Rev Abraham Ayiakwo, Judy & Philip Hewer and Rev Jonah Kwotua celebrate completion of work on the Kasem Bible, after working for three weeks with the GILLBT typesetter, John Sidsaya. The text of the Bible was “signed off” at 11 am on Friday 22nd November 2013, to say that no more changes would be made, and giving the go-ahead for final formatting prior to sending to the printers in South Korea. The Kasem New Testament was published in 1988 and work started on the translation of the Old Testament 10 years later.
See more news here.
Continuing my check through Jeremiah I keep coming across the Hebrew word ra’ah. It occurs 99 times in the whole book, appearing in 39 of the 52 chapters. In chapter 44, which I have just finished, it comes 14 times, 5 of those in verse 9. What does it mean? The Brown-Driver-Briggs English-Hebrew lexicon gives: ‘evil, misery, distress, injury’. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that Jeremiah majors on that area of meaning!
What is surprising is that the word is used of God’s activities as well as those of the wayward people of God. There is a balance between the ra’ah, ‘evil deeds’, which the remnant of Judah indulge themselves in, and the ra’ah, ‘calamities’, which God promises to inflict on them as a result. So how does the translator tackle this? It is impossible to use the same word in English to translate all occurrences of ra’ah, unless one is willing to make God the agent of evil activities. Some English versions come close to this, such as the RSV (Revised Standard Version) translation of 11:11 — Therefore, thus says the Lord, Behold, I am bringing evil upon them which they cannot escape; though they cry to me, I will not listen to them. Other versions use words like ‘calamity, disaster, destruction’ when ra’ah occurs in this sense, and interestingly the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) has made the change from ‘evil’ to ‘disaster’ in this verse.
This illustrates the principle that there is rarely a one-to-one correspondence between words in different languages. The Hebrew word ra’ah has a wider range of meaning than any one word in English, and in most other languages too, probably. The translator has to cope with this all the time. One simply cannot use the same English word, or Kasem word, to translate one Hebrew word in all its contexts and senses. To do so sounds at best stilted, and at worst (in this case) wrongly portrays the character of God. Of course the translator tries to be consistent in translating each particular sense. In fact, I now need to go back and look at all 99 occurrences of ra’ah in Jeremiah and check just that. As far as possible in Kasem we have used lwarem kikia ‘evil doings’ in the one sense, and lɛɛro ‘calamity’ in the other.
As a footnote, we should bear in mind that God’s instrument of calamity in this case was the Babilonian army, and in that sense God was using an evil power to bring just punishment on his much-loved people.
I’ve been working on checking through the draft translation of Jeremiah in Kasem for some weeks now. I’ve just got to the end of chapter 41. Hebrew does like to make double sure you know who is being referred to in narrative. It’s what we call “participant tracking”. Take Gedaliah for example. We get to meet him in 39:14 as “Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan”. Fair enough, since there is at least one other Gedaliah around (38:1). In chapters 40 and 41 (only 34 verses total), Gedaliah is mentioned by name 20 times. 4 of those times he is given the full works, “Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan”; another 9 times it is “Gedaliah son of Ahikam”; leaving 7 occurrences of simply “Gedaliah” (and most of those are “Gedaliah at Mizpah”). Add to that the number of times his office as governor is mentioned, and it all gets a bit heavy for most languages. And Gedaliah isn’t the only one being given full-name treatment in these chapters. There’s “Ishmael son of Nethaniah, the son of Elishama”, “Johanan son of Kareah”, and “Nebuzaradan, commander of the guard”, all of which are repeated in full several times. Needless to say, Kasem prefers to keep track of participants in a more economical way. Once we know who it is, just the name will do, with maybe the occasional reminder of their role. Even a pronoun may suffice sometimes!