December 17, 2006

More on Special Features: Word Order & Spacing

Filed under: Translation Notes — James Tabor @ 6:32 pm

In Hebrew, the normal word order in a sentence is opposite from English; verb first, then the subject/noun. Thus you would say “Walked Abraham from the city.” In such cases we do not keep the Hebrew order, since this, again, is an English translation, and we want to use “good” English. However, there are cases when the Hebrew reverses the norm and puts the subject/noun first, followed by the verb—precisely as we do in English. What this does then is to emphasize the subject. It is like saying “Abraham walked to the city,” as a way of stressing that it was Abraham and not another. Now as some of you have surely noticed, we already do place pronouns in bold type when they are emphasized. Thus, if you look at Genesis 3:15b: “ . . .he will strike you on the head and you will strike him on the heel.” Normally the Hebrew verb includes the pronoun, so it does not even appear. If a writer wants to show emphasis the pronoun appears, and we put it in bold type. I think this added feature of putting the subject of a sentence in bold, whenever the word order indicates emphasis, will add another unique and very useful feature to the TEB.

Another issue that some of our readers have raised is the matter of chapters and verses. Someone wrote recently: “I think it would be fantastic if there could be a special version of the TEB that did not include the man-made chapter and verse divisions. I understand the practical use for them for study purposes, so I’m not suggesting that no version of the TEB have them. I’m just suggesting that there be two versions–one with the chapter and verse divisions and one without.”

It is the case that the chapter and version divisions currently used are not in the original manuscripts and they are often quite arbitrary, senseless, and sometimes even misleading. It is also true that for purposes of reference they have become essential. It is possible that we could easily produce an electronic version of the TEB with the chapters and verses removed. I doubt we would ever do that in a printed edition. The appeal would just be too limited. However, if you look at a page of our text as we currently produce it, you will notice that the original “white spaces” or manuscript divisions of the text stand out, even with the “chapters and verses” included. In other words they dominate the page and give the reader the feeling of the original. For example, here is Gen 18:33-19:1.

33 And YHVH walked, as he finished speaking toward Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place. Chapter 19:1 And two of the messengers came Sodom-ward in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. And Lot saw, and he rose to meet them, and he bowed himself down, two nostrils toward the soil.

You can easily see at a glance that although we have the modern chapter division marked, there is no break in the original text—and for good reason. The author wants you to read straight from 18:33 to the next verse, without a pause. It is all one context and still very much a part of the same story. This is a feature, combined with the “white spaces” that do occur in the original manuscripts, that virtually no other English translation offers (the Koren Jerusalem Bible is a welcome exception). The overall look of a page of the TEB does in fact reflect the look of the original manuscripts in terms of spacing and breaks. Here is a sample of the page look.


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