Casaubon and the King James Version.

I wrote about Isaac Casaubon’s linguistic attainments back in 2011, and they are impressively borne out by Olivia Rudgard’s Telegraph article:

Research by Dr Nicholas Hardy at the University of Birmingham has found that Isaac Casaubon, an eminent French scholar, helped translate the Bible into English.

It is the first time a non-English speaker has been found to have worked on the famous work. […]

Letters unearthed by Dr Hardy show that English translator John Bois exchanged letters with French scholar Casaubon, who was visiting London towards the end of 1610.

Casaubon was at the time regarded as the most accomplished scholar of ancient languages, such as Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic, in the world, and is thought to have been brought in to help verify the work of less accomplished English translators. […]

Dr Hardy then travelled to Oxford to check Casaubon’s notebooks, which have been held in the Bodleian Library since the 1670s.

He discovered further records of conversations Casaubon had had with another English translator, Andrew Downes.

These exchanges prove that he did work on part of the New Testament, in Acts 13:18.

The pair discussed the translation of this passage, which says “‘And about the time of fourtie yeeres suffered he [God] their maners in the wildernesse,” referring to the wandering of the Israelites in the desert after the Exodus.

Following a discussion the pair decided to inset a note in the margin about the translation, explaining that changing a single letter in the Greek verb meaning “suffered their maners”, it would become a different verb, meaning “to bear” or “to feed”, “as a nurse beareth or feedeth her childe”.

The note suggests that the passage had been subject to “prolonged discussion and possibly disagreement between the translators”, Dr Hardy said.

Merci, Trevor!

Comments

  1. Causabon worked at a time when, not only the Apocrypha, but the history of such groups as Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes was debated. These names were sometimes used as slurs within Christian polemics. Protestants and Catholics had different views on, e.g., the relative ancientness of monasticism. The etymology of the name “Essenes” (and “Ossenes” in Epiphanius, etc.) was sharply debated in the years before 1611. J. J. Scaliger declared one etymology a German hallucination. Some thought Hebrew had been a relatively dead language (no new compositions) at the time of Jesus, so some preferred Aramaic etymological guesses. By now there are well over fifty different published proposed etymologies of Essenes. Philip Melanchthon in 1532 had written (in his edition of J. Carion, Chronica, f68v) “Essei / das ist / Operarii / vom wort Assa / das ist wircken.” A later text renders the meaning as factores legis. When the Qumran manuscripts were discovered (c.1947ff), some sectarian texts (e.g., pesharim) included self-identifications as ‘osey hatorah, observers of torah.

  2. J. J. Scaliger declared one etymology a German hallucination.

    Ah, for the good old days of scholarly invective!

  3. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    For what it’s worth, the proposal at Acts 13:18 is that instead of ἐτροποφόρησεν (‘bore with [another’s moods]), the text should read ἐτροφοφόρησεν (‘brought one nourishment, sustained’). This reading turns out to be attested in the famous Codex Alexandrinus, which was gifted to James I in 1624 by the patriarch Cyril Lucar.

  4. Thanks, I was wondering about that.

  5. Philip Melanchthon in 1532 had written … “Essei / das ist / Operarii / vom wort Assa / das ist wircken.”

    That etymology would explain an aleph with an ayin. I would have thought Melanchthon would be aware of that, but perhaps he was.

  6. The NIV gives Paul’s summary of Torah history thus: “The God of the people of Israel chose our ancestors; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt; with mighty power he led them out of that country; 18 for about forty years he endured their conduct[a] in the wilderness; 19 and he overthrew seven nations in Canaan, giving their land to his people as their inheritance.” So they are still accepting the Textus Receptus reading. But footnote [a] is “Some manuscripts he cared for them.” The Alexandrinus reading makes a good deal more sense to me. Yes, lectio difficilior potior and all that, but that doesn’t apply to semantic difficulties like this one.

  7. Bathrobe says:

    endured their conduct

    Wasn’t there a bit of Baal worship and golden calves going on?

