Friday, October 16, 2009

Julia E. Smith's (outsider) translating

Here's some translating by Julia E. Smith:


SONG of ascensions to David. O Jehovah, my heart was not lifted up, and mine eyes were not exalted, and I went not in great things, and in wonders above me.
2 If I did not place and rest my soul as a child weaned of his mother: my soul as a weaned child.
3 Israel shall hope for Jehovah from now and even to forever.
She is translating all alone - not welcome on any Bible translation team of men of the late 19th century. Those men revising the KJV (without a woman or a Jew on their teams of American and British experts) differently-rendered the Hebrew psalm this way:

1 A Song of Ascents; of David. LORD, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty; neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too wonderful for me.
2 Surely I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with his mother, my soul is with me like a weaned child.
3 O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and for evermore.
What fascinates me is how the Smith translating and the Revised Version compare with the Jews' own translating from their Hebrew into their Hellene back in Egypt, in Alexandria, that namesake city of Alexander the Great (student of Aristotle) so far from Jerusalem. Here's that Jewish-Hellene translation that defies Greek imperialism:

1 ᾠδὴ τῶν ἀναβαθμῶν τῷ Δαυιδ κύριε οὐχ ὑψώθη μου ἡ καρδία οὐδὲ ἐμετεωρίσθησαν οἱ ὀφθαλμοί μου οὐδὲ ἐπορεύθην ἐν μεγάλοις οὐδὲ ἐν θαυμασίοις ὑπὲρ ἐμέ
2 εἰ μὴ ἐταπεινοφρόνουν ἀλλὰ ὕψωσα τὴν ψυχήν μου ὡς τὸ ἀπογεγαλακτισμένον ἐπὶ τὴν μητέρα αὐτοῦ ὡς ἀνταπόδοσις ἐπὶ τὴν ψυχήν μου
3 ἐλπισάτω Ισραηλ ἐπὶ τὸν κύριον ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν καὶ ἕως τοῦ αἰῶνος
While there might be some dispute whether the Hebrew that the Jews in Alexandria were translating from and the Hebrew that the nineteenth century Brits and Americans were translating from was the same, there can be no argument over something else.

Notice how the Septuagint translators and Smith start verse 2 with the conditional. She says, "If I did not..."; and they say "εἰ μὴ."

Notice how Smith's and the outsider-Jews' own translation is a big departure from most other translations, including the Revised Version translation.

What does a woman know that most men don't? What do Jews far from home under a king in Egypt no less see in a Psalm of David and of his mother that other and otherwise "independent" men won't or can't?

Don't we get how central the relationship of a psalmist, as a baby, to his mother must be?


  1. Cool - this was the last psalm in my second pass - it is fragmentary - an incomplete thought.

    And just look at and hear the emotion in the structure as the ending of the songs of ascent!

    If I had not stilled and quieted
    my life
    as one weaned
    from its mother
    as one weaned
    my life

  2. Whoops - it isn't the last song - there are 15!

  3. Bravo, Bob! You (and Julia and the Septuagint) even outdo Robert Alter, I think!


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