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Biggest translation blunder in history?
Thread poster: Heinrich Pesch

Sweetie  Identity Verified
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A few other blunders in this thread Dec 26, 2015

Came here expecting some fun post about how a company lost $$$millions because of some tiny translational oversight. You know, like Roger Casement, "hanged on a comma" or whatever. Bit of a let-down really!

But to stick to the general theme, male gods mating with female humans definitely "virgin birth", whatever else it might be. Also, many of the indigenous flood stories are thousands of miles from the Middle East, so can't be a source for the story in Genesis - and for the sam
... See more
Came here expecting some fun post about how a company lost $$$millions because of some tiny translational oversight. You know, like Roger Casement, "hanged on a comma" or whatever. Bit of a let-down really!

But to stick to the general theme, male gods mating with female humans definitely "virgin birth", whatever else it might be. Also, many of the indigenous flood stories are thousands of miles from the Middle East, so can't be a source for the story in Genesis - and for the same reason they couldn't have been derived from a hypothetical ME source for Genesis.

Curious though, I thought it was the case that "almah" could be ambiguous but "parthenos" not so, which was why the LXX team chose it? Oh well.
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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
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This is the "Ancient languages" subform, after all Dec 26, 2015

Sweetie wrote:
Came here expecting some fun post about how a company lost $$$millions because of some tiny translational oversight. ... Bit of a let-down really!


Well, this is the "Ancient languages" subform, after all.


 

Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:49
Russian to English
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In memoriam
Девица Dec 26, 2015

Thanks to the native Russian speakers who have corrected my misconceptions about this word. With the addition of some more research on my own, it is clear that девица is an archaic but polite term, which can be translated as "damsel" or "maiden" (which also means virgin). The impolite word is девка, translatable as "wench" (a bit demeaning but not really insulting), or "strumpet" (which is insulting). Both these words are archaic.
And the Russian for call girl is "девушка
... See more
Thanks to the native Russian speakers who have corrected my misconceptions about this word. With the addition of some more research on my own, it is clear that девица is an archaic but polite term, which can be translated as "damsel" or "maiden" (which also means virgin). The impolite word is девка, translatable as "wench" (a bit demeaning but not really insulting), or "strumpet" (which is insulting). Both these words are archaic.
And the Russian for call girl is "девушка по вызову", whatever the idiosyncrasies of someone on Moscow Radio in 1963.

[Edited at 2015-12-27 08:41 GMT]
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Vanda Nissen  Identity Verified
Australia
Local time: 01:49
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English to Russian
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More on девица Dec 26, 2015

My grandpa was always referring to my girl friends as 'девица'. I guess he was not keen on using 'девушка' because of its connotations, i.e. девушка по вызову. Девушка is often used to refer to women of all ages.

 

Kirsten Bodart  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:49
Dutch to English
+ ...
Not false textual analysis Dec 27, 2015

[quote]Samuel Murray wrote:

Kirsten Bodart wrote:
I seem to remember that the Gospels that weren't included in the New Testament of the Bible passed Jesus and Mary off as less divine than the ones formally canonised by the Church.


I've never heard that idea before, and it was interesting to me, so I googled for it, but I could not find any evidence for it. In fact, several of the gospels that didn't make the canon refer to the mother of Jesus quite highly. Can you tell us a little more about this idea?

Point being that either Mary wasn't a virgin (which is the most likely) or Jesus didn't exist at all and it's all an invention of one person.


As I said 'I seem to remember', and reading up on it, it seems the oldest Gospel (Mark) doesn't even mention a virgin birth at all, nor does St Paul, in fact.

Samuel Murray wrote:

The question is not whether Mary was or wasn't a virgin, but whether the Bible does or doesn't say that she was a virgin. The story of Jesus also contains has some other non-natural events, so the fact that we find it personally unlikely that Mary was a virgin mother (which would also be a non-natural event) does not tell us anything about the intended meaning of the statement itself.

In other words, it is false textual analysis to say "the author couldn't have meant X because we don't think X is likely to have been what had happened".


