I’ve started a new discipline in the last month or so. It’s based around my personal study of the Bible and my translation from Greek to English. Every morning, I copy down two verses from the Greek. I do a quick translation of those two verses. And then I spend time meditating on the meaning of the verses. It’s been a really meaningful way to study the Gospel of Mark. At this rate, it will take me a very long time to translate the whole book. But it feels sustainable and enjoyable. I hope to keep it up for a long time to come.
Anyway, I’ve recently started noticing that I’m getting freer, faster, and looser in my translation. And I think that’s a good thing. We’ve already got plenty of other excellent scholarly- and artistically-rendered translations to reference. So why should I be so worried about strict literalism?!?
Increasingly, I want immediacy and cultural contextualization for my Asp’s Suggested Paraphrase (ASP).
Translating Financial Figures
So, for example, I think the financial figure quoted in Mark 6:37 (literally “two-hundred denarii”) is an especially important translation. Even if it’s a constantly-evolving figure tied to inflation and minimum wage and other economic factors. So at this point in time, I decided to translate “two-hundred denarii” as “$20,000” (USD). I calculated this number by multiplying $15/hour x 8 hours in a work day x 200. That’s because most reference resources seem to suggest that one denarius was the equivalent of one day’s wages, back in Jesus’ time. My math actually amounted to $24K. However, I decided to knock that back to $20K because it was a round number and a more conservative number. (A significant portion of the USA still sets minimum wage below $15/hour). Still it felt like a big number that any “reasonable” disciple would balk at spending on a bunch of strangers.
Translating into the Midwestern American Dialect
Words like Mark 6:48’s “παρελθεῖν” present interesting challenges. The Greek can literally break down into “go past” or “come near.” And clearly, those are two very different things! The scholars are pretty united in their preference for the former (though I’m still surprised that it’s so unified, knowing what I know of the source language). I can see how there’s some indication of a contrast in verse 49, differentiating between Jesus’ original travel itinerary and the adaption of his plans based on the disciples’ reaction. Still, it’s a soft contrast. The article can sometimes be a complementary conjunction, not just a contrasting conjunction. Anyway, I decided to stick with the expert opinions. But I liked using the contemporary Midwestern American phrase “scoot past,” as a more unique ASP spin on the Greek.
When Literal Translation Feels Idiomatic
In refining this approach to translation, I notice there are some times when the most literal translation is actually the most immediate and culturally-contextualized. For example, Mark 6:50 describes an instance where the disciples were “shaken up by” the appearance of Jesus walking on the water. And even though most other English translations go for something like “terrified,” I think that the literal translation feels spot on for my current context. In Mark 6:51, the Greek text suggests that the disciples “lost their minds completely.” And that just feels so fresh and free — even though it’s super-literal. Isn’t that fun?!? Again these are surprisingly literal translations. But they feel like they could have been written in correspondence between two college students at Kent State University!
It may be awhile until I have anything further to share in the way of a completed translation of another book of the Bible. I’m only a third of the way through Mark! But I’m learning and growing along the way.