  8. J.W. Brewer says:

    Note that Casaubon could have passed on his views as to the relative plausibility of ἐτροποφόρησεν and ἐτροφοφόρησεν without himself knowing a word of English, as long as he and his interlocutor working on the translation could communicate in *some* mutually-understood tongue, which here could have been either Latin or French. Resolving uncertainties about the exact wording of the source text when manuscripts (or printed editions, for that matter) vary is an important translation-related task, but I’m not sure that it’s translation proper, especially when as here it can be done without any fluency in the target language. So if the other examples of Casaubon’s input are all of this variety, “foreign guy helped translate the Bible into English” seems like somewhat misleading journalistic spin.

  9. David Marjanović says:

    The Alexandrinus reading makes a good deal more sense to me. Yes, lectio difficilior potior and all that, but that doesn’t apply to semantic difficulties like this one.

    Phonetically, the Alexandrinus version is actually difficilior: it has two [pʰ] very close together, and the first is in the least stressed position in the word. This is an invitation for Grassmann to strike again.

    For the dating of [pʰ] > [f], I rely on the PILIPPHVS who shows up on a wall in Pompeii – the first FILIPPVS appears about a century after Pompeii went under.

  10. The Hebrew stem כלכל klkl has the same ambiguous meanings, “support, nourish” and “endure, bear” (the latter only in post-biblical Hebrew). I don’t know if there is an Aramaic equivalent. That, along with the similar Greek words, make for a nice philological knot.

    In any case, I’m pretty sure that the intended meaning is “nourished”.

  11. David Marjanović says:

    That, along with the similar Greek words, make for a nice philological knot.

    Proof of the conspiracy.

  12. Along with Nabokov’s korova, korona, vorona / cow, crow, crown.

  13. marie-lucie says:

    ambiguous meanings, “support, nourish” and “endure, bear”

    I don’t know Hebrew or Greek, but the sentence in question is found among others which tell how God supported the Chosen People, ensuring their survival until finally leading them into the Promised Land. During their years of wandering in the desert their traditions tell that although they did not have their usual foods, they survived on manna, a tasty and nutritious substance provided by God. This is likely to be what the possibly ambiguous sentence refers to, rather than to God tolerating their sometimes impious conduct.

    In French, le support refers to an object or part of an object holding up another, but the derived verb supporter means mostly ‘to bear, to stand (s. unpleasant)’, as in Je ne peux pas la supporter ‘I can’t stand her’.

  14. Cf. the English insupportable ‘intolerable’.

  15. marie-lucie says:

    JC, English insupportable does not seem to be very common. In French it is extremely common, usually when talking about children misbehaving!

  16. There is a fundamental conflict in the Torah about the nature of the wanderings in the desert. Most references state or imply that the Hebrews were supported and nourished (figuratively as well as literally) by YHWH during their long sojourn in the desert. References to this support have been part of the Jewish liturgy since at least Roman times. However, there are also statements that the length of the wandering period was a divine punishment for various crimes.

    The punishment interpretation is most associated with the golden calf episode, but the most explicit statement is after the twelve spies are sent into Canaan (Numbers 13 & 14), when only Joshua and Caleb give encouraging statements about the nature of the promised land, so only they were allowed to settle the promised land. The rest of the adult population is doomed to wander in the wilderness until they die. Although this story is generally held to be from J, the oldest Torah source, the inclusion of Joshua in this passage marks it as having been reedited significantly later in the redaction process, so it is not clear just how old the punishment narrative is.

  17. m-l, you’re right: there are only 101 instances of insupportable in COCA, which has 450 million words, and many of these are probably the second sense, ‘not supported by reason or evidence’.

  18. Wiktionary informs me that support was borrowed into Middle English (that’s how I interpret “[d]isplaced Old English wreþian“) from Old French supporter or maybe from Anglo-Norman or Middle French. supporter, in turn, is from Latin supportō = sub (“under”) +‎ portō (“I carry”). And further, PIE *per- (“go, traverse”). That is the “suffering” meaning (as in “suffer the fools”) is a French invention.

