Sunday, April 06, 2014

Is it Important to Pronounce Biblical Names "Authentically"?

Some people point out that the way we pronounce "Jehovah" and "Jesus" today are definitely not the way that the names were pronounced at the time the Pentateuch and Gospels were written.  For one thing, pronouncing the names with a hard J sound at the beginning represents the evolution of English/French.  Similarly, pronouncing "Jesus" with an "H" sound at the beginning represents the evolution of Spanish.

So, in some sense, we are pronouncing the words "wrong," in the sense that we are not pronouncing them as they were originally pronounced.  But does or should that matter?  With respect to Dominic Bnonn Tennant (who provides three nice reasons opposite to mine), the answer is no.

After all, the New Testament itself does not provide Greek transliterations that would lead to identical pronunciations of the Hebrew proper names that are being referenced.  Instead, the New Testament generally applies the same kinds of transliteration concepts that we see in the ancient Greek translations of the Old Testament.

Thus, for example, the name "Jehovah," is not even transliterated, but merely replaced by κύριος (kurios).  Likewise, the name "Jesus" is actually a transliteration for the same Hebrew name we transliterate in the Old Testament as "Joshua."

That first example is also the rebuttal to one of DBT's "particularly egregious examples."  DBT argues:
The fact that we inherited a silly Jewish superstition that YHWH should be pronounced “Adonai” (lord) in Hebrew, because to say the actual name of God amounted to blasphemy, is not a good reason to render it “LORD” in English. 
The problem with that argument is that we seem to have inherited it from the Holy Spirit who inspired the New Testament, in which the quotations of the Old Testament do not transliterate YHWH.  I'm not saying that transliteration is forbidden - but I think calling it a "silly Jewish superstition" seems extreme.

-TurretinFan

3 comments:

SeekTruthFromFacts said...

There are two kinds of names in the Bible. Some of them belong to your friend, and they don't care if you get it wrong the first few times. They'll help you get it right later. Some of them belong to people you'll never meet, so you don't need to worry about them. Problem solved!

Eric J Dolce said...

This is a very helpful post considering Jehovah's Witness and the various strands of "Black Israelite" adherents. Thanks!

Bruce Axtens said...

The challenge of authentically reproducing the pronunciation of Bible names is keenly felt by Bible translators.

For one Australian aboriginal language (I don't recall whether it's Pitjantjatjara or Nyangatjatjara), you just can't say "Andrew". First of all, sounds are represented phonetically. Next, the language doesn't have 'd' so you have to substitute 't'. Then, the consonant cluster 'tr' doesn't exist and has to be separated by a vowel. Then, a word cannot start with a vowel, so a consonant must be prepended. Finally, all male names end in '-nya'. Thus: andrew -> andru -> antru -> antiru -> yantiru -> yantirunya.