Monthly Archives: October 2016

Magnificat sive magnificata ?

The question came to my mind when remembering the first sentence of the Psalm of Mary in Luke’s Gospel -Luke 1, 46- while meditating the verse 2 (or 3, according to some editions) of the other Psalm 33 (34) that we have read on the 30th Sunday in ordinary time. In my last entry,

I have translated the first half of that verse this way:

IN (or with or by) the LORD my soul renews like the moon

Let us put aside for a minute the poetical evocation of the moon and pay attention to the fact that the semantical agent is “the Lord”. In the contrary, according to the Latin Vulgata and the Greek versions, the agent is our Lady -the Virgin Mary- in Luke 1,46. And so, for example, the old KJV translates:

And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,

At a first glance it does not seem very humble from the part of the humblest servant of God. That didn´t matter to other translations which more freely say:

My soul praises the greatness of the Lord!” (International Standard Version)

That did not matter to some wise, old commentators either. Origen, the great theologian master from Alexandria in the Antiquity,  exposed brilliantly in his commentary to this verse of Luke, how spiritual greatness of the creature interacts heavily with the greatness of the Creator and contributes to make Him even greater.

But, anyway, this delicate reasoning does not match the Old Testament Psalm: It may be very possible that what Mary and/or the evangelist had in mind was Psalm 33(34). And this point of view does correspond with an alternative translation from a Semitic source, i.e. Peshitta.

As a matter of fact,ܡܘܪܒܐ  may be either an active or a passive participle and the preposition “lam” may also be used -as I think this is the case- to introduce the agent in a passive voice sentence, so my proposed version is:

And Mary said, My soul is magnified by the Lord,

The consequence for musicians and composers of sacred music would not be extremeley severe: Instead of “Magnificat anima mea Dominum”, please, sing “Magnificata anima mea Domino“.

Take your prize, Mr. Dylan

Please, don’t be shy. It is not only that you deserve it:

It is also because you represent the ensemble of songwriters-singers from other places and other times who have been able to make us taste the flavour of beauty and art and live unforgettable emotions: Homer, the anonymous medieval wandering singers, Joan Manuel Serrat, Víctor Jara …

For example, several millennia ago there were already talented songwriters-singers, psalmists, whose songs are still song but with a different melody and, sometimes, also with some changes in the original meaning of its lyrics. In order to recreate the emotions of those ancient creations -that are both past and ageless- I would like to do a little piece of restoration from a text to be read on this 30th Sunday in ordinary time: Psalm 33(or 34 in some traditions), verse 2 (or  3 according to editions that count the introduction itself as verse 1). My starting point are the consonants of the masoretic text and according to them, here it is my proposal:

IN (or with or by) the LORD my soul renews like the moon.

They listen humbly and rejoice.

Is this version more poetic than that one of your bibles? As a comparison, here it is KJV:

I will boast in the LORD; the humble will hear and be glad.

At least, my version is less “boasting”. But where on earth does the moon come from? I can see it into the Semitic root הלל which is related to the semantic field of the “new moon”. We can also find the verb  تهلل in modern Arabic today. It means “being very happy” and it has the very same Semitic root, linked to the concept of “new moon”.

Concerning the “humble“, the term is in the original Hebrew in plural masculine without article or any other mark that can make it a grammatical subject of the sentence. So, my option has been to consider that word with an adverbial function and to suppose an omitted subject, they, derived from the conjugation of the verb “to listen”.

By the way, what is not easy to translate is the phonetic parallelism between “to listen” שמע and “to rejoice”שמח .

The beginnig of the verse is marked by the preposition ב, simple and humble, which is also found just at the beginning of the Bible as a whole:

In the beginning”, or “for beginning”, or even “Let’s begin: God created”, bla, bla …

It is a very typical Semitic preposition and extremely employed in Aramaic, Syriac, Arabic and even in classical Ethyopic (Ge’ez):

The word “b” is all over identic but the writing of the letter, of course, changes. For example, if you want to write it in Arabic, please, look at:

Questions about so many questions.

When looking at the translations of Peshitta by  John Wesley Etheridge and his illustrious colleagues I feel the deep respect that must be due to these pioneers but I sometimes ask myself: “Why on earth have they employed so many interrogation marks?”. These signs did not exist in ancient, original manuscripts. So, my personal translation politics is not to use the interrogative meaning but exceptionally , when there is a clear grammatical trace pointing to a manifest question.

For example, let us look at the last two verses of the gospel for this 29th Sunday in ordinary time. I can translate Luke 18, 7 and 8 without questions and find new nuances:

God satisfies -it is not strange- the demands of his chosen ones that are calling Him by day and night. God will be generous of spirit with them. I tell you: He will care for what they are asking for and quickly, but the Son of Man is coming and I wish that he could find over the earth (people that have) trust.

