Translation as Interpretation: A Brief Look at Hosea

A mantra among many Septuagint scholars is that all translation is interpretation. Few scholars would disagree with this notion. Many will disagree with the degree of interpretation that takes place in a translation or what constitutes significant interpretation. But few would deny that interpretation, whether outright or subconscious, occurs in all translation.

Benjamin Kedar-Kopfstein, in his article “The Interpretative Element in Translation” Textus 8 (1973), 55-77 , extends this principle even further than one might expect. He claims that interpretation takes place even at the level of transliteration. Two specific instances are provided for observation. First, interpretation takes place when a perfectly understandable word that has a lexical equivalent in the receptor language is left transliterated. This could be an act of interpretation wherein the translator views the word as a technical term and believes it is necessary to leave it un-translated. Second, interpretation occurs in instances where proper nouns (names and places) function not just as specific referents but also as signs or omens that bear meaning pertinent to the story.

Hosea 1:8-9 provides a good example of the second instance. Hosea names his daughter לֹא רֻחָמָה and his son he names לֹא עַמִּי. While these are proper names, they also bear significant exegetical weight to the overall meaning of the passage when translated. לֹא רֻחָמָה is translated “Not Pitied” or “No Mercy” and לֹא עַמִּי is translated “Not My People.” The children of Hosea function as a vivid visual of God’s attitude towards Israel.

How does the Septuagint translator handle this text? Instead of transliterating these names, the translator recognized their importance to the overall meaning of the passage and translates accordingly. לֹא רֻחָמָה becomes Οὐκ-ἠλεημένην and לֹא עַמִּי becomes Οὐ-λαόσ-μου. This could just as easily have become Λωρυχαμα and Λωαμμι.

The English translations understand the dilemma: translate or transliterate?

KJV: “Now when she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived, and bare a son. The said God, Call his name Lo-ammi: for ye are not my people, and I will not be your God.”

ESV: “When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. And the LORD said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.””

NET: “When she had weaned ‘No Pity’ (Lo-ruhamah) she conceived agains and gave birth to another son. Then the LORD said: ‘Name him ‘Not My People’ (Lo-ammi), because you are not my people and I am not your God.”

This is another reminder for me concerning the complexities of translation. We must be as sensitive as possible to the complexity of meaning(s) present in the parent text. The receptor language can only approximate that complexity. This does not mean that our translations are inadequate. It does mean there is a wonderful richness to the text that must be minded.

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2 Responses to Translation as Interpretation: A Brief Look at Hosea

  1. Pingback: The February 2013 Biblical Studies Carnival! | Delving into the Scriptures

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