[b-hebrew] Verbs, text-segmenting and clause-types

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Sat Jul 30 08:40:01 EDT 2005

On 30/07/2005 12:50, Rolf Furuli wrote:

>Dear Peter,
>It is fine that you ask about contradictions, so I get the opportunity to 
>clear up things in behalf of other list-members as well. Translation is 
>interpretation, so a translator will all the time make decisions without the 
>knowledge of the readers. In my view such decisions should be limited as 
>much as possible - and that is the advantage of a literal translation - and 
>footnotes should notify the readers of different possibilities.

Understood. Thank you.

>One example of an ambiguous text is Psalm 22:17 K)RY YDY WRGLY, literally 
>"like the lion my hands and my feet". Many solutions to this ambiguity have 
>been tried:
>NIV: "they have pierced my hands and my feet" ( LXX: "they have dug out my 
>hands and my feet")
>JPS: "like lions they maul my hands and feet"
>NAB: "so wasted are my hands and my feet"
>NET: "like a lion they pin my hands and feet to the ground"
>NJB: "a gang of villains closing in on me as if to hack off my hands and my 
>TEV: "they tear at my hands and my feet"
>NWT: "like a lion /they are at/ my hands and my feet"
>Poor readers!
>I would say that the best solution here has NWT, which gives a literal 
>rendering but adds in brackets three words that make the text legibile. The 
>text is still ambigous, and the reader is allowed to do the interpretation.

Well, no, because the NWT rendering rules out the alternative 
interpretations of K)RY (based in part on alternative texts) as "they 
have pierced", "wasted", "they tear", and perhaps "a gang of villains" 
although perhaps this last is based on understanding "lions" as a 
metaphor. In fact NWT even rules out the plural "lions" preferred by 
JPS. By choosing the textual and exegetical option "like a lion", which 
I agree is a good one, most other possibilities are ruled out, and 
bracketed /they are at/ is almost demanded by the context. Now every 
translation must make such a choice of one reading to put in the text, 
as there is no possibility in English of maintaining ambiguity between 
"like a lion" and "they have pierced". But NWT, if there is indeed no 
footnote here, breaches your good principle that "footnotes should 
notify the readers of different possibilities".

>The temporal references of verbs are more important than the meaning of 
>single words, so in most cases it is fine for the translators to make 
>decisions here. My view is that the temporal reference in *most* cases must 
>be decided by the translators, but in a very few cases  the translator may 
>decide to retain the ambiguity. Regarding words and clauses I think that the 
>ambiguousness to a greater degree should be retained, but again, that is 
>particularly possible in literal translations. And I fully understand that 
>translators who for the first time translate a part of the Bible into a 
>language take great care to make an unambigous text.  So the key for 
>clearing up the supposed contradiction is "quantity"

Thank you for the clarification, and qualification of your earlier 
principle that "translators should refrain from exegesis as much as

>A fine test-case of temporal ambiguousness is Psalm 107.
Another one, even on the model of the verb which I prefer, is Psalm 72, 
much of which is ambiguous between prophetic future and modal wish or 
prayer. See various translations.

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

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