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Why is it that in some versions of the bible, certain words - seemingly at random - are capitalized?
January 31, 2004 8:56 PM   Subscribe

Why is it that in some versions of the bible, certain words - seemingly at random - are capitalized? And I don't mean things like LORD and such; I'm talking about when it has words like "was" and "went" in all caps. I've never been able to find an explanation for this.
posted by interrobang to Religion & Philosophy (9 answers total)
 
The first printing used Roman type instead of italics to indicate text that had been supplied by the translators, or thought needful for English grammar but which was not present in the Greek or Hebrew. -- Wikipedia: King James Version
posted by dhartung at 9:27 PM on January 31, 2004


Ah! Thank you!
posted by interrobang at 9:31 PM on January 31, 2004


That's really surprising, dhartung...they admit to making stuff up? Isn't the meaning changed depending on the word used?
posted by amberglow at 9:46 PM on January 31, 2004


There are always going to be differences between even languages with similar grammars, let alone between English and ancient Hebrew and Greek (or Aramaic, which is also found in source texts and is generally believed to be the language Jesus spoke). The ethical choice, of course, is to mark such passages prominently.

But then many of us are "debtors" while others are "trespassers". Bible translation has many subtleties and land-mines:

The RSV translators translated the Old Testament from a Jewish viewpoint. Other views, including those of the New Testament, were not considered. This translation style led Conservative sections of the Church to accuse the RSV of tampering with some passages that can be read as prophecies relating to Jesus. There were some people who were so enraged over the RSV that they took their anger to unhealthy extremes. Among this behavior were the actions of a pastor in the Southern USA who burned a copy of the RSV and sent the ashes to Luther Weigle, the chair of the translation panel. Even others began to create unfounded charges that members of the translation panel were communists. At Joseph McCarthy's request, these charges were printed in the US Air Force training manual. -- Wikipedia: Revised Standard Version
posted by dhartung at 10:16 PM on January 31, 2004


You also have to consider that the Hebrew and Greek languages have about 3 times as many words as the English language. Some tweaking is thusly required. And even after then, its always handy to have a Hebrew/Greek Bible dictionary to get a better idea about the verses.
posted by rhapsodie at 11:42 PM on January 31, 2004


You also have to consider that the Hebrew and Greek languages have about 3 times as many words as the English language

I'm surprised by this. I had always thought english had borrowed many words from many other languages and would therefore have a larger than normal number of words.
posted by rdr at 12:23 AM on February 1, 2004


i would also like some evidence for that statement.
posted by rhyax at 1:32 AM on February 1, 2004


Metafilter - i would also like some evidence for that statement.


(polite skeptics amok)
posted by troutfishing at 2:20 AM on February 1, 2004


You also have to consider that the Hebrew and Greek languages have about 3 times as many words as the English language

The reverse is true: the English vocabulary is far greater than that of any language in history, thanks to massive borrowing and innovation. Compare the OED to the largest you can find for Hebrew and Greek and you'll quickly see the difference.

The first printing used Roman type instead of italics to indicate text that had been supplied by the translators

I confess I haven't seen a first printing, but in subsequent printings the reverse is true: italics are used for text supplied by the translators. This is necessary because Hebrew and Greek omit words that are necessary for English grammar; in Hebrew, you can just say "This my son," but in English you have to supply a verb: "This is my son." Since the translators believed the original text was literally the Word of God, not wanting to (as it were) put words in God's mouth they carefully marked the ones they'd added.
posted by languagehat at 3:40 PM on February 1, 2004


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