Literal or Dynamic translations?

The nuances of translating is difficult. One cannot directly translate word for word from one language to another.

For example, Origen’s command of Greek presupposed one understands the neo-platonic background that he wrote from. If one produces the translation in a literal fashion, it leaves severe literary gaps that assumes the reader understands the antecedents and the presuppositions.

Many would argue that the readers who have interest in Origen do not have such a background, and the literal translation becomes incomprehensible. Perhaps many would conclude that he was a mystical writer because of the cognitive dissonance.

As I read the Talmud Babli Megillah and compare it to the English translation, this text is even more difficult to translate than Origen. It is written in a shorthand type method and assumes the reader understands the antecedents of every discussion. A literal translation would almost make this text incomprehensible.

A danger exists in going into dynamic translation mode where it becomes more of the translator’s opinion than actual integrity to the text. This has been a serious problem with English Patristic texts. For example the translation of Origen’s Against Celsus goes way beyond the Greek in the reference to tongues and convinces the reader of non-existent facts. Augustine is also a great example, where his works have been annotated and abridged so frequently, that it leads the English reader to think he had little to say about tongues. The reality is, snippets of it was simply cut-out in the editorial process. Not that it was a conspiracy against tongues, but it just simply didn’t have value at that time to be part of the publication.

I attended a seminar years ago where a Wycliffe Bible translator gave a lecture on the difficulty of transferring Biblical texts to a certain Inuit group. He used the example “The Lord is my Shepherd”. The Inuit group have no concept of shepherding, so the translator changed it altogether to something about hunting and fishing. The literal commitment to the text was lost.

Over time, I think such loose translations become a problem as the readers become more literate on the subject matter. It can even invite skepticism and erode trust on the whole translation.

The challenge I am facing here with the tongues project is how far do I go with the translations? There have been too many dynamic translations that are misleading and are simply the translators opinion. Yet, if the text isn’t put into a dynamic form many readers will be lost.

I would like to take my Origen translations and move them to the next step of making them more dynamic. Instead of being committed to the literal text, I would take the thought behind his writing and put that into English.

Yet, I don’t feel this is right. I think the readers of my works are intelligent enough to pick these things up.

What have other translators done to be committed to the text, but yet make it fluid enough for the average reader to understand?

I tend to like the English translation done on the Talmud Bavli Megillah. It does make every attempt to make it more readable, and has conventions that alert the reader to the fact that a portion or piece of translation is indeed an English interpolation.

The Patristic translations are not so consistent or as good an example. The translator(s) do not alert the reader to when the transition from literal to dynamic has occurred.

For now, the methodology espoused by the Talmudic translators is the direction I am going to head in when translating the Patristic writers.

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