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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

[our] fathers Hebrews 1:1

“to [our] fathers” Hebrews 1:1 p12vid., p46c, a few minuscules(?), Latin, Syriac versions 

Heb. 1:1 Πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως πάλαι ὁ θεὸς λαλήσας τοῖς πατράσιν [ὑμῶν] ἐν τοῖς προφήταις  2 ἐπ᾿ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων ἐλάλησεν ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ …

A while back, Peter M. Head posted on ETC a brief description of a variant reading in Hebrews 1:1; the genitive plural pronoun τοῖς πατράσιν [ὑμῶν]. If you look at the images Peter provides you will see that the p12 reading requires a fertile imagination to find [ὑμῶν] in the photograph. On the other hand the correction in p46c is clear and obvious.

The evidence supporting [ὑμῶν] from the versions may be an example of a translation making inferential information explicit. On the other hand,  P. J. Williams[1] notes the Syriac witnesses tendency to add a possessive pronoun. He suggests that the possessive pronoun substitutes for a definite article in Syriac.[2] 

P.J. Williams said...
When given the choice the Syriac witnesses often prefer to have 'our' with 'fathers', e.g. Acts 13:32; 22:3; 2 Peter 3:4. The latter case being particularly surprising because 2 Peter is not part of the original Peshitta, and therefore is generally thought to be a more 'literal' translation. The phenomenon of the addition of possessives to relational words (which I have written about somewhere in my Early Syriac Translation Technique) may be connected with the lack of a definite article in Syriac and may form one of the various ways that Syriac highlights definiteness. At any rate, though on balance I think that the Peshitta supports the pronoun in Hebrews 1:1 and in Acts 13:32, I wouldn't like to say that it certainly supports the pronoun in either case.

The use of a possessive pronoun to mark definiteness isn’t limited to versions in languages that lack the definite article. Hebrews 1:1[2] ἐλάλησεν ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ … is rendered in some english versions “in [his] son” or “by [his] son”, where [his] adds definiteness without the additional potential implications of  “in [a] son” where “a” might suggest one of many.  

Changing the subject a little, note the semantic connection between “God spoke τοῖς πατράσιν  [ὑμῶν]” and “He spoke ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ,” where τοῖς πατράσιν [ὑμῶν] and ἐν υἱῷ open a scenario of fatherhood, sonship and also patriarchal lineage, τοῖς πατράσιν [ὑμῶν] the patriarchs. This important ancient cultural scenario title/keyword τοῖς πατράσιν is lost in the androgynous versions “God spoke to our ancestors” (NIV2011, etc).  Translations which intentionally avoid patriarchal inference distort the ostensive-inferential process by blocking an inference which was an essential component in the cognitive universe of the original intended audience.         

[1]  see the comments following  Peter M. Head’s post.


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