Saturday 4 October 2008

Bring Back The Eternal

Catholics are taking a step back from the use of the tetragrammaton, YHWH, or variants of it - Yahweh, and presumably Jehovah. The reason is apparently a new sensitivity to Jewish tradition which avoids naming God directly.

The irony is that until now it has been the Catholic church which has been a leader in advocating the usage. Exactly what the about face now means for future revisions of the New Jerusalem Bible, Christian Community Bible, the rogue Inclusive Bible and other Catholic translations is uncertain, but presumably they'll go back to the the dull but time honored practice of referring to the Deity as "the Lord."

But there's a problem there too. Lord has connotations of gender and servility that fit poorly with a contemporary understanding of God. It seems nobody is going to be pleased.

The French, bless 'em, have long rendered the tetragrammaton as "the Eternal," a practice introduced into English by James Moffatt in his 1930s translation. Because it was innovative in a culture that venerated the crusty old KJV, the novelty brought down shrieks of outrage from traditionalists... arguably the highest recommendation possible for its adoption. The Eternal not only has a certain ring to it, but carries no ideological baggage.

Moffatt's is the translation that time forgot, though you can still pick up a copy on Amazon. While it's definitely showing its age, it is still an impressive rendition by a fine scholar. Rather than going back to the anemic and slightly sanctimonious Lord, maybe twenty-first century translators might want to reconsider the Moffatt option.