Hardest NT Book to Translate??

Discussion in 'Bible Versions/Translations' started by John of Japan, Oct 10, 2008.

?

Which NT book is hardest to translate?

Poll closed Jan 18, 2009.
  1. Acts

    1 vote(s)
    7.1%
  2. Matthew

    1 vote(s)
    7.1%
  3. Romans

    5 vote(s)
    35.7%
  4. Galatians

    1 vote(s)
    7.1%
  5. James

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  6. Ephesians

    3 vote(s)
    21.4%
  7. 1 Corinthians

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  8. Revelation

    5 vote(s)
    35.7%
  9. Hebrews

    2 vote(s)
    14.3%
  10. Other

    3 vote(s)
    21.4%
Multiple votes are allowed.
  1. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    Let's have some fun, a discussion without rancor (as Luke Skywalker would say)! Don't answer the poll yet, but after reading this OP, please answer it and then explain your choice in a post. :smilewinkgrin:

    Here are the guidelines. You don't have to know Greek or any other language than English. Just consider the content of each book of the NT, then give your view of which would be hardest to translate. There are not necessarily any wrong answers except maybe the epistles of John, which are extremely easy. I'll also say that Mark is pretty easy. Usually it's 1 John or Mark that Greek teachers have their students translate first. ;)

    The poll is mainly about translating into English, but remember also that the difficulty of a book may be culture-sensitive. I think you'll be surprised at which book I think is hardest to translate into Japanese. But I'll wait for awhile to answer myself and then say which I think is hardest. Now, please answer the poll. :type:

    P. S. I'm allowing multiple answers if you just can't decide! Amn't I a nice guy?
     
    #1 John of Japan, Oct 10, 2008
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 10, 2008
  2. EdSutton

    EdSutton
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    "Amn't?"

    C'mon John of Japan! Use "ain't" where everyone understands, even if some do cringe, at that word. Or, at worst, use "Aren't" in your question. :D

    Well, you did say have fun with this.

    Seriously, I am not, nor do I make any pretense to be a translator, by any stretch. although I have been occasionally able to stumble and muddle my way through a verse or two in Greek - absolutely no Hebrew. Hence, I would have no clue as to overall difficulty of translating a complete book, into any other language. That would have to be opined by those who are actually translators, such as you or another.

    Were I to take a completely blind stab, I would guess that I might pick from Genesis or Leviticus, Hebrews or Revelation for a 'longer' book, and perhaps Song of Solomon, Jonah, II Peter or Jude, for a 'shorter' book. How far off am I?

    [Edited to add!] I did not read the poll very carefully, before posting, and did not realize you were referring to NT books, only, so picked two from each Testament. And normally, I do not vote in polls, and certainly do not feel qualified to offer an opinion here, on this one.

    Ed
     
    #2 EdSutton, Oct 10, 2008
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  3. Gold Dragon

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    I would think that Matthew uses a lot of more Jewish language and imagery than the other gospels and may be harder to relate to modern cultures.

    I'm trying to think of which of Paul's epistles was the most culture or context-sensitive in terms of the issues it addressed. Our church just went through 1 Corinthians and I found it had some difficult issues (sexual immorality, divorce, paying pastors, lawsuits, etc) and many passages where I felt the translators were struggling to communicate an idea. I'll go with 1 Cor.

    However, my top 2 in difficulty would have to be between Revelation and Romans.

    The shear size and the number of images in Revelation must be daunting and difficult to communicate. John didn't even have the words sometimes to communicate what he was seeing in Greek.

    My top prize goes to Romans with Paul's extensive use of legalese, clauses, heavy theological words and super long thoughts.
     
  4. Marcia

    Marcia
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    I picked Romans. I may be unwittingly cheating because I think I've heard it said that Romans is hard to translate.
     
  5. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    Y'know, I really thought Revelation would be hard until I translated it. Then I realized that it is a narrative, and narratives are comparatively easy for me! So translating it was not hard--interpreting what you've translated is!

    Hebrews was kind of hard. 2 Peter was not bad--Peter is a pretty straightforward guy. :type:
     
  6. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    Of the Gospels, Matthew and Luke are about the same in difficulty to me. What made Luke a little harder than I thought it would be is that he was a doctor, so he wrote educated Greek with some unique vocabulary. The same goes for Acts.

    Romans was definitely very hard. Until Uncle Miya and I started revising my base translation of another book (yet to be named :saint: ), I figured it was the hardest. But Uncle Miya has really struggled with this book we're working on now.

    Here's a hint. The Japanese are an extremely practical people. They make the best cars and electronics around, and lots of other things. But they have difficulty with metaphysics. If they can't see it they're apathetic about it and don't try to understand it. This explains why there have been so relatively few Japanese winners of the Nobel Prize, notwithstanding their nice haul this year in physics. But even now, Japanese Nobel Prize winners usually study and often work in the States. :type:
     
  7. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    Romans is defintely very hard. Paul deals with some very deep theology, but more than that, his sentences in Romans are extremely long and hard to follow!! Sometimes we make three or four Japanese sentences out of one Greek sentence. :type:
     
  8. preachinjesus

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    Well not to be pedant but in my formal Greek translation work Revelation has been the most difficult. Outside of the deep reaching theological conclusions that a goodly translation must deal with, the nature of the Greek itself is markedly different from the rest of the New Testament. Just my opinion though. Carry on! :thumbs:
     
  9. Gold Dragon

    Gold Dragon
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    Immediately after I submitted my last post, I was thinking about the difficulties of translating all the spiritual concepts and imagery in Hebrews. Thanks for the interesting thoughts and discussion as always JoJ. :thumbs:
     
  10. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    You do have a point! Some grammarians like to point out John's "bad grammar" in Revelation. If you're depending on your Greek grammars, Revelation will look strange.

