Thursday, June 10, 2004

Non-Religion; translation

OK. I was posting something with some friends and I made a joke out of how much importance some people have historically placed on a particular version of a translation of the Bible. My comic reference was to how some people had such a reverence for the Scofield Reference Bible.

In writing this I spent just a few minutes looking up some things. What seems like humor can oft turn thought-provoking when one looks at facts surrounding someone or something. I will say that it is laughable how some people place such a trust into a work as opposed to the underlying truths held within that body of work.

This was supposed to be a discussion of the difference in a translation, an interpretation and a version (of a Bible) but first allow me to point to some history of two people whose names I have typed either in this blog or in another social area.

Dwight Lyman Moody was a preacher of some reknown during the late 19th century in America. While I may not share his gifts or his particular interpretation of some non-fundamental points of scripture; I do respect his dedication and he and I would probably agree on the pertinent parts of Christian tradition (namely the virgin birth, diety of Christ, His blood sacrifice, exclusivity of salvation, damnable nature of people and holiness of God hopefully among others). I don't want to live his life but I respect not only his drive to preach a message but also his pragmatism at a time when it might not have been the order of the day. He suggested people mark passages in their Bibles. At that time Bibles probably weren't as mass produced as they are today. He suggested to his listeners to use interleaved text for more room to make notes. Practical idea. A large independant Baptist church was founded in his name in Chicago, IL. It was later presided over by . . .

Cygnus I. Scofield (don't ask me to look up his middle name, it was something like Ignatius I think). He actually produced the first Scofield Reference Bible which was an early attempt at making a Bible that easily showed references between passages so that readers could more easily find links between similar ideas or between references from one person to something they were discussing in the text. Remember that for the people of the New Testament, the Old Testament were their religious documents just like they are for current day Christians and Jews. Often New Testament writers referred to a passage in their religious documents and the Scofield Reference Bible is a version that places a link to the original passage right beside the reference, hence the name.

Now, having typed all that, here we go with translations, interpretations, paraphrases and versions (yeah I added paraphrases and don't want to go back up to the top to edit it 'cause I'm feeling not completely well today and I just want to start typing in "stream of consciousness" style).

Sometimes it can be confusing (especially for someone who doesn't believe the Bible to be the inspired word of an entity) to understand why so many people have different Bibles and what they can all be used for. It can be confusing understanding why some believe one thing and others choose to believe differently.

Here's my first installment:

Translations are direct word-for-word or phrase-for-phrase changes from one language to another. The original texts of the Bible (students of the Bible call these "the original autographs") were written in one of three languages: Hebrew (the language of Israel), Aramaic (very small portion of the Bible) and Greek (Koine Greek to be specific; its a dead version of Greek and slightly different from modern day Greek). Now because most English-speaking people don't normally read Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek, someone decided (King James in 1611) to commission a work where the words of the Canon (I'll write about the Canon later) were translated into English. This version was called the "King James Version" or "Authorized Version" (abbreviated "KJV" or "AV" respectively).
The goal of a translation is to convey the text in as accurate a manner as possible. I'm sure the school of translation has changed some since I studied my undergraduate work but the basics will remain the same. People who translate the Bible (or any text for that matter) don't have to contend with the comprehension of the audience in either language. In other words, it doesn't truly matter to a dedicated translator whether you understand the English version of a text any more than it matters to her if you understand the Aramaic. The translator's goal is accuracy. He or she (and I may use them interchangeably) should continually consider "Have I translated this as close to the original text as I possibly can?" Now that may make for some weird passages. Why you ask . . . well, go on, ask Why? Because, any language is living at the time it is being used and it is growing and changing and taking on new meanings. A tired example is the usage of "gay" in English. Not only are words changing their contextual meaning(s) to keep up with current usages, you also have to consider idiomatic phrases. An idiomatic phrase might be "it was a fast a greased lightning." It is a phrase in a language meant not to be taken literally but to be accepted for the metaphor that it encapsulates. Translating these phrases word-for-word leaves us with some passages like ". . . bowels and tender mercies . . . ." in the KJV. You and I in Twentieth or Twenty-First Century America wonder what the heck the author meant when he refers to feeling something with ones bowels. Now you have to include interpretation (more on this in another post) to explain this. See, historically Jewish authors used to refer to feeling with their bowels in the same manner that many western writers now refer to feeling with the heart. To them the feelings might have been more visceral rather than lofty. Perhaps as culture changes other generations will refer to feeling something differently. Sometimes already people who have strong reactions to something say things like "that's in my skin" and I assume that they mean they can't elude the feelings that they are trying to express.

It's my observation that many people don't want a book in English that is just as difficult to understand as the original languages so you have varying degrees of translation from word-for-word to phrase-for-phrase. Eventually the translators begin to become preoccupied with the understanding of the original message and you begin to get interpretations . . . but that's for another post.

I guess at this point I'll make a few installments:
the Canon (what is it and how'd we get it)

If you're interested, have some patience. It's been years since I studied and I have to admit that (A) if you're involved in the personal practice of Christianity this is easily one of the less important things. It's also (B) as a person who doesn't really enjoy practicing the Christian experience (lots o' humility and self-governing involved there) I don't really like getting into these things too much.

Thanks for reading,


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