Saturday, January 31, 2009

babble from Babel:11

A post which I linked to previously has disappeared so I must redo some thinking here. I did not save the post so I can only provide some small insight into what was written.

The only part that remains in my memory is the story of Moses in the bulrushes. There are too many similarities to the Babel theme for me to let this one fall by the wayside.

Instead of providing the Hebrew and Greek this time, I will provide some literal translations and compare them. The first is Julia E. Smith's translation of the Hebrew Bible, the second is a literal translation of the Septuagint, and the third is the Douay Rheims translation of the Latin Vulgate.

    And she will not be able able any more to hide him, and she will take for him an ark of bulrush and will pitch it with bitumen and pitch, and she will put in it the child, and will put it in the sedge by the lip of the river. Julia E. Smith's translation of the Hebrew.

    But when they could hide it no longer, its mother took a basket and plastered it with a mix of pitch and tar and she put the child in it and placed it in the marsh beside the river. New English Translation of the Septuagint.

    And when she could hide him no longer, she took a basket made of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and pitch: and put the little babe therein, and laid him in the sedges by the river’s brink, Douay-Rheims
Once again the term for "lip" goes completely untranslated in the Greek, while in most English translations one can read "brink" or "bank." In fact, the Greek word for "lip" cheilos can mean "brink" or "rim" but here the translators of the LXX simply did not translate the Hebrew with any term at all. The reader falls on empty space.

While the word itself refers simply to the lip, it was also used to refer to the womb. By leaving out the Greek word cheilos as a translation for the Hebrew word for "lip." a feminine metaphor was lost. It was not until Julia Smith made her literal translation from the Hebrew that this term was finally translated into English.

I am arguing here for the participation of women in the enterprise of Bible translation, as a means to engage with the full range of semantic and poetic content of the original writings. While "lip" represents the womb, or women as life-generating agents; the "lip" also represents one of the points of articulation for language, one that is essential for generating meaning.


G said...

Robert Young also translated שׂפת as lip in this passage. His work was published about 10 years before Smith's. But aside from that, your point about the need of more women translators is absolutely right.

Peter Kirk said...

"the "lip" also represents one of the points of articulation for language, one that is essential for generating meaning."

Not for ventriloquists, who manage to speak more or less comprehensibly without moving their lips. ;-)

J. K. Gayle said...

"Notice whenever God addresses Isaiah in a feminine singular verb something dazzling is
about to happen. . . .

As he fed the milk to small birds and animals Isaiah thought only about their little lips.

God meanwhile continued to think about male and female."

--Anne Carson, "Book of Isaiah," Page 116+, Glass, Irony, and God

Suzanne McCarthy said...


Your teachers must have loved you, always proving them wrong!! :-)


Hmmm. That's lovely. There are a lot of feminine markings in the Hebrew.

Peter Kirk said...

Sorry, Suzanne, but I'm like that - always trying to find the holes in what other people say. Don't let me put you off your blogging, you are doing great!