[b-hebrew] Isaiah 53

unikom at paco.net unikom at paco.net
Sat May 15 12:13:48 EDT 2004

Dear Rolf,

You are certainly right. Unfortunately, almost every translator invariably
falls into exegesis. In the example of Isaiah 53, the verbs are usually
twisted beyond measure.

How do you like common, "he was given [tomb with the rich]" when it is
clearly written, "he gave" - and, of course, one cannot give his death.

Best regards,


Dear Vadim,

What is "Hebrew past tense"? I view translation as interpretation,
one cannot convey a message to an audience if one has not already
interpreted the meaning of the original. But what you probably mean
is that we should distinguish between translation and theological
exegesis; in this I agree. Applied to Isaiah 53 and other prophetic
passages, a translator should try to rid his mind from Christian
views, because it would be wrong to translate the OT in light of the
NT. And further, we need not take any standpoint whether chapter 53
was written by a prophet with the name Isaiah or ascribed to one with
the name of Isaiah by another. The temporal reference would in both
instances be the same. What we need to look for when we translate a
message which has the label "prophetic," is whether the message
really refers to the future and not to a previous historical event.

Best regards


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

>Dear Rolf,
>May I suggest to distinguish between translation and interpretation? The
>translation should be grammatically correct: in case of the chapter 53,
>translating Hebrew past tense as English PT, and where standard Hebrew
>allows certain latitude, like betwee past and conjunctive, both should be
>mentioned. How one makes sense of this - is quite another matter, but
>biblical translation should be precise, unless one prefers to treat the
>book as saga.
>Best regards,
>Vadim Cherny
>Dear list-members,
>I would like to return to my question about the link between future
>reference and prophetic utterances. It seems to me that students of
>Hebrew have been chewing cud for a hundred and fifty years without
>asking whether this is good for their health, i.e. old views are
>repeated over and over again without anybody asking for evidence.
>Apart from messages of judgment referring to people living at the
>time, the message of a prophet usually relates to the future (but it
>can occasionally include past or present reference as well). In his
>"A Grammar of the Hebrew Language" of 1841, p 356, Samuel Lee wrote:
>"Another leading principle, by which the tenses are regulated, has
>arisen out of the circumstance, that the Hebrews, in common with some
>other nations of the East, often represent events, - of the future
>occurrence of which they have no doubt, - as having already taken
>place. " How did he know? Because the Persians did the same! (BTW:
>Lee was a fine grammarian)
>The notion of "prophetic perfect" has been repeated over and over
>again, but I am not aware of a single piece of evidence for its
>correctness that ever has been produced from one of the documents of
>classical Hebrew. So I must ask again. If it looks like a duck, walks
>like a duck, and sounds like a duck, should we not draw the
>conclusion that is *is* a duck. And similarly, if a prophet refers to
>the future, speaks about the future, and writes about the future,
>should we not give the verbs future reference when they are
>translated? Why in the world should we translate them by past or
>In my translation of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 into Norwegian,  41 of the
>finite verbs are translated with simple future, 7 with present, 1
>with simple past, and 2 with pluperfect. I simply do not understand
>the linguistic basis for the use past or perfect apart from the three
>metioned examples. In my doctoral thesis I have translated Jeremiah
>50 and 51into English, and this is a *prophecy* about Babel. In the
>104 verses I have translated, the following verbs are translated with
>simple future: 70 yiqtols, 2 weyiqtols, 7 wayyiqtols, 49 weqatals,
>and 63 qatals. In addition 4 qatals are translated with future
>perfect.  When I look at the renderings of modern Bible translations
>of these two chapters, I wonder what kind of logic is behind the
>back-and-forth, hither-and- tither use of English tenses. Can really
>and old obsolete rule have such a profound effect on modern
>Would anyone who defend the idea of verbs with future reference being
>translated by past or perfect please step forward and give some
>*linguistic* evidence for this (not just references to grammars).
>Best regards
>Rolf Furuli
>University of Oslo

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