Thursday, June 29, 2017

21st Century Bible Hebrew -- idioms

Genesis 1:4
 
ד וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת־הָאוֹר כִּי־טוֹב וַיַּבְדֵּל אֱלֹהִים בֵּין הָאוֹר וּבֵין הַחֹשֶׁךְ:
 
Translation:     Gd must have manifested the light for it was good, for Gd separated the light and the darkness.
 
Idioms. Translators hate idioms. They are usually multi-word, and until you get used to the language, they can be hard to look up in a dictionary. First you have to pick a word to look them up under. Then you have to find the part of the entry that gives the idioms.
 
The one you are looking up might not be there.
 
This verse should be a test case for any translation you are thinking of buying.
 
What it should have is “between X and Y”.
 
If it has “between X and between Y”, it is probably touted as “literal” by the publisher.
 
In English we never say “between X and between Y”. X is one thing, and we can’t say between one thing. Y is a different thing and we can’t say between one thing, even if it is different from something else in the sentence.
 
The English idiom is “between X and Y”. Physically, it means there’s a space between them, and what we’re talking about falls somewhere in that space.
 
Here, we’re creating a space between them.
 
Actually, you know as well as I do that there’s no physical barrier between light and dark; there’s a perceptual barrier. Here it’s light; there it’s not light.
 
It’s a standard aphorism in many cultures that you cannot have a single thing without its opposite. You would not know what light is, but for the contrast with darkness. So while Gd manifested the light ki tov, the fact is that we can’t perceive light except as a difference from darkness. There’s nothing bad about darkness, not inherently; it’s just that light was selected as evidence of creation and how it came about – and Who did it – because, having originally been mixed with the darkness, there was only one Person who could perceive that and make the distinction manifest.
 
Ki-tov is another idiom. It appears in other places than the creation narrative. It’s hard to tell whether manifesting the light was the good thing, or whether the light was the good thing. Most commentators say it was the light that was good, but obviously, the manifesting had to be good too because without it, we wouldn’t perceive the light.  Modifiers usually refer to whatever is closest to them so I’ll say it’s the light.
 
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

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