Posts Tagged Translation

Psalms are Poetry

The last few mornings I’ve been reading Psalms, with nine English Versions up on the computer screen. I’ve been reading and thinking about  bringing them into the Nkonya language.

It’s a particular challenge, because the Psalms are art and poetry as well as message.

After only a handful of days I’m still working on plotting the translations as to their various characteristics. However I do have some initial favourites and least favourites.  I have discovered that while I want a psalm to be accurate I also want it to touch me with it’s beauty. I want elegance of line and cadence. I want my emotions engaged.

The New Century Version , which I’ve often consulted when translating narrative passages goes to the bottom of the list here.  It has basically jettisoned any attempt at the poetical in it’s dedication to the simple and straightforward.  The Today’s English Version also suffers in that direction.

A number of translations cluster at mid-range.  The New American Standard Version does better than one would expect. Hebrew is a language of heart and passion. If you keep close to the original text much of that emotion actually spills over. In poetry it doesn’t matter so much if the wording is a little unusual. The Revised English Version also gets a nod from me for its creative turn of mind. It is quite flavourful.

The two translations that most consistently wax lyrical are the New Living Translation and the New International Version. They are quite different in style. The New Living has a full rich flavour.  If it were a cupcake it would be generously iced.

The New International opts for a fairly spare rendering. However it is characterized by lovely turns of phrase that wear well and satisfy.  It’s translation of Psalm 65:8, for instance, is nicely evocative.

“Where morning dawns and evening fades
you call forth songs of joy.”

This particular verse, has called forth a rich spectrum of renderings in English.  Looking at it in a variety of translations highlights many of the issues involved. (Consider that homework- perhaps a future blog.)

Here’s a bit more from Psalm 65, in the NIV, my current favourite.

It’s a nice passage to read as winter passes out.

You care for the land and water it. . .
You drench its furrows
and level its ridges;
you soften it with showers
and bless its crops.

You crown the year with your bounty,
and your carts overflow with abundance.
The grasslands of the desert overflow;
the hills are clothed with gladness.
The meadows are covered with flocks
and the valleys are mantled with grain;
they shout for joy and sing.

“Drench” is such a nice verb-I have this urge to run out and wriggle my toes in moist loam. I also love the image of fields “mantled with grain.”  I can see the heavy richness of August wheat fields around Red Deer.

There are 150 Psalms to bring into Nkonya and I have yet to work on even one.  Doubtless my initial impressions will be modified many times. I’m looking forward to the exercise though.


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What about the fallout?

Being closer to sixty these days than I am to fifty I no longer see life extending on beyond me to the farthest horizon.

And so, as I pour over the verses of Genesis, I sometimes stop to wonder if it is a good use of time, resources, energy.  If this is what will define my life through the rest of my working days, is it worth it?

What is the significance of just having invested an entire day pouring over a mere page of ancient text that presents an apparently simple story.

No use whatsoever- unless it is more than that-unless it is somehow a key to life now.

Is there an eternal God who interacts with human beings on a personal level? Does he do today what he did then?

At the end of the day, I sit contemplating the story of Hagar and Ishmael, and Abraham.

If ever there was a command of God that seemed to cut across the demands of decency,  parental affection, and good common sense, it was the command to exile this young sixteen year old and his mother to the desert, with nothing but a bag of food and a goatskin of water.

No wonder it was a “very bad thing in the eyes of Abraham.”

“Obey me,” said God, “and I will take care of the fallout.”

And he did.

It’s still a principle worth grasping.

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I’m a lot more worried by Lot

The unbridled activities of the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, climaxed by their attempted homosexual gang rape of angels, and their subsequent fiery demise, has of course become a classic measuring stick of evil and divine judgment.

I find myself more continually disturbed by Lot.

Why?  Because I’m much more likely to also co-exist on easy street, to somewhat uneasily rub along in silent disapproval of moral rot, being inwardly disturbed, but basically inactive, than I am to go out and participate in overt orgies.

Lot left Haran and kith and kin to follow Uncle Abraham to the promised land. He entertained angels unaware and went to their defense. He lived amongst, but was not part of,  the society around him, so that his neighbours said, “He came as a stranger and does he think he can now judge us?” He was one of four, (six short of the negotiated ten necessary to save the city) snatched from Sodom’s sulphured end, because of his righteousness, by God’s mercy and through Abraham’s intercession.

And yet he leaves me with nothing but quease and questions.

