TRANSLATIONS OF ANCIENT TEXTS ARE QUESTIONED
By POPPA HOWARD !!
Texts and names that are translated from one language into another many years later are always suspect as to their accuracy. There are a multitude of reasons for this as the following observations made by me will clearly show. .
THE NUMBER OF WORDS IN A LANGUAGE AND HAVING TO USE
“BODY LANGUAGE”. Taking Aramaic as an example of a very primitive language, it has very few words compared with other languages. (only about 9,000 words ). Consequently, one word will have a multitude of meanings AND IT IS ONLY BY THE VOLUME, TONE, FACIAL EXPRESSIONS, BODY LANGUAGE AND NUANCES ETC: that the listeners at that time fully comprehend what the speaker really intended.
In astounding contrast, Greek has over 200,000 words (Yes, , ”.200-Thou” NOT a misprint!!) so it therefore has tremendous scope for expression and description.. Hence the renowned Greek Classics), , ,. [per William Barclay’s “The Gospel of John”].
MY QUICK CALCULATION OF THE NUMBER OF WORDS IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE . In my Webster’s English Dictionary, there are, on average, about 40 words on a page. As there are 775 pages in all, this multiplied by 40 words per page works out at a total of approximately 31,000 words in the English Language. Ignoring such words as “antidisestablishmentarianism” and such like, we use about 15,000 to make ourselves understood, or about 20,000 if we want to sound like a University Professor! On the other hand, Aramaic has only about 9,000 (as already mentioned above). Visual support in the form of ‘Body language’ is, therefore, absolutely vital in order to make oneself fully understood.
AN EXAMPLE OF A MISTRANSLATION, NAMELY “MISHPAT” IN HEBREW. It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word “MISHPAT” is translated in all versions of the Bible as “JUDGEMENT”. But,, , , if it was said with a smile, it would have meant “REDEMPTION”, or “VINDICATION”.. A VERY big difference. It is, therefore, very fortunate for us that God, is our ‘Redeemer’, rather than our “Judge”, , , , not so??!!
IDIOMATIC PHRASES CAN BE DRASTICALLY MISLEADING Another problem in translating from Ancient Texts (or ANY Texts for that matter) is that Nuances and Idiomatic Phrases (or should it rather be “Idiot-matic”, ha ha!!) change their meanings drastically when examined a lot later on. Consider these three present day expressions for example —
A happy experience is described as “A shot in the arm” (Translated in future generations as “Receiving a Bullet Wound”!)
And what about “He was over the moon!” (Translated in future times as “He was an astronaut in orbit”!!)
And today, a man might refer to something very impressive as “Being Cool!” but future generations might translate this to the effect that that particular item was “Ice-Cold”!
Even worse are things said with a smile or a laugh ALWAYS MEAN THE EXACT OPPOSITE , , , For example:-
Whilst holding one’s sides laughing = “Oh stop it, you’re killing me!!” (No comment!!!!)
And what about == “ Oh go and jump in the lake” or even worse by far “Drop dead!!!” (Definitely NO COMMENT !!!!!!).
There is a splendid example of the exact opposite misinterpreted in the Bible where Jesus says (in ‘The Beatitudes’, Matthew 5:v5) “Blessed are the MEEK for they shall inherit the earth”. The original word in Aramaic said with a frown has an exceedingly long list of meanings, namely:- Meek, Humble, Poor, Subservient, Self-effacing. These are all NEGATIVE, but, the VERY SAME Aramaic word said with a smile also means MODERATION, SELF-CONTROL, DISCRETION, FAIRNESS, JUSTICE AND REASONABLENESS, i.e. the exact opposite, all definitely POSITIVE ! .
