30 Matching Annotations
  1. Feb 2024
    1. But it was her uncle, the RevdCyrus Byington, who had the greatest influence on her life and interests. Hehad been a missionary with the Brewer sisters’ father to the Choctaw NativeAmerican Communities at the old mission station in Stockbridge; he hadtranslated the Bible into Choctaw, and wrote a grammar and dictionary of thelanguage.
  2. Oct 2023
    1. Steinberg, Avi. “After More Than Two Decades of Work, a New Hebrew Bible to Rival the King James.” The New York Times, December 20, 2018, sec. Magazine. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/20/magazine/hebrew-bible-translation.html.

    2. Daniel is almost certainly the Bible’s latest book, composed during a time when Hebrew, no longer the spoken language, had gone into decline. It is one of the few books in the Hebrew Bible where Aramaic appears for long stretches of the text. And this linguistic estrangement isn’t just the historical background of Daniel’s authors, who scholars believe were living under foreign domination and religious persecution by the Seleucid Greeks around the second century B.C.
    3. Here is Alter’s version of the well-known opening of Genesis 21, part of the story of Isaac, the miracle baby of 90-year-old Sarah, and her 99-year-old husband, Abraham: “And the Lord singled out Sarah.” The word Alter is translating as “singled out” is pakad. The King James, and most others after it, translate it as “visited.” The Jewish Publication Society has it as “remembered.” Others translate it as “kept his word,” “took note of,” “was gracious to,” “was attentive to” or “blessed.” A good literal version, provided by the canny contemporary translator Everett Fox, has it as “took account of” — and there is something numerical and even administrative about pakad. (Elsewhere in the Bible, in the context of describing a public census, pakad means “to number”; in modern Hebrew, it is related to the words for “officer,” “clerk” and “roll-call.”) Weaving together its numerical dimensions with a thread of bureaucratic banality, Alter yields the anxious verb “singled out” and with it, reveals new layers of tension in this story.

      translation of pakad, an administrative word literally translated as "took account of" as "took note of"

    4. Alter regularly composes phrases that sound strange in English, in part because they carry hints of ancient Hebrew within them. The translation theorist Lawrence Venuti, whom Alter has cited, describes translations that “foreignize,” or openly signal that a translated text was originally written in another language, and those that “domesticate,” or render invisible the original language. According to Venuti, a “foreignized” translation “seeks to register linguistic and cultural differences.” Alter maintains that his translation of the Bible borrows from the idea of “foreignizing,” and this approach generates unexpected and even radical urgency, particularly in passages that might seem familiar.
    5. Alter told me about his decision to reject one of the oldest traditions in English translation and remove the word “soul” from the text. That word, which translates the Hebrew word nefesh, has been a favorite in English-language Bibles since the 1611 King James Version.

      Extended discussion here of the decision to translate nefesh not as "soul" with various examples.

    1. Shulevitz, Judith. “‘The Five Books of Moses’: From God’s Mouth to English.” Book Review of The Five Books of Moses: A Translation With Commentary by Robert Alter. The New York Times, October 17, 2004, sec. Books. https://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/17/books/review/the-five-books-of-moses-from-gods-mouth-to-english.html.

    2. Alter's translation puts into practice his belief that the rules of biblical style require it to reiterate, artfully, within scenes and from scene to scene, a set of "key words," a term Alter derives from Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, who in an epic labor that took nearly 40 years to complete, rendered the Hebrew Bible into a beautifully Hebraicized German. Key words, as Alter has explained elsewhere, clue the reader in to what's at stake in a particular story, serving either as "the chief means of thematic exposition" within episodes or as connective tissue between them.
    3. Biblical Hebrew has an unusually small vocabulary clustered around an even smaller number of three-letter roots, most of them denoting concrete actions or things, and the Bible achieves its mimetic effects partly through the skillful repetition of these few vivid words.
    4. In the case of the binding of Isaac, for instance, Alter not only accepts a previous translator's substitution of "cleaver" for the "knife" of the King James version but also changes "slay" (as in, "Abraham took the knife to slay his son") to "slaughter." Moreover, in his notes, he points out that although this particular Hebrew verb for "bound" (as in, "Abraham bound Isaac his son") occurs only this once in biblical Hebrew, making its meaning uncertain, we can nonetheless take a hint from the fact that when the word reappears in rabbinic Hebrew it refers specifically to the trussing up of animals. Alter's translation thus suggests a dimension of this eerie tale we would probably have overlooked: that of editorial comment. The biblical author, by using words more suited to butchery than ritual sacrifice, lets us know that he is as horrified as we are at the brutality of the act that God has asked Abraham to commit.
    1. Goldfajn, Tal. “Thou Shalt Show: On Robert Alter’s Translation of the Hebrew Bible.” Book Review of The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter. Los Angeles Review of Books, June 2, 2020. https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/thou-shalt-show-on-robert-alters-translation-of-the-hebrew-bible/.

    2. Several biblical translations into other languages in the 20th and 21st centuries have followed some kind of version of these translation norms, albeit with different goals and within different contexts. The German translation by Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, whose first volume appeared in 1925, for instance, aimed to reflect the linguistic features of the original Hebrew. The central precept of Henri Meschonnic’s French translation, which came out in 1970, is “more than what a text says, it is what a text does that must be translated.” Haroldo de Campos’s translation of individual biblical books into Brazilian Portuguese in the 1990s were meant to “Hebraicize the Portuguese.”

