Epistles of Thomas

July 8, 2009

Transliterate Greek and Hebrew online

Filed under: Greek,Hebrew — Thomas @ 12:32
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Logos Bible software has done it again. (Didn’t I recently mention that; they really need to stop doing it :).

They are providing an online tool for automatically transliterating pasted Greek and Hebrew text. The new website is Transliterate.com. With the plethora of tools now available in Bible software like Logos and online this is not as needed as it was when I was studying Greek and Hebrew but it is nevertheless a welcome development.


June 22, 2009

Mormon scholar to work on Biblia Hebraica Quinta

Brigham Young University is reporting that professor Donald W. Parry has been assigned to work on the book of Isaiah in BHQ which will replace BHS once it is complete. Parry makes the rather curious statement that “This work will impact virtually all translations of the Old Testament (including the King James Version) for many years to come, including all translations of all of the world’s languages.” Obviously the KJV was translated four hundred years ago and nothing can impact its form. This statement stems from the Mormon reliance on the KJV, which they believe is the closest to God’s intended revelation, although even it has errors such as excluding mention of Joseph Smith’s status as prophet. What does Parry mean when he claims that BHQ will impact the KJV? Is he suggesting that the LDS will be able to create a translation closer to God’s intended word? Does he imply that he will discover new things in Isaiah that will provide evidence for the Mormon view of doctrine and scripture?

Does it make sense to have a Mormon work on BHQ? As much as most of the disinterested scholars, I suppose. So far most of Parry’s published work deals with the Bible’s relation to Mormonism and the Book of Mormon. It will be interesting to see how his views are confirmed or changed through this process.

I read a summary of a lecture Don Parry’s made on the DSS thanks to the ping from heartissuesforlds (see comments). One of the comments on that summary quotes from Parry’s book Harmonizing Isaiah (FARMS, 2001) and demonstrates the bias Parry works with:

“translators who lived before the restoration of the gospel [i.e. LDS] believed doctrines and teachings that biased their translations. Likewise, translators since that time tend to be biased in similar ways. Like their earlier counterparts, they may embrace teachings that are not compatible with the doctrines of the gospel as revealed through Joseph Smith and other prophets of the latter days. Such false teachings include predestination, creation ex nihilo (creation out of nothing), the Trinity as three in one, an immaterial God who cannot be seen by humans on earth, and a denial of living prophets of God, modern temple worship, the gifts of the Spirit, angels, and so on” (12-13).

All translators have some kind of theological bias but most are either within orthodox Christianity or are supposedly disinterested in proving any theological points. Parry works within an entirely different paradigm as this makes clear. Is he truly blind to the fact that he is biased towards ensuring that he embraces a translation that is compatible with the revelations of Joseph Smith? Whenever you accuse someone of bias you need to be aware of what bias is causing you to make that claim. Which bias is true? 😀

December 17, 2008

Pomegranate from Solomon’s Temple?

Filed under: Hebrew,Old Testament — Thomas @ 12:38
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An ancient ivory pomegranate discovered in Israel is inscribed with “[Belonging] to the Temple of [Yahwe]h, consecrated to the priests.” There has been much controversy over whether this artifact really dates to Solomon’s temple. You can read more about it over at BAR. They also supple several links to more material.

In 1 Kings 7:18, 20, 42 it tells us there were a total of 400 pomegranates made for the temple. In 2 Kings 25:17, when the Babylonians are carting off the temple materials it says: “the bronze capital on top of one pillar was three cubits high and was decorated with a network and pomegranates of bronze all around.” This pomegranate is ivory so it seems strange that it would have been in the temple although it might have been for something other than the building decoration. We know that Solomon had lots of ivory available (1 Kings 10:18.22). I find it strange that they would have felt the need to inscribe it. What are the chances that a priest would have lost the temple’s ivory pomegranate(s)?

October 8, 2008

Most “interesting” verse in the TNIV?

Filed under: Greek,Hebrew,Old Testament,Septuagint,Translation — Thomas @ 10:43
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Ezekiel 21:7 gets my vote for most “interesting” verse in the TNIV, although 7:17 comes a close second.

“And when they ask you, ‘Why are you groaning?’ you shall say, ‘Because of the news that is coming. Every heart will melt and every hand go limp; every spirit will become faint and every knee be wet with urine.’ It is coming! It will surely take place, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

The only other translations, that I know of, to go with “urine” instead of “water” are the NET and NEB. The Hebrew is literally, “their knees will run with water” and the LXX took this to be urine (ὑγρᾰσία because where else would that water come from?). Ezekiel certainly has a way with words, I will say that!

