Bible Translation on the Threshold of the Twenty-First Century: Authority, Reception, Culture and Religion. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplemental Series 353, BTC 1

By Athalya Brenner and Jan Willem van Henten, eds.
London : Sheffield Academic (2002). x + 207 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
15.2 (Fall 2004) : 245-247

This volume is the first in a new sub-series to JSOTSS entitled The Bible in the 21st Century (BTC 1). Eight of the contributors to this volume are on faculties in The Netherlands, three are from the USA, two from the UK, and one each from South Africa and Belgium. All but one read their essays in a colloquium at the University of Amsterdam in May 2000. Hot debate and public uproar over the attempt to modernize the Dutch Bible provided a focused atmosphere for the colloquium (1-3). Traditionalists carried the day when the boards involved in the project decided to maintain “HEER” (“LORD”) as the translation for the Tetragrammaton (6-7).

“New and Familiar: The Dynamics of Bible Translation,” by Sijbolt Noorda, is the first paper in the volume (8-16). It functions as an introduction, so no responses were included (4). Noorda describes the socio-cultural context of Jerome’s Latin translation (9-11) as a prelude to discussing the dynamics of producing a translation that will be received by a target audience (12-15). He calls for an increase in empirical research among readers as opposed to multiplying the opinions of translators alone (16).

John Rogerson’s essay, “Can a Translation of the Bible Be Authoritative?” (17-30), investigates the way in which older translations came to be viewed as authoritative. After a brief discussion of the Targum, the Septuagint, and the Vulgate (17-20), he discusses the “authorized” nature of Luther’s German translation and the various English translations (20-30). Rogerson observes that committees of translators do not guarantee the authority of a translation. G. R. Driver’s domination of the New English Bible’s (NEB) OT translation, his employment of questionable Semitic philology, and his contempt for theologians doomed the acceptance (and, thus, the authoritativeness) of that version (24-25). Yet, as individuals, Luther and Tyndale both produced translations that influenced Bibles in their respective languages for centuries (25). In the 20th century, commercial power became a factor affecting the authority of translations (26). Rogerson also touches upon problems with dynamic equivalence translations (26-28) and the issue of the inspiration of translations (29-30). Judith Frishman provides a response to Rogerson’s paper (31- 35).

Simon Crisp’s “Icon of the Ineffable? An Orthodox View of Language and Its Implications for Bible Translation” (36-49) examines the effect that the “hermeneutic of the perspicuity of Scripture” (39) has on translation. An appendix compares literary translations of Luke 1:46-55 (44-49). T he response to Crisp is offered by Lénart J. de Regt (50-52).

In “Between Lying and Blasphemy or On Translating a Four-Letter Word in the Hebrew Bible: Critical Reflections on Bible Translation” (53-64), Robert P. Carroll tackles the problem with translating the Tetragrammaton (YHWH). While he does not resolve the problem, he does demonstrate that this issue is related to a number of other problems (e.g., the translation of Exod 3:14, the use of upper case letters for divine speech, and compound divine names). Athalya Brenner’s response (65-69) points out that Carroll passed away the day after he had submitted his paper by e-mail (65).

Lamin Sanneh’s paper titled “Domesticating the Transcendent. The African Transformation of Christianity: Comparative Reflections on Ethnicity and Religious Mobilization in Africa” (70-85) discusses, among other aspects of African culture and Christianity, the African view of God and how it affects Bible translation. The response by Theo Witvliet (86-93) focuses on the mutual impact of Bible translation on culture and culture on Bible translation.

“Translating the Bible in South Africa: Challenges to Responsibility and Contextuality” (94-124) by Jeremy Punt presents a status report on Bible translation in South Africa (97-103) and a discussion of the Xhosa and Afrikaans translation projects (103-9). Punt also touches on what he considers to be emerging issues in third-millennium Bible translation (110-22), including the status of the Bible as a commodity, fetish, and icon (116-18). Responding to Punt, Wim J. C. Weren examines a concrete example (Matt 1:18-25 in the New Afrikaans Bible) to discuss the interconnectedness of translation and interpretation (125-31).

Genesis 3:16 becomes the ultimate illustration in Mary Phil Korsak’s essay, “Translating the Bible: Bible Translations and Gender Issues” (132-46). Unfortunately, she doesn’t really offer any answer to the problems of translating Genesis 3:16. However, she does offer a brief history of female involvement in the translation of Genesis into English (135-41). Caroline Vander Stichele responds (147-55) with an insightful discussion regarding inclusive language (151-54).

The last pair of essays takes place between Everett Fox (“The Translation of Elijah: Issues and Challenges,” 156-69) and A. J. C. Verheij (response to Fox, 170-74). Fox points out that repeated words of thematic import need to be translated by a single equivalent “so that the thematic connections are not lost” (159). He discusses the insertion of meanings for proper names (159-60), the potential of scatological vocabulary in 1 Kgs 18:27 (160), the meaning of “waver/limp” in 18:21 (161), the syntactical sequences in chapter 19 (161-63), “the still small voice” in 19:12 (163-65), and various translational issues in the Naboth narrative of chapter 21 (165-69). Verheij counters by asking “What makes a word a leading word?” (173). The frequency of words for speaking creates a problem for determining a leading word on the basis of occurrence alone.

A concluding essay by Adele Berlin (“On Bible Translations and Commentaries,” 175-91) stands without response. She finds the plethora of commentaries encouraging because it proves that the meaning of Scripture is still important to many people (177). She examines the interplay between translation and commentary,  the changes in interpretive approaches, and the effects of ecumenism and multiculturalism. One of Berlin’s better observations is that “Translation is an abbreviated form of exegesis: exegesis that does not have the sp ace to explain or justify itself” (181). She also states that strident secularism in academia has ignored religion, “multiculturalism’s last frontier, and I predict that it will soon be discovered and colonized” (190).

End materials include a bibliography (192-202), Scripture index (203-4), and author index (205-7). Overall the volume is an informative, sometimes provocative, contribution to the ongoing debate over translation philosophies.