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Friday, May 13, 2011

making the implicit explicit: Hebrews 1:2a [revised]

Heb. 1:1 Πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως πάλαι ὁ θεὸς λαλήσας τοῖς πατράσιν ἐν τοῖς προφήταις  2 ἐπ᾿ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων ἐλάλησεν ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ, ὃν ἔθηκεν κληρονόμον πάντων, δι᾿ οὗ καὶ ἐποίησεν τοὺς αἰῶνας·

Formal correspondence (FC) english translations will on occasion make what is implicit in the greek text explicit in the translation. This procedure makes the translation more specific, narrows it and shuts down the inferential process. For example in Hebrews 1:2a ἐν υἱῷ is translated by several FC versions “his son.” The author of Hebrews was a master craftsman, using language as an art form. If the author wanted to write “his son” that is how the text would read.

The comparison is drawn between two modes of speaking. God spoke in times past  ἐν τοῖς προφήταις and in the last days ἐν υἱῷ, therefore rendering υἱῷ … “his son” does more than over specify the reference, it also subtly changes the focus from the mode of speaking to the identity of the person. The author assumed his audience already knew the referent of υἱῷ.     

Furthermore, we don’t see any explicit indication in the text that τοῖς πατράσιν refers to the Hebrew patriarchs, but the original audience as conceptualized by the author would have known. Once again, no explicit indication that τοῖς προφήταις refers to God’s prophets. The author assumed the original audience knew what prophets he was talking about. It would be pedantic and blunt the force of the rhetoric to over encode reference to the fathers and the prophets. Rendering υἱῷ “his son” might relieve anxiety caused by the lack of the article, since the rendering “a son” might imply multiple sons in english but not in greek. A wrong inference is an inevitable risk associated with translation.

Because communication involves inference, it is risky business. And Bible translators tend to be very risk-averse. Douglas Robinson (1996:xvi) wrote about “a collectivized anxiety about sacred texts that has survived massive demystificatory assaults and has generated through the centuries an astonishing variety of avoidance behaviors that can best be explained, it seems to me, through the notion of taboo.” Translators need to overcome this anxiety because—by playing it safe, by pre-empting the hearer’s responsibility— they are likely to produce a translation that is tedious and distasteful, one that fails just as miserably as one that leaves too much responsibility to the hearer.
      — David J. Weber [1]   

In keeping with the ostensive inferential understanding of communication, the interpretive resemblance of the translation is sacrificed when implicitures in the source text are made explicit in the target language. 

[1] David J. Weber A Tale of Two Translation Theories Journal of Translation, Volume 1, Number 2 (2005), page 57.


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