On January 29 and 30, 2020, Professor Robert Alter delivered two lectures at the Brigham Young University Maxwell Institute. In his first lecture, he discusses his translation of the Bible and in the second he discusses his writing of The Art of Biblical Narrative (1981).
Robert Alter published The Art of Biblical Narrative in 1981—a seismic moment in the history of interpreting the Hebrew Bible. Literary analysis of scripture in the academy took off like never before. Alter’s work showed that biblical authors were not mere primitive scribblers; they were “among the pioneers of prose fiction in the Western tradition” in matters of narrative, character, organization, and so much more. Using the tools of literary criticism, Alter has helped countless readers find countless treasures in these ancient texts.
For nearly a quarter of a century, Alter worked on his own translation of the Hebrew Bible, which was published last year in three volumes of over 3,000 pages. In this special guest lecture, Alter discusses the challenges of translating scripture today.
In a lecture the following day, January 30, Alter discusses how he came to write “The Art of Biblical Narrative”a book that inspired scholars to appreciate the craft and composition of one of the world’s most widely-read texts. https://mi.byu.edu/events/lecture-alter/
On June 21, 2018, Dr. Stanley Porter delivered a lecture at the University of Otago on “Metaphor in the New Testament: Expressing the Inexpressible through Language.”
Much New Testament studies has been shackled by a limiting and constraining literalism—or at least what purports to be literalism. This has resulted in an emphasis upon the “thingness” of the ancient world and its texts, rather than on the “howness,” that is, how language is used to reflect upon and even create the world in which the ancients existed. The result of such a narrow view of human experience and use of language is the failure to appreciate the nature and complexity of language itself, in particular metaphor. Fundamental to interpretation is recognition of the role that language plays in human experience, and from that grow all of the other helpful means by which we analyze texts. In this paper, I wish to confine myself to the use of metaphor in the New Testament, and its relationship to Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL). I will examine theories of metaphor briefly to see what they help us to understand about language. Then I will treat metaphor from a SFL standpoint as it functions within the New Testament. In this section, I think that I can make some new observations regarding metaphor and how it functions in the New Testament.
Professor Melvin K.H. Peters (Duke University) delivered the lecture, “Translating the Old Greek Bible (The Septuagint): An Inconvenient Witness to Biblical History” at the BYU Kennedy Center on April 2, 2009.
Peters speaks about the Septuagint, the Leningrad Codex, and NETS (New English Translation of the Septuagint). He asks why the retroverted Septuagint is not preferred by the majority of academic and confessional users of the Bible.
0:00-3:18 Describe how you became interested in LXX studies and your training? 3:19-7:04 How did your academic mentors think about the Greek of the Septuagint? 7:05-17:30 Describe some of your more significant publications in the field. 28:45-29:30 How has the field changed over the course of your career? 24:15-25:24 What are areas in LXX that still need research? 25:25-28:44 What are some of your current projects in LXX studies? 28:45-29:30 What is the future of LXX studies?
Videos are available on YouTube from a colloquium held at Heythrop College, September 9-10, 2013: “The Signs of the Times: Translation of the Bible and Beyond”.
Can a translation really be faithful to the original? The question seems simple. But the answers given by experts are remarkably divergent. Some consider fidelity in translation ultimately to lie outside the realms of possibility. Others reject such pessimism, pronouncing translation to be necessarily possible. Yet others prefer to make the best of it, and get on with a messy job. But why do views diverge so radically? Why does the ordinary idea of ‘translation’ turn out to be so knotty?
The question is particularly acute with respect to bible translation, where perception of the text’s authority is often inseparable from notions of its divine origin and where expectations of a text’s transcendent truth must be reconciled with its historical particularity. Bible translators and theologians often view bible translation as essentially distinct from any other kind of translation. Is it?
At the Heythrop Colloquium on Translation, September 2013, we took bible translation as a point of departure, moving beyond into the breadth of translation studies. Translators, philosophers, theologians, linguists, historians and anthropologists gathered to look again at translation and how we might most usefully conceive it. The theorists deliberated with translators, those who daily dirty their fingers with the gritty business of translation. The result is a conversation that should illuminate anyone who has paused to think about the problems of translation.
