Wednesday, May 03, 2006

When a goat isn't a goat: a Torah translation issue

Leviticus 17:7

ולא יזבחו עוד את זבחיהם לשעירים אשר הם זונים אחריהם חוקת עולם תהיה זאת להם לדורותם
Several English translations:

JPS 1917: And they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices unto the satyrs, after whom they go astray. This shall be a statute for ever unto them throughout their generations.

Aryeh Kaplan's The Living Torah: The Israelites will then stop sacrificing to the demons who [continue to] tempt them. This shall be an eternal law for them for all generations.

Hertz Chumash (translation is the 1917 JPS, so I will reproduce the comment): satyrs. lit. 'goats.' They were deemed to be sylvan gods or demons who inhabited waste places (Isa. XIII, 21 ; XXXIV, 14).

Artscroll Stone Chumash: They shall no longer slaughter their offerings to the demons after whom they stray; this shall be an eternal decree to them for their generations.

Everett Fox: that they may slaughter no longer their slaughter-offerings to the hairy (goat-demons) after whom they go whoring. A law for the ages shall this be for them, throughout their generations.

Robert Alter: And they shall no longer sacrifice their sacrifices to the goat-demons after which they go whoring. An everlasting statute shall this be for them for their generations.

Message Bible (written in conversational English): They must no longer offer their sacrifices to goat-demons--a kind of religious orgy. This is a perpetual decree down through the generations.

Putting aside for the moment the issue of how we know that "לשעירים" in this context translates according to the consensus as given here, this word highlights an important translation issue: without knowing context, anything about what the Torah is inveighing against, how could one translate that word as anything but "to the goats," which of course would leave us with little insight as to what the passuk is getting at.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts with Thumbnails