    Now, let’s look at suffer:
    From Middle English suffren, from Anglo-Norman suffrir, from Latin sufferō (“to offer, hold up, bear, suffer”), from sub- (“up, under”) + ferō (“I carry”), from Proto-Indo-European *bʰer- (“to bear, carry”). Displaced native teen. No intersection even that far back.

    On another note. The popular uneducated interpretation among educated people in Russia is that 40 years of wandering the desert were not a punishment, but the God’s plan that the holy land would be settled by people who never were slaves.

  19. Spanish has done the same as French with that verb.

  20. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    Phonetically, the Alexandrinus version is actually difficilior: it has two [pʰ] very close together, and the first is in the least stressed position in the word.
    Well, Alexandrinus is a fifth-century manuscript; by that time φ had long lenited to [f]. The text-critical canon of lectio difficilior potior usually applies to sense, and here the A reading is easier.

  21. David Marjanović says:

    Old English wreþian

    …German reden “to talk”, Rede “speech”? Also rhetorics?

    native teen

    ziehen “pull”?

    Alexandrinus is a fifth-century manuscript

    Ah, that leaves everything wide open.

  22. So if the other examples of Casaubon’s input are all of this variety, “foreign guy helped translate the Bible into English” seems like somewhat misleading journalistic spin.

    “Was a co-translator” might be going too far, but “helped translate” seems fair. If I’m unsure about the interpretation of some phrasing in my source text and talk it over with my wife before settling on my English, I’d absolutely say she helped me translate it.

  23. “That etymology would explain an aleph with an ayin.”
    The modern Hebrew spelling of Essenes with an aleph is not attested (to my knowledge) in ancient Hebrew texts.

  24. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    I checked with a friend of mine who is an expert on conjectural emendations of the New Testament text and he has tracked down Casaubon’s note on the verse as published by Wolf in 1710. (Of course the 1610 ms would supersede it.) Here it is:

    Act. XIII. 18. τροποφορεῖν in Actis videndum an legi debeat τροφοφορεῖν: nam manifeste alluditur ad Deuter. I. haec verba: ὡς τροφοφορήσει σε Κύριος ὁ Θεός etc. ibi est in Hebr. נשא et videtur esse baiulare more infantum lactentium. Extat et vox in Macchab.

    A rough translation: “Acts 13:18 τροποφορεῖν is to be seen in Acts or perhaps it ought to be read τροφοφορεῖν: for it clearly plays on these words of Deut 1: ὡς τροφοφορήσει σε Κύριος ὁ Θεός etc. There the Hebrew is נשא and it seems to be to carry a burden in the manner of suckling infants. The word also exists in Maccabees.”

  25. J.W. Brewer says:

    The specific bit of Deuteronomy quoted in Stephen Carlson’s comment comes out in KJV (which was working from the underlying Hebrew rather than the LXX) as “how that the LORD thy God bare thee” with the fuller context being (this is verse 31) “And in the wilderness, where thou hast seen how that the LORD thy God bare thee, as a man doth bear his son, in all the way that ye went, until ye came into this place.”* FWIW, the recent NETS translation, working directly from the LXX, has it as “as the Lord your God nursed you,” with the comparison being “as some person would nurse his son.”

    *NB just as an interesting bit of the English how Moses shifts between addressing the collective of “all Israel” a/k/a “the children of Israel” as singular thou/thee and addressing it/them as plural ye/you within the same verse.

  26. The imagery here is that of God the Mother, it would seem. Fathers sometimes do, but mothers normally must, bear (with) and nurture their children.

  27. J.W. Brewer says:

    Just yesterday I bore my youngest child (age three, approx 35 pounds), in the sense of physically picking him up and carrying him, admittedly not for 40 years through the wilderness of the Sinai, but for a significant portion of the several-block journey home from playground to house, after he claimed he was too tired to walk. I didn’t feel particularly maternal about it. I guess if I’d needed a Biblical role model it would have been the (presumptively male?) shepherd in the parable who at Luke 15:5 puts the Lost Sheep, once found, on his shoulders in order to carry it home.

