For Martin Luther
“It has been charged by enemies…that the text has been modified and even falsified, which has…shocked many simple Christians” (2)
In Luther’s German the word simple is rendered as ‘einfaltig(er)’, which based on my perusals does not appear to be a word in common usage any longer. A bit of research indicates that it does mean simple but it also may have more religious connotation, given that the term for the christian concept of the Holy Trinity appears to be ‘Dreifaltigkeit’. In this way ‘einfaltig’ is perhaps (or perhaps not) much richer in the original text than as rendered here in English.
“…and so they are stealing my language from me…” (3)
Luther’s criticism of the papists ignorance of German seems to ground his rejection of their opinions on his work. There is something ironic, or at least circular in this: while they scold him poorly translating or poorly understanding the Latin, he claims they do not understand German well enough to know whether his translation is good or bad.
“No one is forbidden to do it better!” (4)
This seems like an abdication for any responsibility, ethical or otherwise, on the part of the translator. He can err without consequence, because others can fix it if they have a problem with it. I find this deeply unsatisfying.
*Note: It appears that the quotes in English are absent in the German. As far as I can recall, German uses quotation marks generally (or sometimes chevron symbols << >>) similarly to English. Here they aren’t really direct quotes but instead sayings or similar. Wonder if this is a feature of German now or just in this time. Of course, the original text would have been in a much different type face so not exactly sure how that might affect things.
(7) Repetition of “I”. We certainly don’t have the problem of the invisible translator here. Makes theological or linguistic arguments throughout but often grounds his case on his own skill or on his critics’ incompetence.
(9) “The reader can then run his eyes over three or four pages without stumbling once, never knowing what rocks and clods had once lain…”
Certainly not a translation that is interested in the foreign.
(11) “The literal Latin is a great obstacle to speaking good German.”
One wonders if Luther considers the possibility that accurate theological translation is possibly an obstacle to ‘speaking good German’ (see his later point about verseigelt vs. gezeichnet where he answers this concern)
(12-20) Gives a number of examples that justify the need for non-literal translation. There is however a conflation of language and theology, with Luther seeming to dismiss the cult of Mary as a matter of bad original understanding of the text. Given how fundamental this point is (likewise with the ‘faith alone’ point) it is interesting how Luther often seems to act as though it is a linguistic and not theological debate.
(22) discussion of the pantheistic nature of the saints. Not sure if this is theological question or if he is saying that this misapplied theology is part of a mistranslation or misreading that he has corrected in his German version.
(27) The English translation renders the Latin “Ex Eremo Octaua” as “The Wilderness”. Given the number of times German words are retained in the text, this seems an odd choice.
King James Preface
(3) “…we subject ourselves to everyone’s censure…”
This is similar to some of the points that Luther makes about the willingness people have to critique and insult even when they do not understand.
(4) “…yea, it doth specially belong unto [kings], to have care of religion…”
Seems important to keep in mind that the preface is about translation and the issues attached to it, but it also serves as a justification for the king’s involvement in religion and for the authority he has even in the face of papist criticisms.
(5) “…the author being God…”
Almost as if to suggest that the original transcription is itself a translation.
(6) The discussion of Greek and Hebrew and when and why they were used seems a very historically grounded account. It acknowledges (though with a different vocabulary) this historical contingency of which languages ended up being used. In all it highlights a very practical approach to the issue.
(11) “… the very meanest translation of the Bible in English…containeth the Word of God, nay, is the Word of God…”
The ‘true’ meaning of the text exists in somewhere other than the words themselves and even a poor or imperfect translation is not capable of sullying the true divinity of the Bible.
(12-13) Historical account of various translations and changes made to them. A surprisingly historical and human accounting of scripture that decouples the Word of God from its particular material and linguistic manifestations.
(15) Accounting of the need for diversity of interpretations and alternatives that are included in the margins. Very interesting.
(16) “…use on precisely when we may use another no less fit as commodiously…”
Shades of Derrida
(17) “but we desire that the Scripture may speak like itself”
The view of translation here views it as almost recovering and then re-rendering some essential ‘text’ that is not contained in either language (source or target)