “God inflates every writing”.

It’s interesting to think of alternate meanings for the biblical text if the word breaks were different. But in each case the alternate must be possible according to Greek grammar. In this case the alternate is not possible because it is ungrammatical in Greek. The word for ‘God’ would need to be in the nominative case which is spelled “theos”. There is no Greek word spelled just as “theo”, even though there are some Internet webpages which erroneously state that “theopneustos” is made up of two words, “theo” meaning ‘God’ and “pneustos” meaning ‘breathed.’ What these webpages are trying to say is that “theo-” can appear as part (a bound morpheme) of a compound word. (This is another warning not to believe everything claimed on the Internet. We have to check out our sources to see if they are reliable, credible.)

“Pneustos” would be a word but it would not mean ‘inflated’ but, rather, ‘breathed.’