Saturday, December 05, 2015

On transliterating biblical names

FROM HEBREW TO GREEK: The Lost Meanings of Biblical Names. The festival of Hanukkah, which starts this weekend, should remind us that translation can sap the ancient power of religious names (AVIYA KUSHNER, WSJ).
For centuries, the Septuagint was the dominant translation in Western culture, ultimately influencing even the King James Bible. But many Jews weren’t keen on translating their holy book: One ancient source calls for a fast on the anniversary of the Septuagint’s publication, saying that when it appeared, “darkness descended on the world for three days.”

They had ample justification for worrying over distortions and omissions. Hebrew names, one of the richest parts of the Bible, were often transliterated instead of being translated into Greek. Meaning-laden names thus lost their meaning.
Well, yes, but that's why you have commentary. I do not regard this as a tragedy. Any reading of a text places the text in a new context and to some degree alters its meaning. I grant that the ancient Greek translations of the books of the Hebrew Bible have cases (e.g., the Book of Isaiah) which carry this tendency pretty far.