Reviews of

Dilemele Fidelităţii: Condiţionări culturale şi teologice în traducerea Bibliei

In Dan Batovici, Emanuel CONTAC, Logos, New Testament on May 6, 2014 at 11:19 pm


2014.5.11 | Emanuel Conţac. Dilemele Fidelităţii: Condiţionări culturale şi teologice în traducerea Bibliei. Cluj: Logos, 2011. 320 pp. ISBN: 9789738461093. Hardcover.

Review by Dan Batovici, KU Leuven

A fairly recent growing interest in biblical studies pertains to ideology, culture and translation, resulting in a series of studies on various more or less ideological biases in both antique and modern translations of the Bible. This volume offers a study on possible ideological biases in Romanian translations of the New Testament, from the 16th century to 2007. The title may be translated as Dilemmas of Fidelity: Cultural and Theological Conditioning in Bible Translations, and it is a revised version of Contac’s PhD thesis at the University of Bucharest (2010).

The study seeks to identify the reasons for which a translation can depart from the Biblical text (the infidelity suggested in the title) and is meant to provide a better established basis for further NT translations in Romanian; it that sense, it also attempts to propose translation solutions that might be acceptable to the various confessional bodies in Romania.

In a first introductory chapter, Contac offers a brief history of Romanian NT translations (only complete ones, so not including lectionaries) from the mid-17th century to 2007, grouped for convenience in two categories, ‘Eastern Orthodox editions’ and ‘Protestant editions.’ A lot of fresh and interesting data is provided, though sometimes, especially with regard to the latter group, narrated rather than assessed as sources. Given that a clear grouping criterion is lacking, the Protestant/Eastern Orthodox distribution is somewhat artificial, and it further lets aside actors of other confessions active in producing Romanian NT translations. The author is nonetheless successful in showing the importance of Protestant actors and the translations they produced or helped produce in an overwhelmingly Eastern Orthodox context.

In the bulk of the book, developed over five chapters, Contac discusses a selection of NT passages and topics regarded as potentially problematic in the translation process and as likely to illustrate cultural or theological bias. Here they are:

a) ‘cultural conditioning’ is sought in relation to the potentially (patriarchal) masculine rendering of Junia in Rom. 16:7.

b) ‘ecclesiastical conditioning’ concerns the translation of presbyteros, which in the Eastern Orthodox context tends to be rendered by the Romanian equivalent of ‘priest’.

c) ‘conditioning in relation to Mariology’ is sought for in relation to passages such as the reply to Mary in Jn. 2:4 ti emoi kai soi, where the translation might mirror a polemical context in which a (largely) traditional exegesis is likely to interpret the episode as an example of Mary’s intercession, while a (largely) Protestant one is rather likely to emphasise the rebuke of Mary instead.

d) ‘conditioning in relation to soteriology’ explores the Romanian rendering of dikaioun as in Romans 3 around the doctrine of justification (far less prominent in Eastern Orthodoxy). Finally,

e) ‘conditioning in relation to eschatology,’ concerning the translation in the singular or plural of chilia ete in Rev. 20.

In assessing the material, Contac follows two routes of which the first implies several steps for a given NT word or episode discussed. The first several ones are propedeutic and involve a discussion of the relevant textual variants of the Greek text, an investigation of the Patristic and post-Patristic interpretations, and a modern exegesis. This can be very instructive, even if it is (perhaps inevitably) not always up to date bibliographically. Having accomplished that, the author turns to the Romanian versions, and so far as I can tell, his method for identifying possible theological conditioning is then to analyse the distribution of translation variants and to propose as ‘conditioned’ in one way or another those that deviate away from the proposed modern exegesis. This is of course hardly convincing.

Far more interesting and sounder methodologically is the alternative route, where he starts from the circumstances in which the translation was completed and published, including the relevant polemical contexts, theological or not. This way, for instance, Contac can clearly show that the process by which, in Orthodox versions, the rendition of presbyteros by the means of the Romanian equivalents for ‘priest’ has gradually increased from 5 in the mid-16th century to all possible 18 occurrences by the middle of the last century, is doubled by and based on the polemical stances on the matter in translation prefaces and other publications of the translators. Contac is then on firm ground to state that such translations are the most conditioned by the theological debates between the majority church and the evangelical minorities (p. 179).

As such, Contac’s analysis produces the most reliable results when the ‘conditioning’ is identified by assessing the evidence from the immediate context of a given translation, be that prefaces, notes on the translation, autobiographies, diaries, and publications of the translators, and also by studying clearly identifiable filiations between translations. One can only hope that these results will be published in a more accessible language so that they can be added to the current bibliography on ideology, culture and translation in biblical studies.

As it ventures in practically uncharted territory, shortcomings as those mentioned above are inherent, yet the volume successfully documents a fair number of cases of largely ideological bias in NT translation, and proves that this is a productive soil for future research. In doing so, Contac provides a lot of fresh data on the contexts that produced these translations that is still to be assessed. This makes for an interesting and useful volume, not least because it includes an attempt to propose translation solutions that might be acceptable to the various confessional bodies in Romania.

Dan Batovici
KU Leuven
dan.batovici at

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