The Taser's Edge

An Open Interpretation of Psalm 6
April 11, 2007, 8:27 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

There are a couple major ways to do Biblical translation. One is literal, and the other is known as dynamic equivalency. On the literal extreme, look at the English Standard Version. The great thing is that you know that it follows the Greek or Hebrew text very closely. But at points, might it follow the text too closely? Biblical translators (and I do not claim to be one except in a very limited sense) have pointed out that sometimes intended meaning is lost when the text is followed too exactly.

Por ejemplo, I have a Ph.D. student auditing my Hebrew Poetry class, and he is the son of Bible translators, likely training to be one. He told our class about a translation that was being done for a particular tribe (I can't even remember the continent, sorry), the first in their language. But when the translators were doing the Gospels, they came to a difficult passage in which Jesus is given a wine- (or vinegar-) soaked sponge while he hangs on the cross. When the translation was read to the people for whom it was translated, there was a problem. They could not be convinced that what was in the sponge was anything but poison. They had no conception of alcohol, or any liquid, as an anesthetic. In the end, to help them understand the meaning of the text, they changed it. For that particular tribe, Jesus was given a nut to chew on the end of a pole. Thus, the people could understand that the cause of death was not what Jesus took into his body. I would be interested in people's thoughts on the decision. (NOTE: That is not quite the meaning of dynamic equivalency. The New International Version is the best mainstream example of a dynamically equivalent translation.)

That discussion is only background. For Hebrew Poetry, I had to do a commentary on Psalm 6 (actually, I chose the verse). Last time, I handed in a literal translation of Judges 5. This time, I wanted to hand in a piece of poetry. And if anyone has any clues on how to know when to stop endlessly revising a poem and be done with it, let me know.

Click below. I 'm not sure about what order to recommend.

O Lord God, please don’t
Bring your fist down on me.

Though your wrath is red hot,
Grant me grace against this misery.
For my teeth chatter beside my soul in terror:
How long, O Lord, till you come?
Return, O God,
Swing lower to rescue me from
This life and from this death.
Come to me and save me,
For yours is the love my body aches for.
By night I turn and wrestle bedsheets,
Flaming tears burn down
My eyes, cheeks, neck.
Above the smoke I hear
My adversaries’ taunting.
I drown this bed in tears
As my enemies bind me to it.
Weaker each night, I cry for you.
Away from me, Night-terrors,
Leeching away thoughts of peace,
Demon-crickets in living shadows,
All you who love to harm me.
Flee, for the Lord God has heard my cry.
Before the morning,
You will die a wriggling worm
Boiled in its own loose skin,
Seared to the pavement
In a flash of summer heat,

And forgotten.



1For the director of stringed music upon the Sheminith, a psalm of David:

2 Yahweh, do not punish me in your anger,

And do not discipline me in your wrath.

3 Be gracious to me, O Yahweh, for I am miserable,

Heal me, O Yahweh, for my bones are terrified,

4 And my soul is greatly terrified.

But you, O Yahweh, how long?

5 Return, O Yahweh, save my soul,

Rescue me for the sake of your lovingkindness.

6 For there is no remembrance of you in death,

In Sheol who will praise you?

7 I am weary with my sighing,

I flood my bed each night,

With tears I drench my couch.

8 My eyes are weak with irritation,

Grow weary among all my adversaries.

9 Turn away from me, all you practitioners of harm,

For Yahweh has heard the sound of my weeping.

10 Yahweh has heard my supplication,

Yahweh has taken my prayer.

11 All my enemies will be greatly terrified and ashamed;

They will turn back and be ashamed suddenly.

Do they say the same thing? Is one better than the other?  Is one better poetry and does that matter with translation of a sacred text?

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