Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The Eternal One

What to do with the Tetragrammaton (YHWH)?

Is it the LORD, Yahweh, Adonai, HaShem, Jehovah?

This sort of thing keeps some translators awake at night I expect.

The LORD is, depending on how you say it, either sickly and sanctimonious (American usage) or chock full of sexism and Jeeves and Wooster hierarchical genuflections (British usage).

Yahweh has been declared off limits by former pope Benedict (Joseph Ratzinger) and purged from missals; something of an irony given that the Catholic Jerusalem Bible and New Jerusalem Bible were key influences in its previous popularity.

Adonai? Maybe if you're Greek...

HaShem? Meaning "the name" and popular in older conservative Jewish translations of the Tanakh, but let's face it, your average Presbyterian has never heard of it.

Jehovah? Now exclusive possession of the door-knocking Watchtower folk and Welsh male choirs (Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah.)

However one of the latest translations, The Voice Bible, picks up on "the Moffatt option" and renders the name as "the Eternal" or "the Eternal One."

Not that James Moffatt gets any credit, which hardly seems just. Moffatt's Bible, a true work of scholarship with literary qualities, first came out in 1926 and was revised in 1935. He followed the French preference for rendering the Tetragrammaton as "the Eternal." Perhaps he was emboldened by the even earlier translation produced by English businessman and amateur Bible enthusiast Ferrar Fenton who opted for "the Everliving."

In any case the effect, especially when reading Old Testament passages aloud in lectionary style, is quite pleasing to the ear.

The Eternal is my shepherd, He cares for me always. (Ps. 23:1)

As for the translation as a whole, I'm reserving judgment. The Voice Bible carries more than a whiff of "Emergent Church" brimstone, with credits going to people like Brian McLaren and Phyllis Tickle. The prefaces to the various biblical books are quite insipid and also tend to play dumb with significant issues (such as authorship.) On the positive side, the "screenplay" layout with blocks of text ascribed to speakers within the narrative, is at the very least a refreshing approach.

1 comment:

  1. Since God doesn't have father or mother he doesn't have a name. YHVH is not to be pronounced, it is just a place holder in the place of a name.

    It's interesting that "the LORD God" is then literally, "the YHVH of the gods".

    The belief in the ANE was that knowing the name of the god one could control the god. That's the story of Balaam too. He intended to build 7 alters and make 7 sacrifices and pronounce or call upon the sacred name of the god to curse Israel. But God was way smarter than Balaam and tricked him into blessing Israel and cursing the Canaanite tribes who hired him.

    But, reading the OT from there on, it looks like it didn't work and Israel has been cursed for worshiping this 'no name' god ever since then.