The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Oct 18, 2018

Translation Issues in Hebrew: The Search for a Textbook (I'm open to suggestions!)

In our new translation-oriented Master of Arts here at BTS, my father and I have the privilege of teaching a new class this January: "Translation Issues in Greek and Hebrew." Both my father and I have been involved in Bible translation into Japanese, at one point my father was teaching Greek in Japanese to Japanese ministerial students, and I have recently been published in The Bible Translator (vol. 68.2). However, this is the first time we'll be co-teaching a class on translation (though my father has taught a basic "Introduction to Translation Theory" class).

This is not another advanced Greek or Hebrew exegesis class. Rather, the point of this class is to discuss how to translate the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures into modern non-English languages, paying special attention to areas of debate within modern scholarship. 

For example, this class will discuss such topics as: "How would your perspective on verbal aspect theory impact how you translate 1 Peter into Japanese?" Or, "How would the discourse features of Psalm 67 best translate into Farsi?"

Herein lies the problem. So far as I have seen, no affordable textbook really accomplishes what my father and I wish to accomplish with this class. There are, of course, plenty of guides about translating Greek and Hebrew into English, but not much for the future missionary who wishes to translate into something other than English. A notable exception would be Toshikazu Foley's Biblical Translation in Chinese and Greek which is definitely worth the price for the professor (I own it), but hardly affordable for the student! Also, it's much narrower in scope than we're looking for (since Foley focuses primarily on verbal aspect theory).

For his part (the Greek), my Dad borrowed my copy of Constantine Campbell's Advances in the Study of Greek, an excellent book that is definitely relevant to the topic but does not, of course, deal with the difficulties of translating Greek into a non-English language. Still, it's a start.

For my part, I am nearly at a loss. It's assumed my students will have had beginning Hebrew; they will be required to have both Pratico and Van Pelt's Basics of Biblical Hebrew and the very handy Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax by Arnold and Choi; also, our library has Gesenius and Waltke/O'Connor.  However, English books specializing in translating Hebrew into non-English languages are hard to come by. Also, I am unaware of any Hebrew equivalent to Campbells' excellent book (i.e., something like Advances in the Study of Hebrew; actually, I just did a search on Amazon and there is an Advances in Biblical Hebrew Linguistics, published in 2017 by Eisenbrauns; does anybody know anything about this book?).

I am open to suggestions
To be clear, I am not looking for a book on translation theory (we have plenty of those), nor a book on translating Hebrew into English, but rather a book dealing with the issues that come from attempting to translate Hebrew into various non-English languages.

So far the best I have found is a book from the Dutch perspective (albeit in English) entitled Bible Translation on the Threshold of the Twenty-First Century, ed. by Athalya Brenner and Jan Willem van Henten. It's affordable, and many of the essays in it are very relevant to what I envision the class being about. The fact that it's from a non-American perspective is also very helpful.

I will probably require that book, and supplement it with some select articles from The Bible Translator and, perhaps, SIL's Journal of Translation. In addition, I am probably going to allow them to choose a language of their choice, acquire a basic grammar on that language, and utilize that in writing an essay on something like "Translating Ruth into [language of choice]: Issues and Potential Pitfalls."

I am definitely looking forward to the class. I have become the default Hebrew teacher at my (small) seminary, even though my area of expertise is Greek (my doktorvater was David Alan Black). In order to push myself, I am going to begin translating some of the Psalms (and probably some parts of Genesis) into Japanese from Hebrew, something I've never done before. 'Twill be a busy Christmas break!