Ah, yes it does matter. Why? Because, as with all written literature up to the Enlightenment more or less the Gospels evoke not the truth, but what people believed ought to be the truth. Some scholars apparently have claimed that Matthew, starting with the virgin birth, was actually taking up Isiah on his prophecies about a virgin birth, so as to prove that Jesus was in fact the Messiah. And then we still need to wonder whether the translation of Isiah is at all right and whether the two are not connected in some way.
The translation of the Bible into Greek faced the same issue, and if the Greek translation is far less ambiguous than the Hebrew, it is because the Greek translation writes what the translator believed to be true: the virgin birth of Jesus. In effect, we are doing an analysis on a (potentially severely) flawed text in the first place.
For exactly this reason did the King James Bible take so long to translate, because it needed to please all groups, merely in the Protestant tradition.

The Bible is a essentially group of books that prove Jesus is the Messiah, otherwise there wouldn't be a reason for it to exist. And even though the Vulgat was allegedly 'straight from the Hebrew', some doubt has been cast on this as well. At any rate, even if Jerome did take 'almah' to mean 'virgin' instead of 'young woman', then still he was working a full 350 years after the death of Jesus, therefore he must have been part and parcel to the virgin birth myth if there was one. Indeed even the Quran declares it to be one of the miracles of God, which convinces me there was a powerful tradition of that going round at the time (before it was written down, the Quran was recited as nearly all lit was back then). It is hard to imagine that anyone would have escaped this 'truth', so what chance would a translator have had to produce anything but a virgin birth, even if the Hebrew was ambiguous?

We all know translators write what they believe is the message of a text, not necessarily the objective truth, sometimes we can't even choose a neutral option, because there is none.
So the Bible 'says' what people believe it says or said, not what it did say. Even then we could cast doubt on 'what the Bible says', because people like Matthew set out to prove something in the first place.

As to the flood stories, who knows maybe they come from a very distant period that predates any written records. Which is why they can be found all over the world, including America.


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
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English to Afrikaans
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The original question is not "what really happened". Dec 27, 2015

Kirsten Bodart wrote:
Samuel Murray wrote:
The question is not whether Mary was or wasn't a virgin, but whether the Bible does or doesn't say that she was a virgin. ... it is false textual analysis to say "the author couldn't have meant X because we don't think X is likely to have been what had happened".

Ah, yes it does matter. Why? Because, as with all written literature up to the Enlightenment more or less the Gospels evoke not the truth, but what people believed ought to be the truth.


You seem keen on discussing that point, but the original question that this thread is about is not "what had really happened" (i.e. was she really a virgin) but more along the lines of "what does the text actually say had happened" (i.e. does the text really say she was a virgin). Whether or not we or anyone else in the world believe that she was or wasn't a virgin doesn't change the meaning of the word that was used to describe her.



[Edited at 2015-12-27 18:19 GMT]


 

Kirsten Bodart  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:49
Dutch to English
+ ...
Ah, BUT Dec 27, 2015

Samuel Murray wrote:

Kirsten Bodart wrote:
Samuel Murray wrote:
The question is not whether Mary was or wasn't a virgin, but whether the Bible does or doesn't say that she was a virgin. ... it is false textual analysis to say "the author couldn't have meant X because we don't think X is likely to have been what had happened".

Ah, yes it does matter. Why? Because, as with all written literature up to the Enlightenment more or less the Gospels evoke not the truth, but what people believed ought to be the truth.


You seem keen on discussing that point, but the original question that this thread is about is not "what had really happened" (i.e. was she really a virgin) but more along the lines of "what does the text actually say had happened" (i.e. does the text really say she was a virgin). Whether or not we or anyone else in the world believe that she was or wasn't a virgin doesn't change the meaning of the word that was used to describe her.



[Edited at 2015-12-27 18:19 GMT]


big but, the people (or person) produced the Greek translation which doesn't leave any doubt at all of the fact whether she was a virgin or not, clearly interpreted the Hebrew word as meaning 'virgin'.
What does that tell you?

You forget that what the Gospel tells is what people genuinely believed (and what some people still believe) to be true.

I am not keen on discussing any point beyond why 'a young woman' changed into 'virgin', i.e. how the 'translation blunder' came about.


 

Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 21:19
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English to Hindi
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Happens in all religions Dec 28, 2015

Kirsten Bodart wrote:
Having studied medieval literature, I suppose it happened like this:

People started believing in this impressive guy Jesus, started spreading myths and by the time the New Testament was really established, there were several versions, a few of which make Jesus a figure who came straight from God through the immaculate conception.


Yes, that is perhaps how mythological and religious characters evolve over time. The same has happened to several Hindu mythological characters, too.

