‘To Take Up a Parable’: The History of Translating a Biblical Idiom

In: Vetus Testamentum
Jacqueline Vayntrub Brandeis University

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The following study examines the history of the translation of a Biblical Hebrew phrase in Greek, Aramaic, and Latin—a phrase which shaped the English idiom “to take up a parable, proverb, or song.” As early as Greek and Aramaic Bible translations, the phrase NŚʾ mɔšɔl was translated word-for-word in the target language, even though the verb used in the target language did not previously attest the specific sense of “speech performance.” This same translational strategy persists in modern translations of this idiom, preventing scholars from understanding the idiom as it was used by biblical authors. The study compares the Biblical Hebrew phrase to a similar Ugaritic phrase, showing how it should be understood to express the voicing of speech rather than the initiating of speech. The study concludes by offering an English translation which more closely reflects the metaphor for voice-activation employed by the Biblical Hebrew phrase.

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