Are you a poet? You can translate… the Bible!


Michelangelo,_profeti,_Isaiah_01It may sound as a weird challenge, or even a prank, but it is actually true. We are speaking about one of the most complex, and most read, commented, printed, analysed book ever. So one might think that it wouldn’t be necessary to deal with it again, unless, of course, you want to debate the topic with theologians that maybe want to spend some time on distinguishing ancient Greek and Syrian Aramaic terms. Or unless the Church’s hierarchies haven’t decided for another official translation. But Joel Hoffman, Bible scholar and translator, thinks otherwise. His latest idea is to hire a poet or to set up a sort of a translation challenge among poets and translators, for a specific part of the Bible he finds hard to interpret. The father of the competition is deadly serious, indeed. As a translator and researcher, he spent most of his life reading and studying thoroughly the matter. As a Bible scholar, he knows the whole “book” pretty well, but in a specific case the translation seems not to satisfy the sophisticated and multiple layers he sees tangling in the writing. After many years, he decided that what is needed is a workaround: he thinks the book of Isaiah needs… a poet.

We all know that the Bible is composed by many books, written in different languages and genres. One of which is Isaiah’s, regarded as one of the five most important Jewish prophets. And here comes the trouble. Isaiah’s book is also known for its peculiar, visionary style. Isaiah, prophet of God, herald, politician, was in fact an inspired poet too, for he wrote what are believed to be some of the most beautiful poetry in the Bible, together with the Psalms, in which poetry, hymns and prose are mixed. Joel Hoffman tried unsuccessfully to translate that part, and now he requires a poet to transcribe what he calls the “exceedingly beautiful and moving” style of the original biblical author. That’s the purpose of the on-line “Isaiah Translation Challenge“, to bring different people with different backgrounds together with the purpose of presenting to the English readers a more accurate transcription of Isaiah’s book. To do so, Hoffman provides an extended explanation of the original text, for everybody to see and participate. We could mention that Hoffman previously wrote a book upon the same topic, “And God Said: How Translations Conceal the Bible’s Original Meaning“. To him, finding the most accurate terms is a lifelong problem. The inspiration for the challenge came from another book Hoffman has recently read, about the translation of old poetry from French to English. The book suggested that only a poet can actually translate a poet.

So, you have translation skills as well as a background in poetry? You feel inspired? Or are you simply interested in the Bible? You can contribute directly to the initiative for the translation of the most famous book in the world.

Further reading here

Matteo Poles

Social Media Specialist

Communication Trainee at TermCoord