In the original Sanskrit Ramayana written by Valmiki, Lord Ram is just a noble king, but by the time the epic got translated (or transcreated) into the regional languages of India like Hindi (Awadhi) and Tamil, several centuries later, Ram had metamorphosised into a God, an avatar of Vishnu. Curiously, the story of Ram's birth sounds strikingly similar to the virgin birth storyof Jesus. For those who are not familiar with these Hindu mythologies, I will briefly paraphrase it - King Dasaratha was childless, even though he had married thrice. As he grows old, he despairs of having any sons, but on the advice of his priest, performs a yagna (holy sacrifice), which induces Agni, the Lord of Fire, to materialise with a pot of a divine drink, which he instructs the King to give to his wives, who thereafter give birth to Ram and his three brothers. Clearly another case of virgin birth, which predates the Christian story by several millennia.

Jesus of the Bible seems to be a composite of several characters, or myths about him, all weaved together into one biblical character Jesus, to establish the superior nature of the Christian religion. Reza Aslan, the Iranian Muslim author, in his book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth has tried to reconstruct the real Jesus from historical evidence.

The same thing has happened to the Hindu god Krishna also. The Krishna of the Mahabharata and the Krishna of the Bhagwat Puran, seem to be entirely different persons - the former is a statesman, philosopher and warrior, whereas the latter is more of a romantic hero. This latter aspect has been developed to even greater heights by the Hindi (Brajbhasha) poet, Surdas, who incidentally was blind. The current consensus of scholars is that there have been several Krishnas over time and the present version enshrined in these religious texts and epics takes bits and pieces of these various versions to construct an idealized version of the Krishna character.

So, these things can't be treated as translation errors, but are intentional interpretations that serve specific purposes of these religions and beliefs.


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 16:49
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
@Kirsten Dec 28, 2015

Kirsten Bodart wrote:
The people (or person) produced the Greek translation, which doesn't leave any doubt at all of the fact whether she was a virgin or not, clearly interpreted the Hebrew word as meaning 'virgin'.

What does that tell you?


What does that tell me? It tells me that you believe (as Mr Singer does in Heinrich's blog post) that the author of Matthew's Gospel did not use a Greek translation of Isaiah, but used a Hebrew one instead.

Mr Singer also believes that Matthew specifically intended to deceive his readers, by deliberately using the word "parthenos" (young girl/virgin) even though he himself must have known that the verse from Isaiah does not refer to a virgin at all.

This belief is on shaky ground -- most modern scholars hold that Matthew originally wrote in Greek, his target audience was Greek-speaking Jews, and he used Greek translations of Old Testament books. We don't even know if Matthew could read Hebrew at all.


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 16:49
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English to Afrikaans
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Zealot book Dec 28, 2015

Balasubramaniam L. wrote:
Reza Aslan, the Iranian Muslim author, in his book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth has tried to reconstruct the real Jesus from historical evidence.


I haven't read that book but it sounds interesting. He was born in Iran but he's really a US author, having grown up in the USA.


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 16:49
Member (2018)
French to English
fascinating stuff Dec 28, 2015

Balasubramaniam L. wrote:

Kirsten Bodart wrote:
Having studied medieval literature, I suppose it happened like this:

People started believing in this impressive guy Jesus, started spreading myths and by the time the New Testament was really established, there were several versions, a few of which make Jesus a figure who came straight from God through the immaculate conception.


Yes, that is perhaps how mythological and religious characters evolve over time. The same has happened to several Hindu mythological characters, too.

In the original Sanskrit Ramayana written by Valmiki, Lord Ram is just a noble king, but by the time the epic got translated (or transcreated) into the regional languages of India like Hindi (Awadhi) and Tamil, several centuries later, Ram had metamorphosised into a God, an avatar of Vishnu. Curiously, the story of Ram's birth sounds strikingly similar to the virgin birth storyof Jesus. For those who are not familiar with these Hindu mythologies, I will briefly paraphrase it - King Dasaratha was childless, even though he had married thrice. As he grows old, he despairs of having any sons, but on the advice of his priest, performs a yagna (holy sacrifice), which induces Agni, the Lord of Fire, to materialise with a pot of a divine drink, which he instructs the King to give to his wives, who thereafter give birth to Ram and his three brothers. Clearly another case of virgin birth, which predates the Christian story by several millennia.