      Nice summary of various modern translations of the bible.

    3. Alter’s keen grasp of that rhythm and syntax is evidenced by his playful 10 commandments for Bible translators: 1.Thou shalt not make translation an explanation of the original, for the Hebrew writer abhorreth all explanation. 2. Thou shalt not mangle the eloquent syntax of the original by seeking to modernize it. 3. Though shalt not shamefully mingle linguistic registers. 4. Thou shalt not multiply for thyself synonyms where the Hebrew wisely and pointedly uses repeated terms. 5. Thou shalt not replace the expressive simplicity of the Hebrew prose with purportedly elegant language. 6. Thou shalt not betray the fine compactness of biblical poetry. 7. Thou shalt not make the Bible sound as though it were written just yesterday, for this, too, is an abomination. 8. Thou shalt diligently seek English counterparts for the word-play and sound-play of the Hebrew. 9. Thou shalt show to readers the liveliness and subtlety of the dialogues. 10. Thou shalt continually set before thee the precision and purposefulness of the word-choices in Hebrew.
    4. Take “soul” in the KJV’s Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd […] He restoreth my soul.” Alter, who has by now become famous for taking the soul out of the Hebrew Bible, gives us: “The Lord is my shepherd […] My life He brings back.” Where has the soul gone? The answer is that the Hebrew didn’t really provide it in the first place. The word “nefesh” is more concrete, meaning “breath,” “life-breath,” “essential self,” and also “throat.” It suggests the material, the bodily, or, as the biblical scholar James Barr put it, “is not a separate essence and is more like the principle of life animating the person, acting in his actions, and touched by that which touches him.”
    5. Alter, for his part, has faith in the original, and the result is both refreshing and beautiful.

      clever use of "faith" with respect to translation here

    6. Let me illustrate by examining a well-known passage, Genesis 7:17–18, in which the flood comes and Noah’s ark is lifted up above the earth. The example involves the Hebrew syntactic tendency to open each sentence in narrative with “and,” to order the words in parallel clauses by coordination (“and” + “and” + “and”), rather than by subordination (“because,” “so,” or “although”). This biblical syntactic feature, known as parataxis, affects the text’s rhythm, its temporal interpretation, its layers of cohesion and ambiguity. Here is Alter’s rendering of this passage: “And the Flood was forty days over the earth, and the waters multiplied and bore the ark upward and it rose above the earth. And the waters surged and multiplied mightily over the earth, and the ark went on the surface of the water.”
    7. Alter’s approaches the Bible as great literature first and foremost — an approach almost inconceivable before the mid-20th century.
    1. Bruce, James. “The Godless Bible.” Book Review of The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter. Law & Liberty, July 15, 2022. https://lawliberty.org/book-review/the-godless-bible/.

    2. Even still, these volumes will not rest on my shelf untouched. Yes, I have read them carefully, but I will return to them again. Indeed, whenever I speak or write about the Hebrew Bible, I plan on consulting them. You should, too.

      After such a scathing review, really?? I'd be interested to hear a few paragraphs about why.

    3. Alter says he avoids the phrase “‘like the son of man’ because of its strong, and debatable, tilt toward a messianic interpretation.”

      Of course Alter's alternate translation of "son of man" allows one a closer meaning of Jews prior to the first century and Jesus, which adds a lot of undue baggage which may be seen as retconning the Hebrew Bible. It is after all, titled The Hebrew Bible and specifically not The Old Testament, thus placing it into the tradition of Christianity.

    1. The only place in the Hebrew Bible where nasab is translated as a pillar is the case of Lot’s wife: “Lot’s wife looked back, and she thereupon turned into a pillar of salt” (Genesis 19:26). The Hebrew word nasab indicates that Lot’s wife was standing in place like a pillar.
  3. Sep 2023
  4. Jul 2023
  5. Apr 2022
    1. Yeshiva teaching in the modern period famously relied on memorization of the most important texts, but a few medieval Hebrew manu-scripts from the twelfth or thirteenth centuries include examples of alphabetical lists of words with the biblical phrases in which they occurred, but without pre-cise locations in the Bible—presumably because the learned would know them.

      Prior to concordances of the Christian Bible there are examples of Hebrew manuscripts in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries that have lists of words and sentences or phrases in which they occurred. They didn't include exact locations with the presumption being that most scholars would know the texts well enough to quickly find them based on the phrases used.

      Early concordances were later made unnecessary as tools as digital search could dramatically decrease the load. However these tools might miss the value found in the serendipity of searching through broad word lists.

      Has anyone made a concordance search and display tool to automatically generate concordances of any particular texts? Do professional indexers use these? What might be the implications of overlapping concordances of seminal texts within the corpus linguistics space?

      Fun tools like the Bible Munger now exist to play around with find and replace functionality. https://biblemunger.micahrl.com/munge

      Online tools also have multi-translation versions that will show translational differences between the seemingly ever-growing number of English translations of the Bible.

  6. Apr 2021