Thursday, June 30, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Lost in Translation

And one more early post since this is the time of year when FiOS traditionally craps out on me
If you have been reading this blog since I started posting to this page, I am awed because you  have invested that time in me.  The easy stuff is probably all behind us. The next part is pretty hard.
And I’m going to start with the preface you never read. What I say from now on is probably not going to be what you thought I would say. I am not writing this blog to say what people expect to be said. If you want to read a repeat of your own ideas, you have two choices: find a website that has those ideas (I know they exist); or write your own blog. This blog right here is about busting urban legends, not repeating them.
And the source of the urban legends was questions posted on an Internet discussion group about 20 years ago – and reposted by different people over a space of about 5 years – which shows you that I’m not making things up.  There are plenty of other sites where you can ask questions and get answers, too.  If you or somebody you know, has a question and wants my answer, check the Fact-Checking page listing to see if I already covered their issue;  email me to see if I’m going to cover it.  If I get a bunch of emails on a specific question, and I know I haven’t written a post for that (I’ve written all the posts that cover the old issues), I can always write a new one to post when I’m done.
I have a good reason for calling this section LOST IN TRANSLATION.
If you read a translation or commentary, you still don’t know what the primary (untranslated) document means.  Translation is not meaning.  Commentary is even farther from meaning.
Everybody has trouble getting this through their heads. Some people who can read and write more than one language don’t understand it. The vast majority of people in the world think that translating from one language to another means that the target (translated) document matches the meaning of the source document. The rest are language geeks.
Me, I’ve been a language geek since I was so high. All right, I’ve been so high for more than 40 years, keyn ahora, but I studied two non-English languages in high school, two more in college, and I use Hebrew and Aramaic every day due to prayers and the Daf Yomi Talmud study cycle. My first job involved the Russian which was my college major (for my first bachelor’s degree) and I still use it, as you can see if you read my Mendel Beilis page. Anyway, I’m a language geek.
Four issues allow room for error: the meaning of words; the nuances of grammar; the context of the wording; and the setting of the material. That’s aside from the translator’s or commentator’s knowledge or beliefs that affect their results.
This third section includes information about a debate that will either leave you cold or make you mad. That’s because what you think you know about it probably comes from incorrect translations, or commentaries incorporating fallacies or urban legends. One of the parties involved got laughed out of court and helped the Russian government lose a court case because of his ignorance of languages and subject material he pretended to know. I’ll warn you when we get there so you can skip it if you don’t want to suffer from high blood pressure.
I will also teach you some things you probably don’t know about Biblical Hebrew. They build on a 2002 doctoral dissertation. The author is so well-respected for just this one paper that when A reviewed B’s book which referred to the dissertation, A criticized B for not basing the book on the dissertation.  In other words, B included information from the dissertation but it was not fundamental to B’s thesis, which left B with less than solid support in A’s opinion.
Finally, this section introduces a subject you probably don’t know much about, one that is still developing, about the differences between material transmitted by mouth and the same information transmitted in writing, other than as a record of the oral version. I’m still learning about it myself, so I will try to stick with practical and hopefully obvious examples of the various facets. It has consequences that play out in the fourth part of this blog.
This section should help you understand why I keep telling you, you have to read it, and you have to read the source document not a translation. If you have spent the last three years working on that, what I say here should make sense, even if it isn’t clear as day.

We'll start with the Septuagint.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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