Jesus of the Bible seems to be a composite of several characters, or myths about him, all weaved together into one biblical character Jesus, to establish the superior nature of the Christian religion. Reza Aslan, the Iranian Muslim author, in his book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth has tried to reconstruct the real Jesus from historical evidence.

The same thing has happened to the Hindu god Krishna also. The Krishna of the Mahabharata and the Krishna of the Bhagwat Puran, seem to be entirely different persons - the former is a statesman, philosopher and warrior, whereas the latter is more of a romantic hero. This latter aspect has been developed to even greater heights by the Hindi (Brajbhasha) poet, Surdas, who incidentally was blind. The current consensus of scholars is that there have been several Krishnas over time and the present version enshrined in these religious texts and epics takes bits and pieces of these various versions to construct an idealized version of the Krishna character.

So, these things can't be treated as translation errors, but are intentional interpretations that serve specific purposes of these religions and beliefs.


I have always been fascinated by Hindu mythologies and other Indian religions. Would you be able to recommend some further reading?


 

Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 21:19
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English to Hindi
+ ...
Some books that you could try Dec 28, 2015

Texte Style wrote:
I have always been fascinated by Hindu mythologies and other Indian religions. Would you be able to recommend some further reading?


Hi Texte Style,

Here are some books that you could try.

Ramayana by C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji)

Rajaji was a multi-faceted person, a lawyer, politician, Tamil, Sanskrit and English scholar, freedom-fighter and fellow comrade in arms of Mahatma Gandhi. The two shared not only common views but also immense mutual respect which later culminated into family bonds when Rajaji's daughter married Mahatma Gandhi's son. Mahatma Gandhi used to refer to Rajaji as his conscience-keeper.

But Rajaji's most important contribution to future generations, according to his own evaluation, was the simple rendering of the two main Hindu epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, into Tamil. These first appeared in weekly installments in the famous Tamil weekly Kalki, and was later published in book form. Rajaji himself later translated these into English. These two books form mandatory readings for Indian kids to get the first feel of their great epics.

You could try these two short books. They are available with amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Ramayana-C-Rajagopalachari/dp/8172763654/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1451310668&sr=8-1&keywords=c.%20rajagopalachari


http://www.amazon.com/Mahabharata-C-Rajagopalachari/dp/8172763689/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1451310668&sr=8-2&keywords=c.%20rajagopalachari

---

A modern rendering of the Ramayana has been attempted by Ashok Banker and this has been published in several volumes and are popular with Western audiences. You could sample these, and read them, if they suit your tastes:

http://www.amazon.in/s/?ie=UTF8&keywords=prince%20of%20ayodhya&tag=googinhydr1-21&index=stripbooks&hvadid=59631276014&hvpos=1t1&hvexid=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=16885160776176708680&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=e&hvdev=c&ref=pd_sl_3n0qdbsrja_e

---

A similar rendering of the Shiva-related stories has been attempted by Amish Tiwari in his Shiva-trilogy. These are not authentic Hindu mythologies but more on the lines of Tolkenised stories, the Shiva myth reimagined by the author:

http://www.amazon.in/s/?ie=UTF8&keywords=shivas%20trilogy&tag=googinhydr1-21&index=stripbooks&hvadid=62488011526&hvpos=1t1&hvexid=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=10448336134116620688&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=b&hvdev=c&ref=pd_sl_8s0n5ciexn_b

---

For more scholarly works, you could try:

The Hindus, an alternative history by Wendy Doniger.

This presents a Western interpretation of Hindus. It got controversial in India and the publishers, Oxford University Press, decided to voluntarily pulp it in India to avoid hurt sentiments, but it has received positive scholarly reviews from within India and abroad.

http://www.amazon.in/Hindus-Alternative-History-Wendy-Doniger/dp/9385288660/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1451311677&sr=1-1&keywords=wendy%20doniger%20hinduism

This author has many other books on Hinduism to her credit, which all you could peruse.

---

R. K. Narayan, who is among the first great Indian English writers, has also tried his hand (or pen) at Hindu mythology, and some of his books on this topic are these:

Gods, Demons and Others
The Ramayana
The Mahabharata

His wiki page is this:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._K._Narayan

---
The above is by no means an exhaustive or authoritative list, but just books that I could think up immediately. Most Sanskrit texts now have excellent English translations done by greats like Max Mueller, and should be available in any good library near you, or online.

