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1957 Nr. 8
Principles and problems of biblical translation 1957
Manson, Thomas W.
Theologische Literaturzeitung 1957 Nr. 8
Im vorliegenden neuen Bande ist uns übersetzt, vom Bengali
über das Englische ins Deutsche, was M., mit vollem Namen
Mahendra Nath Gupta (1854—1932), ab 1882 in Gesprächen
mit Ramakrishna erlebt hat (Ramakrishna starb 18 86).
M, der Verfasser, war Rektor einer der größten Privatschulen
Kalkuttas. Das Vorwort unterrichtet den Leser darüber, daß dieses
vorliegende Buch ein Auszug ist aus einem 1100 Seiten umfassenden
Buch „The Go6pel of Sri Ramakrishna", das bisher noch
nicht ins Deutsche übertragen worden ist. Ramakrishnas Geist
leitet die nach ihm genannte Ramakrishna-Mission, einen Hindu-
Mönchsorden, der die Arbeitsweise der christlichen Missionen
nachahmt, um die Hindu bei ihrem Väterglauben zu erhalten.
Schon vor dem letzten Kriege hatte er eigene Sendboten in
Deutschland, in den großen Bädern. Rez. hat in Indien (1935 und
später) Berichte gelesen, wie diese Sendboten Deutschland als
reif für den Hinduismus in der Gestalt der Botschaft des Ramakrishna
halten. Wer mit diesen Dingen zu tun hat, braucht auch
Bücher wie das vorliegende. Da dem Rez. der englische Wortlaut
nicht vorliegt, hat er kritisch nichts anzumerken als das eine,
was für die meisten Bücher aus dem Osten gilt: wenn die Übersetzung
sich christlich klingender oder für uns christlich geprägter
Wörter bedient, so ist zu bedenken: es handelt sich um eine Religion
, welche die Göttlichkeit des Menschen verkündet und
keinen Versöhner braucht. Zu wünschen wäre, daß unsere Prediger
und Lehrer der christlichen Botschaft auch so bildhaft sprechen
könnten wie Ramakrishna.
Kiinzelsau Friso Mclzer
Schwarz, W.: Principles and Problems of Biblical Translation. Some
Reformation Controversies and their Background. Cambridge: Uni-
versity Press 1955. XIV, 225 S. 8°. 25 s.
No one who has not actually tried to make a translation
can know how difficult it is to make a good one, how impossible
to produce the perfect rendering. The task is least difficult, as
Dr. Johnson pointed out long ago, with scientific works. The
difficulties increase, but are still manageable, when we come to
piain narrative. They become insuperable with poetry; and much
of the Bible is poetry or highly poetic prose. The problems of
Bible translation are intensified by the fact that the Scriptures
are held to be of divine origin and to be the medium by which
divine revelation is conveyed to mankind. They are therefore of
vital importance to all men; and it is imperative that they should
be made available to all in terms which all can understand, and
which at the same time do not distort or misrepresent the original
mcaning. Among the Jews the problem of translation became
urgent as soon as a Targum became necessary, that is, as soon
as Hebrew ceased to be the Jewish vernacular. The questions
raised were discussed and decided by the Jewish authorities, who
laid down the rules to be followed in giving the Targum. So long
as the Targum was oral the problem of its validity and authenti-
city vis-ä-vis the original remained in suspense; but once the
Greek Targum of Alexandria obtained a separate existence as a
written document the question of its Status could not be evaded.
It is at this point that Dr. Schwarz tackles the problem. He
finds two attitudes to the LXX. One, which he calls the philolo-
gical, appears in the so-called Epistle of Aristeas: it stakes the
Claims of the Greek Version on the devout scholarship of the
translators, who have completed their task with perfect accuraey.
The other attitude, the 'inspirational', represented by Philo,
founds the authority of the LXX on the conviction that the
translators were directly inspired by God. They did not have to
search for the right rendering: it was given to them.