    Personally, though, I just accept John's grammar in the book as it is and don't try to get technical with it. My view is that a modern grammarian with a limited corpus in koine has no right to criticize a 1st century writer fluent in the language! This view is supported by David Alan Black in Linguistics for Students of NT Greek, who teaches us that the linguist makes no judgements, he just describes the language. (I highly recommend this book.)

    Note what Black says on pp. 12-13: "Many readers have cringed at the Greek of Revelation 1:4: apo o wn kai o hn kai o ercomenoV ("From the one who is and who was and who is coming"). From a purely objective point of view, there is nothing wrong with this phrase. It conveys its meaning clearly, and the communication of meaning is, after all, the purpose of language."
     
    #10 John of Japan, Oct 10, 2008
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 10, 2008
  11. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    You know, Uncle Miya and I haven't tackled Hebrews yet. When we do, I may change my tune and say Hebrews is the hardest, but in the mean time, the book we're revising now is extremely challenging! :type:
     
  12. TCGreek

    TCGreek
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    John, from personal experience, I'll have to go with Acts.

    The syntax, vocabulary, esp. chp 27. It's quite daunting.
     
  13. Dr. Bob

    Dr. Bob
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    I looked on the question purely as a Greek prof and difficulties in translation because of grammar/syntax, not from theological construct.

    While I find the complex sentences of Paul (in Ephesians, for example) to be daunting, I can always diagram them, with clauses and more clauses and 10 verses without a period, etc. Takes work, but Paul was a PhD and it shows.

    John, with high school style Greek, is the most basic and best structure.

    But the hardest? Peter, without a doubt. That man had TERRIBLE grammar and looks like he dropped outta 3rd grade to go fishing!! Mark cleans up some of it as he records Peter's sermon (Gospel of Mark was a sermon by Peter, in case you did not know). Luke does the same in Acts with some of Peter's rabbit-trails.

    But the books of I/II Peter are the pits. Peter makes up words (take a look and see how many words that are used just once in the NT are in his writings). He breaks rules of grammar, mixing metaphors, splitting infinitives, and dangling prepositions in public!!
     
  14. EdSutton

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    He did! ;)

    Ed
     
  15. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    Acts does have a degree of difficulty higher than most narratives because of the sophistication of Luke's Greek. Being a native speaker, and being a physician, Luke used some advanced vocabulary not found in the typical narrative.
     
  16. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    Good call, Dr. Bob. I should have included Peter in the poll. It's been a long time since I translated him, but I do remember the difficulty. :type:
     
  17. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    Out of curiosity, did you translate Revelation in a seminary class or some other setting?
     
  18. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    Hi, Folks.

    I've been meaning to get back to this and fill you in, but we were gone all day yesterday.

    Anyway, kudos to Ed for guessing first via a PM. :thumbs: The book we've had the most difficulty getting into good Japanese is Ephesians! In our three hour sessions on Friday afternoon Uncle Miya and I have only been able to get through 10-15 verses, though in Matthew, for example, we were able to get through about 30 verses. Once we took about an hour on a single verse in Ephesians!

    Due to their very narrow-minded educational system, Japanese students are discouraged from thinking independently and metaphysically. (Note that this comment addresses culture, not race.) They Japanese have a saying, Deru kugi wa utareru, "The nail that sticks up gets pounded!" In other words, individuality and thinking "outside the box" is discouraged.

    After WW2, General MacArthur, who ruled Japan, was able to revamp the entire Japanese government to root out State Shintoism except one department, the Monbusho, or Dept. of Education. So the Monbusho, which must approve every textbook, is still run by the ideological descendents of the rightists of WW2.

    The system is designed to move the students along in knowledge, nothing else. In the upper levels, grad students only progress as they help the career of their mentor. In many cases it is the students that do all the research and other work while the mentor gets all the credit.

    Now with these things in mind, please note the following concepts just in Ephesians ch. 1: chosen before the foundation of the world (v. 4--the normal Japanese word for the foundation of a building is not used metaphorically), predestined (v. 5), accepted in the beloved (v. 6), the mystery of His will (v. 9), the dispensation of the fulness of time (v. 10), to the praise of His glory (v. 12--what does that mean, folks?), the spirit of wisdom and revelation (v. 17--very hard to find a Japanese word for this usage of pneuma), etc. I could go on and on! Ephesians is a very difficult book to get into good, understandable Japanese.
     
  19. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    Concerning the suppression of deep thought in Japan, here are quotes from Japanese winners of the Nobel Prize from the Daily Yomiuri of 10/12/08, p. 3:

    “I mainly conducted research in Japan, and spent some time at Harvard University. The biggest difference between Japan and the United States is that there are many occasions to promote interaction among researchers from different fields in the United States. In Japan, I had the impression that researchers tend to withdraw into their academic shells.”—Ryoji Nomori (2001 laureate in chemistry)

    “To be honest, if I’d stayed in Japan, I don’t think I would’ve succeeded in aequorin research. I’ve had a great deal of freedom in the United States.—Osamu Shimomura (Professor Emeritus at Boston U., 2008 laureate in chemistry)

    “It seems that the United States has been historically generous in giving foreign researchers the opportunity to apply their skills on its soil.”—Leo Esaki (1973 laureate in physics)
     

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