– The Heythrop Centre for Textual Studies
Language and the translatability of texts, a pragmatist perspective
Marthe Kerkwijk (Heythrop College, University of London)
In this paper I will make a pragmatist case in favour of the view that translation is, in principle, possible. I will critically evaluate Davidson’s On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme, in which he argues that untranslatable language doesn’t exist. I will argue that the fact that translation is often very difficult – for various reasons – does not imply that it is bound to fail or that we can’t make judgements about how a good translation differs from a bad translation.
Dr Tony Carroll (Heythrop College, University of London)
The case of speaking a foreign language highlights interesting aspects relevant for understanding textual translation. The point at which one becomes fluent in a spoken foreign language is the moment that one stops translating. Translation occurs when one lacks fluency and requires interpretation in order to understand. Reading a text is somewhat like speaking a language that one is not fluent in. It involves the process of interpretation, which is the means by which one comes to understand the non-self-evidential meaning of the text. This paper will explore the issues involved in translation understood as a process of the interpretation of non-self-evidential meaning.
Translator as creator of a text
Dr Charlotte Naylor Davis (Heythrop College, University of London)
My paper will explore the idea of the translator as creator of a new text, and the problems involved with changing the nature / form of a text in translation.
Why translations fail: reflections on English translations of the Missale Romanum
Dr Nick King, SJ (Oxford University)
All translations fail, often because of the tension between the target language and the source language, and the inevitability of falling between those two stools. The paper, by one who has recently completed a translation of the Bible, will explore this point with regard to recent attempts at translation, notably biblical versions and the new English translation of the Missale Romanum. The paper will endeavour to avoid the eye-glazing impenetrabilities of translation theory, which never seems to advance the case very much.
Bible translation: style, historical context, and the ubiquitous presence of the King James Version
John Barton (Oxford University)
I will discuss some issues in translating the Bible, especially (a) whether the style should be uniform throughout, and (b) what is to be done about the cultural presence of the King James Version in the background of any fresh attempt to translate the Bible.
Edward Schillebeeckx and the meaning of scripture
Martin Poulsom, SDB (Heythrop College, University of London)
One of the tasks of the systematic theologian is to translate the meaning of the Scriptures, and of other texts, such that their message can be heard in the actual situation of men and women living in the theologian’s own time and place. This paper will consider the hermeneutics that Edward Schillebeeckx develops to assist this process, noting the way that he draws the reader’s context into dialogue with the context of the text in order to understand its meaning. It will also ask whether a theological account of this process written in Dutch in 1967 can still speak meaningfully in English in 2013.
Computer based tools for Bible translators: Progress, pitfalls and implications for the future
Jon Riding (Oxford Brookes University & 7000++)
The last twenty years have seen increasing use of computer based systems to translate or to assist with translation. Within the Bible translation community the development of Machine Assisted Translation tools tailored to the Bible translator’s task has transformed the work. I shall give a brief history of computer assistance for Bible translators and discuss the systems currently in use and the implications of their use when translating Scripture. The benefits and pitfalls of such systems will be discussed as will the scope for continuing development.
The role of formal languages in computing and the relationship between humans and computer hardware
Joe Norton (Independent)
I will discuss translation between different computer languages, particularly between languages at different levels of abstraction from the physical computer hardware. I will present the differences between low-level and high-level computer programming languages, highlighting the role of formal languages in computing and their relationship between humans and computer hardware.
Lessons for modern translation theory from Aquila and other odd ancient predecessors
James K. Aitken (Cambridge University)
Aquila and the so-called “literalist” method of translation is one of the oddest in antiquity, having been called one of “pedantic literalness” or “a slave to the Hebrew letter.” This translation method has been attributed either to a simple teaching method of learning the source language, or to an extreme recognition of the failure of translation in its attempt to render every feature of the source text. This paper is a reassessment of this method, recognizing sensitivity to the target language as much as the source language, but one that goes beyond negotiation between source text and target text. It instead offers lessons in translation method, providing examples of multiple causation phenomena in translation and a different approach to the effectiveness of a translation.
Confessions of the perplexed. An historian’s conerns about translation
Jonathan Norton (Heythrop College, University of London)
Translating historical texts involves the special difficulties faced by the historian. Ultimately the limits of our sources and our of methods for interrogating them constrain our efforts to translate ancient texts and even determine our ability to evaluate success. Translating traditional texts adds yet more difficulties. After all, since many historical texts have been transmitted over centuries, the canons to which each text belongs have already informed the working of our minds before we sit down to translate. But we hardly realise it. How do we translate, then, when we do not understand what an ancient Greek or Hebrew text means, on the one hand, while the tradition within which we receive the text passively interprets the text for us with ambient inevitability? Case studies from the New Testament and other Greco-Roman sources will pave the way to discussion.
