En God sprak… Engels? Nederlands? Iets anders? (Boeksignalement)

Veel creationisten stellen dat de Bijbel Gods onfeilbare Woord is. Vervolgens slingeren ze je met bijbelteksten om de oren om hun gelijk te halen. En plots lijkt het alsof God Nederlands sprak, want de meeste creationisten en andere ‘fundi’s’ refereren zelden tot nooit naar de Hebreeuwse, Griekse of Aramese grondtekst. Weten ze eigenlijk wel wat er dan staat? Nee, stelt taalkundige en vertaler dr. Joel Hoffman in zijn boek met als titel And God Said: How Translations Conceal the Bible’s Original Meaning (Thomas Dunne Books 2010).

In dit boek gaat Hoffman in op een heel aantal voorbeelden waarbij bijbelvertalingen eigenlijk verbergen wat er werkelijk staat. En zo zijn er heel wat misvattingen de wereld ingekomen. Zo zie je de Hallmark-kaartjes glimmen in de ogen van evangelicals als ze horen spreken over Jezus als de ‘goede Herder’. Hoffman legt in dit boek uit waarom die zoetsappige afbeeldingen van een goedmoedige herder die achter zijn schapen aansjokt de tekst helemaal miskennen.

Een heel nuttig boek voor mensen die denken dat ze de Bijbel serieus nemen, maar ook voor mensen die willen weten waarom vertalen van de Bijbel zo’n hels karwei (no pun intended) is.

P.s. het boek is al een tijdje uit, maar ik kreeg pas vandaag via een signalementje in de Huffington Post dit boek onder ogen. Er is ook een Kindle-editie van het boek verkrijgbaar.

P.s.2: Het is ook de moeite waard om de website van Hoffman eens te bekijken. Hij heeft er o.a. een interessant 20-minuten TEDx-filmpje over de problemen die bijbelvertalingen veroorzaken. Hier: http://www.lashon.net/JMH/index.html.

P.s. 3 (14/10/2011): toevallig staat er vandaag een artikel van Hoffman in de Huffington Post waarin hij vijf voorbeelden van misinterpretatie geeft: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-joel-hoffman/five-ways-your-bible-tran_b_1007058.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000008.

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  1. #1 door Joel H. op 14 oktober 2011 - 00:24

    Thank you for your kind words.

    Joel (the author of And God Said)

  2. #2 door A. Atsou-Pier op 16 oktober 2011 - 14:53

    In zijn (slecht verstaanbare) TEDx-lezing zegt Joel Hoffman ten aanzien van Exodus 20:17 dat de King James-vertalers (en de Statenvertalers) het niet goed hebben gedaan met het Hebreeuwse woord tach-mod. Dat had niet vertaald moeten worden met “covet” maar met “take”, omreden dat het ging over een situatie waarin de heer des huizes afwezig was (waar concludeert hij dat uit ?).

    Mijn kennis van het Hebreeuws is nul komma nul, dus het kan best zo zijn dat hij gelijk heeft. Maar ik ben niet helemaal overtuigd, ondanks het indrukwekkende curriculum vitae van de heer Hoffman. Het is dan ook heel aarzelend dat ik mij afvraag : hoe zit het dan met hetzelfde woord in bij voorbeeld Spreuken 6:25 ? Daar past de betekenis (weg)nemen in ieder geval niet want dat kan men niet in zijn hart doen, wel begeren. Maar ook dit zegt niets, want een woord kan uiteraard in een andere taal in verschillende betekenissen uiteenvallen, die elkaar soms ook min of meer overlappen. En dat is nu juist mijn probleem, op het moment dat de heer Hoffman zegt dat het hier absoluut take moet wezen in plaats van covet, dan impliceert dat dat er in een specifiek geval maar één mogelijke vertaling voor een woord is, en dat alle andere vertalingen dus fout zijn. Die stelligheid, plus de mededeling dat de vertalers toen nog niet zoveel wisten van vertaalwetenschap, daar heb ik moeite mee.
    Bovendien lijkt de heer Hoffman het woord covet/begeren op te vatten als een gevoel van iemand dat geen verbinding heeft met het object van de begeerte, anders klopt zijn redenering niet, hij maakt immers uitdrukkelijk scheiding tussen het gevoel van begeren en de handeling die daar al dan niet op volgt, namelijk het (weg)nemen van het begeerde. Dit laatste zit volgens mij impliciet verborgen in covet/begeren, dus ik zie nog steeds niet waarom de King James-vertalers nu fout waren.

    Overigens, hoe is het afgelopen met die theologe die in Genesis 1:1 een vertaalfout ontdekte ?

  3. #3 door Joel H. op 17 oktober 2011 - 05:18

    I’m sorry you had trouble understanding my TEDx talk.

    I have more about tachmod in this “Exploring the Bible” video, which — unlike my TEDx talk — has (English) captions, so it’s accessible to a wider audience.

    As for the theologian and Genesis 1:1, you probably mean Prof. Ellen van Wolde, and I have a review of her work here.

