08 April 2009

The Lord is my mom

Some of the issues being discussed by translators of the Bible can be helpful to multilingual literary critics. Mark L. Strauss, in Distorting Scripture?: The Challenge of Bible Translation & Gender Accuracy (1998), argues that: "Study of Egyptian papyri over the past one hundred years has demonstrated conclusively that New Testament Greek is actually an example of Koine (or 'common') Greek, the everyday language of the people that spread throughout the Mediterranean region following the conquests of Alexander the Great (late fourth century B.C.). There is nothing archaic, solemn or mystical about the kind of language used by the inspired authors of the New Testament. It is the Greek of the street."

It is not just the language, of course, but the culture that is so important in Bible translation. For example, I feel very uncomfortable saying the line "The Lord is my shepherd," since there are no sheep where I live (urbanized, polluted, overpopulated Metro Manila) and I have no idea how to feel like a sheep. I know what the psalmist is driving at: God protects me and feeds me, the way shepherds (from what I've heard about them) take care of their sheep. In the English translation, however, the metaphor fails because the English word "shepherd" just does not have the cultural wealth that the original Hebrew word must have had. Using the theory that the Bible uses street language, is it possible (or theologically acceptable) to translate the phrase as "The Lord is my mom (or dad)"?

Perhaps multilingual literary critics can weigh in and join the Biblical debates on language.


  1. Of course, translate it as you brings in a cultural perspective that is likely somewhat out of align with the koine meaning. Another point is that despite not being around sheep, you have been in a culture that has transmitted not only verses in the Bible but also interpretations of those verses. Re-translating may also lose some of that historical understanding that accompanies those interpretations. And so on.

  2. I chuckled at the blog's heading, "The Lord is my mom." Seems to be an inadvertent slip that the speaker is a Mama's boy.