When YHWH comes down: Translating Divine Descent in Exodus
Mark Scarlata (Cambridge University & St Mellitus College, London)
This paper will examine the translations of divine descent language in the book of Exodus. By looking at specific terms used in the Hebrew Bible for God’s coming down to earth from heaven and making himself manifest, we shall discover how the ancient translators dealt with the difficult task of rendering anthropomorphic language attributed to the divine. We shall then determine whether the translations succeed in accurately rendering the original Hebrew and how this might speak to the theological intentions of the translators.
Professor Musa Dube (University of Botswana) delivered three seminars at the 2012 Nida School of Translation Studies, May 20 – June 2, 2012, at the San Pellegrino University Foundation in Misano Adriatico (Rimini), Italy.
Videos from the seminars were made available by Fondazione San Pellegrino.
Session 21 (4 parts)
Session 29 (3 parts)
Session 37 (3 parts)
Musa Dube, a feminist postcolonial biblical scholar has a professorship at University of Botswana and has recently completed two visiting scholar appointments at Union Theological Seminary (NYC) and University of Bamberg (Germany). Dube’s research and publications are extensive, including numerous articles, chapters, and books. Her Postcolonial Feminist Interpretations of the Bible (2000) and The Bible in Africa; Transactions, Trajectories and Trends (co-edited with Gerald West, 2001) are just two examples of her important contributions in the area of biblical studies. Her social engagement is evident from her publications: HIV/AIDS and the Curriculum: Methods of Integrating HIV/AIDS in Theological Education (2003) and Grant Me Justice: HIV/AIDS and Gender Readings of the Bible (2004). More recently, Dube has written and taught on “Politics of Bible Translations: A Postcolonial Feminist Analysis.”
Professor Douglas Moo (Wheaton College) presented a paper on biblical translation, “We Still Don’t Get it: Evangelicals and Bible Translation 50 Years After James Barr” at the 66th annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) in San Diego, California on November 19, 2014. The paper commemorates the 50th anniversary of the commissioning of the New International Version (NIV) translation of the Bible.
The NIV publishers, Zondervan, provide a video of the paper on YouTube.
Tobias Nicklas [is]professor of exegesis and hermeneutics of the New Testament at the University of Regensburg… Nicklas is also an honorary research associate of the universities of Pretoria and Bloemfontein, both in South Africa. He previously was professor of New Testament at Radboud University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands. The professor is an editor and co-editor in several international projects including Novum Testamentum Patristicum (a series of commentaries on ancient interpretations of the New Testament), the Commentaries on Apocryphal Literature, and the series Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament. He also serves on the editorial board of the journal New Testament Studies. Nicklas has authored and edited many books, including Gospel Fragments (Oxford, 2009) and Das Petrusevangelium und die Petrusapokalypse (Berlin 2004). His book Jewish or Christian? Second-Century Perspectives on the “Parting of the Ways” (Tübingen: Mohr) will be published this summer. Together with Thomas J. Kraus, he has co-edited several books developing a new perspective on New Testament textual history. His Clark lectures will focus on subjects covered in these books.
The Syriac particle LAM has been assumed to be a marker of direct speech by grammarians and linguists. Several scholars has traced its history to an infinitive of the verb to say in Aramaic. In this talk I will take a fresh look at the function of the particle in Syriac texts of various genres and periods and its possible etymology. The results will shock and amaze you, and will serve as a reminder of what happens when one does not read ancient texts carefully.
Na’ama Pat-El is an Assistant Professor, focusing on Semitic historical linguistics. She is the author of Studies in the Historical Syntax of Aramaic (Gorgias, 2012) and a co-author of Language and Nature: papers presented to John Huehnergard (Oriental Institute, 2012). She has published on language contact and historical syntax.
In a Marginalia forum on August 26, 2014, eight scholars write replies to Adele Reinhartz’s essay, “The Vanishing Jews of Antiquity”, Marginalia, June 24, 2014. Responses are by Steve Mason, Daniel Schwartz, Annette Yoshiko Reed, Joan Taylor, Malcolm Lowe, Jonathan Klawans, Ruth Sheridan, James Crossley. In addition, Adele Reinhartz provides a reply.
The essay and responses are available for download in epub and mobi formats.