Spoken with a frown or a smile will, therefore, once again, change the whole meaning from a negative one to a positive one !! In modern day language, in ‘Positive Mode’, Jesus would have probably meant “Blessed are those WHO LIVE IN MODERATION IN ALL THINGS, for they shall inherit (i.e. be provided with) on earth, all the physical things that they justly deserve. Or put even another way, “Moderation” should not be regarded as an ‘Invocation of Limits’ but rather as an ‘Invocation of Love and Rationality’. In my own mind, I am quite certain that Jesus actually said this the word WITH A SMILE and not a FROWN !! (A whopping big difference in what Jesus actually meant,, not so?
And what about ”The POOR in spirit “, , Besides the obvious negative words such as “Lacking”, “Depletion”, “Deficient” etc: the very same word said with a smile can also mean “SIMPLICITY”, “PURITY” , “UNCOMPLICATED” (i.e. not having to reach God only through Candles, Bells, Incense, and The Priesthood etc: ) and finally “UNCONDITIONAL LOVE” , (,WOW !! What a difference.!! I am quite sure that Jesus meant the latter and NOT the former !!).
TRANSLATORS CANNOT POSSIBLY KNOW WHAT THE SPEAKER MEANT ORIGINALLY, BECAUSE THEY WERE NOT THERE AT THE TIME !! All the foregoing will give you some idea of the enormous and impossible problems that translators have to face. Because they were not there at the time in order to SEE what the orator really intended, they obviously cannot be held to blame for choosing the wrong words in present day language. It is all an extremely unfortunate and sad situation with no-one really to blame and with no apparent easy solution..
TRANSLATIONS GOING VIA OTHER LANGUAGES This of course DOUBLES or even TREBLES the problems mentioned above depending on how many languages a ‘Translated Text’ goes through. But apart from this, another VERY serious problem indeed is when translations are changed purposely in order to suit the customs of a Country. Take GREEK for example, , , Only FEMALE names in Greek end with a vowel. So it is the Greek custom that any MALE names ending in a vowel coming into, or via, the Greek Language automatically have the letter “S” (“Sigma”) added to the end of it to change it from the Greek FEMALE to the Greek MALE !!!.
An even worse fiasco was when the English Language only introduced the letter “J” as late as the SIXTEENTH CENTURY, , , So any Texts and Names etc: prior to this date DID NOT EVEN CONTAIN THE LETTER “J” !!!
Just think, , , if your name was originally ALFONZO , then today, this would be JALFONZOS or if OTTO it would be JOTTOS or if ELLIE it would be JELLIES or if EDNA it would be JEDNAS? or if EVA it would be JEVAS or if ANGELA it would be JANGELAS , , , , , , , , It all amounts to EXACTLY the same thing!!
AND FINALLY, THE NAME OF “JESUS” As regards the name of “JESUS”, , , , during the last War, I was evacuated to Caerwys in North Wales in order to escape the terrible bombing on Merseyside, and thus became well acquainted with the Welsh Language. The name for Jesus in Welsh is “IESU “ (Pronounced “Yes –ee”). This is probably the nearest to the original because Wales, being very mountainous, escaped these language changes as they were not influenced by the Romans invading the rest of the world. As to the English, well, , , indeed to goodness, look you , , , they strongly resist any English influence whatsoever, even today, , (They even go overboard having p.
Actually, the Welsh people pronounce “Iesu” so “Lovingly’ , , I quote a lovely Welsh hymn:– “Iesu, Iesu, ‘r wyt yn ddigon” (Jesus, Jesus, Thou art all sufficient”) (262 in Emynau’r Myfyrwyr [The Students’ Hymnal] )”, , , . To hear it sung as a Solo by a Welsh Tenor nearly brings “Goose-Pimples” and tears to the eyes!!!
Tail Piece: I was on the School Bus one day sitting next to Ruth, (my School – Girl “Sweetheart”) and I was telling her something or other, and happened to say ”Yes, he was”., , , , A woman in front of us turned around ad gave me such a stern, , reprimanding “dirty look”. After she had turned back, I whispered to Ruth “What was all that about?” She giggled and whispered “She thought that you were swearing!!