Today is the first day of Lent, a season where many Christians choose to fast from something and spend time in prayer to prepare for the celebration of Easter. As a part of this fast, many Christians also choose to spend focused time in the reading and studying of Scripture. The book I chose for this month will help fill that role. It is The First Testament: A New Translation by John Goldingay from InterVarsity Press. This book came out in September of last year, and I am fairly certain that is how long I have had it and been using it. Goldingay is an Old Testament scholar and current faculty member of Fuller Theological Seminary. He has several other writing credits to his name including An Introduction to the Old Testament, Do We Need the Old Testament?, and The Theology of the Book of Isaiah. However this book is different from the other books he has written as it is a translation of the Old Testament. In this translation, Goldingay seeks to catch the reader off balance by pointing towards the way the Hebrew language works. This is most notable in his translation of pronouns as they are transliterated and not made like an English reader would read it: יחזקאל become Yehezqe’l rather than Ezekiel.
“On the fifth of the month (it was the fifth year of King Yoyakin’s exile), Yahweh’s word came to Yehezqe’l be Buzi, the priest, in the country of the Kasdites by the River Kebar. Yahweh’s hand came on him there.”
— Ezekiel 1:2-3, Goldingay
Like many modern translations of the Bible, Goldingay provides introductions for each book, so the reader can fully understand what a particular section of Scripture is. However, unlike many modern translations, the language can become a clunky as Goldingay is doing as much as he can to keep the cadences and textures of the Hebrew language. This does not usually translate well to English. I will say that I have greatly appreciated this, though, as I have been studying the Hebrew language over the last year. I have found myself working through a passage in my Hebrew text, trying to compare my translation to an English translation, and checking Goldingay to see how we might get from Hebrew to English. However, occasionally something is a little different that might seem odd. For instance, Goldingay translates the traditional “valley of the shadow of death” found in Psalm 23 as “a deathly dark ravine.” I am not sure his translation packs the same punch, but it does still work to paint a picture.
“My shepherd being Yahweh, I don’t lack;
he enables me to lie down in grassy pastures.
He leads me to settled water;
he turns my life back.
He guides me in faithful tracks
for the sake of his name.
Even when I walk in a deathly dark ravine,
I’m not afraid of bad fortune,
Because you’re with me;
your club and your cane — they comfort me.”
— Psalm 23:1-4, Goldingay
If you have been following my study through Ezekiel, you will have noticed that I have been using this translation. I personally enjoy reading it and regularly use it when I am studying Hebrew texts. Goldingay has taken great care to provide something unique for the world. I still keep my trusty NASB at my side, but I have been finding it helpful to see how a well known Old Testament scholar would better understand the Hebrew Scriptures. I think this is a good resource for anyone to use when studying, but I would probably hesitate when it came to preaching and teaching. The language and unfamiliar translation techniques can be hard for your average person in the pew to understand. I do highly recommend this resource and am happy it is on my shelf!