Friday, August 12, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- what does it matter?

A translator should never omit, add, or transpose verbage.
Septuagint adds verbage in some places and leaves it out in others with no apparent rhyme or reason.
The most obvious examples are in Exodus 37 and 38 with the commandments and construction of the tabernacle.
Understand that much of these chapters seems repetitive (it isn’t but you’ll want to read my book Narrating the Torah to see why), but Septuagint doesn’t simply leave out the seeming repetitions.  It leaves out parts of them, and other parts it moves to different chapters.
Some of Septuagint’s omissions undercut Jewish law.  It leaves out Deuteronomy 7:26, which prohibits bringing into a Jewish home anything dedicated to paganism.  The omission makes no sense – unless the translators thought it was politically incorrect.  But in that case, what about Leviticus 18:3ff which says not to behave like Egyptians and giving examples like incest and magic?  Egypt was famous for magic for centuries after the Septuagint was done, but these politically incorrect verses are translated in Septuagint; the Deuteronomy verse is relatively mild by comparison.
When I say transposition, I always have in mind that the translation should use good syntax in the target language.
Understand that sentence syntax varies from language to language; what makes perfectly good sense in Russian might produce unfortunate misunderstandings when translated to English, by putting an appositive phrase after the wrong substantive.  On the other hand, I did get into the opposite situation while translating the transcript of the Mendel Beilis trial from Russian to English.  The word order in the Russian created the impression that the prosecutor believed Beilis was not guilty and I preserved it into the English, then added a footnote so readers wouldn’t think I had done what I just said a translator shouldn’t do.  (Actually, the government knew before they arrested Beilis that he was innocent, because they knew who was guilty.)
Syntax is often a victim of a “literal” or word-for-word translation, another reason for readers to avoid such things.
The transpositions in Septuagint do not try to produce good syntax in Greek from good syntax in Hebrew.  One of them moves the making of the ark of the covenant from Exodus 37 to Exodus 38.  In Narrating the Torah, I go through the reasons why the cultural setting of Torah makes its arrangement in Biblical Hebrew comprehensible, and transpositions disrupt its understanding.
I’ll show in the last part of this page how omissions, additions, and transpositions invalidate a long-standing interpretation of Torah.  Clue: it’s something I haven’t laid a finger on so far.  Until then, you have a lot to learn to help you understand why it’s invalid.  Read on.
One urban legend is that Septuagint represents an older text or version of Torah than what the standard version records, but there is no support for that claim in archaeology.  When somebody mentioned this issue to me, I asked for a reference to scholarly work on the topic.  It turned out the person was thinking of Septuagint relative to the Masoretic text and that brings up another urban legend which I will discuss next week.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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