Since much of my time is spent grappling with issues of German translation, I have decided that it might be helpful to me to start a blog on this topic, with the hope that it might also prove useful to others who are seeking to read or translate German New Testament scholarship. It is difficult for me to predict the exact shape that it might take, but I suspect that this blog will focus on the translation of various German words, phrases, and sentences. And perhaps it will sometimes include sentences concerning which I am badly lost or stuck between multiple options. For this initial post, I want to comment briefly on the expression “Es geht um” and the translation of “Wissenschaft/wissenschaftlich“.
I often find it difficult to translate the phrase Es geht um, as in Es geht um die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft. Options that I have adopted include “The concern is with New Testament scholarship”, “It is a matter of New Testament scholarship”, and “What is at issue is New Testament scholarship”. Often, however, I adopt the translation “We are dealing with New Testament scholarship”, which is less close to the German wording but seems to read a bit better in many contexts. And sometimes I basically drop the idiom and simply translate: “This is New Testament scholarship” if other options seem too cumbersome or unnecessary.
In my view, the translation of “Wissenschaft/wissenschaft” is much more difficult. Most translators render Wissenschaft and wissenschaftlich with “scholarship” and “scholarly”. I think there is much to be said for this solution, since it conveys with reasonable accuracy the force of the German term and since it accords especially well with the target language. Hence, I have also adopted this solution in my forthcoming (2014) translation (with Brian Pounds) of Jens Schröter’s book Jesus of Nazareth: Jew from Galilee—Savior of the World, with the rationale that this translation probably works best for the broad audience that is intended. For my 2013 translation of Schröter’s book From Jesus to the New Testament, however, I chose to translate these terms as “science” and “scientific” for two reasons. First, I think that the translation “scholarship/scholarly” is less loaded or strong than the German term Wissenschaft, and secondly I think the common use of Wissenschaft for a wide range of disciples, such as Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft, Geschichtswissenschaft, Literaturwissenschaft, Naturwissenschaften, etc. conveys a claim to a commonality or similarity among different disciplines that is worth retaining in a multidisciplinary work such as From Jesus to the New Testament. On the one hand, I can understand well that others may not agree with this decision, since the translation “science/scientific” is somewhat awkward and potentially misleading from the perspective of the target language. On the other hand, I think one of the most important principles of translation is that it is not usually a choice between a perfect translation and a bad translation but between multiple options that excel and fall short in different ways, and in my judgment the balance favored “science” over “scholarship” in this case. For further discussion of this point, see here.
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German Mondays: Thank you for making it to the end of this blog post! In an effort to provide a sense of regularity and predictability for this blog’s readership, I plan on writing a new post each Monday. So hopefully I will ‘see’ you again in a week’s time. Best, Wayne.