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When It Was Counting 7 Weeks (the 50th Day), not anything like the algebra of ש (or Π).

May 27, 2012

Earlier this week my co-blogger Theophrastus announced the coming of this Day, the arrival of the so-called “Shavuos and Pentecost.”  The difference between these two is generally taken today, that is in this day and age, as the difference between the arrival of the Torah, celebrated in Judaism, and the arrival of the Holy Spirit, celebrated in Christianity.

But the borrowing of Hebrew (and Aramaic) and Greek terms in transliteration (that is, in English spelling to try to retain the sounds of the original terms) obscures.  Transliterating  שבועות as simply “Shavuot” and Πεντηκοστή as merely “Pentecost” loses much.  The whole emphasis of the holiday, the remembrance, is on counting.  And yet in English, the now proper-nouns Shavuos and Pentecost, retain none of the numeric focus on the passage of time that the Hebrew and the Hebraic Hellene had.  We might as well just use Algebraic variables:  S and P, or better ש and Π.

When translators only simply merely transliterate, then footnotes are required to expand the original meanings.  For example, Willis Barnstone, translating the New Testament Greek and “restoring” it into its Hebraic meanings, gives this footnote:

Barnstone gives this footnote after translating I Corinthians 16:8, this bit from Paul’s letter to Greek reading diaspora Jewish Christians in Korinth.  Paul’s Greek goes like this:

Ἐπιμενῶ δὲ ἐν Ἐφέσῳ ἕως τῆς Πεντηκοστῆς

The King James Version translates that like this:

But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost.

And Barnstone then attempts to restore that like this:

Yet I will stay in Efesos till Shavuot.

This, to me, seems confusing.  The Greek reader in Korinth would have read it more like this:

Yet I will stay in Ephesus till the “Fiftieth.”

And the Greek reader would have understood this as a reference (in Hebraic Greek) for the (Hebrew) holiday of counted days, of the “Weeks.”

One of the earliest texts that ties these two terms together is The Book of Tobit (Chapter 2, verse 1).  In the Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls, there is the reference to the festival, to the counted on holiday and festival, to the “Weeks.”  Likewise, in the Greek of the Septuagint, there’s the reference, but the reference to the more specific counting of the days up to the “Fiftieth.”

If the King James Version translators had had access to the DSSs, then likely they would have simply transliterated.  The apt phrase rendered from Hebrew into their English would have gone something like this:

…. on the day of the feast of Shavuot …

The same KJV translators did find the Greek to translate (i.e., ἐν τῇ πεντηκοστῇ τῇ ἑορτῇ ἥ ἐστιν ἁγία ἑπτὰ ἑβδομάδων), but they did indeed simply merely only transliterate, like this:

… in the feast of Pentecost, which is the holy feast of the seven weeks …

A better translation of the Hebrew to English is the one by Florentino Garcia Martinez, who refuses to transliterate but does translate like this:

… on the day of the Feast of Weeks …

I still haven’t found a true translation of the Hebraic Hellene (which is the same in both Greek versions) into English.  A good one, I think, would go like this:

… in the feast of the “Fiftieth,” which is the holy feast of the seven weeks …

Clearly, the LXX translators are giving a bit more explanation of the Day counted, the significance of the weeks and the number of them.  And wouldn’t English translators of the Hebrew also, and of the Hebraic Hellene too, do so well?

Happy 50th Day of the Festival of the 7 Weeks!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. May 27, 2012 12:36 pm

    Nice post. I taught this today in my sermon here in Finland and it was fun to read this post when I got back home. I knew I could count on you to get it right.

  2. May 27, 2012 1:57 pm

    Thank you. Jay, Did you preach in English or in Finnish?

    I understand that Finns like to keep Finnish language pure and tend to mark loan words fairly well. Finnish does, therefore, keep separate the Judaic and Christian terms separate, doesn’t it? Isn’t it the Hebrew-sounding transliteration “Šavuot” and not the Finnish translation “viikot” that is used? And instead of “Pentecost,” as English does transliterating the Greek for “fiftieth,” doesn’t Finnish have the Christian proper noun, “Helluntai,” perhaps a contracted translation of the Swedish, “helig dag,” which means “holy day”?

    Perhaps my post should have mentioned how for some, in English, the Christian holiday is also called “Whitsun,” for “White Sunday” (or perhaps Wit-and-Wisdom Sunday). There are different names for the day. Nonetheless, the Hebrew phrase is best translated “Weeks” and the Hebraic Hellene word, also a counting of time, is best “Fiftieth.”

  3. jayseidler permalink
    May 27, 2012 3:59 pm

    Today I preached in English and my wife translated. As I am not so fluent in Finnish, and feel I will communicate more to my audience in this way.

    In the 1938 and 1992 Finnish translations Savuot is translated as vikkojuha Weekfestival. Pentecost is translated Helluntai which comes from Swedish as you said. In the 1992 Finnish translation there is a footnote in Acts 2 which explains that Helluntai means fiftieth. Interestingly, in the 1776 Finnish translation Pentecost in Acts 2 is translated viideskymmenes 50th.

  4. May 29, 2012 12:14 am

    Good point, Kurk! You know that Easter is sometimes called the “eighth day”, pointing towards a new creation, or perhaps towards a fullness of the sabbath. Do you think there may be something similar going on here with 50, being the fullness after a “sabbath of sabbaths”? similar to the Jubilee year, perhaps?


  1. Translation and the Shavuos/Pentecost dating controversy « BLT

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