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The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies Provides a comprehensive survey of Biblical scholarship in a variety of disciplines.

Concluding Remarks

The examples presented in this article represent but a tiny fraction of the problems that face any interpreter or translator of the Hebrew Bible. It is as though he or she is constantly walking on shifting sands, with neither the text itself nor the meaning expressed by the elements of that text secure. And when a translator or interpreter finds that a passage, or a verse, or a clause, or a word is easy to work out, we must suspect that this is merely a reflection of the superficial nature of their knowledge of the language or of the culture and society that gave rise to the text. Even in modern language translation, a translator can never be fully sure of what the author meant, just as he or she can never control the meaning that a reader will attribute to the translation. On the one hand, language is essentially malleable, and one can do pretty much what one likes with words. An insult in one context can be a term of endearment in another. On the other hand, there is an essential discontinuity between what one person means and what another understands. Something intended by a speaker as a mild reproach can cause unintended pain to an interlocutor. If such insecurity and dissonance are inherent in intra-language spoken communication, how much more so when that language is abstracted from a specific social interaction and put down in writing. The written text, although purporting to express meaning, actually presents the reader with a bewildering array of uncertainties, many of which would have been resolved in face-to-face spoken communication. An author can control his or her words and can intend them to express such-and-such an idea, but he or she cannot control the meaningfulness (or lack of it) those words will have for any particular reader or listener, let alone for a translator, who, in effect, creates a new text, a kind of fantasia on the original. Just as the original text stands between its author and even those who share that author's culture (including language), beckoning and yet bewildering, so the translator stands between even this illusory communion of meaning and a new set of readers who may be far removed in time, place, and culture from the original author. For the readers of the translation, the only communion of meaning to which they can aspire is that which obtains between them and the translator. The original text, the society in which it was produced, and the intentions of its author are even further beyond their reach than they were for the translator. If a translator, albeit more by chance than on the basis of secure knowledge, does not distort too greatly the emotive impact and the information content intended by the original author, a good job may be said to have been done. However, if a reader is really interested in the meaning of the text, then a translation can only be a first stage, a set of signposts, often unwittingly misleading, which should be supplemented by detailed study of a variety of commentaries and other tools, which give access to the social, material, and conceptual worlds of the Bible, and, ideally, by study of the biblical languages themselves.

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