Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Not reading the names

In my Bible, three pages before the beginning of the book of Genesis, there is a page title "Key to Pronunciation". The information on this page explains the diacritical marks found in this King James Wide Margin Bible printed by World Publishers. It begins, "Every reader of the Bible has found the proper names very difficult to pronounce." Yes, join the crowd. We're all in the same boat. The names -- especially the Hebrew ones and most especially the loooong Hebrew ones that don't look like anything we English have ever seen -- are hard to read and pronounce. OK, so we start out sailing along in the same boat. What separates us? Different solutions to this age-old problem.

(1) Don't read the names. For example, "Number 13:3-16 -- And Moses by the commandment of the LORD sent them from the wilderness of Paran: all those men were heads of the children of Israel. These names I can't read are the names of the men which Moses sent to spy out the land." I've noticed this seems to be a popular new development. In the past I can recall plenty of comments on the difficulty of reading the names, but these folks generally opted to...
(2) Muddle through the reading of the names. The person reading the Bible attempts to read the names, at least calling out sounds he thinks may be vaguely similar to how the name looks. This seems better than the above, but not as good as when we...
(3) Learn to read and pronounce the names. Most folks of average intelligence are capable of learning to read and pronounce Bible names, and become at least reasonably proficient. And if you don't get them all exactly right, just who will know anyway!! ;-D

In my opinion, the third option is a solution of integrity. It respects the fact that God both inspired and preserved those "hard to read" names in His holy word. I don't mean to imply that those who take the first option intend disrespect of inspiration. They may be trying to emphasize their own unscholarliness. I'm not any smarter than the average Joe. Sometimes my eyes cross and tongue tangles when I encounter unusual Bible names. But if we believe the words of the Bible are inspired of God*, shouldn't acknowledging that inspiration cause us to try to read and pronounce Bible names? And wouldn't even a stumbling attempt show more respect than a
"Reader's Digest" version that leaves out altogether verses and sections of the Bible?

* "The Bible is a lean book. There is no filler material in it. Every word of every book is important for our spiritual development. It is all good and it is all needed." -- David Robinson, Sow to the Wind -- Reap the Whirlwind (p. 19 Adult Quarterly, Fall 2007, B.S.S.C., Texarkana, TX)


Bro. Matt said...

What I thoroughly enjoy (sarcasm used here!) is when a name is predominantly prounounced two different ways! One is hard enough, but then to confuse me with two options! Yeeee...

Anonymous said...

I am somewhat of a perfectionist when it comes to public speaking and in particular the English language. I confess, however, some difficulties with certain names in the Old Testament.

The Hebrew language itself does not always lend itself to an English equivalent. I would be more concerned that people attempt to read the name than to just ignore it completely. At least they are reading the word!



R. L. Vaughn said...

Matt, one I always think of is Bartimaeus. I think it is almost always pronounced differently when read in the Bible (Bar tuh may us) as opposed to when it is sung in a song such as "On the Jericho road, blind Bartimaeus (Bar tee mee us) sat".

Jim, I agree that it's not as much about getting the pronunciation exactly right as giving the Bible the respect of reading the things God placed within its pages.