[b-hebrew] OT Translations

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Thu Jun 10 17:52:47 EDT 2004

On 10/06/2004 14:14, Bill Rea wrote:

> ...
>To draw a parallel closer to our time, if my memory serves me correctly,
>when Erasmus went to assemble a Greek NT he had to translate a few verses
>from Latin back into Greek because there were no texts available. As Greek
>texts have become available it should be possible to check his accuracy.
>That should give us some indication of whether it is feasible to recover
>a lost Hebrew text on the basis of the LXX.
For that matter, I would challenge anyone to take a passage from a Bible 
translation from Hebrew into English, or any other modern language, 
especially a translation which is not very literal, and translate it 
back into Hebrew without reference to the original (and assuming they 
haven't more or less memorised the original). I would be surprised if 
anyone today can come up with anything like the original text. Indeed in 
principle this is more or less impossible, because in any translation 
including this back-translation there will always be many choices to be 
made and in this scenario no guarantee that the choice made will match 
the original text.

Back translation from Latin to Greek is actually not a very good example 
because the languages are structurally quite similar. That would be more 
akin to back translation from Aramaic or Arabic to Hebrew. But English 
to Hebrew would be more comparable with Greek to Hebrew.

The lesson from this is that reconstruction of texts by back translation 
is a very dangerous pursuit, and one which should probably not be 
attempted unless there is something else to work with. When there is an 
apparently corrupt Hebrew text to compare with the Greek, there is 
something to work with, and so a chance of reconstructing a plausible 
Hebrew text which really corresponds to the Greek version. But in this 
case there is always a suspicion that what is being reconstructed is 
only the translator's way of making sense of an already corrupt Vorlage.

Peter Kirk
peter at qaya.org (personal)
peterkirk at qaya.org (work)

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