HT New Epistles.

September 29, 2008


Filed under: Hebrew — Thomas @ 14:01

I just read on Bible and Tech about this incredible website which has 15000 pdf files of old American Hebrew books all available for searching and downloading. Everything you could possibly want such as Babylonian Talmud commentaries. Of course it’s only incredible if you read Hebrew, which I don’t. However, for those of you who do it is certainly worth a look.

July 5, 2008

Gabriel’s Revelation?

In Sunday’s New York Times there is an interesting story about a tablet discovered that dates to the second century BC: Tablet Ignites Debate on Messiah and Resurrection. It reports that this MAY provide evidence of the pre-Jesus idea of the Jewish messiah dying and rising again after three days. There is some vital text missing from the stone but it seems to suggest that Jesus did not invent the idea of a suffering, dying, and resurrecting Jewish Messiah.

I can’t see this changing things though. Those who accept Jesus in the Christian sense will say that he fulfilled pre-existing expectations and died for the people of God, including both Jews and Gentiles, whereas those who do not believe will say that Christians co-opted an existing tradition and presented Jesus as this suffering, dying Messiah. Either way I’m sure we will be hearing a lot more about this next Easter if not in the coming months.

February 24, 2008

Verbosity in English Bible Translations

Filed under: Greek,Hebrew,Stats,Translation — Thomas @ 23:55

Karen H. Jobes presented a paper at the Fall 2007 Evangelical Theological Society Annual Meeting entitled “Bible Translation as Bilingual Quotation.” It is now being promoted by Zondervan on their blog. They have not just posted it but are actively seeking out bloggers to comment on it by emailing them. I originally read about it on Ancient Hebrew Poetry and Michael Bird was also contacted and posted a link. I was not requested to respond but they are looking for everyone’s input according to Paul J. Caminiti, Vice President and Publisher at Zondervan.

My first impressions were not that favourable. I was immediately uneasy that Zondervan is using this discussion to promote the T/NIV. Jobes was a translator of the TNIV and has been a member of the Committee on Bible Translation since 1995. This certainly isn’t a problem in itself as I have personally studied under Gordon Fee and Bruce Waltke and know them to be top scholars. However, in this paper Jobes is obviously promoting the T/NIV and she singles out the ESV for comment “I do find it more than a little ironic that what is advertised as an ‘essentially literal’ translation is the most verbose of several popular English translations–and that the ESV has about 30,000 more words than the TNIV!” (16). She also singled out the ESV on page 14 even though it had exactly the same verbosity as the NASB. These comments do not inspire confidence that she is unbiased, especially in that Zondervan proudly displays her chart with the NIV and TNIV at the top.

I am also curious as to how this data allows her to make the following conclusion “As the very verbose ESV demonstrates, all good translations must be a mix of both formal and functional equivalence.” I do not see that she has demonstrated that verbosity is related to whether a translation is formal or functionally equivalent. I decided to compare Zondervan’s “Translation Continuum” to the verbosity results. In order to do so Jobes’ list must be expanded. I counted words using Logos Bible Software’s Speed Search feature except with those translations which include the Apocrypha in which case I used the regular search feature in order to limit the count to the 66 canonical books. I am unsure why the results are slightly different from what Jobes came up with using Accordance but the point still stands. I included the following translations: ASV, CEV, ESV2007, GNT, God’s Word, HCSB, KJV, The Message, NAB, NASB, NCV, NiRV, NIV, NJB, NKJV, NLT2ed, NRSV, RSV, TNIV. For the interests of comparing oranges to oranges I am using Jobes’ counts for the MT (474,316) and NA27 (138,167) texts although they differ insignificantly from Logos’ results (475,525 / 138,103). Our base text therefore contains 612,483 words. All English translation counts are taken from Logos.

Before looking at the results I want to make a couple of preliminary points. Jobes is looking at bilingual quotation and, as she mentions in her paper, some languages are more verbose than others. With regard to the Bible the Hebrew text is significantly shorter by word count than the Greek text. The MT contains 474,316 words by Jobes’ count. The LXX of the 39 Hebrew books contains 502,795 words, an increase of 6%. When we look at a completely Hebrew Bible (MT+Hebrew NT) it contains 585,264 words as compared to 640,962 words for a completely Greek Bible (LXX+NA27) a difference of 9.52%. Obviously Greek is a more verbose language than Hebrew. On the other hand Latin seems to be a less verbose language as the Vulgate contains only 532,834 (even with the Apocrypha the Clementine Vulgate contains only 611,994) words and is thus 13% smaller than our base Hebrew/Greek text. This comparison therefore may say more about the English language than about which translation is best.

