New Roman Missal Translation

Translation is a difficult business with religion and it’s something I spend a great deal of time thinking about. The words we use in English are only pale translations of the Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, or Latin originals. We trust that great scholars put together these translations and yet what we are left with is many approximations of the original source texts. As scholarship continues, these translations get better and better in some ways, but choices are always made: do you keep the meter of the poetry or the meaning? Wordplay is lost. Balances must be struck between technical accuracy and understandable English. Do you use an exact uncommon word? Or a close-enough common one?

This weekend, this challenge will be understood first-hand by English speaking Roman Catholics in the United States. For the first time, a new translation of the liturgy will be used in services. This new Third Edition of the Roman Missal, first established by Pope Paul IV in 1970, includes many changes which are intended to bring the words closer to their meaning in the original Latin.

The downside? More difficult vocabulary. Do you know what “consubstantial” means? Me, neither. Read on for more!

Continue reading New Roman Missal Translation

Abraham vs Abimelech Part II: The Peace at Beer-sheba

Some chapters are just action-packed: Genesis 21 is one of those. This chapter includes the birth of Isaac, the casting out of Ishmael and Hagar, and now a peace treaty between Abraham and Abimelech. You might remember that Abimelech had tried to take Sarah as a bride, only a chapter ago.

This story is a brief return, or perhaps a deliberate contrast, with the Abraham of Genesis 14. In that story, Abraham was a war-lord, a king in all but name. Abraham went to war against a host of Caananite kingdoms to rescue his nephew. Now, he’s suing for peace. Read on.

Continue reading Abraham vs Abimelech Part II: The Peace at Beer-sheba

Sarah’s Laughter – Isaac’s Name Pun

While I love the bible in translation, there are little moments that I miss for not being able to read the original Hebrew. All translations have to make difficult choices. Given a poem, for example, do we translate for the meaning or the meter of the verse? Should we fail at both and land in between? The bible contains poetry, of course, but these translation challenges happen whenever there is wordplay in the bible.

The birth of Isaac is one of the places where the humor, in this case the puns, simply don’t come through in our translations. In Hebrew, Isaac’s name means “he laughs”. (I have no way to verify this, but several of my bibles reference in this a footnote.) By a complete non-coincidence, the verb “laugh” happens all over the several chapters of Genesis that refer to Isaac. In fact, the verb appears in that story in Genesis more than it appears in any other book except the Psalms.

Sarah and Abraham Hosting the Angels
Sarah and Abraham hosting the angels, presumably right before he fell flat on his face. (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Let’s try an experiment. Let’s re-translate “Isaac” and “laughter” in the Isaac story as “Chuckles” (as a proper name) and “chuckle” (as a verb) and see what happens…

Then Abraham fell upon his face, and chuckled, and said in his heart: ‘Shall a child be born unto him that is a hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?’ … And God said: ‘Nay, but Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son; and thou shalt call his name Chuckles;

Modified Genesis 17:17-19

Not too bad, right? Funny, but understated. The vision of Abraham “falling on his face” underscores the humor intended. Can a woman that old have a child? Preposterous!

Genesis 21 follows up and knocks this pun out of the park:

And Sarah conceived, and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bore to him, Chuckles. […] And Sarah said: ‘God hath made Chuckles [or chuckles] for me; every one that heareth will chuckle on account of me.’

Modified Genesis 21:2-7

Now, that’s funny!

(Thanks again to the Five Minute Bible blog which has inspired me to look for the humor in the sacred. Tim’s most recent post on Humor in the Bible is about the Book of Daniel.)

Up next: Something less funny.

Casting out Ishmael

God was very hard on Abraham’s relationship with his kids. Despite the fact that he would be “a great nation”, the choices (and commands) that God gave Abraham only served to separate him from his family. While the story of the near-sacrifice of Isaac is better known, it must have been all the more heart-wrenching to Abraham for one often overlooked reason: he had already sacrificed his fatherhood for his real first-born son. When God commanded him later to “Take now thy son, thine only son,” when he took Isaac up the mountain, those words must have stung twice over: both with regret for the son he had already lost, as much as for the one that he knew he was soon to lose.

After a long break with posts about holidays and marriage, I have returned to the Genesis stories. (The last was the second wife-sister story, where Abraham first meets Abimelech.) This will begin a short cycle (with one intermission to return to the Abimelech story) that will ultimately result in the loss of everything Abraham ever loved: Hagar, Ishmael, Isaac, and finally Sarah.

Read on!

Continue reading Casting out Ishmael