---

The most readable texts related to Budhism are the Jataka tales, which are parables in which stories related to the Budha's previous incarnations are related.

---
Khushwant Singh has written an authoriative history of the Sikhs in two volumes, which is the youngest Indian religion:

http://www.amazon.com/History-Sikhs-1469-1839-Oxford-Collection/dp/0195673085/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1451312382&sr=8-1&keywords=history%20of%20sikhs


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 16:49
Member (2018)
French to English
thank you Bala Dec 29, 2015

Balasubramaniam L. wrote:

Texte Style wrote:
I have always been fascinated by Hindu mythologies and other Indian religions. Would you be able to recommend some further reading?


Hi Texte Style,

Here are some books that you could try.

Ramayana by C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji)

Rajaji was a multi-faceted person, a lawyer, politician, Tamil, Sanskrit and English scholar, freedom-fighter and fellow comrade in arms of Mahatma Gandhi. The two shared not only common views but also immense mutual respect which later culminated into family bonds when Rajaji's daughter married Mahatma Gandhi's son. Mahatma Gandhi used to refer to Rajaji as his conscience-keeper.

But Rajaji's most important contribution to future generations, according to his own evaluation, was the simple rendering of the two main Hindu epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, into Tamil. These first appeared in weekly installments in the famous Tamil weekly Kalki, and was later published in book form. Rajaji himself later translated these into English. These two books form mandatory readings for Indian kids to get the first feel of their great epics.

You could try these two short books. They are available with amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Ramayana-C-Rajagopalachari/dp/8172763654/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1451310668&sr=8-1&keywords=c.%20rajagopalachari


http://www.amazon.com/Mahabharata-C-Rajagopalachari/dp/8172763689/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1451310668&sr=8-2&keywords=c.%20rajagopalachari

---

A modern rendering of the Ramayana has been attempted by Ashok Banker and this has been published in several volumes and are popular with Western audiences. You could sample these, and read them, if they suit your tastes:

http://www.amazon.in/s/?ie=UTF8&keywords=prince%20of%20ayodhya&tag=googinhydr1-21&index=stripbooks&hvadid=59631276014&hvpos=1t1&hvexid=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=16885160776176708680&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=e&hvdev=c&ref=pd_sl_3n0qdbsrja_e

---

A similar rendering of the Shiva-related stories has been attempted by Amish Tiwari in his Shiva-trilogy. These are not authentic Hindu mythologies but more on the lines of Tolkenised stories, the Shiva myth reimagined by the author:

http://www.amazon.in/s/?ie=UTF8&keywords=shivas%20trilogy&tag=googinhydr1-21&index=stripbooks&hvadid=62488011526&hvpos=1t1&hvexid=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=10448336134116620688&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=b&hvdev=c&ref=pd_sl_8s0n5ciexn_b

---

For more scholarly works, you could try:

The Hindus, an alternative history by Wendy Doniger.

This presents a Western interpretation of Hindus. It got controversial in India and the publishers, Oxford University Press, decided to voluntarily pulp it in India to avoid hurt sentiments, but it has received positive scholarly reviews from within India and abroad.

http://www.amazon.in/Hindus-Alternative-History-Wendy-Doniger/dp/9385288660/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1451311677&sr=1-1&keywords=wendy%20doniger%20hinduism

This author has many other books on Hinduism to her credit, which all you could peruse.

---

R. K. Narayan, who is among the first great Indian English writers, has also tried his hand (or pen) at Hindu mythology, and some of his books on this topic are these:

Gods, Demons and Others
The Ramayana
The Mahabharata

His wiki page is this:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._K._Narayan

---
The above is by no means an exhaustive or authoritative list, but just books that I could think up immediately. Most Sanskrit texts now have excellent English translations done by greats like Max Mueller, and should be available in any good library near you, or online.

---

The most readable texts related to Budhism are the Jataka tales, which are parables in which stories related to the Budha's previous incarnations are related.

---
Khushwant Singh has written an authoriative history of the Sikhs in two volumes, which is the youngest Indian religion:

http://www.amazon.com/History-Sikhs-1469-1839-Oxford-Collection/dp/0195673085/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1451312382&sr=8-1&keywords=history%20of%20sikhs


that's a great list of stuff to keep me busy. Pity I didn't have it before Christmas! I've read several works by Narayans but only fiction, I'm looking forward to getting hold of some of these books


 
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