Friday, February 04, 2011

The NAB: Why It's Better to Stay Literal When Possible

Adding on to Michael's comments below on the NAB, I want to point out my personal pet peeve with the translation.

The RSVCE, 2nd ed., provides a fairly literal translation of Psalm 8:4-6:

What is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him little less than the angels,
and you have crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands,
and have put all things under your feet.
The NAB, however, renders v. 4:
What are humans that you are mindful of them,
Mere mortals that you care for them?
Rendering the Hebrew "son of man" as "mere mortals" has multiple difficulties--moving from singular to plural, introducing the concept of "mere," and guessing that the sacred author's intention was to stress the mortality of humanity as the salient issue in his poem.

But most of all, based on Psalm 8:4-6, Daniel 7:13, and other texts, the title "Son of Man" acquired a messianic sense in Second Temple Judaism (i.e. the Judaism of the New Testament). The "Son of Man" in some pseudepigraphal Second Temple documents, like 1 Enoch, is a supernatural savior figure, not a "mere mortal"!

This sheds light on what Jesus meant when he called himself "The Son of Man." He was not claiming to be mortal. He was claiming to be the one who has "dominion over all the works of [God's] hands", and who has "all things under his feet" (see Ephesians 2:22!). That Jesus meant his self-identification as "Son of Man" messianically is clear in his testimony before the Sanhedrin (Matt 26:54).

My point is, the NAB translation obscures the messianic reading of Psalm 8 and removes the verbal connection with Daniel 7 and Jesus' preferred form of self-identification. The intertextual dynamics of Scripture are obfuscated.

Having said that, let me also state that I appreciate the NAB translation of the Gospel of John, which highlights the "I AM" statements of Jesus. On the "I AM's" of John, the shoe is on the other foot: the various forms of the RSV add in too many words in English, obscuring the literal sense of the Greek.


Timothy said...

Of course the Psalms in the upcoming NABRE are revised, so hopefully they will restore 'son of man' to Psalm 8. A representative from the USCCB has said that the re-revised Psalms in the NABRE follow Liturgiam Authenticam.

John Bergsma said...

That's good. I'm sure a lot of people spent a great deal of effort on the NAB, so I don't like to be too critical. But in this instance, the translation really should be fixed.

R. E. Aguirre. said...

It should also be helpful to point out that the Greek manuscripts which underlie the NAB and in consequence textual critical decisions are far superior to that of the RSV(CE). For that reason alone I would prefer the NAB.

R. E. Aguirre
Regula Fide Blog

Moonshadow said...

I agree with R. E. Aguirre on the underlying texts.

Check the NAB's note on verse 2: "Drawn a defense: some prefer the Septuagint's 'fashioned praise,' which is quoted in Matthew 21:16." The NIV (1984) follows the LXX and footnotes the Hebrew! (Somewhat corrected in NIV 2010 ed., "praise" is retained).

Edmund Clowney has noted that "Christ is the singer of the Psalms" but Psalm 8 is about the unfathomable gulf between Creator and creature, which God ultimately bridges in Christ. Unlike Daniel 7:13, in the parallelism of Hebrew poetry, "man" and "son of man" are synonymous.

I will appreciate if the psalms continue to be numbered according to the Hebrew in the NABRE. What other English translations have historically done to OT chapters and verses is absurd.

John Bergsma said...

Such a shame that the author of Hebrews (2:5-9) and St. Paul (Eph 1:22) didn't understand that Psalm 8 doesn't apply to Christ!

I'm glad that the NAB's Greek texts are superior to the RSV's. Maybe for the Old Testament, the NAB is translating the LXX instead of the MT? Is that the implication?