The Linguist

The Linguist 55,2

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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28 The Linguist Vol/55 No/2 2016 OPINION & COMMENT Why we should care about mistranslations in the Bible Some portions of the Bible can sound foreign and hard to understand. This is partly because our translations have retained some of the original words, including 'tophet' (תופת; Isaiah 30:33), meaning 'hell' in Hebrew, the concept of the lake of fire after Judgement Day. There are also mistranslations, both from the Old Testament (in Hebrew) and the New Testament (in Greek, the common language of the time). Sheol (לוֹ אשְׁ ; Heb), for example, appears 65 times in the Old Testament, while the equivalent Hades (Άͅ δης; Gr) appears 10 times in the New Testament. Revelation 20:14 talks in English about death and hell, but that would refer only to the abode of the dead, not to the concept of the eternal lake of fire. Thus, when such terms are translated as 'hell', they refer only to the place where the dead await Judgement Day. Another mistranslation is angelos, the Greek term for both 'angel' and 'messenger'. The word 'angel' did not exist in English, so this is a transliteration, and there are instances where 'angels' should have been translated as 'messengers' (e.g. 1 Corinthians 11:10 and Revelation chapters 2-3). There are also literary techniques to grapple with that may be foreign to the translators, as in the case of the parallelismus membrorum, a Semitic poetry device by which an important concept is repeated at the beginning and end of a trail of thought. For instance, "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork" (Psalm 19:1) and "Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart" (Psalm 32:11). Jewish idiomatic expressions present another challenge. For example, Matthew 6:22-23 and Luke 11:34 say: "The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness." This is a literal translation of a Hebrew idiom referring to generosity. A modern English idiom that could possibly be used instead is 'open handed' for a 'good eye' and 'tight fisted' for an 'evil eye', as the meaning has nothing to do with sight: 'The light of the body is the hand: if therefore thine hand be open, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine fist be tight, thy whole body shall be full of darkness.' Although this mixes the metaphor somewhat. When it comes to idiom, translators tend to choose a literal translation, for example in Job 19:20b: "con sólo la piel de mis dientes" (Sp); "By the skin of my teeth" (En); and «Il ne me reste que la peau des dents» (Fr). To put it in a modern way, we would have to use a more paraphrased idiom, such as Por los pelos (Sp); 'A close shave' or 'just managed to…' (En); and L'échapper belle (Fr). Since a literal translation is preferable, readers must become acquainted with the source texts and the cultural contexts in which they were written in order to understand what the text means. For instance, when Ruth 3:9 states "spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid" what does she mean? Ezekiel 16:8 gives us a clue: "[T]hy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord GOD, and thou becamest mine". In short, Ruth is proposing to Boaz. Understanding the context is vital. John 8:12 says: "Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." To understand this, we have to consider that it was said during the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles (from the Hebrew תוכוס) – the Festival of Lights – in which all the 400 lights in the women's quarters of the temple were lit and men waved torches to emphasise light. Errors in the translations of the Bible have led people to misinterpret the texts and to create dogmas claiming they are derived from the Bible. The Vulgate, for instance, modifies terminology to suit Catholic teachings, rendering the Greek metanoia as 'penance' instead of 'repentance' (Matthew 4:17 and Acts 26:20). Thus, it is important to ensure the source text biblical message is neither modified nor lost in translation. The gospel truth? Andrew Díaz Russell MCIL is a freelance translator, interpreter assessor and transcriber. TL ANDREW DÍAZ RUSSELL TRANSLATING HELL Detail of a fresco in the medieval church of St Nicolas in Raduil, Bulgaria

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