Dr. Schwarz goes on to show how history repeated itself in
the Western Church, with Augustine defending the LXX and Je-
rome appealing from the Greek to the Hebrew and relying on
sound scholarship for the discovery of the meaning. Dr. Schwarz
quotes from his preface to Job: 'One thing I know, I could trans-
late only what I had understood before'. Augustine, on the other
hand, insists that the LXX is an inspired translation: the version
supersedes the original; and it is an error on Jerome's part to go
back to the now obsolete Hebrew.
Nevertheless Jerome's translation prevaiied and became in
practice the Standard text of the Bible in the Western Church.
Consequently when the controversies of the fifth Century were
revived in the sixteenth, it was the Vulgate and not the LXX
that was the bene of contention. Dr. Schwarz distinguishes three
attitudes which he calls 'traditional', 'philological', and 'inspirational
The traditional approach, as Dr. Schwarz sees it, is one in
which biblical interpretatien and dogmatic theology go hand in
hand. The approved translation and the aeeepted dogma support
one another and nothing in either may be abandoned until it
has become completely indefensible. The accumulated mass of
detailed exegesis and the solid body of theology systematised on
the basis of the scholastic philosophy constitute a treasure guard-
ed by the Church; and at Trent the Roman Catholic Church
claims the s'ole right to possess and administer this spiritual
Against the traditionalists the attack is launched from two
sides. The first challenge is the philological, inspired and equip-
ped by Renaissance scholarship. As typical representatives Dr.
Schwarz chooses Reuchlin and Erasmus. He shows how scholars
of this calibre refused to be content with translations of Scrip-
ture and resolutely set themselves to study the Bible in the original
tongues. The difficulties that beset such an undertaking are
clearly brought out: the difficulty of obtaining adequate com-
mand of Hebrew and Greek, and the lack of editions of the texts.
One has the impression that Reuchlin's labours at the Hebrew
Old Testament were hardly less exaeting than those involved in
recent times in the deeipherment of Hittite or Ugaritic texts. In
the aecount of Erasmus' work on the New Testament the deve-
lopment of his views is shown in great detail; and his relations
to earlier workers, like Laurentius Valla, and ccnterr.poraries,
like Colet and More are fully treated. Special attention is paid to
his Latin version of the New Testament as well as to his editions
of the Greek text. His techniques of editing and translating are
fully discussed with frequent quotations from his ov/n writings
on these subjects. In this connexion it is to be noted that Dr.
Schwarz claims for Erasmus the distinetion of having been the
first to see the importance of early Patristic quotations as a check
on the readings of MSS. (p. 145).
These philological studies issued in the conclusion that
'the Vulgate must perish that the Bible may live' (p. 85). This
provoked strong reactions which were eventually crystallised in
the Tridentine decree on the authenticity of the Vulgate.
Meanwhile the inspirational view of Augustine had been
revived by Luther, whose personal experience naturally disposed
him to think of interpretation of Scripture in terms of i 11 u m i-
n a t i o, which in practice becomes a kind of inspiration. True
interpretation becomes in effect a renewal of revelation. Luther
v/as ready to allow the need for such work as was done by the
philologists: he was ready to make füll use of it. But though
from 1516 onwards he used Erasmus' Greek testament in prefe-
rence to the Vulgate, he was always aware that his own interpretation
went on where Erasmus' left off. 'Erasmus explaincd
the word in its context, Luther went on to discuss its religious
significance' (p. 190).
This study draws no final conclusions; and that is right.
The tensions in the fifth Century and the sixteenth are tensions
still in the twentieth, and still unresolved. Anyone who ess ys
the task of Bible translation today is at once made aware of this
fact; and it is one of the great merits of this book that, in set-
ting out the historical background of our present tasks and Problems
, it enables us to tackle them a little more effectively. The
author not only has an intelligent and sensitive appreciation of
the issues: he also has the skill to convey it to his readers; and
for this we must be very grateful.
One or two points of detail. P. 15, 1.22 'interces6ion' should
surely be 'intervention'. P. 165, 1. 10 read 'precedes'. P. 170, 1.7: the
translation would perhaps be clearer if we had either 'boasted myself
or 'prided myself ., . on being'. P. 200, 1. 23: is 'protagonist' the right
Mandiester T. W. Manson