Translating the Bible—On the Difficult Challenge of Translating the Bible
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Translating the Bible

— 1. On the Difficult Challenge of Translating the Bible —

"No words to describe this...! They should have sent a poet..."
—Elly Arroway (Contact, the Movie)

"For now we see in a mirror dimly"
—Paul (1 Corinthians 13:12)

The Challenge

The Torah is indisputably the most intelligent and most influential document in history. It has been pondered and loved by people from all social standards, by academics and lay people alike, by roaring geniuses and by the most humble souls among us. But most of us appreciate this marvelous Text through secondary representations; translations and explanations, in a tradition that was set by the prophet Ezra.

While rebuilding the nation Israel, Ezra rediscovered the incredible depths and benevolent significance of the largely forgotten Text and installed a number of explainers in order to present the un-presentable. Though job, because how does one explain the inexplicable?

Before anyone commences in the effort of translating the Bible she must first of all settle with the notion that as long as she is not standing nose-to-Nose with the Creator, the things of the Creator are inevitably vague to a more or lesser degree. And an attempt to grasp the essence of Him should always end in awe and opinionative silence, never in a fixed set of bogus certainties.

Know what you interpret

The individual or collective consummation of our limited understanding of Scriptures should first and foremost be based on sound knowledge of Scriptures, and celebrated in free expression and unicity. Interpretations and translations of the Text should always be bubbly and lively, and openly linked to the artist who is doing the interpreting. When a translation in print is presented to a larger audience it should read on the first page and in a thick fatty font that this is only an aidant image of the real thing, a time-bound and limited reproduction of an unlimited message.

All translations and exegesis are in fact 'models' of Scriptures, just like the many cosmological interpretations that mankind has come up with over the centuries are models of the cosmos. Up to the present day no cosmological model has been devised that is fully consistent with all observations, and the same goes for Scriptures. So far no translation or exegetical system has been able to fully cover the essence of the Text.

The Bible however predicts an understanding that covers both universe and Scriptures in such a way that Scriptures becomes to the universe what genome is to an organism, not just an accurate description but more so an always active, living core of guidance. The Bible predicts a global, transcultural consensus of the essence of reality. That consensus, the Bible claims, is the Bible. And even though the Bible appears to be a limited story from cover to cover, like a human being appears limited by skin, its essence is inveterate and limitless, like the human mind.

And not by its cover

Scriptures look like a book the way a human being looks like a mammal. Both are certainly related to what they look like but their essence surpasses that of their appearance. Scriptures are like a growing tree of narration, with a large-scale shape of a common trunk, simultaneously progressing branches like a path-integral of fate, and leaves that dance in whatever wind is blowing, and a small-scale reality of etymological localities as uncertain and undeterminable as the quantum particles that make up the whole.

Nature has two distinct but inseparable and seamless stages upon which its reality is performed (large-scale; classical mechanics, and small-scale; quantum mechanics), and so has Scriptures. Translating the Bible into something that looks like a historical, moralistic novel is like trying to simulate the entire biosphere on a hand held 2-megabyte computer.

The language of the Torah and subsequent Scriptures is so unfathomably complex that we may compare it with a sphere without beginning or end, while translations in any modern language are like a Mercator's projection of that sphere. The projections of the equator are not all that bad, but at the poles the image is fully distorted. And that devaluates the meager score of the equator imagery even further since it lacks proper context. The original language of the Bible is deeply intertwined and interconnected and looks more like the neural map of an organic brain or a multidimensional fractal matrix than like a common, western linear story. Translations only reflect a mere crescent of a larger whole, but the essence of the Bible is carried by all its levels, and not more or less by certain levels such as the most obvious one or the easiest to translate.

More than words

Although the Torah is presented as a Text, the meaning of the Torah is sustained not merely by the meaning of the words. Other qualities have proven to be significant as well: the shape and frequency of the letters, the frequency of certain words, the etymological webs and forests of propagation-trees that connect all words, self-similar procedures and strings of events, broken symmetries in the narrative, and so on. It seems that every yod and tittle has its function in Scriptures in many ways, like every cell of an organism partakes in multiple systems. Translating the Bible is very much alike taking a photograph snapshot of a human being, while the Hebrew Text is the actual moving and living person. The picture certainly gives some insight in the person but never conveys the unpredictability of the living soul.

The Bible should be considered a 'living thing' much more than simply a book. The perception of any object alters along with the mood of the observer, but the Bible is so complex that its response to the reader exceeds that of a regular object.

Like a human being is basically a large bulk of carbon compounds in response to a genetic code, so is the Bible a bulk of words in response to the cosmological design that spawned both it and the universe.

The Bible is by nature intimately related to the constitution of the human mind and settles deep inside of it, in agreement with its mazes, like an unusual form of music or like water that falls on dry earth.

The knowledge of Scriptures settles in the clefts and hollows of the subconscious of the reader in inveterate negotiations, working to the heights and depths of the soul and giving it an aliveness comparable to earth's atmosphere.

Exegetes should endeavor to read more and explain less of Scriptures, especially by extra-Scriptural guessing, and uphold its beauty and mystery in all its breadth and multiple meanings without succumbing to favoritism towards one specific interpretation. Like the men of Athens were able to receive the Gospel because they were looking out for something new, so we should always keep room for the Unknown of God. Never should any image or model be cast in gold and we should always expect change and liveliness.

Knowing God

The relationship of a human being with the Lord of Life should be like that of lovers in spring; not thwarted by shame, unregulated by protocol, exciting and new every day, and sometimes serious, sometimes outrageously mad. We should dare to fly! The Kingdom does not come with our careful observations, God is the only active partner in the covenant and salvation does not come as part of a do-it-yourself kit. We should love the Lord with all our hearts. We should invest in our relationship with Him by feasting on the Hebrew Word and presenting it to the people from all our various perspectives and through all our various crafts, because it is good to know the Lord.

Knowledge of God increases stability among men. The study of Scriptures is callisthenics for the mind. It unites us fully in a way unobtainable by other means, because union among men and union with God is the very purpose that drives us. There is no self-actualization outside the fullness found in the freedom of union. No other consensus is possible because a global consensus can only be based on personal liberty. A human being will always revolt against any kind of dominion, and Jesus says He will end just that. God knows what He is doing, and He is doing it, and His Kingdom is close at hand. Some of us see doom galore and tribulation upon tribulation but in fact the Kingdom of the Lord is quite obviously rapidly advancing. Live long and prosper, and tell your people in whichever way you can about this great thing we have. Sing to the Lord a new song.

Go to the next chapter:
What Is The Bible?
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