Evangelical Textual Criticism

Thursday, March 09, 2006

From Rabboni to Rabbuni

When, I ask myself will English Bible translators have the guts to transliterate ραββουνι in John 20:16; Mark 10:51 as Rabbuni rather than Rabboni? Obviously the reading ραββωνι is early and has come via the Latin tradition to find a place in many European Bible translations. You can find Rabboni or something quite like it in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian—even Albanian. However, unless textual critics are going to argue that the form with omega is original they surely ought to give us a more precise transliteration of the spelling ραββουνι.

What got into the ESV committee that they rendered the term as Rabbi in Mark 10:51 and Rabboni in John 20:16?


  1. I don't imagine the ESV committee had anyone with the slightest interest in such things did they? They didn't have any textual specialists among the committee (although according to the preface they disagree with NA27 at some points - anyone know where? [Pete can probably come up with a list.])

  2. Capitalized words get special treatment in English versions of the Bible, especially Hebrew names in the NT--as this is (well, a capitalized title, anyway).

  3. I agree that capitalized words can get special treatment. For instance, 'James' is the traditional rendering of ιακωβος. This form has been in English for some seven centuries (I'm saying this from memory and the figure might be wrong). However, the capitalization here may be more to do with the fact that it begins speech. Moreover, while most readers will accept that with proper names it is desirable to use traditional renderings rather than straight transliterations, they would I probably expect that the representation of a word from the original language would be as close to the original as was feasible for a non-technical transliteration. Since rabboni and rabbuni are equally strange to English, I cannot see a rationale for choosing the former.

    I agree that the ESV committee may not have had a great interest in such matters, but their translation philosophy ought to lead them to be more consistent. Lack of philological and technical expertise in contemporary Bible translation projects is widespread. This is probably because the pool of people with such expertise is diminishing while the number of translation projects is growing.

    While on the subject of weird transliterations, whats going on with TNIV's 'Bezer' in 2 Peter 2:15?

  4. "whats going on with TNIV's 'Bezer' in 2 Peter 2:15?"

    1. Needed some variety from NIV to enforce copyright protection for another 75 years.

    2. Somebody on the translation committee wanted to display his familiarity with the Moabite Stone.

    3. Needed to leave something to change later in the "New, Revised, and Updated Newrevisedupdated New International Version" to show they're still on the cutting edge.

  5. TNIV is uncharacteristically inconsistent in using "Bezer" at 2 Peter 2:15 but "Beor" at Numbers 22:5. The latter of course reflects the Hebrew correctly. The middle letter in Hebrew is `ayin; I'm not sure how that became sigma in Peter's Greek and "z" in TNIV.

  6. " Hebrew is `ayin; I'm not sure how that became sigma in Peter's Greek and "z" in TNIV."

    A better question may be "whence BEWR in the WH text?" The evidence for BOSOR is pretty staggering, but they relegated it to the margin.

    Names don't fare all that well in translation. Both the ayin in Hebrew and the s in Spanish have undergone assimilation to a weak glottal stop. No one can say for sure how consonants were pronounced in antiquity--only that, especially in the case of oral transmission, change is inevitable.

  7. "whence BEWR?"

    I know, I wouldn't even have to ask that question had I a trusty copy of NA27 handy. Delete that part of my post.

  8. Strictly speaking, TC isn't really my area, so what follows may not be helpful at all. Anyway, two thoughts occur to me:

    1. The decision in favor of "rabboni" -- as closer to the likely original pronunciation -- seems justifiable to me on linguistic grounds. The Aramaic form in question would be rabba:ni (rabba: + 1 cs possessive sfx = 'my great one,' 'my teacher'), with rabboni and rabbouni arising as primary and secondary corruptions of the original form. Thus, we would be looking at a shift in vocalization from /a:/ to /o:/ to /u:/.

    As a general phenomenon, the confusion of /a:/ and /o:/ (cp. 'rabbani' > 'rabboni') is pretty clearly indicated from time to time in the Targumim, and the shift from /o:/ to /u:/ (cp. 'rabboni' > 'rabbouni') seems to be supported by some evidence in Punic bilingual inscriptions. So, such a progression of pronunciations (rabbani > rabboni > rabbouni) seems plausible, at least.

    Obviously, all of this would carry more weight if I could cite some actual examples. Unfortunaely, I can't right now (and I'm less certain about the Punic data than the Targumim, by the way). You can take it for what it's worth, I guess. It's free.

    2. On the transformation /ayin/ > /s/ in 'Bosor,' etymological (PS) /d./ comes into Ugaritic as /s/, Hebrew as /s./, and Aramaic as /ayin/ (later, /q/). Thus, there seems to be some connection, in terms of the overall Semitic catalogue of phonemes, that connects /ayin/ with various sibillants. This suggests -- to me, at any rate -- the possibility of a misinterpretation by non-native scribes. Lacking an /ayin/ or a /s./ in their own language, /s/ seems like a good candidate for any Greek-speaking scribe trying to get BH 'bcwr' onto paper. Why it's a "z" in TNIV is beyond my imagining.

  9. Dear anon,
    Thank you for your comments. I think that to describe 'rabboni' and 'rabbouni' as corruptions is to introduce a rather loaded term. They are later developments, but unless we have evidence that 'rabbouni' could not have been the actual pronunciation by the time of the NT, then it is hard to claim that 'rabboni' is more probably the original form.

  10. With great awe do I follow discussion of translations coming to us from persons, who in the first place did never anticipate to harm the Old or the New Testament, the Talmud or the Koran.
    Should we not rather spend emphasis, heart blood and time to those fellowmen who are Atheists, instead of scribble the sacred words up and down.
    I rather wait until the moment comes, when I may hopefully ask Raboni or Rabuni himself whether my life was helpful and kind to the many peoples I was able to meet and to live with. Then, again, we argue, or should we be silent and grateful in our soul?
    Esi Walton