    -Joel

  4. #4 door Taede Smedes op 17 oktober 2011 - 19:04

    Joel,

    Just for the record, I think what is translated (Google?) as “understanding” does not imply a cognitive misunderstanding of your talk, but “slecht verstaanbaar” means that it takes much effort to hear what you’re saying, since the sound quality of the video is not that good. (Again a nice example of where translation and interpretation interfere…)

    I actually bought the Kindle-version of your book, but so far I haven’t managed to read it. Nice that you’re responding to Ellen van Wolde by the way, she’s a good colleague of mine at the Radboud University, here in Nijmegen. In the mean time, she wrote an elaborate article about her claim (more sophisticated than her inaugural lecture, which you point to), but I need to look up the reference. I’ll respond again once I’ve found it.

    P.s. I’ve found it: Journal for the Study of the Old Testament (JSOT), Vol 34.1 (2009): 3-23: Why the Verb bara Does Not Mean ‘to Create’ in Genesis 1.1–2.4a. It can be downloaded (apparently for free) in PDF here: http://jot.sagepub.com/content/34/1/3.full.pdf.

  5. #5 door A. Atsou-Pier op 18 oktober 2011 - 15:53

    Mr. Hoffman, I was hoping you didn’t read Dutch, but you did, with or without the Google translator. I will continue in English, although my English is a bit rusty at the moment. I again specify that my knowledge of Hebrew is non-existant, which makes, among other things, that I have no idea what connotations Hebrew words can have.

    I have seen your video on Youtube concerning the word “chamad”. I am still not convinced. My main problem remains that saying “chamad should read take” implies that one word in one language can only be translated by one word in another language. From my experience as a translator Dutch-French, I know that this is often the case, but more often not.

    I do not doubt that the King James translaters made errors. But I do not think that their knowledge was far inferior to the knowledge of 21st century scientists. In any case they were 400 years closer in time to source language than 21st century translators.

    Your conclusion is that “chamad” in Ex. 20 : 17 means “take” and not “covet”. Maybe you are right. But the consequence is then that it should also be translated by “take” : “Thou shalt not take thy neighbour’s house, etc.” In my opinion this seems not very logical, as the Israelites just learned from verse 15 that they should not steal. So they knew already that they should not take someone’s house, etc. That’s one point in favour of the King James translators. Your counterobjection could be that the Bible is full of tropes, and that “chamad” could be a synonym for “lakach” or even “ganab” for literary reasons, but the Ten Commandments are in my opinion too concrete for this kind of language.

    Another point in favour of “covet”, or at least against “take”, is, as I mentioned before in Dutch, that you seem to think that “chamad” and “covet” both just refer to an emotion that one should not have, and to nothing else. It seems to me unlikely that an Israelite (not living in an emotion culture like us) hearing the Ten Commandments which tell him what to do and what not to do, would think that he should do or not do nine things, and that the tenth thing would pertain only to his emotional life and not to his behaviour. So I tend to believe that in the context of the Ten Commandments “chamad” means “do not covet” as well as “do not act upon this emotion” or even “so that you can not act upon it”. If “chamad” has indeed this connotation (which I can’t verifiy), there is no need to change “covet” in “take” because the text says already what you and I want it to say.
    Whether “chamad” should be translated by “covet” in the 21st century, that is another question.

    Your conclusion rests on 5 examples (and probably more).

    Ex. 34 : 24. I agree, this is the strongest argument for your point of view. Maybe “chamad” could be translated here by “take” or even by “steal”. That is, assuming that land can be taken away or stolen. However, that “chamad” can be translated once by “take”, does not mean it can always be translated by “take”, not even in similar cases.

    Deut. 7 : 25, Joshua 7 : 21 and Proverbs 6 : 25. In each of these examples “chamad” is used together with “lakach”. I agree that there is here a close connexion between the two words. You take this as an argument for your point of view.
    My reasoning is as follows : if “chamad” has indeed the connotation of “take”, then it looses this connotation automatically as soon as it is followed by “lakach”. From this point of view translating “chamad … lakach” by “desire/covet/lust … take” seems perfectly logical and in this case “chamad” means only “desire” and “lakach” only “take”.
    Whether my point of view is right or wrong, my objection against these three examples is that one can not use them as arguments in favour of your point of view on Ex. 20 : 17, where “chamad” is not accompanied by “lakach”.

    This being said, Proverbs 6 : 25 is a bad example for another reason : both “chamad” en “lakach” (in almost different sentences, and not as closely connected as in the other two examples ?) are used metaphorically, which in my opinion disqualifies this text as an argument for your point of view on the not metaphorical text Exodus 20 : 17.
    In any case, translating “chamad” here by “take” seems almost impossible : “Take not her beauty in your heart” ???

    Proverbs 12 : 12. I do not see the relevance of this text, or I did not quite grasp what you meant. That “chamad” is the opposite of “give” is clear to me, and the King James translators surely knew that too.

    In concluding, I am not quite convinced by your arguments. I need a lot more examples of the type of Exodus 34 : 24 before I would say that the King James translators were wrong.

