Thursday, February 12, 2015


Sometimes intense interest does not translate into talent.  For example, I love languages, despite only able to speak one.  Yes, four years of high school and college Spanish has given me the lifelong ability to translate simple sentences, but if we were in Spain and you asked me to order lunch or ask directions, I’d be at a complete loss.

Undoubtedly my love for languages enkindled my overwhelming fascination with Tolkien (or vice versa), the undisputed master of the Created Speak.  To this day I enjoy perusing the extensive philological appendices Professor Tolkien included in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, and could easily spend an hour following numerous trails of words with nary a tick of the clock noticed.

But my fascination peaks with the Bible.  I have a Latin Bible and a French New Testament.  The Latin Bible I could struggle through and get the gist of a passage, provided I recognized the context.  French is just unknowable to me since I do not have an inner affinity for speaking the Gallic tongue.  (I bought the bible française to help me bone up for my trip to Paris three years ago, on the small chance that I might blossom into a transplanted Frenchman.  I didn’t work.)

The Bible was written in Hebrew and Aramaic (the Old Testament) and Greek (the New Testament).  The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the original Hebrew / Aramaic Old Testament, and Saint Jerome’s Vulgate is the fourth-century Latin translation of the entire Bible.  About a thousand years later the Bible sprouted up and branched out along the Linguistic Tree, and now there are – I’ve read – almost 2,300 translations of the Good Book.  Wonder if Klingon and Sindarin are among them …

All that being said, I am at heart a trivia buff.  One recent piece of trivia to pull at me was: How many Aramaic words remain in untranslated form in the Bible?

In the New Testament, it appears there are five Aramaic phrases:

Abba – “Father” (used by Jesus in numerous places)

Talitha Cumi – “Little girl, I say to you, arise” (Mark 5:41)

Ephphatha – “Be opened” (Mark 7:34)

Marana tha – “Our Lord, Come!” (1 Corinthians 16:22)

Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani – “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46)

In the Old Testament, it seems that Aramaic pops up in four spots –

Two short passages – Genesis 31:47 and Jeremiah 10:11

And two much longer ones – Daniel 2:4 to 7:8 and Ezra 4:8 to 6:18, 7:12-26

I find stuff like this endlessly fascinating …


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