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Greek/Hebrew translations

A discussion of the peculiarities of languages and the differences between them.

Greek/Hebrew translations

Postby Perry Lassiter » Mon Mar 19, 2012 2:16 pm

A frequent problem in translating and understanding the New Testament comes from native Hebrews writing in Greek. When we pick up the Greek NT and read a word, the question frequently arises whether the thought behind it came from the writer's Old Testament background or from the Greek culture in which they were also immersed. An easy example to see, though very complex to deal with, is the Greek word "logos." Almost always translated as "word," (in the beginning was the word/logos) in John 1:1, was John thinking of the Greek concept of logos or the Hebrew concept of "davar/dabar/dabhar." The latter is very frequent in the OT as in "The word of the Lord came to Jonah, saying..," It can also be a verb, "the Lord said..."In Greek, logos is variously conceived of as rationality or an ordering principle. Mythologically, the logos is a divine power that overflowed from the supreme power and stands somewhere down the chain. Like a mad inventor in some schemes, the logos got to experimenting with matter and accidentally spilled spiritual stuff, soul, into matter and the combination created everything we know. This is just a glimpse, but you see the problem if you look at the Greek text. It becomes even more problematic in translation. One modern translation even reads, "In the beginning God expressed himself." Now when you move that Greek/Hebrew combo into English, how do you translate? Many more very important words share that problem. It also happens in almost any translation. What's "weltenshaung"? "Existentialism," for that matter? You have other examples and problems?
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Postby Slava » Mon Mar 19, 2012 8:15 pm

Not quite the same, but when the Russians were translating something from JFK, I believe a memoir, they went back and forth on how "you" should be translated, in the singular or plural, i.e. informal or formal, when speaking to servants.

An interesting problem might come up if speaking of the gay community. Here it is represented as pink. In Russia, gay people are blue (goluboi).
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Postby Perry Lassiter » Mon Mar 19, 2012 9:41 pm

The Russian problem, I suspect, arises from the lack of a true second person in English. Both you and he/she share the same verbal endings. In Spanish, for example, the formal "usted" is mostly taught in schools, but they also include "tu" as a familiar "you," that oddly applies both to children and God. I found in practice with Spanish friends that in Tex-Mex dialect, I never here usted or formal endings. It's all "tu" and "s" endings. English, of course, used to - thee, thou, thine, etc. Repeatedly someone will state you can't understand translations truly. Islam insists that the Koran can only be understood truly in Arabic.
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Postby Philip Hudson » Tue Mar 20, 2012 3:46 pm

Perry said, "Mythologically, the logos is a divine power that overflowed from the supreme power and stands somewhere down the chain. Like a mad inventor in some schemes, the logos got to experimenting with matter and accidentally spilled spiritual stuff, soul, into matter and the combination created everything we know."

How like the Greeks to come so close to a meaning and yet miss it entirely. Modify the quotation from Perry just a little and you get, "In actual fact, the supreme divine power who, at the pinnacle of divinity, created matter mixed purposely with spiritual stuff and thus created everything there is in the universe," is a pretty good Christian definition of "The Word". To say, as I think the Phillips Translation does, "In the beginning God expressed himself," leaves a lot to be inferred from "expressed". It is more than the word "expressed" can be expected to bear. It takes the whole Bible to define "The Word".
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Postby Perry Lassiter » Tue Mar 20, 2012 4:09 pm

Although we (I) wander far afield in these forums, I intended to focus here on translation more than theology, although the two are pretty well intertwined here. Much of the NT was written contra an attempt to infiltrate Christianity with Greek culture, and one argument here was indeed that the true Logos was not a mad scientist, but was in fact the creator God. Repeatedly we see similar interplays in culture wars. Did you see the cleric who was not surprised the the burning of the Koran led to mass uprising, while killing 16 civilians did not? He said all their people are relgious to the core, but they were used to paying money for human life. How do you jump these barriers?
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