Hebrew In Israel | Deuteronomy 16:15 A Translation Issue – Learn Torah

Hebrew In Israel | Deuteronomy 16:15 A Translation Issue – Learn Torah

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Translating has always been a problematic practice, and the translation of texts throughout the history of mankind has created many discrepancies either by mistake or deliberate. Here I will discuss in short a simple textual problem which shows how translations are not always reliable.

שִׁבְעַת יָמִים, תָּחֹג לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בַּמָּקוֹם, אֲשֶׁריִבְחַר יְהוָה:  כִּי יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּכֹל תְּבוּאָתְךָ וּבְכֹל מַעֲשֵׂה יָדֶיךָ, וְהָיִיתָ, אַךְ שָׂמֵחַ

“For seven days celebrate the festival to the Lord your God at the place the Lord will choose.  For the Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete.”  Deut 16:15

The word used in the Hebrew to describe “complete” at the end of the English translation is the word “Akh” which should be translated as “surely/very”.  The word Akh is used in different places with different meanings which is a very common element in Hebrew.  Hebrew uses words in different ways due to the smaller number of actual words that it has, creating multiple word meanings.  In our case, the word is used as a strengthening element that is telling us to be very joyful during the feasts.  With all this said, the word “complete” does have a similar meaning in that the text is telling us to be completely joyful without any sadness.  The English transmit the idea while translating the word differently from its actual meaning.

This practice of changing the text is not unusual and can be found in multiple places throughout the history of translation. A good example is how the LXX cannot find an exact parallel word fro the Hebrew, or in other cases, the Greek cannot translate word for word. An extensive study by J.W Wevers “Notes on the Greek text” on the LXX text version has shown that in many places the Greek translator either decided to only translate some of the words directly, while in other places only keep to the spirit of the text. This practice continues to this very day when words or statements cannot be translated word for word. 

Another problem we find in the history of translation is fashions in-text translations. Some translators try to stick to a rigorous Pshat by creating a non-sensical translation or by assigning word meaning which is not what the text is saying. An example of this is the translation of the word יום yôm (day) as “unit”. This translation reflects the dilemma the translater has with science and modern-day understanding of the text. This type of mindset can be found in ancient translations of the LXX where translators would variate from a simple Pshat to a more midrashic non-simple translation (Watson W.G.E “The Septuagint in Context, Atlanta 2000).

Hence, the translations of text is a complicated matter, one must have discretion when translation, and also a good understanding of both languages.


Originally Published: October 27, 2014

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