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So at some point, I'm hoping to be able to answer this question. In the meantime, though, I keep running into more questions, this one concering the first line of the Song of Deborah (Judges 5:2).

It seems there is some difficulty with the translation. Here are a couple different versions:

  • Praise ye the LORD for the avenging of Israel (KJV)
  • When the princes in Israel take the lead (NIV)
  • When locks go untrimmed in Israel (NJPS)

These translations don't even seem remotely similar. The NET translation notes mention there are numerous proposals and then it goes on to explain the rationale for their own translation. What guidelines have other translators used when rendering this phrase?

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The NET Bible footnotes suggest B. Lindars, Judges 1-5, 223-27 for a survey of opinions. But I don't have access to the book short of buying it. ;-) (I need to get a library card at some nearby seminary, it seems.) –  Jon Ericson Feb 16 '12 at 21:59
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@Jon You can borrow any book through your regular public library if it participates in the Interlibrary Loan program (and most do). Your library will send a request to the nearest library that owns the book, and you'll usually receive a copy within a few days. –  Bruce Alderman Feb 18 '12 at 7:22
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OK, I wanted to test your advice @BruceAlderman so I did an interlibrary loan request at my local library for it and it worked! Sweetness. If Jon doesn't get it before I do I'll gladly post Lindars' insights here. –  Daи Feb 18 '12 at 18:55
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3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted
+150

The Hebrew looks like this:

בִּפְרֹעַ פְּרָעוֹת בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל...

The difficulty in translating this verse stems from the ambiguity inherent in the Hebrew root word para פרע, which appears twice in a row (as though for emphasis) in the first two words of this verse. (The third word of the verse, is "Israel.")

The word para can be translated as:

  1. Burst forth, liberate
  2. Uncovered/long hair
  3. Avenge

(See: 544, 545 and 546 in Strong's)

These three possible renderings of the word para are represented in the three possible translations provided by Soldarnal in his original question. Another possible rendering based on para translation possibility number one:

  • "Because in Israel the people have regained liberty" (This academic translation and commentary).

According to Alberto Soggin in his commentary to Judges:

The majority of scholars prefer this second interpretation [long hair], but the first meaning [burst forth], already suggests by BDB [Brown Driver Briggs], seems more relevant both for parallelism and for the general drift of the text.

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I would go with the following

(1) And Dvorah did sing, and Varak son of of Avino'am,(S) on that day,(R) saying(S):

(2) In Israel's wild-haired outburst, in volunteering, a nation sanctified Yahweh. Listen, kings, attention nobles, (S) I shall, to Yahweh, I shall sing. My tune is(R) to Yahweh, God of Israel.

(3) Yahweh, in exiting Sa'ir, in exiting Edom's field(S), Earth rumbled, the skies dripping(S) and rainclouds dripped(R) water.(S)

(5) Mountains flowed before Yahweh. This(R) being Sinai. Before Yahweh, the God of Israel.(S)

I extended this to a full translation of the relevant chapter here: http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Bible_%28Wikisource%29/Judges#Judges_2-4

The point is that this is a militaristic thing, and the word is more of an outburst of military might than an outburst of long-haired hippy-ness.

EDIT: Clarification

When I translate a section that isn't already on Wikisource, I place the translation there--- most of the Hebrew there is my translation. I did this chapter to answer this question.

בִּפְרֹעַ פְּרָעוֹת בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל

For the specific translation issue at hand, you want to keep the connotations "wild" and "long-haired", but not give too much preference to either, because of the overlapping Hebrew connotations. My initial consideration was whether to preserve the grammar. In a most literal translation;

In Sowing-wild-hair-abandon-like wild-hair-abandon within Israel

I had a few initial ideas:

  • In Israel's wild abandon
  • In Israel's wild-tressed abandon
  • In Israel's wild-haired abandon

These change the grammar, so that instead of "In verbing noun in Israel", it becomes "In Israel's noun".

The next idea was to make the wildness analogy by using hippy imagery, where long-hair is also a connotation. I searched and searched for good hippy terms, but found nothing (although the abandon business does come from one of the woodstock stories I read while doing that).

Then I considered keeping the repetition, so that it would be:

  • In wildly wilding in Israel
  • In ruling unruly over Israel

But these are no good, because the meaning is too different. So I finally gave up and used one of the lesser variants. But the meaning is pretty clear--- it's a poetic sentiment for a radical event, involving wild hair, and great victory. The hippy business is no good, because the chapter involves victory in war, so the parallel is not apropos.

I don't think any of these translation considerations really make a big difference to the content of the chapter. I had to translate the whole chapter (and know the surrounding story) to make decent choices, you can't translate words outside of context.

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1) Am I to understand that this is your own original translation of the Hebrew which you contributed to the Wikisources' Bible project? 2) What is the meaning of the "(R)"s and the "(S)"s? 3) Are you able to elaborate on the specific translation choices you made here and why? –  Amichai Feb 20 '12 at 4:27
    
@Amichai: yes--- sorry for not making it clear. I'll expand the answer. –  Ron Maimon Feb 20 '12 at 15:15
    
@Amichai: the (R)'s and (S)'s are cantillation marks of unknown function in the Hebrew text. I suppose the "S" is for "Selah", which is believed to mean pause, and I am guessing that the R means something like "emphatic" or "low-tone", or something. It's a guide for singing or chanting the verses. I tried to place them in the closest corresponding location, but sometimes it required judgement calls. –  Ron Maimon Feb 20 '12 at 15:33
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The verse is easy to understand. Napoleon spoke of 'moral force' as being the most important factor in winning a war. Deborah said it with, 'let grow their hair'. The ancients understood this perfectly as they believed 'spirits' or 'magic' lived in hair and by growing their hair there was more space for 'magic' or in the context of war 'moral force' to 'attach' to the person. Those that 'offer themselves willingly (volunteer as in special forces) normally have more 'moral force'. They have grown their hair. Judge for yourselves.

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Thanks for the response. Could you elaborate why you think the Israelites thought of hair as magic? Do you have any references for that? And if so, could you show why that supports a particular translation? Thanks. –  Soldarnal Sep 24 '13 at 18:12
    
New Bible Dictionary, under Nazarites. The Israelites and other ancient peoples did not regard the hair as magical but as 'the seat of life, 'the favorite abode of spirits and magical influences.'' In the context of war, the 'magic' is moral force. When 'leaders lead' (King James) or when 'Isrealites qwere determined to fight' (Good News) is partly correct as those actions would contribute to moral force but the soldiers must first create space for it. 'Let grow their hair' (Masoretic Text). –  gideon marx Sep 25 '13 at 6:42
    
My personal opinion is that soldiers of that time all grew their hair before a war to prevent flu and cold viruses getting a hold and as the hair was braided make a nice cushion for a bare metal helmet. The verse would then mean that the Israelites had been secretly qpreparing for war and that would make sense as weapons would have to be produced and training done after twenty years of oppression. –  gideon marx Sep 25 '13 at 9:47
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