Can Dostoevsky’s Translator Weigh in on Bible Translation?

Mirra Ginsburg translated Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, including a three page meditation “On the Translation.” I would love to transcribe the entirety of these three pages, but won’t take the time to do so. This paragraph (p. xxviii) gets at the heart of what I want to emphasize–I put the final sentence in bold for emphasis:

“As always, however, translation is a struggle with impossibility, and there are losses that must be accepted as inevitable. Thus, the Russian ‘deyateli,’ which is rendered here as ‘men of action.’ The literal meaning of the word is ‘doer,’ and in Russian it is used to denote a ‘leading figure’ active in a given field–politics, the arts, science–with the field usually specified. To the Russian reader it is entirely clear that Dostoevsky’s (or his character’s, for it is sometimes difficult to disentangle the author’s voice from the narrator’s) mockery of the obtuse, limited ‘doers’ or ‘men of action’ (field unspecified) is aimed primarily at the liberals, the ‘public citizens,’ the ‘do-gooders’ of his time. This, alas, disappears in translation, unless the translator arrogates to himself the entirely inadmissable right to interpolate.

See also Earle Ellis’s objections to dynamic equivalence translation philosophy:

To my mind the ‘dynamic equivalence’ approach to biblical translation has serious deficiencies.

(1) It rejects the verbal aspect of biblical inspiration.

(2) It gives to the translator the role that rightly belongs to the preacher, commentator and Christian reader.

(3) It assumes that the present-day translator knows what contemporary words, idioms and paraphrases are equivalent to the prophets’ and apostles’ wording.

(4) It advocates conforming biblical language and concepts to the modern culture rather than conforming the modern culture to biblical language and concepts.

(5) It appears to discard the Protestant principle that Christian laity should have full access to the Word of God written without interposition of clergy or of paraphrastic veils.

Patrick Schreiner has posted the article where Ellis discusses these points: E. Earle Ellis, “Dynamic Equivalence Theory, Feminist Ideology and Three Recent Bible Translations,” Expository Times 115 (2003): 7–12.

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