World Translation Day!

World Translation Day celebrates the many translated books out there and strives to raise awareness that we need to get more books translated into most languages so we can share knowledge and progress ever closer to a more informed world.

Can anyone venture a guess at the first book to ever be translated into English?

If you guessed the Christian Bible, you’re right. Not only is it translated into plenty of other languages, English alone has about 15 translations with different guidelines and there are 3 types of Bibles to be translated into English. They are Protestant, Catholic, and Greek Orthodox. Silly me, I had thought as a child that there was one Bible and it was put together many many years ago by people smarter than me.

While I’m still sure they were far more educated on the subject then I am, everything else seems categorically wrong. But rather than go down that tangent, lets talk about some the translation issues it has had over the years, shall we?

First of all, it seems fairly well known that we don’t have original manuscripts to translate even the New Testament by. In itself, that is gonna create some problems. But then there is also the problem that some of the parts of the Bible that we are translating into English are from translated copies of other languages, further distorting the wording. Then we run into the language issue itself and the way that language develops over time.

I think anyone who’s watched any Shakespeare production of the original plays would agree that even the same language in two different times and places can make for some rather confusing interpretations. There are all kinds of ways that make what we say not what we literally mean and it takes a little bit of context to get a better understanding of it. But then we go back to the mess of translation after translation and it gets more complicated. Especially for women.

I’ve been reading through the Bible and blogging about the ways it mentions or treats women for two years now. Some parts of it are story, some of it is wisdom of the day and I’ve recently gotten into copies of the prophecies which is even more confusing than the others. Fortunately, I’m not trying to understand the whole Bible and everything it says, just the way it sets up how women are to be treated. It’s a problem for how people see each other and what level of authority women should have within the religious communities that revolve around the Christian Bible. Unfortunately, I won’t be done for another few years.

In the mean time, I have read a few books that get into some words and phrases that have been mistranslated over the years. I have also seen some commentaries by old “greats” of some denominations that are clearly mired in their times in some ways. It would be ridiculous to expect the whole religious community to change the way it sees the role of women based on the interpretation of one or two authors who have take issue with the way the Bible is translated into English, especially with their being so many translations to choose from and counterarguments available. Still, I appreciate the literature and opinion they bring us and the idea that somewhere out there exists an alternate idea of what God intended for us.

These books mostly revolve around the translations/interpretations of the words “ezer kenegdo” and “authentein”. The first is what the word that is often translated into “helper” or “help-mate” as in the creation of man and woman in Genesis but is theorized to mean a bigger kind of help then we traditionally think of it as. Rachel Held Evans also did a series in 2012 on mutuality in the church that begins with a post about this very word, its translations, and the effect that it’s had on the church. The second is the word that keeps women from being in “authority” according to Paul in one of his letters to Timothy. The problem, again, is translation and context. These are interesting books to check out for those of us interested in hashing out what it is that it means to be a woman in the Christian church according to God rather than man alone.

Another issues that I try to research as best I can but still don’t have a firm grasp of is the way that the source languages use gendered nouns and pluralize them. It does make better sense to me, though, that many of the groups mentioned as all male are actual mixed in gender. For example, it would be terrible for half the population of Sodom and Gomorrah to have suffered on account of the sins of just the men, especially when ten innocent people were supposed to be enough to save it.

So, has anyone else seen some good books on translation issues and the Christian Bible? Do other religious texts have similar translation issues?

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