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An Orthodox translation

September 8, 2011

Mississipi Fred McDowell has posted Matthew 25 from an Orthodox Jewish translation. HT James McGrath

I met Mississipi Fred online when I wrote Abecedaria. I have a bad habit of not answering email all the time. If I think that I have something to say on a topic I may write about it in a new post. Sometimes I think about a topic for a while, intending to post, and it drops off the table. But in this case, I did work on Fred’s request.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. September 8, 2011 6:51 am

    Needless to say, the “Orthodox Jewish Bible” (a copy of which some missionary once gave me) is neither “Orthodox” nor “Jewish.” Rather, as MFM describes, it is “the weirdest Bible translation ever.” In response to the awkward shortening of the formulaic “Yasher Koach” to “Shkoyach” (which I’ve heard, but never seen before in written Yiddish), MFM writes “that mamash has no ta’am” which means “that Yiddish-English is in poor taste.”

  2. September 8, 2011 7:14 am

    I think it’s fantastic, Suzanne and Theophrastus. Yes weird in a superlative way. Notice how the “translator” has an ear not only for a vulgar slangy Orthodox “Hebrew” back and forth ironically but also a knack for flaunting the Socratic Greek undertones. Both the narrator (who we all know is the invisible “Jesus”) and the wicked servant/slave He is giving voice to use the Greeky English word “talent,” but then the Adon retorts by instead using the Yiddish word “gelt” for the very same referent in such a priceless way. There is subtle, clever sophistry here, which is neither good Greek on purpose nor accidentally orthodox Hebrew. (BTW, “Orthodox” is Greeky)

  3. September 8, 2011 8:55 am

    J.K., to be sure, it’s fantastically interesting. But I’m afraid that he doesn’t really have an ear for a vulgar Orthodox “Hebrew” back and forth, with or without irony. It seems as authentic as Amy Poeler doing her Sarah Palin rap on SNL. That said, if I had a copy I could spend hours reading it and enjoying it, but mostly not in the way that was intended.

    Here’s a post I did on a rabbinic-style commentary to Luke

    Let me tell you – *this* is authentic. Truly authentic rabbinic Hebrew and exactly like a rabbinic commentary on a Bible text.

    Suzanne, I loved Abecedaria! Wow, that was a long time ago.

  4. September 8, 2011 9:29 am


    Thanks for the link to your wonderful post on the Luke commentary. Well, you do convince us there’s the contrast, this one authentic. Now, what’s also weirdly fantastic is the name of this rabbi, which you note: Heinrich “Christian” “Immanuel” Frommann. [Wasn’t he one of the first Jews-for-Jesus evangelical missionaries?]

    And, yes, Suzanne’s Abecedaria is wonderful!

    And, for those who don’t remember, here’s rapper Amy:

  5. September 8, 2011 1:42 pm

    Kurk — I’m sure you must have from time-to-time read student essays where the authors had obviously used a thesaurus (if they were native speakers) or a foreign language to English dictionary (if they were ESL students) without understanding the particular nuances of the words involved.

    Of perhaps you have heard someone trying to mock a particular dialect or style of English without mastering it (e.g., when some New Yorkers try to “talk Texan.”)

    The effect is completely jarring and unnatural. I think that Goble’s “translation” has a similar effect. It is as if he grabbed a copy of one of those semi-humorous “Yeshivish” dictionaries and pounded out his “translation” without understanding how phrases were actually used in practice.

    As unnatural as his version of the New Testament is, his “translation” of the Hebrew Bible is infinitely worse, since there we actually have the Hebrew original to compare it with.

  6. September 8, 2011 1:50 pm

    J.K., thanks for the kind words. 🙂

    I don’t know if he was a rabbi so much after he became a Christian. As for names, much the way converts to Judaism assume some kind of Hebrew name, apparently converts to Christianity (and Islam) did the same.

    There is some interesting discussion about whether a medieval rabbi named PTR was named “Peter” or “Pater.” The problem of course is how to vocalize. “Peter” seems a little hard to believe though, but it’s an ongoing arcane question.

  7. September 8, 2011 2:42 pm

    Of course I wasn’t thinking he was a David H. Stern or a Willis Barnstone, by any stretch. At first glance, it seemed to me like Goble was playing with language with some intention. I was unfamiliar with any of his weird attempt other than the bit that S. posts, that Suzanne links to. And obviously, with respect to that bit, I clearly hadn’t yet developed much of an ear for the would-be Yiddish (in his Matthew 25) except for watching its deviations from the Greek. (So he’s tried this mocking style with the Hebrew Bible? Could we say, Oy vey?!)

    On another note, have you all read Jonathan Safran Foer’s remarkable Everything Is Illuminated? Can he get away with doing what he does? (Yes, I know, the critics in some cases — i.e., those who care about Czechoslovakian and Czech Republic and Ukrainian Jewish history — have torn the book to shreds.) And yet his Alex, speaking and writing and “translating” for his own Jonathan, sounds very much like some of the ESL students from Ukraine I know. Better yet, some critics have called this first novel “a work of genius” and praise the novelist for his merely-24-year-old “literary greatness.” The jarring phrasing is natural just because it is so unnatural for the protagonist. The layering of voices and of mediated and re-mediated perspectives really is very clever. If there’s mocking (which there is), then it’s also a deconstruction of the linguistic world of the writer himself.

    Thanks for the anecdote about rabbi PTR. (Hearing that, I was thinking of a bad pun on PTR Rabbi.)

  8. September 8, 2011 4:07 pm

    On another note, have you all read Jonathan Safran Foer’s remarkable Everything Is Illuminated?

    I’m afraid that is still on my to-read-someday list. I know that it has been highly praised for its wordplay.

  9. September 8, 2011 4:16 pm

    It’s a good question about Foer. I enjoyed it (after resisting it as hype for a long time). Of course I never was and never will be a Ukrainian who speaks English derived from snippets of American pop culture and diligent study of a dictionary. To me it seemed like Foer did a good job, but of course since there are actual people who speak this sort of English and if he either made no effort to mimic it, or wouldn’t know how to begin to do that if he wanted to, then I can completely understand why people who are part of that culture could find it wanting or (worse) laughable. I guess the question is whether a work can be judged on two levels. One for those who are true insiders and know, and one for those who don’t. Maybe insiders simply lack the capacity to relax and enjoy something for what it is, being too judgmental about authenticity. Same goes for the Orthodox Bible of course. Hm.


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