Barry Newman's Blog

March 21, 2010

“The Heart” in the Old Testament (part XΙ)

Filed under: The Heart — barrynewman @ 9:37 pm

Translations (cont.)

Not uncommonly, where there were the same or very similar linguistic contexts, the translators sometimes used quite different English words, albeit with the same general meaning.  This is particularly noteworthy in the NIV.  For example “to say in the heart” is translated: “to realise’, to say to oneself”, “to think” or “to say in the heart”.  “Heart of the seas” is sometimes translated: “high seas” but on other occasions: “heart of the seas”.  Sometimes an unnecessary word seems to be added, for example where the NIV translates “heart” with “heart and soul” (1 Samuel 14:7).  Both the NIV and the ESV translate “kidneys and heart” with “heart and mind” (Psalm 26:2), seemingly equating the English word “heart” with the Hebrew word for “kidneys” and the English word “mind” with the Hebrew word for “heart”.  The one-off translation of “spirit” for “heart” in the NIV (2 Kings 5:26) is remarkable. 

Interesting turns of phrase abound in the handling of various Hebrew expressions.  For example: “a heart and a heart” of 1 Chronicles 12: 33 is translated “double heart” (KJV), “undivided loyalty” (NIV) and “singleness of purpose” (ESV).  The same expression found in Psalm 12:2 but in a negative context, is translated “double heart” (KJV and ESV) but “deception” (NIV). 

Of difficulty for the English reader are those texts where “heart” or a derivative appears in the translation but where the corresponding Hebrew is neither lev or levav or a derivative.  This occurs a number of times in the KJV.  The relatively large number of times where lev or levav or a derivative is translated “mind” or one of its derivative: 15 (KJV) and 46 (NIV and ESV each), is supportive of the thesis that they have as a legitimate important referent what we might describe as mental functions.  However, it is not the case that whenever we find “mind” in a translation that lev or levav is the Hebrew word on which it is based.  A notable example of this are the translations offered for Isaiah 26: 3.  In part, the translations are: “in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee” (KJV), “in perfect peace, him whose mind is steadfast” (NIV) and “in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you” (ESV).  Though each translation refers to “mind”, the Hebrew word, occurring only a few times in the Old Testament, is found, for example, in Genesis 6:5 where the KJV renders it “imagination” (of the thoughts of the heart), the NIV “inclinations” (of the thoughts of the heart) and the ESV “intention” (of the thoughts of the heart).  Its usage seems to imply, in these instances, its association with specific elements of the operation of the mind, rather than simply the mind.  The popularity of the Isaiah text probably operates against perhaps a more helpful translation, involving a word such as “purposes”, being made.

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