In the attached picture I have combined the results from the various translations with Zondervan’s continuum. Hopefully they don’t sue me for using their picture, as I am responding to their post at their request. As the picture shows there does not seem to be a direct correlation between Bible translation methodology and verbosity. The CEV is the closest in verbosity to the base text and is also far over toward the “thought for thought” end of the spectrum but the next two, NAB and HCSB, are both middle to left. At the other end of the spectrum is the NIrV with a whopping increase of 240,362 words (39.24%) over our base text but also very far over towards “thought for thought.”

I think the next task is to also complete this exercise in other languages with a multitude of Bible translations, e.g. German, French. The SESB module for Logos should provide enough data to extend the project to the European languages. I think we will discover that verbosity, or lack thereof, has nothing to do with whether or not the meaning has been conveyed adequately. Formal and functional equivalence debates will continue as long as more and more English translations are being produced.

September 10, 2007

Is Bible software a substitute for learning Greek and Hebrew?

Filed under: Greek,Hebrew — Thomas @ 22:08

On the Logos software blog today Dale Pritchett laments the lack of original language study taking place at seminaries and Bible colleges today. He suggests that this lack in learning the original languages can be solved “If the very best Greek, Hebrew and Hermeneutics professors adopted the best computer based reverse interlinear technology.” Obviously he is trying to sell Logos’ reverse interlinear Bibles, particularly their ESV. While I agree that reverse interlinears are convenient and would help those with little Greek or Hebrew to keep using what they do have they are no substitute for learning the languages. Over at Ancient Hebrew Poetry John F. Hobbins suggests that all Christians should train their children in Greek, Hebrew, Latin and any other languages that come to mind after they are finished with those three. This is because children have an easier time of learning languages than adults. I think that Hobbins’ suggestion is unrealistic (not least because I am well past the age of primary language learning).

Pritchett’s suggestion on the other hand is dangerous and demonstrates that he has never learned Greek and/or Hebrew. He uses an analogy of climbing a mountain concluding that “If we want every student to learn to use original languages we need to build a bridge that gets everybody to the destination.” However, in mountain climbing providing students with an elevator will get every student to the top of that mountain every time. However, they will not be able to climb any other mountains because they cannot get anywhere without an elevator. Similarly teaching someone to use a particular tool will help them reach the same conclusion every time but it will not help them in new areas. Only by teaching students to assail a mountain on their own will be allow them to climb any mountain. They may not climb every mountain perfectly every time but it is better than taking an elevator up and down the same mountain over and over. Reverse interlinears are particularly dangerous because the Greek follows the English word order and will leave the uninformed with the impression that Greek is structurally just like English but with different words.

On a related note, I know of one seminary that has tried this computer assisted approach with regard to Hebrew. ACTS seminaries in Langley, BC has a course, Computer Assisted Hebrew Tools. It is meant for those who will only study Greek and want a short cut to Hebrew. Unfortunately for Pritchett, the professor uses BibleWorks instead of Logos, although Logos is one of the programs recommended for students.

In conclusion, I agree that computer assisted biblical tools are very helpful, but I would recommend that only those who have been educated in actual Greek and/or Hebrew should use them. Anyone else can use them for their own interest but they should not draw any conclusions from their use. Generally speaking, they will be unable to draw any conclusions beyond the English translation that is being used, which is an inherent weakness in this plan.

July 25, 2007

What was the Septuagint’s influence on Greek?

Filed under: Greek,Hebrew,Old Testament,Septuagint — Thomas @ 9:45

There has long been a debate over the influence of the Greek language and culture on the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew scriptures but little has been said about the influence the latter had on the former. The Greek language gradually changed after Alexander conquered ‘the world’ and Jews played a role in this change. The Hebrew Bible was the way of life for Jews and therefore its translation into Greek would have impacted their use of that language more than that language would have  impacted them. Does anyone know of a study in which this impact is measured; ranging from little things like the use of “en” to translate the Hebrew to bigger things like the use of “kurios” for God?

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