Friday, April 3, 2009
Lost in Translation
Recently there was a minor flap about the DVD subtitles used for "Let the Right One In" a Swedish Vampire movie. The movie is about the friendship between Oskar and Eli, a two hundred year old vampire child. Apparently the producers changed the subtitles from the original release for the DVD essentially dumbing down a more lyrical translation for a broader audience.
Reading about this controversy reminded me of issue of translation. As one of my professors in Rabbinic school liked to say, "all translations are interpretation." What we tend to forget whenever reading a translation of any text, but especially canonical literature like the Hebrew Bible, is somewhere along the line, an editor or editors made decisions about how to interpret words, phrases, and ideas. For the most part, these interpretations tend to be fairly innocuous, however, on occasion, it can be theologically significant, like the decision to translate a word as 'virgin' as instead of 'young woman.' All the more reason why it is worthwhile to learn more than one language. And if this is not possible, to at least look at multiple translations to see if and where there is consensus and disagreement.
This is in part what I find so wonderful about the Jewish approach. We may begin with the Bible, but only as a means of a broader sacred conversation. How we interpret the literature is as important as what is contained within its words. We may just need the help of a few lexicons to guide us along the way. For how we choose to translate and interpret our sacred writings really says more about us than it does about Scripture.
In Memory of Grandpa Ray