Skip to content

The Psalm Rendered by the Strange, Furious Tongues of the Goyim

April 17, 2015

Kurk, this [Englishing of the Greeking of the Hebrew Isaiah] is in many ways brilliant, particularly in its conveying so much information in so little space, and being simultaneously a translation of the Hebrew (crossed out) and the Greek. It does capture the strangeness and fury of the prophetic experience.

This translation will certainly be of interest to people who already know a little bit about this passage in Isaiah. At the same time, I wonder if it might not be too difficult for someone who is reading Isaiah for the first time.


Though at times the translator [of the Tehillim as the Psalmoi] might be charged with throwing at his reader the Hebrew text in Greek guise, to call him a hack would be unfair. Instead, as has been suggested, his translating… informs his task. Indeed, from that perspective it clearly makes little sense to charge him with inadequate knowledge of Greek and lack of stylistic sensitivity…. [H]e at times introduces an interpretive spin…. [And] it is clear that the translator often puts the form of the text above its meaning…. Indeed, one can even find some literary sparks….

Albert Pietersma

Let’s say the original Septuagint texts had two audiences, an insider Jewish readership (who studied the Hebrew Bible and knew it by heart) and an outsider readership (who could only read the Hellene, or Greek, and didn’t have a clue about the Hebrew). The insiders would have known at least a little bit about the passages of the scriptures. The outsiders would have found the reading slightly difficult, as a text suffering perhaps from translationese and suffering most definitely from the strangeness and the fury of the threatening Other.

The Hellene (or that Greek) to convey the Hebrew (or those Jewish) meanings would give way to something else. The insider translators would not only be speaking to their own on the inside. The insider translators would also be displaying how facile they were, also, by speaking and by writing using the tongues of the Goyim, the ethnicities and the especially-dominant nations outside of the heart of Israel. This might have been somewhat unnerving to those Goyim. The Royals in Alexandria, Egypt, for example, whose mandate from Conqueror Alexander the Great had been to conquer, even by the Logos, would have been unnerved when The God (reigning Supreme in the minds of the Jews over all Greek gods, even Lord Alexander Himself) was being referred to by this minority of people in their Majestic Polis as, The Theos, The Kyrios. In English, of course, this would be something like God-And-None-Other, Master-and-Lord.

Today, then, when reading the Greekified versions of Isaiah and of the Psalms, we English readers would do well, I think, to note all that the translator left out, especially the elided Hebrew. Again, the insiders would have known the Hebrew that gets replaced by the Hellenisms. And these insider readers would also have known what the outsider readers realized: that in Egypt the Jewish scriptures signaled a Politic that would resist re-enslavement or any sort of domination of the Jews there by the Greeks. If anyOne is to be dominant, according to the Greeked Jewish Bible, it would be The Mono Theos, The Mono Kyrios. All the Goyim, all the Ethnē, would do well to understand.

To help us get a sense of what it might have been like to read the Hebraic-Hellene Bible so bi-focally, I like to try to bring across in English both (1) the elided Hebrew and (2) the resistant Greek, or (2a) the Hebraisms-through-the-Hellene and also (2b) the politics-through-the-Greek-tongue. My English, then, is Greeky, or Greekish [with the Hebrew erasures shown as winks and sounded as whispers]. (If I had more time, I would go on and on talking about the Greekishness being not the Pure UnAmbiguous Greek that Aristotle taught his students including Alexander the Great. If we had more time, I would say much much more about how the Greek of the Jews in Alexandria around 250 BCE sounds much more Homeric, much more Sophistic, much more Sapphic and poetic than the dialectic of Plato’s Socrates and than the syllogistic logic and prosaic reasoned rhetoric of the Aristotle who followed Plato.)

For now, below, please just find my attempt to English the Greeked Hebrew of what we refer to as Tehillim 117 (or in the Septuagint, Psalm 116). Below that, please find Paul’s slightly twisted, paraphrase as excerpted for his Jewish and Greekish and Barbarianish readers in the Polis of the Empire called Rome. (If you’d like to peek at the originals, they are here with some additional commentary.)

A translator’s LXX version —

Hail to The Kyrios [YaHWeH]
Oh Pan-Ethnics

Epic Hails to Him
Oh Pan-Laity

For Extra-Kratic have been
The Elisions, His own, Effects on us,
And the Hailing AletheiA,
Of The Kyrios [YaHWeH],
Remains for-Ever Hailing

Paul’s slight NT re-vision —

Hail, Oh Pan-Ethnics, to The Kyrios
Epic Hails to Him Oh Pan-Laity

One Comment leave one →
  1. RCG Editor permalink
    April 18, 2015 8:29 am

    Really enjoyed reading this post! Please could you check out my Christian blog too. – And follow if possible

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: