Comparing translations

After completing a cycle of Torah with Targum Onkelos, this year I am going to try to complete a cycle with Peshitta and Septuagint as well, or 𝕾 and 𝕲, as BHS refers to them. Here is something I noticed in Genesis chapter 1:

In  verse 11 God commands the creation of trees:

וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים תַּדְשֵׁא הָאָרֶץ דֶּשֶׁא עֵשֶׂב מַזְרִיעַ זֶרַע עֵץ פְּרִי עֹשֶׂה פְּרִי לְמִינוֹ אֲשֶׁר זַרְעוֹ־בוֹ עַל-הָאָרֶץ וַיְהִי־כֵן

And in verse 12 the command is fulfilled:

וַתּוֹצֵא הָאָרֶץ דֶּשֶׁא עֵשֶׂב מַזְרִיעַ זֶרַע לְמִינֵהוּ וְעֵץ עֹשֶׂה־פְּרִי אֲשֶׁר זַרְעוֹ־בוֹ לְמִינֵהוּ וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים כִּי-טוֹב

Here are the two verses in English (old JPS translation):

And God said: ‘Let the earth put forth grass, herb yielding seed, and fruit-tree bearing fruit after its kind, wherein is the seed thereof, upon the earth.’ And it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, herb yielding seed after its kind, and tree bearing fruit, wherein is the seed thereof, after its kind; and God saw that it was good.

Note the difference between the two verses that I have highlighted. This is picked up by the Midrash (Bereshit Rabba 5:9) as no mere verbal variation but as an incomplete fulfillment of God’s command by the earth, an original sin even earlier than Adam and Eve’s (explaining why the earth is also cursed in 3:17): God intended the trees to be literally “fruit trees” where even the tree itself was edible, but they only became fruit-bearing.

In the Septuagint the phrase is the same in both verses:

καὶ εἶπεν ὁ Θεός· βλαστησάτω ἡ γῆ … ξύλον κάρπιμον ποιοῦν καρπόν … καὶ ἐξήνεγκεν ἡ γῆ … ξύλον κάρπιμον ποιοῦν καρπόν

Rather to my surprise, neither BHK nor BHS mentions this as a variant reading. It could be just a harmonization by the translator, but it could also be a genuine variant text.

I checked The Biblical Qumran Scrolls: Transcriptions and Textual Variants, ed. Eugene Ulrich; (Brill, Leiden, 2010), and there is no corresponding variant listed there, but he does mention in the apparatus that it also appears in the old Latin version, Targum Neofiti and the Targum attributed to Jonathan.

Hebrew language and literature

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They call it Gloria Mundi, but Tuesday’s just as bad

Jim Davila wonders how one would say Sic transit gloria mundi in Aramaic, a challenge that I can’t resist.

A literal translation would be something like כדין יעבר שבהורא דעלמא, but what might be a more idiomatic rendering? In modern Hebrew, אֵיךְ נָפְלוּ גִבּוֹרִים is used in almost exactly the same way as sic transit gloria mundi, so I looked up the Targum for that verse: איכדין איתקטלו גיבריא.

However, I’m not quite sure that that works: I think that the ambiguity of נפלו in the Hebrew is what allows the expression to be used in wider contexts, but by translating it as איתקטלו, “were killed”, the Aramaic limits its possible applications. The same is not true of the Peshitta, so if we were looking for a Syriac translation I would suggest ܐܝܟܢܐ ܢܦܠܘ ܓܢܒܪܐ

Going back to Aramaic, perhaps one could borrow a phrase from the Zohar (I 4a): כל עמודי נהורין דעלמא תיכול ותידוק.


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My new bumper sticker

I was walking home the other day when a car passed me with a bumper sticker like this: אני דובר ארמית — I Speak Aramaic. He pulled in and parked ahead of me so I waited for him to get out and said politely צַפְרָא טָבָא, and told him that I liked the sticker, and where could I get one? He immediately pulled two more out of the car and presented them to me.

We spoke for a few minutes, and it turns out that he is a native Aramaic speaker, and that the stickers are put out by an organization that has just opened an office in the centre of Jerusalem (in Ben Yehuda Street, appropriately enough), and they are planning to start holding classes in spoken Aramaic.

My only question is, why doesn’t it say אנא מליל ארמיא?

My Life and Opinions

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תעלא דינורא

I was saying yesterday that it’s a pity that there’s no localisation of Firefox into Aramaic. I wasn’t very serious, because I didn’t think there would be many people who would use it, but it turns out there’s at least one potential client: Monica Bellucci.

Monica … can speak Italian, French, English and Aramaic fluently.

Who knew?

(Hat tip: Jim Davila)


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שבתא דסיפרא

I realized much too late that the last two posts have the wrong title. It’s actually called Hebrew Book Week, (שבוע הספר העברי), not Jewish Book Week.

Neither title is really totally appropriate. There are lots of Hebrew books on sale that aren’t in any way Jewish, in fact my impression is that about 75% of what’s available are cookery books and travel guides, and there are plenty of books in other languages. Just for example, the book I was raving about yesterday is mostly in Aramaic. It’s a shame that there isn’t an Aramaic Book Week. They could sell the screenplay of The Passion of the Christ. Talking of Aramaic, it’s a real כיסופא that Mozilla doesn’t recognize content marked up with lang="arc" as being in Aramaic. Klingon was more important?

P.S.: I apologize if the title of this post messed up anybody’s RSS feed.


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