bible blog 1410

This blog offers ameditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:

ARCHITECT OF MIDDLE EAST DISASTER GETS PHILANTHROPY AWARD

GQ magazine thinks Tony Blair deserves an award for love of humanity

GQ magazine thinks Tony Blair deserves an award for love of humanity

Job 14 Contemporary English Version (CEV)

Job Continues his Prayer

14 Life is short and sorrowful
for every living soul.
We are flowers that fade
and shadows that vanish.
And so, I ask you, God,
why pick on me?
There’s no way a human
can be completely pure.
Our time on earth is brief;
the number of our days
is already decided by you.
Why don’t you leave us alone
and let us find some happiness
while we toil and labor?

When a tree is chopped down,
there is always the hope
that it will sprout again.
Its roots and stump may rot,
but at the touch of water,
fresh twigs shoot up.
Humans are different—
we die, and that’s the end.
We are like streams and lakes
after the water has gone;
we fall into the sleep of death,
never to rise again,
until the sky disappears.

Please hide me, God,
deep in the ground—
and when you are angry no more,
remember to rescue me.

14
Will we humans live again?
I would gladly suffer
and wait for my time.
My Creator, you would want me;
you would call out,
and I would answer.
You would take care of me,
but not count my sins—
you would put them in a bag,
tie it tight,
and toss them away
18
But in the real world,
mountains tumble,
and rocks crumble;
streams wear away stones
and wash away soil.
And you destroy our hopes!

We never live to know
if our children are praised
or disgraced.
We feel no pain but our own,
and when we mourn,
it’s only for ourselves.

Today I want to concentrate on translation. Readers may like to compare the Contemporary English Version above with the New Revised Standard Version below:

Chapter14
‘A mortal, born of woman, few of days and full of trouble,
comes up like a flower and withers,
flees like a shadow and does not last.
Do you fix your eyes on such a one?
Do you bring me into judgement with you?
Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?
No one can.
Since their days are determined,
and the number of their months is known to you,
and you have appointed the bounds that they cannot pass,6
look away from them, and desist,
that they may enjoy, like labourers, their days.
‘For there is hope for a tree,
if it is cut down, that it will sprout again,
and that its shoots will not cease.
Though its root grows old in the earth,
and its stump dies in the ground,
yet at the scent of water it will bud
and put forth branches like a young plant.
But mortals die, and are laid low;
humans expire, and where are they?
As waters fail from a lake,
and a river wastes away and dries up,
so mortals lie down and do not rise again;
until the heavens are no more, they will not awake
or be roused out of their sleep.
O that you would hide me in Sheol,
that you would conceal me until your wrath is past,
that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me!
14
If mortals die, will they live again?
All the days of my service I would wait
until my release should come.
You would call, and I would answer you;
you would long for the work of your hands.
For then you would not number my steps
you would not keep watch over my sin;
my transgression would be sealed up in a bag,
and you would cover over my iniquity.
‘But the mountain falls and crumbles away,
and the rock is removed from its place;
the waters wear away the stones;
the torrents wash away the soil of the earth;
so you destroy the hope of mortals.
You prevail for ever against them, and they pass away;
you change their countenance, and send them away.
Their children come to honour, and they do not know it;
they are brought low, and it goes unnoticed.
They feel only the pain of their own bodies,
and mourn only for themselves.’

The second is more like the bible translation that people have come to expect. It is consciously following the tradition of translation established by the King James Version of 1611. The first translation is produced by the American Bible Societies to meet the needs of readers with restricted and modern English vocabulary. As such it tends to home in on what the translator thinks the Hebrew means rather than striving for a representation of the Hebrew idiom.

So for example the second translation follows the Hebrew with “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one can” which is a little ambiguous, whereas the CEV thinks it knows what the Hebrew means and reads, “There’s no way a human can be completely pure.” The cackle has been cut; the reader is presented with a fully comprehensible statement. Of course this translation doesn’t allow the reader to know that the Hebrew may have shades of meaning and emotion which are not represented in it. Still, the clarity is welcome.

Or Take this from the NRSV:

Look away from them and desist / that they may enjoy, like labourers, their days – which the CEV renders as:

Why don’t you leave us alone/ and let us find some happiness/ while we toil and labour?

The NRSV is polite to God where the CEV is rude. My Hebrew is not really good enough to make a definite judgement but certainly the CEV captures something of the irreverence of Job’s attitude throughout the drama -at least until the final scene.

Or take this from NRSV:

my transgression would be sealed up in a bag,
and you would cover over my iniquity.

The expression to “cover” sin is a technical term of sacrificial vocabulary in Hebrew, nothing at all to do with “bags”. Perhaps the Hebrew author has daringly linked these two ideas. If so the NRSV by retaining the word “cover” gives a tentative version of this image, whereas the CEV takes the bull by the horns:dog poop

You would take care of me,
but not count my sins—
you would put them in a bag,
tie it tight,
and toss them away.

Suddenly God becomes a careless dog-walker who puts the turds in the bag and tosses it away! Clearly this is a very free tranlsation that takes the reader away from the literal meaning of the Hebrew, but it sounds English and makes the reader imagine Job’s desire.

One more example. Here is NRSV speaking about death:

You prevail for ever against them, and they pass away;
you change their countenance, and send them away.

The word countenance is a give away. It is never used this way in modern English and is only there because it comes from the KIng James tradition. Here is CEV:

You change the way we look,
then send us away,
wiped out forever.

Well that tells it like it is. There are real drawbacks to this kind of translation. The reader is given no sense of the original text and its difficulties and is dependent on the judgment of the translators. Sometimes the sloppy modern idiom jars, as above in the use of the expression above, “in the real world.” But more often than not, something fresh and sharp is found on the page. Obviously those who believe in the verbal inspiration of the bible text will be upset by the CEV’s rough handling of traditional bible concepts, but I have a suspicion that such people are often thinking of bland New International Version English rather than original Hebrew or Greek.

Happily we don’t need to choose one version these days. We can (and should) have online access to almost all the current and historical translations of the Bible. The CEV is new to me, and although I should not like to be limited to using it alone, I appreciate its boldness, clarity and energy.

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