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Isaiah 64 in the Orthodox Study Bible

I’ve begun using the Orthodox Study Bible in my lectionary reading, which brought me to Isaiah 64 a couple of days ago.  It’s been that kind of a week, so I haven’t had time to comment on it until now.

First, let me note that having a study Bible with an overtly Christological interpretation of the Old Testament makes for a nice bit of variety in my reading.  I do have a couple of others, but this one is quite unapologetic about it.  I’m a little less satisfied with the quantity of the notes available.  For example, the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, which I also read regularly, has about 380 words of notes on the page with the major portion of Isaiah 64, while the Orthodox Study Bible has about 160.  In addition, one of the notes, on Isaiah 64:4 does nothing more than restate the message of the verse in other words and so doesn’t advance us that much.

I wrote recently about how easy it is to trash translations, but I hope I can be allowed just a little bit of complaining here.  I knew that the New Testament of the Orthodox Study Bible was from the NKJV.  This makes sense because that is a translation of the majority text, more or less, though there are a number of devations in favor of the text behind the KJV.  The NKJV is not one of the most readable translations around, and I already knew what to expect there.

But for the Old Testament, we have a new translation of the LXX.  The introduction (p. xi) gives us three key points about this translation, in my view:

  1. It is based on Alfred Rahlf’s edition of the LXX.  Since I have this text, I am reading the Greek alongside the translation as I review the book.  I’m going to assume until I’ve had time to research this more fully that this was a good textual choice for the purposes of this Bible, i.e. that Rahlf’s is close enough to the text used in Orthodox liturgy.
  2. It uses NKJV renderings where the Masoretic text of the Hebrew is the same as the LXX text.  This seems a less useful goal, due to the somewhat stilted nature of the NKJV English.
  3. The introduction states that “[t]he Old Testament text presented in this volume does not claim to be a new or superior translation.  The goal was to produce a text to meet the Bible-reading needs of English-speaking Orthodox Christians.”

My problem is with the last one.  But first let me simply note that few Christians outside of the Orthodox tradition will realize just how many differences there are in the LXX text and the Hebrew.  It is fortunate that the introductory materials provide a chart of the differences in chapters and verses, and I hope English speaking readers who are accustomed to our western Bibles will read those materials.

But the real problem here is with English.  I’m not arguing here that the Greek was not correctly understood by the translators.  I’m also not asking for a functional equivalence translation where a formal equivalence translation has been presented.  But even formal equivalence translations can make good, meaningful word choices.

These remarks are preliminary.  I’m basing this on comparison of just two passages, Isaiah 64 and Psalm 80, and all examples are from the former.  But it is not encouraging to find this many examples in just the Psalms and OT reading from this week’s lectionary.

As examples, consider Isaiah 64:8[9]:

Do not be exceedingly angry with us, and do not remember our sins in an opportune time. [emphasis mine]

What does it mean for God to remember sins in an opportune time?  If one did not imagine that the translators know Greek well, one might guess that they had opened a lexicon and simply chosen the first possibility that jumped out at them.  Surely “kairos” here must have some more relevant meaning.  BDAG includes things like a “time of crisis,” though I actually don’t think that is the intended nuance here.

Then in verse 9 we have:

Zion is like a desert, and Jerusalem is for a curse.

Again, in English, what does “Jerusalem is for a curse” mean?  It would seem like a few minutes checking with ordinary speakers of English would suggest some alternative was of phrasing this.  And bluntly, this looks a bit much like a class exercise style of translation for “eis kataran.”

Finally, in verse 10, we find:

. . . and all our glorious things have become extinct.

Were they animal species or something?  Again, I don’t get this.  The Greek word here is “sumpipto/sunepesen” and I don’t see how one would get such an inappropriate English word to use in this context.

The bottom line is a bit like I expected, knowing the translation used as the foundation, and assuming that a similar process was followed in this translation.  I’m frankly enjoying the introductory articles and the excurses in the text.  The translation, on the other hand, is frequently jarring and sometimes puzzling.

I will continue to write notes as I read.

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