Two Spanish Book Notices

I. I recently picked up a most interesting volume published by Broadman & Holman: the Biblia Peshitta en Español: Traducción de los Antiguos Manuscritos Arameos. Even though (contrary to the claim in the promotional material) this is not “the first formal attempt to translate th[e]se manuscripts into Spanish” (there exists an earlier 20th century Spanish translation of the Aramaic Peshitta, that by Hernández and Trujillo), the B&H edition is still a very welcome addition to the ever increasing count of Biblical translations into Spanish. It is striking that this is not a reference (i.e., bookshelf) edition produced for an exclusively academic audience, but it is quite evidently meant for actual use by Bible readers and perhaps even churches. For a start, one notes that it is not a slavishly literal translation meant to give us the original Aramaic in Spanish trappings, but rather it strives to be an accurate, idiomatic translation, an endeavor in which it succeeds to a remarkable degree. According to the front matter of this edition (which includes an able and informative introduction to the Syriac Bible for the uninitiated), B&H’s “optimal equivalence” translation philosophy is followed throughout; if this is what “optimal equivalence” looks like, I should like to see much more of it. There are cross-references listed on nearly every page of the text, as well as a number of clear and succinct philological and interpretive notes addressing both textual and translational issues. Further, there is an invaluable 22-page annotated table appended to the volume which notes the chief differences between this translation of the Syriac text of the Peshitta and the “usual translation from Hebrew and Greek,” but we are not told which Spanish translation(s) they reference throughout. Also appended are helpful relations of common biblical words and names as they appear in this translation along with their Aramaic equivalents and short definitionsfor all practical purposes, a short dictionary of the Aramaic Bible.

Rather disappointing (though not of course surprising, given the source) is the fact that only the protocanonical books of the Old Testament are included. An edition of this type including the full Syrian canon would be a fantastic accomplishment, but needless to say, the wise should not hold their breath. This edition (along with, I believe, all other B&H Bibles) also prints Christ’s words in red. To quote Fr Ephrem Lash once again on this point, “I must protest most vigorously against the wholly unorthodox inverted Arianism of the typography whereby the words of Christ are printed in salmon pink, while his heavenly Father has to be content with mere black along with Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate.” Also printed in red are the “Messianic prophecies” of the Old Testament (not whole passages, naturally: only verses, and in some cases, even less than that; cf. Genesis 12:3). I’m quite unsure as to what advantage(s), if any, this crypto-Marcionite practice may present to the reader.

A peculiarity of this translation is that it uses the name “Yahweh” (and not “Yahveh,” which would be a more natural Spanish transcription) for the Tetragrammatonand this not only in the Old Testament, but even in the New (and, in the latter case, even outside quotations from the OT; cf. II Peter 3:9). According to the relation of names in the back, this is because the translators understand the Aramaic Marya to be a contraction of Mar Yah, that is, “Lord Yahweh.” I am told, however, that R. Payne Smith’s standard lexicon indicates no such roots for Marya; and, as I recall, Aramaist extraordinaire Sebastian Brock specifically notes that it is merely an emphatic form of mar. I wonder, then, at the appropriateness of the use of this idiosyncratic translation. As I understand the matter, the use of Marya in the Peshitta simply parallels that of the anarthrous Kyrios in the LXX as a replacement of the Tetragrammaton (and indeed, the standard replacement of Adonai for YHWH in Hebrew reading). And of course, it should be noted that failing to render Marya as “Lord” throughout the Old and New Testaments makes it exceedingly difficult to read the Peshitta as the foundational text of the Syriac Patristic tradition, which no less less than the Greek, relies on this use of “Lord” for YHWH in the Old Testament to read it christologically.

In spite of the limitations and problems listed above, this new translation of the Peshitta into Spanish (the only one, in fact, readily available in print) remains a valuable contribution to the advancement of Biblical knowledge in the Spanish speaking world, and for this we are greatly in the translators’ and the publishers’ debt.

II. Have you ever wondered about what kinds of projects the infallible Moisés Silva is up to from his retirement in Litchfield, MI? I, for one, often lie awake at night pondering this question. Well, during a recent trip to the local office of the United Bible Societies, I came across a copy of Un Comentario Textual al Nuevo Testamento Griego (shown to the left), a Spanish translation of the second edition of the late Bruce Metzger’s Textual Commentary by Alfredo Tepox and, you guessed it, Moisés Silva. This volume has been published by the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, and therefore should be available through the United Bibles Societies anywhere around the globe. This is yet another important addition to the body of technical literature in biblical studies available in Spanish, and will surely be greeted with enthusiasm by both scholars and students alike. While I cannot comment on the quality of the translation as I didn’t acquire a copy (being that I have both the first and second editions of Metzger’s Textual Commentary already sitting on my shelf), readers of this blog are well aware that I haven’t yet met a project of Moisés Silva’s that I didn’t like, and so might suppose (rightly or wrongly) what my assessment would be! But of course, it may be that in a joint project such as this we might encounter a translated text of uneven quality; in that case, we would have recourse to the old rhyme regarding the Liddell and Scott lexicon, which goes:

Two men wrote a lexicon, Liddell and Scott;
Some parts were clever, but some parts were not.
Hear, all ye learned, and read me this riddle:
How the wrong parts wrote Scott, and the right parts wrote Liddell.

Naturally, in that imagined scenario, the right parts of Spanish Textual Commentary would be Silva’s, which would make Tepox the culprit, in the end. But of course, I only jest: I have no reason to doubt that this is an excellent translation, and hope that it will prove eminently useful throughout the Spanish speaking world (and beyondI note that, so far, I have only been able to find it available for sale in German and Portuguese language websites).

3 responses to “Two Spanish Book Notices

  1. Good review. I remember in my “messianic days” the groups I was in touch with all claimed that the Peshitta version of the NT was superior precisely because of “marya” representing the tetragrammaton… Oh, and they all believed it was truly the original version of the NT, and as proof of its antiquity they cited the fact that the traditional Peshitta doesn’t have the Revelation of St. John. They didn’t realize, I guess, that this was due to Revelation not being in the Eastern lectionary cycle.


  2. Yes, this was a most welcome review — I just pray that it’s the first of many more to come in the not-too-distant future. ;-)


  3. Zac> Thanks for clueing me in! I had no idea Messianic Judaizers and other like heretics put such great stock in these kinds of non-arguments. Translating Marya as Yahweh is an error, plain and simple! Too bad that an otherwise helpful and welcome publication is marred by such idiosyncratic “translational” decisions.

    Nick> Yeah, yeah, yeah, we all know I have to get to review writing. Thanks for keeping me accountable. ;-)


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