Monday, February 23, 2009

The diligence of Julia E. Smith

"Julia E. Smith, when over seventy years of age, translated the whole Bible into English in one year and seven months, having no other helps than a Hebrew and Greek grammar and dictionary." So writes Edward James Young in The Value of the Study of Hebrew for a Minister, The Unitarian Review and Religious Magazine, May 1879.

The truth is less dramatic, but only a little less. In truth, it took Julia E. Smith (1792-1883?), of Glastonbury, Connecticut seven years, by her own account.

Since literalness was her stated goal, she felt confident in writing "It may be thought by the public in general, that I have great confidence in myself, in not conferring with the learned in so great a work, but as there is but one book in the Hebrew tongue, and I have defined it word for word, I do not see how anybody can know more about it than I do. It being a dead language no improvements can be made upon it." Naive, but wonderful in its simplicity! (She knew Greek and Latin from her education, but our concern here is not with her New Testament translation.)

In addition to literalness, it was apparently her understanding that tenses do not exist in biblical Hebrew--

"It is very possible that the readers of this book may think it strange that I have made such use of the tenses, going according to the Hebrew grammar. It seems that the original Hebrew had no regard to time, and that the Bible speaks for all ages. If I did not follow the tenses as they are, I myself should be the judge, and man must not be trusted with regard to the Word of God. I think the promiscuous use of the tenses shows that there must be something hidden, that we must search out, and not hold to the outward, for the " letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."

--and her translation reflects this in a most jarring manner:

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Read the fruit of her labors here.

Some samples of her unique method:

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