Thursday, March 18, 2010

Augustine on the Need to Know Hebrew and Greek

"The great remedy for ignorance . . . is knowledge of languages. And men who speak the Latin tongue, of whom are those I have undertaken to instruct, need two other languages for the knowledge of Scripture, Hebrew and Greek, that they may have recourse to the original texts if the endless diversity of the Latin translators throw them into doubt. Although, indeed, we often find Hebrew words untranslated in the books as for example, Amen, Halleluia, Racha, Hosanna, and others of the same kind. Some of these, although they could have been translated, have been preserved in their original form on account of the more sacred authority that attaches to it, as for example, Amen and Halleluia. Some of them, again, are said to be untranslatable into another tongue, of which the other two I have mentioned are examples. For in some languages there are words that cannot be translated into the idiom of another language. And this happens chiefly in the case of interjections, which are words that express rather an emotion of the mind than any part of a thought we have in our mind. And the two given above are said to be of this kind, Racha expressing the cry of an angry man, Hosanna that of a joyful man. But the knowledge of these languages is necessary, not for the sake of a few words like these which it is very easy to mark and to ask about, but, as has been said, on account of the diversities among translators. For the translations of the Scriptures from Hebrew into Greek can be counted, but the Latin translators are out of all number. For in the early days of the faith every man who happened to get his hands upon a Greek manuscript, and who thought he had any knowledge, were it ever so little, of the two languages, ventured upon the work of translation."
--St. Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana, II, 11

3 comments:

Peter Kirk said...

Sadly Augustine didn't live up to the standards he set himself, but based much of his theology on those dubious translations into Latin when they couldn't be justified by the Greek - as I discussed here.

Hebrew Scholar said...

Augustus gave very good advice here. The more Bible students reduce their dependency on a translation into Latin, English or any other language, and study directly from the original Hebrew Bible, the more they will drink from the fountain of life itself, rather than a muddy stream that man has polluted and trampled in. Better to read the words of the Holy Spirit directly, than suffer the slings and arrows of another outrageous translation.

dritsema said...

My understanding is that Augustine did not know Greek which became especially problematic in his understanding of Romans and Original Sin. Am I wrong about that?