Isaiah 30:1, A Verse That Needs a Literal Translation

Isaiah 30:1 reads,

“Woe, rebellious sons, utterance of Yahweh, who make a plan, but not from me, who pour out a libation [i.e., make an alliance], but not of my Spirit, so as to add sin to sin.”

In response to the threats they face, rather than trusting Yahweh and relying on the guidance of his Spirit, Israel resorts to her own schemes, striking deals with other nations that involve pouring out libations to the gods those nations worship.

If the words “who pour out a libation” are done with the dynamic equivalent “make an alliance,” it is much harder for the reader who only has English to understand the problem. But if the words “who pour out a libation” are included, readers are tipped off to the fact that the alliance was made possible by Israel’s willingness to engage in idolatry.

2 Responses to Isaiah 30:1, A Verse That Needs a Literal Translation

  1. Brent Hobbs July 8, 2011 at 9:51 am #

    Maybe the post title should be “A verse that needs a literal translation [and an explanatory comment].” 🙂

    Kidding aside, I see your point. But the problem is you lose something either way. A literal translation won’t be understood by most readers. A dynamic translation loses important textual connections to other parts of Scripture.

    Part of the question is the intended audience for the translation and are they likely to know what “pour out libations” means or will they just read over it as Biblish? I’m convinced there’s no right or wrong answer here. Which is better? It depends.

  2. G. A. Dietrich July 20, 2011 at 8:37 pm #

    FWIW I totally agree with Brent on this one. Before I read his comment I was thinking the same as what he wrote. If the the goal in translation is to give the meaning of the text then I think “libation” fails because that is not a vocabulary word typically used in the course of normal English.

    I believe it difficult either dynamically or formally.

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