Some explanations about this translation of mine: “generous of spirit” is an attempt to keep something of the original Semitic idiom that actually means “to be patient“. On the other hand, I have supposed that the particle ܟܝ gives an optative mode to the verb “to find“.

Last but not least, I should remind that the expression related to “trust” is usually translated as “faith” but, as a matter of fact, it is a mixed concept that also contains hope, readiness and more things: Please look at one of the dictionaries of our favourite website:

 ܗܝܡܢܘܬܐhas indeed the same root of this international word: AMEN!

From mules to aliens

There are biblical subjects that we can not understand because they became obsolete. For example, on technological grounds, animal means of transport are not usual nowadays and so we have not any more the same degree biodiversity  among domestic animals than in ancient times. I intend to show now an instance of misunderstandings that translators try to dissimulate with defective expressions that sometimes look like enigmatic but that, in fact, are no more than mistranslations.

Let us look at our first text to read on this 28th Sunday on ordinary time. In 2Kings 5,17 … What on earth does Na’aman want to do with the earth? Nothing! The translation should be:

Not a single load of two mules (mules for working the earth) has been delivered by your servant, so your servant will not now make offerings or sacrifices to other gods but to the Lord (YHWH)”

Some keys for this translation from the Hebrew masoretic text:

-the sequence of nouns “load-couple-mules-earth” indicate that “earth” is a semantic determinant for “mules”, the substantive which is just before and has not to do with “load”, which is rather far in the ordered sequence of nouns;

-Na’aman shows himself very humble: not only he speaks of himself as a “servant” of the “man of God” -i.e. the prophet Elisha- but he employs an expression in the passive voice where he is the agent.

This translation has also the virtue of underlining clearly both the generosity of the prophet (he does not accept any gift , “benediction” says verbatim the Hebrew text) and the firm purpose of the stranger in order to change his cultic habits.

Conversely, now let us go into the Luke gospel, a text to read also on this Sunday, where the other prophet, Jesus, is throwing us towards an ideal future world where we will see how foreigners are included into our same people. At least if we take Luke 17:18 of Syriac Peshitta as the departure text. My proposed translation would be:

No one of them came to praise God but this one of the people; he, a foreigner.”

So according to this other prophet, the “foreigner” is not completely a foreigner, as he is one of the “people”, of עם or of ܥܡ, if you prefer the Syriac typing, word that in every case means “the group of people that is related to YHWH” if we pay attention to the use of this term in the Pentateuch, specially in Exodus.

My proposed moral: the Bible may be seen also as a time machine; we can find in it either extinguished varieties of animals or utopic futures with better integration among varieties of human beings.

A complex cocktail

That is the text of our first reading for this 27th Sunday in ordinary time. The  Habakkuk’s  book has itself a high level of complexity linked to its antiquity. That implies also the existence of several traditions of translation: Neither the  Latin Vulgata, nor the Greek Septuaginta, nor the Hebrew Masoretic text, nor the Syriac Peshitta coincide among themselves for the meaning of verse 2,4, the last verse in the selected reading for today. Even if you take two English modern translations you will hardly find the common leitmotiv, specially in the first half of the verse.

If we retain the standard Masoretic text , one important reason for this divergence is that the subject of the sentence is omitted. That is why the verse 4,2 may be put in connection either with the preceding text, or with  what follows, or just be considered as an isolated proverb criticising some kinds of behaviour (this last option is the way that probably follows the Septuaginta).

My personal view is that the subject of the first half of the verse has to do with the previous vision or prophecy  or, more precisely, its recording on tabletts (of clay, I suppose, as the most frequent support for information in ancient Middle East). Consequently, dear readers of this blog, only for your eyes, here is my proposal:

It (the recording of the prophetic message) will excite and not please to the spirit

of a righteous person, but he (or she, the righteous man or woman) will live by virtue of the confidence on it (the message).

As you can see, pronouns in any language (either Hebrew or English) may be used as a sort of “wild card” and that lets us find new meanings in the sentence. In particular, this translation of mine has made me remember the concept about prophetic messages as usually having two “flavours” just like that story in Rev 10,9-10:

And I went unto the angel, and said unto him, “Give me the little book”. And he said unto me, “Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey.” And I took the little book out of the angel’s hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter.  (KJV)

By the way, the concepts of “right”, “justice” and so on are not completely on the same signification level as the corresponding Semitic words with the root Sdq צדק

If you can read Spanish, please, look at this article for explanation

specially in page 17. But we will speak over that very same point here, in this blog… another day, if God  and/or nature wish(es) so.