PC Bible / Pharisäer und Pharisäerinnen

This article by Ingolf U. Dalferth appeared in the NZZ in November. It’s about this new Bible in ‘fair’ language (translated into English elsewhere as ‘inclusive language’):

Bibel in gerechter Sprache. Herausgegeben von Ulrike Bail, Frank Crüsemann u. a. Gütersloher Verlagshaus 2006. 2400 S., CHF 44.60

Apparently it was done by a team of 32 translators and supposed to appear on Reformation Day, but the Protestant church in Germany (probably the one that calls itself the Evangelical Church) objected. According to Professor Dalferth, it was intended to smooth out all the peculiarities of the original (he compares it with the ‘powerful language’ of the Luther Bible and the ‘philological precision’ of the Zurich Bible.

Ganz anders diese Neuübersetzung, die nicht richtig, sondern «gerecht» zu übersetzen beansprucht. Sie traut den Lesern gar nichts zu, sondern schreibt ihnen unablässig vor, wie sie verstehen sollen, was sie lesen. Gewiss, Übersetzen ist eine schwierige Kunst. Aber Kunst ist auch «das Gegenteil von ‹gut gemeint›», wie Gottfried Benn lakonisch notierte. Gut gemeint ist die «Bibel in gerechter Sprache» zweifellos. Keinen Augenblick wird man über die Überzeugungen der Übersetzerinnen und Übersetzer im Unklaren belassen, doch ob man auch das Zeugnis der biblischen Texte vernimmt oder liest, was in den hebräischen und griechischen Originaltexten steht, weiss man nie.

The aim of the translators, he writes, was not to do justice to the problems of exegesis, history and theology, but to follow liberation theology, feminist theology and the dialogue between Christians and Jews. This ‘just’ language does less than justice to the original.

The text includes ‘shepherds and shepherdesses’. There is a precept to love your neighbour and his wife. Even the apostles are treated as if they included women. The end of the people of Israel may not be referred to.

Weil der Gottesname Jahwe (das Tetragramm) seit biblischer Zeit von orthodoxen Juden aus religiöser Scheu (und nicht etwa, weil er «unaussprechbar» wäre) nicht mehr ausgesprochen wird, wird er auch in dieser Übersetzung gemieden und durch wechselnde andere Bezeichnungen ersetzt: «der Ewige, die Ewige, Schechina, Adonaj, ha-Schem, der Name, Gott, die Lebendige, der Lebendige, Ich-bin-da, ha-Makom, Du, Er Sie, Sie Er, die Eine, der Eine, die Heilige, der Heilige».

In a Zeit article, Robert Leicht comments on the mistake of confusing translation and interpretation – a translation of the Bible should not incorporate the interpretation that may be preferred today, but should be a subject for discussion.

A Lutheran blog called Cyberbrethren actually recounts all this.

Some gender-neutral Bible links.

Here’s a modern British one I toyed with getting a few years ago: As Good as New, a radical retelling of the scriptures, by John Clifford Henson, and here’s an amazon.co.uk reader’s comment:

A very interesting and challenging translation – some infelicities which grate a little (“Larry” = Lazarus etc. and some doggerel verse), but it pulls the timeless story into the present day and certainly gave a new view to me. Powerful stuff.

Some quotes are here – Matthew, Chapter Two:

Jesus was born in Bethlehem during the reign of Herod the Great. Some members of an eastern religion who studied the stars travelled to Jerusalem. (2) They asked, “Where’s the new baby who will lead God’s people when he grows up? We’ve seen a new star which tells us he’s been born. We want to pay our respects to him. ” (3) This news put Herod into a state of panic which frightened the people of Jerusalem. (4) Herod called together the religious leaders and the experts in the old books and asked them where God’s Chosen was likely to be born. They turned his attention to Bethlehem, quoting words from one of God’s speakers:

(6) “Bethlehem, there’s no reason for you to think you are not important. You are going to be the birthplace of someone who will lead my people like a shepherd.”

(7) Herod had a private meeting with the star-gazers, and found out from them the precise time the star appeared. (8) Then he gave them directions for Bethlehem and said, “Do your best to find the little boy. I would like to pay him my respects too.” (9) When they had heard what Herod had to say, they continued their journey. They spotted the new star again. It seemed to move on in front of them and then hover over the house where the boy lived. (10) They got very excited by this. (11) They went inside the house and met him and his mother and expressed their pleasure at the honour they felt. They took out from their luggage the presents they had brought with them including money, medicine and perfume. (12) They had a hunch it would be a mistake to go back to Herod, so they took a different route back home.

5 thoughts on “PC Bible / Pharisäer und Pharisäerinnen

  1. I very much echo the idea of bringing out the drama of the Bible narrative and underlining how surprised the contemporaries were by events. (In fact, this is exactly what I try to do in my regular articles in German in my local church newsletter).

    But it is interesting to see how some translations actually change the content and communicate their own agenda rather than the original meaning. The “Bibel in gerechter Sprache” is a case in point (as your summary of the NZZ article explains).

    The version “As good as new” seems to be another example. In the closing verse of the extract you quote, we read “They had a hunch it would be a mistake to go back to Herod”. The original actually says it was a message from God in a dream. The “translators” demote this to a “hunch”. Rewriting the Bible to exclude the supernatural is missing the whole point in my view.

    I wonder what our clients would say to us if we freewheeled a contract translation in that style.

  2. I’m sorry to hear that about the hunch, because it looks like fun to read. I enjoyed their summary of Christ’s lineage (I read the whole Bible when I was at school, including who begat whom, but that was many years ago and I didn’t really get into it).
    Throwing out the baby with the bathwater, as it were.
    Contracts don’t really have a spiritual element, but one thing that annoys me about legal translations that is comparable is the way a lot of people (as can be seen on ProZ) read the German and search at length for an English equivalent that sounds as English or American as possible, without asking themselves much about the meaning of the German and whether their suggestion really fits. But the important thing is not to sound knowledgeable, but to convey the meaning of the German.

  3. Following a link trail from your article (and straying from Bible translation to PC in general), I came on a list of words banned for PC reasons.
    Includes the following:
    Heroine (banned as sexist, replace with hero)
    Huts (banned as ethnocentric, replace with small houses)
    Homosexual (banned, replace with person, child)
    Sightless (banned as offensive, replace with people who are blind)

  4. A suggestion for freewheeling a contract translation to suit my own agenda.
    Let’s say I don’t believe in taking people to court to solve differences, preferring to do things by personal negotiation and bringing people to their senses by amiable means instead.
    And let’s say I then “touch up” all my contract translations to remove any real or implied threats of litigation, any reference to courts having jurisdiction and that sort of stuff.
    I bet that would have a few legal eagles dancing on the tables with glee! (And it would be about as faithful to the original as rewriting the Bible without the supernatural).

  5. I am very taken with the huts. May we speak of beach huts? I have met the hero (Jodie Foster referred to a character she played as a hero). Surely there must be an online Babel-type service that purifies one’s texts?

    That contract sounds like the equivalent. Of course, no-one may ever read it.

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