What was Lot doing, actually living within the walls of Sodom? Where was his tent?  What happened to the flocks and herds and herdsmen, so numerous that he couldn’t find sufficient grazing space next to Abraham to feed them? Were there no righteous retainers in his household? Why wasn’t his capture by Chedorlaomer a wake up call?  Why is there no record of thankfulness to Abraham for his  rescue?  Why was he willing to throw his virgin daughters to the wolves? Why were they engaged to local pagans?  Why did Lot dither about leaving Sodom until the angels were forced to grab his hands and physically extract him? Why did his wife look back? Why did he negotiate to escape to little Zoar instead of obeying and hi-tailing it to the hills, where there was safety and again, Uncle Abraham?

How did he end up in a cave in the mountains, a pathetic victim to post-traumatic stress, fathering his own grand-children in a drunken stupor?

Such a sordid little story of the dangers of mediocre faith and quasi commitment.

I did not enjoy working on the translation.

I much preferred studying his great-great-great…. grand-daughter Ruth, who said to her mother-in-law,

“Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you;

for where you go, I will go,

and where you lodge, I will lodge.

Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.

Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.”

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Enter the Babble of Babel

Genesis 11:1-9

Just nine little verses, but rather of import to me, sitting here, jumping my thoughts between Hebrew, English, and Nkonya, checking the first Nkonya draft of the book.

So often I have focused my thoughts on the vision of Revelation with every tribe and language gathered around the throne of God in worship, or on the day of Pentecost with divine simultaneous translations into multiple languages.

But here is the start of it all.  From one language to many, in a blink.

The presumptuous tower of Babel – with its head in the clouds, lofting to the place of God.

The city that would draw men to a place of unified strength, and go against a divine command to spread out and repopulate the earth.

And God came down, and looked things over and said, “If this is the way they have begun, nothing will stop these sons of Adam from carrying out every intention.”

An ironical statement, as without further ado he put a spoke in their wheel and sent them out to the far corners of the earth, as previously commanded, but now each with their own language, unable to communicate with former associates.

Multiple languages were designed to keep people from unifying against God, to hinder the multiplication of evil. They were not to keep them from communicating with the Creator, from whom all languages originate.

And so I plug on.

Can’t help wondering though- when we all gather at the throne of God, before the Lamb, representing close to 7000 languages and who knows how many dialects, will the need for differing speech vanish, and will we again speak one language with one set of words?

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God will see to it

How often has someone said, “Don’t worry, I’ll see to it for you.” And we relax.

I’ve been turtling along in my Hebrew studies and the reading I read on Sunday was that most intimate of stories, of God, and Abraham, and Isaac in the mountains of Moriah.

“Jehovah-Jireh- my provider, thy grace is sufficient for me, for me.” . . . the words of a popular Christian song are probably the first things that drift through my mind, along with the phrase,  “God will provide a lamb,” and “Behold the lamb, of God, which taketh away the sins of the world.”

But the verb, now brought as “provide” in the majority of English translations, is the common everyday verb usually translated as “see”, and the lamb, in fact turned out to be a full grown ram with horns large enough to get entangled in a thicket.

Nothing wrong with the English Christian translations, though worth noting that our conceptions do influence our word choice.  Still, it was the simplicity of literal translation that encouraged me.

The Tanakh, a Jewish translation of the tradition Hebrew text says,|

Then Isaac said to his Father, Abraham, “Father”

And he answered, “Yes, my son.”

And he said, “Here are the firestone and the wood, but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”

And Abraham said, “God will see to the sheep for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them walked on together.

Lets walk on together, God will see to it.

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Christ Affirms Culture

Perhaps one of the most moving segments of the recent Nkonya New Testament Dedication was a play mounted by the Tayi cultural group.  Drawing on historical music, dance, and formal protocol, the New Testament, “God’s New Oath” was presented by the Tayi Chief to the Chief of Nkonya who accepted it on behalf of his people to use it to lead, care for, and bless them.

When I figure out how to edit out selected segments of our hours of video tape I’ll try to put it on the blog.  For right now, here are some stills.

The Linguist for the Chief of Tayi challenging the Chief of Nkonya to forsake all evil and receive the newly written book, "God's New Oath"

A dance, traditionally only performed by virgins, celebrates the Chief's acceptance.

Presenting a copy of "Bulu Ntam Pɔpwɛ" to the Chief of Nkonya. Three times the question was asked, "Do you receive this?" Three times the affirmative was given, "Yo ,Nahɔ." " Yes, I have received it."

The Chief, leaving the gathering, New Testament in Hand.

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Hot off the Press

She didn’t have the privilege of attending school as a child.  She doesn’t read English. But she learned how to read her own Mother Tongue.  And now she has a New Testament in her own Language to read.

The New Testament in Nkonya

A New Covenant of Love

She can read it for herself


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