Here’s the story of how I tripped over a verb and fell into the arms of a 19th century Jesuit.
Well, now my work days are filled with pouring over every word in the book of Ezra while preparing translation helps. First every word in Hebrew (or Aramaic as some of Ezra would have it), then every word in French (at least two different versions) and then, of course, every word in my heart language, American. (I say “American” because my British friends weighted down by a perplexed look cock their heads to one side when I proudly announce that I speak English. “You do?!”)
This week was off to a rocky start when I met the form of a verb at Ezra 3:10 that I wasn’t expecting and couldn’t make sense of.
When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the Lord with trumpets…
Builders, foundations, a temple (!), priests, vestments (!), praising the Lord…it all sounds amazing, doesn’t it? You’d never know by looking at Ezra in translation that behind the scenes lies a verb with big, pointy teeth.
Weighted down by this Semitic perplexity, I ran to the grammarians. First, I had a look to see what my friends Bruce and Michael had to offer. Then, it was to the ageless patriarch Wilhelm. Finally, I found refuge in the arms of magisterial monsieur Paul–whose surname is fittingly enough a homonym in French for “Let’s play!” And with Paul’s grammar guidance I did play. Thanks for the invite!
He called the form I was struggling with “strange” and “abused.” O Paul, that verb isn’t the only one feeling discomfort. But what comfort I did find in the arms of this 19th century Jesuit. Thank you, Paul. Now I know that we’re in this together.
But why allow these pedantic pebbles to get in our translation shoes and give us aches and pains as we seek to make God’s word accessible? For exactly that reason: to make God’s word accessible.