Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The artistic horror of bad Bible translation

As a girl I liked to read the Bible during the sermon on Sunday, and the story of Samson was a favorite of mine. He was always owning the Philistines, particularly when a bunch of them rushed him, thinking he was tied up, but "The Spirit of the LORD came upon him in power" and he broke the ropes, grabbed a nearby jawbone, and struck down a thousand of them. His victory chant felicitously rhymes in English:
With a donkey's jawbone
I have made donkeys of them.
With a donkey's jawbone
I have killed a thousand men.
Afterwards he asked God for a drink, so "God opened up the hollow place in Lehi, and water came out of it. When Samson drank, his strength returned and he revived. So the spring was called En Hakkore, and it is still there in Lehi."

I once saw a painting of this at the Getty. But why the heck was there water spitting out of the jawbone? It turns out that "Lehi" also means "jawbone" in Hebrew, so a Dutch Bible translated it that way, and a Dutch artist, Saloman de Bray, painted it that way.

Even sillier is the thing I learned today from Fr. Schnippel. It seems that when St. Jerome was translating the Old Testament into Latin (A.D. 405), he tripped over the Hebrew description of the rays of light that would shine from Moses' face after he'd been in the presence of the Lord. The Vulgate translates this as "horns of light", and consequently we have these lovely Renaissance statues of Moses-- with horns!

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