« PreviousContinue »
But whatever be in this, it must be allowed to be a matter of some moment, that we form a right notion of the different dogmas and prevailing taste of the time. The reason is evident. The sacred wri. ters, in addressing those of their own nation, would doubtless, in order to be understood, adapt themselves, as their great Master had done before them, to the prevailing idiom and phraseology. Now, this is to be learned only from the common usages, and from the reigning modes of thinking and reason. ing, which distinguished the people in that age and nation.
THE DIFFICULTIES FOUND IN TRANSLATING THE SCRIPTURES.
It can scarcely admit a doubt that, as every language has in it something peculiar, and as the people of every nation have customs, rites, and manners wherein they are singular; each tongue will have its special difficulties; which will always be the greater to strangers, the more remote the customs, rites, and manners of the nation are, from the customs, rites, and manners of other nations : for, in the same proportion, the genius of the tongue will differ from that of other tongues. If so, it is no wonder that the distinguishing particularity of the Jews in constitution, sentiments, ceremonies, and laws, should render it more difficult to translate, with justness,
from their language, than to translate from the lan. guage of any people who, in all the respects aforementioned, do not so remarkably differ from others.
proper here to point out, more particularly, where difficulties of this kind will be found principally to lie. It is evident that they will not at all affect the construction of the sentences, or the in. flections of the words. The analogy of the language, and its whole grammatical structure, may be very simple, and easily acquired, whatever be the customs of the people, or how extraordinary soever they may appear to us. Further, simple narration is not that kind of writing which will be much affected by those difficulties. The nouns which occur in it are generally of the first class, mentioned in the preceding part of this Dissertation. And in these, from the principles formerly explained, the interpreter will not often meet with any thing to retard his progress. If the narrative be of matters which concern the community at large, as in civil history, there will no doubt be frequent recourse to the words of the third class. But in regard to these, the method of adopting the original term, established by universal practice, and founded in necessity, whereby translators extricate themselves when correspondent terms cannot be found, does in effect re. move the difficulty. And even when words of the second class occur, as will sometimes happen, there is a greater probability that the context will ascertain their meaning in an historical work, than there is where they occur in any other kind of writing,
such as the didactic, the declamatory, the proverbial, or aphoristic, and the argumentative.
This is the first difficulty proper to be mentioned, arising from difference of manners, a difficulty which cannot be said to affect the sacred writings peculiarly otherwise than in degree. It is always the harder to reach, in a version, the precise signification of the words of the original, the wider the distance is in sentiments and manners, between the nation in whose language the book is written, and the nation into whose language it is to be translated.
§ 2. The second difficulty I shall take notice of, arises from the penury of words in the ancient ori. ental languages, at least in the Hebrew, a natural consequence of the simplicity of the people, the little proficiency made by them in sciences and arts, and their early withdrawing themselves, on account of religion, from the people of other nations. The fewer the words are, in any language, the more extensive commonly is the signification given to every word ; and the more extensive the signification of a word is, there is the greater risk of its being misunderstood, in any particular application; besides, the fewness of words obliges writers of enlarged minds, for the sake of supplying the deficiency, frequently to recur to metaphor, synecdoche, metonymy, catachresis, and other rhetorical tropes. These, accordingly, are always found to abound most in the scantiest tongues. Now the frequent use of tropes occasions an unavoid
able obscurity, and sometimes ambiguity, in the expression.
§ 3. A THIRD difficulty arises from the penury of books extant in the genuine and ancient Hebrew, there being no more than the books of the Old Testament, and not even all these. When we consider the manner in which the knowledge of any language, even of our native tongue, is acquired, we find it is solely by attending to the several ways in which words are used in a vast variety of occurrences and applications, that the precise meaning is ascertained. As it is principally from conversation, in our mothertongue, or in any living language which we learn from those who speak it, that we have occasion to ob. serve this variety, so it is only in books that we have occasion to observe it, when employed in the acqui.-sition of a dead language. Consequently, the fewer the books are, there is the greater risk of mistaking the sense, especially of those words which do not frequently occur. This has given rise to doubts about the meaning of some words, even of the first class, to wit, the names of a few natural objects, as plants, animals, and precious stones, which occur, but rarely, in Scripture, and, solely, in passages where sufficient light cannot be had from the context.
4. It may indeed be said, that as the writers of the New Testament, employed not the Hebrew, but the Greek language, in their compositions ; nei. ther of the two remarks last mentioned can affect
them, however they may affect the penmen of the Old. The Greek is indeed a most copious language, and the books written in it are very numerous. But whoever would argue in this manner, must have forgotten, what has been fully evinced in the former Dissertation, that though the words, the inflection, and the construction in the books of the New Testament are Greek, the idiom is strictly Hebraical ; or at least, he must not have reflected on the inevi. table consequences of this doctrine ; one of which is, that the Hebraistic Greek, or Greek of the synagogue, as it has been called, will, in a great measure, labour under the same inconveniences and defects with the tongue on which its idiom is formed. Another consequence is, that the scarcity of books in the language which is the parent of the idiom, is, in effect, a scarcity of the lights that are necessary, or at least convenient, for the easier discovery of the peculiarities of the idiomatic tongue formed upon it. The reason of both is obvious; it is from that language we must learn the import of the phrases, and even sometimes of particular words, which otherwise would often prove unintelligible.
§ 5. The fourth difficulty which the interpreter of the Bible has to encounter, arises from the nature of the prophetic style, a style highly figurative, or, as some critics have thought proper to denominate it, symbolical. The symbolic or typical is, in my apprehension, very much akin to what may be called the allegoric style. There is, however, this differ