Sunday, March 27, 2011

Knicker Knotting Translations

Have you heard about the new translation that's been in the news? There is, of course, the new English translation of the Roman Missal, which takes effect in the United States this coming November. That's been in the news for about a year now, and will continue to be in the news right up until, and probably several months after, its use begins. However, there's been another new translation in the news recently.

In January, the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE) was released. The NABRE is the fourth edition of the New American Bible (NAB), which is the translation on which the Lectionary readings used for mass are based. There are a handful of differences between the NAB translation and the text used in the Lectionary, most notably in Luke 1:28, where the angel Gabriel's greeting to Mary is translated as "Hail, favored one!" in the NAB and "Hail, full of grace!" in the Lectionary. The Revised Standard Version (RSV) that I favor uses the "full of grace" translation, with a footnote. My understanding is that neither translation captures the full meaning of the Greek.

Some Catholics have their knickers in a knot over the NABRE. Again, I'm no expert, but my understanding is that the NABRE differs from the NAB only in the translation of the Old Testament and Psalms. Of particular concern to the knicker-knotted is the choice of words for Isaiah 7:14, where the phrase "the virgin shall be with child" has replaced "virgin" with "young woman." There might be problems with the new translation, but I can't get too worked up about this one. Why? Because my RSV translation already reads, "Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear and son, and shall call his name Immanuel." With a footnote, of course.

The footnote for a "young woman" states that other sources use "virgin." The ambiguity comes from the fact that the oldest copies of Isaiah 7:14 in Hebrew use a word meaning "young woman," whereas the oldest copies of Isaiah 7:14 in Greek (i.e., from the Septuagint) use a word meaning "virgin." The translators have simply chosen to place greater emphasis on the Hebrew texts than on the Greek ones.

Regardless of the translation used for Isaiah, the translation used in Matthew 1:22, which references Isaiah 7:14, still uses the word "virgin." It seems to me that the evangelist implicitly endorses the Greek translation of Isaiah found in the Septuagint, with a collateral endorsement of the deutero-canonical books of the Septuagint.

I'm not likely to run out and buy a new NABRE Bible. But as long as it has the footnotes that identify where alternate sources use different words, I don't think it's anything to knot my knickers over.

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