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Interpretive Spins and Literary Sparks in the Ψαλμοὶ: pt 4, translating a “rendering”

January 26, 2012

In this 4th post of a series, I’d like to imagine how the first translator of the 23rd Psalm rendered the Hebrew into Hellene.  I’d like you to imagine with me the context.

The empire of Alexander the Great is established.  The King of Egypt is helping to make Alexandria the greatest and most cosmopolitan city of the conquered world.  Imagine the setting, the beauty of the coastal scenery, the bustle of the port.

See how it’s a light to the world.  Now, imagine the specter of the military.

As welcoming as the victors are, there’s a shadow of death.  The city wasn’t surrendered easily.  And the cultures clashed.

Who the real barbarians were was renegotiated, redefined.  But in many ways it was as it always had been, and would continue to be.

Somebody gave the orders, and somebody else obeyed.  And at one point in the history of this place came the order from Somebody to have all books, all the libraries in foreign tongues, brought into the civilized language, the language of the world, the language of Alexander, the Great Greek language.

And the Jews, some of them back in Egypt, were ordered to translate their sacred and holy and high Hebrew scriptures.  To make them accessible to Greek readers, to the Nations.  One Greek speaking Jew, a citizen of Alexandria all of his life, said:  Anathema!  And this meant ἀνάθεμα!!

And yet the legends tell us that, despite any protest to the contrary, in that City, the translators, as if making bricks with straw they had to gather themselves, complied.  Faithfully they translated, so the stories go.  And to this day, Albert Pietersma who has studied their Greek translation talks of it being a literal translation, a consistent one.  These Jewish translators were no Greek language hacks.  But then Pietersma notices something else.  Did the Greeks and the Egyptians notice?  Did they read Hebrew?  How would they know?  There are spins of interpretation, and sparks of the literary.  Did the Greeks and the Egyptians notice?  Well?  Didn’t they know the plays performed?  Didn’t they study Aristotle?  Thanks to Alexander, and to Theophrastus.  Didn’t they remember Homer, and regard Plato?  Well, yes.  So who’s reading this translation?  Or should we call it, would they know?  Should we call it instead a rendering?  A rendering can be a bringing across of meanings.  A rendering can also be a rending, a tearing.  So let’s try to imagine together the 23rd Psalm in a place where there were few shepherds and many sailors, where there was strong drink, and many soldiers, where there was slavery, and many intellectuals, where there were gods and goddesses and stronger Greek gods and goddesses, but there was a Jewish Master, one God for a few.  Who would speak the Name aloud?  Who would translate all that was said and sung?

So maybe the Greeks and the Egyptians and the Jews, coexisting more or less at least in the markets, would have read the same text the same way.  And yet.  And yet, perhaps the translator, the renderer of High Holy Hebrew into Official Hellene left something for his fellows, for the insiders, that the outsiders didn’t always get.  A mixture, yes, interpretive spin on the Hebrew, yes, a literary Hellene spark here and there, a mixing, a rendering.


Ψαλμὸς τῷ Δαυιδ

A Strumming, to David’s rendition

ποιμαίνει με,
καὶ οὐδέν με ὑστερήσει.

Master he
Shepherds me
Naught to me is lacking.

εἰς τόπον
ἐκεῖ με
ἐπὶ ὕδατος
ἐξέθρεψέν με,

Into a place
Of green
There to me
Was pitched the tent,
Upon waters
Of rest
He suckled me.

τὴν ψυχήν μου
ὡδήγησέν με ἐπὶ
τρίβους δικαιοσύνης
ἕνεκεν τοῦ ὀνόματος αὐτοῦ.

That soul of mine
Was tossed upon,
Odyssey’d me on
Tributaries of Dame Justice,
That for HaShem

ἐὰν γὰρ καὶ πορευθῶ
ἐν μέσῳ σκιᾶς θανάτου,
οὐ φοβηθήσομαι κακά,
ὅτι σὺ μετ’ ἐμοῦ εἶ·
ἡ ῥάβδος σου καὶ ἡ βακτηρία σου,
αὐταί με

Should indeed I also go
To the middle of a shadow of a death,
There’s no fear of an evil,
For you, there with me, are.
That rod of yours also that staff of yours,
They, beside me,
Call along

ἐνώπιόν μου
τράπεζαν ἐξ ἐναντίας
τῶν θλιβόν των με·
ἐλίπανας ἐν ἐλαίῳ
τὴν κεφαλήν μου,
καὶ τὸ ποτήριόν σου
μεθύσκον ὡς κράτιστον.

Prepared before
This face of mine:
A table made to face against
Those who would enslave me.
Anointed in oil:
This head of mine.
And this cup of yours:
a drunken drunk drink, of stout.

καὶ τὸ ἔλεός σου
καταδιώξεταί με
πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας τῆς ζωῆς μου,
καὶ τὸ κατοικεῖν με
ἐν οἴκῳ κυρίου
εἰς μακρότητα ἡμερῶν.

And this mercy of yours:
It’s chasing after me
Each of the days of this life of mine,
And home to me is to be
In the household of Master
Into those farthest away days.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 26, 2012 11:25 am

    You have filed this correctly under fun.

  2. January 26, 2012 12:28 pm

    🙂 Bob!


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