Photo Prayer 2022-19 -- Unambiguous Translators

Translators eschew ambiguity. They take what is written in a foreign language and make it clear and precise even when the original is not. That is my conclusion after finding such disparate translations of Isaiah 35:8. The prophet says fools on the Way of Holiness will not get lost. Since I am often a fool, I like that translation. It makes the Way of Holiness appealing. But in other translations, the prophet says that fools will not be allowed onto that holy highway. Which is it? The verse itself must be ambiguous to produce such different translations, but translators, unlike poets, avoid ambiguity, losing the poetry. The commentary of Matthew Henry ends my frustration with these dueling translations. “Do we love God?” he asks. “Let us try ourselves by such plain questions, rather than spend time on things that may be curious and amusing, but are unprofitable.”

Click here to read the full essay.

Photo of Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Delaware.
Photo copyright 2020; text, 2022 by Danny N. Schweers.
Those who comment get to see all the comments and the author’s responses.

You can subscribe to these as they are created, and comment. Click here to learn more.


Burley wrote:
Danny: How true: Whenever I hear a joke translated from a foreign language, I never understand the humor and don’t get the punchline.

John wrote:
I spent a long time on this highway with you this morning, even after clicking on, and reading, the full essay. I looked through my stack of resources but they were not very helpful.* I ended up with you, preferring the King James but reading it mostly as an encouragement to be one of the “wayfarers”—which I take to mean anyone who purposely get on the highway, i.e., any “seeker,” whether they are often foolish (like you or me) or not. One synonym for wayfarer is “wanderer.” So there is the ambiguity for us foolish wanderers among the rest of the wayfarers of being on the highway but wandering around (perhaps foolishly) while on it. Some of that wandering will, for me at least, often be “foolish” but I’m comforted that Isaiah seems to be telling me not to worry about that—just keep going, and wandering along—but with some sense of still being on the highway and trying perhaps not to wander too far.
*One source says that scholars debate whether Chapters 32-35 were written by the “actual” Isaiah or by a later author the critics call “Second Isaiah”. But that Source (The Dartmouth Bible) includes them with the rest of “First Isaiah.” So, there’s a further ambiguity! [DANNY REPLIED: The Dartmouth Bible is not one commonly listed on-line, probably because it is a rare abridgment of the King James Bible with a history of how the Bible was put together.]

Ellen wrote:
Fantastic photo!

Peter wrote:
This one actually brought tears to my eyes! Thanks Danny.

I like the tack W.S. Merwin takes in translating. He often reads all the translations of a poem he can find and then writes his own translation, trying to instill poetry back into words. If I were to do that with Isaiah 35:8, here is what I would write, preserving the ambiguity: “A road shall be there called the Holy Highway. The unjustified shall not travel on it; it shall be for those who seek God. No one traveling there shall go astray. Can a fool find it?”

The author would love to see your comment. (Click here.)