Tuesday, April 18, 2006

ESV conjectures in Jeremiah 18:14

The English Standard Version is a translation that I would like to like, since I think that literary qualities are often a desirable feature of Bible translation and that 'essentially literal' translation is also important for parts of the Bible (e.g. John's Gospel). However, I am finding it hard to appreciate the rather large number of conjectural emendations in the OT. A particularly bad example I have just come across is in Jeremiah 18:14 where the ESV reads 'Does the snow of Lebanon leave the crags of Sirion? Do the mountain waters run dry, the cold flowing streams?' (bolded words represent either conjectures or points where the translators depart from the Hebrew to follow something unspecified). Since every single word in MT is a well attested Hebrew word I wonder why they have felt it necessary to move so far away from the mss. Here I offer my own translation and paraphrase, but I'd be delighted for any suggested improvements.

'Does the snow of Lebanon leave the rock of the field? Can exotic cool flowing waters be uprooted [to be carried elsewhere]?' No, sorry. Given that refridgerators have not yet been invented good drinks have to be taken in situ if they are to retain their quality. However, God's people have moved away from their good situation.

The LXX's μη εκλειψουσιν απο πετρας μαστοι η χιων απο του Λιβανου μη εκκλινει υδωρ βιαιως ανεμω φερομενον can probably all be explained as a translation based on the consonants of MT with daleth for resh read in קרים.


  1. Interesting post. Might I offer this for your critique.

    Does the snow of Leanon leave the crags of Sirion?
    First, the question raised in the verse is speaking of the snow in Lebanon would geographically direct us to Mt. Herman which the Sidonians are known to have called Sirion. Second, tsur saday is a phrase that must be translated as a whole thus being rendered literally something like "Alpine slopes" (c.f., DBL 8441). Third, it seems you might have confused saday (field or open country in a broader sense) with sadeh (field in the more narrow sense). Therefore, it would seem that conceptually the ESV is not engaging in any conjecture here, but is quite accurately directing us to Mt. Herman (Sirion) and her crags which geologically speaking are the veins through which glacial snow would leave the mountain.

    Do the mountain waters run dry, the cold flowing streams?
    Next, it would seem worthwhile to give attention to the second phrase you have translated as "Can exotic cool flowing waters be uprooted?" You have a pretty good literal translation of it; however, I would argue that you loose your reader in concept (i.e., "how can water be uprooted?" would seem to be an unnecessarily unclear metaphor). You seem to recognize this and feel compelled to add a bracketed phrase that translates your translation: "[to be carried elsewhere]". Next, contextually the passage has just spoken about Mt. Hermon (Sirion) and the "exotic cool flowing waters" would conceptually be those of the mountain. So conceptually it is not a conjecture at all, but a clarifying translation that uses an economy of words. Finally, "running dry" is again the effect of waters being "carried elsewhere".

    The last item I will point out regarding your post is that the ESV does in fact foot note all the places you have in bold face and provide a more wooden/literal rendering of the word in question.

    I am thrilled to find a site like yours and thank you for this stimulating post.

  2. I suppose I should also clarify that I am not a representative from Crossway Publishers :-) and also that we very much need a plurality of English translations that run the spectrum of literal/wooden translation to a more idea for idea translation.

    Thanks again for your blog.

  3. My criticism of the ESV is that it's too "conservative," in the bad sense of the word. Where improvements are needed, but require some venturesomeness, ESV always balks; and where I see something that is different, it usually is just the ESV parroting the RSV.

    Is that the case here? (Don't have my BibleWorks to check!)

  4. For some reason, the first time I read this post, all the Gk & Hb were gobbletygook. Now they come thru in true font.

    This has happened several times before on this blog. Is it something the blog is doing, or is my computer just a slow reader?

    I've tried unloading Bibleworks Gkfont but things didn't work out as they were supposed to, & I couldn't make them.

  5. I think they are using a simple unicode formatting for their fonts (which is the best and most universal way to use international characters). This means it really does not matter what font you are using, if you have unicode fonts like Times New Roman or Arial, all should come through fine. It may take your browser a second to determine the character encoding, but that's on your end not the blog's.