    What I would say is evidently not the point. The point is what the majority of linguists, theologians, etc., say. Hence my question about Ellen ten Wolde who wanted to correct Genesis 1 : 1 one or two years ago. I still do not know if the majority of the scientific community is convinced by her arguments or not.

  6. #6 door Joel H. op 18 oktober 2011 - 17:13

    I do not doubt that the King James translaters made errors. But I do not think that their knowledge was far inferior to the knowledge of 21st century scientists. In any case they were 400 years closer in time to source language than 21st century translators.

    Here is where we disagree. I am convinced that modern linguistics and translation theory have given us much better tools to understand ancient language.

    It’s true (and I address this in the video) that the KJV translators lived closer in time to the original, but I don’t think they were close enough to make a difference. I compare the situation to people 400 years ago trying to understand ancient Egypt. Even though they were closer, we have modern tools like carbon dating, satellite imagery, etc., that give us knowledge they didn’t have.

    Similarly, huge advances in understanding language last century give us more knowledge about the ancient texts.

    I understand that my evidence leaves room for doubt, but, still, I think it’s pretty convincing. My question for you is this: Other than your preconception, do you have any reason to think that chamad means “desire”?

    Another point in favour of “covet”, or at least against “take”, is, as I mentioned before in Dutch, that you seem to think that “chamad” and “covet” both just refer to an emotion that one should not have, and to nothing else.

    Yes. To consider the case in Dutch, do you think that begeren is a feeling or an action? How would you feel if the Dutch government passed a law that you could not begeren?

    I think that “covet,” “desire,” “begerern,” etc. all refer to emotions, but chamad refers to an action.

    As you point out, it almost certainly has to be different than ganav (“steal”), but even if we don’t know how they are different, they are both actions. (As a guess, chamad meant “to take temporarily, with intent to return,” while ganav meant “to take with no intent to return,” but that’s just a guess on my part.) And this is why I think “covet” (and begeren) is such a bad translation.

  7. #7 door A. Atsou-Pier op 20 oktober 2011 - 12:40

    I’m sure modern linguistics, translation theory and archeology are very helpful in understanding ancient languages, but precisely in the case of “covet” your arguments are not based on modern science, as far as I can see.

    I think that I am far less decisive about translation matters than you are, although you leave room for some doubt. It is true that you are the specialist in the field, but I have an almost lifelong experience in switching between several living languages/dialects (of which English is not one), so I know how difficult it is a) to find out what exactly is meant by a word or a phrase and b) to translate that word or phrase. Sometimes a one on one translation is possible, other times one has to content oneself with a translation that renders only part of the meaning (but in the right style, without creating onwanted connotations, etc).
    Which is why I am all the more doubtful when translations from dead languages are concerned, advances in modern science notwithstanding.

    I should have mentioned earlier that my assumption was that the KJT’s were knowing what they were doing, that they did their homework and tried not to be biased by their faith, etc. They translated “chamad” with “covet”. And now again you do probably not agree with me : the verb “to covet” (“begeren”) has in itself already something active about it, it points in the direction of the coveted object. Acting upon it is just one step further.
    The KJT’s could have said : “Do not be covetous of your neighbour’s house”, but they didn’t. It seems reasonable to me that they did so because they did not think “chamad” was just a passive emotion without connexion to the coveted thing. My best guess is that they, taking into account the other commandments and the rest of the Bible, thought that “chamad” in Exodus 20 : 17 meant something in between having an emotion and acting upon it, or both. If this train of thought of mine is correct, “covet” is not such a bad translation and probably better that “take” which makes the emotion disappear completely.

    Even if my reconstruction of what the KJT’s could have thought is flawed, they must have chosen the verb “covet” for some reason. I cannot evaluate your arguments properly as long as I do not know this reason. I said before that I was not quite convinced by your arguments ; if I knew the exact reason why the KJT’s chose for “covet”, I might be even less convinced.

    You seem to think that the Israelites and the KJT’s had the same perception of emotions as we do. If this perception did not change throughout the ages (it probably did), it has in any case changed in recent decades (please, don’t ask me exactly how), so I am not sure “chamad” should nowadays, for a young public, be translated with “covet” or “desire”. But this does not mean that the KJT’s were wrong, or that Exodus 20 : 17 has an original meaning we no longer understand.

    Our main point of disagreement, apart from your decisiveness, seems to be that you make an absolute distinction between emotion and action, which I do not. And another point of disagreement is, if I am right, your idea that one word can only be translated by one word and not by another or by none at all.

    Again, your arguments on “chamad” may be right. But then you create new translation problems. How, for instance, would you translate Joshua 7 : 21 when “chamad” should read “take” ? With “… then I took them and took them …” ?
    When synonyms are used to embellish a text, which does not seem to be the case here, the differences in meaning can be insignificant, but usually they have a more or less different meaning. Either you ignore this difference and translate this text with just “then I took them” , or you have to translate “lakach” not with “take” but with another verb to create some kind of difference.

    I certainly will buy your book, if only to find out if you have more arguments I can disagree with !

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