  28. The modern Hebrew spelling of Essenes with an aleph is not attested (to my knowledge) in ancient Hebrew texts.

    You are entirely right. It’s only explicitly attested in Greek transcription.

    In fact a very convincing etymology for the name derives it from עֵצָה ʕēṣā ‘advice, wisdom’, with an ‘ayin. Melanchthon’s form is עָשָׂה ʕāśā ‘do 3sg. masc. past’.

  29. marie-lucie says:

    JC: to bear : The imagery here is that of God the Mother, it would seem. Fathers sometimes do, but mothers normally must, bear (with) and nurture their children.

    I don’t think that the God of the Bible is anywhere thought of as a Mother. The verb to bear (originally “to carry”, and its equivalents in many languages) is used in two contexts: first the mother “bears” a child within her own body, and later the father often “bears” the child in his arms or on his shoulders, in the same way as a shepherd “bears” a lost or sick lamb or even sheep. The potential ambiguity of “bear” describing the role of the adult human is solved by adding “as a son” or “as a lamb”, which cannot possibly refer to the mother’s pre-birth role.

  30. Rodger C says:

    I don’t think that the God of the Bible is anywhere thought of as a Mother.

    “Hath the rain a father? Or who hath begotten the drops of dew? Out of whose womb came the ice? Or the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it?”

  31. marie-lucie says:

    But the world was created, not “gendered”.

  32. David Marjanović says:

    Out of whose womb came the ice?

    Der Schoß ist fruchtbar noch,
    aus dem das kroch.

    “The lap is fertile yet,
    whence that crept.”
    /Godwin
    /Tasmanian devil

  33. Are you calling Bert Brecht a Tasmanian devil?

  34. m-l: Different translations say “has begotten it” and “has given birth to it”, so there is probably a conflict of manuscripts, or possibly the Hebrew is ambiguous. It’s Job 38:28-29.

  35. J.W. Brewer says:

    The locus classicus of maternal imagery from the divine mouth is perhaps Luke 13:34, where Jesus says “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!” But that’s just, like, a simile, man.

  36. marie-lucie says:

    JWB: gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings

    This simile sounds not like an invention but a well-known poetic figure of speech. It does not mean that Jesus imagines himself as a hen!

  37. m.-l., The Hebrew is clear, using the causative of the root /yld/ ‘to give birth’, the most common way of saying ‘to beget, sire’.

  38. (My last comment should be addressed to John Cowan, not marie-lucie.)

  39. David Marjanović says:

    Are you calling Bert Brecht a Tasmanian devil?

    Heh. 🙂 I’m alluding to the fact that most marsupials other than kangaroos aren’t passively born, they really do crawl out.

  40. I asked Mark Shoulson, my go-to guy on Biblical Hebrew, and he said (lightly edited):

    My initial translation: “from whose belly did the ice come? and the frost of heaven, who gave birth to it?” The Hebrew is in the PA`AL / binyan qal / simple construction, not causative as we would expect for “begotten”. There are not a few places where a man in the Bible is said to have “birthed” his son, and not “begotten”, i.e. using the simple construction and not causative. Otherwise one might think that that verb makes no sense in the masculine. But it is indeed used so.

    The first such use I see is in Genesis 4:18. “and to Enoch was born Irad, and Irad bore Mehuyael and Mehuyael bore Metushael and Metushael bore Lamech.” There are a buncha begats in Gen. 10 that are also like that, whereas Gen. 5 has a lot of begats that are properly in causative.

  41. I like “a buncha begats.”

  42. The dew in verse 28 is “begotten”, hōlīd, in hiph‘īl. The frost in verse 29 is “birthed”, yǝlādō < yālad, in pā‘al, as you say.

    The use of yālad for “begat” in the literal sense is confined to Genesis. However Deuteronomy 32:18 “The rock which bore you, you forgot” is a nice parallel to the verse in Job.

    I’m not sure what to make of Psalms 2:7 “You are my son, today I have borne you” which also uses pā‘al.

  43. J.W. Brewer says:

    YHVH is asking Job rhetorical questions framed in poetic language — it would be an error to infer from the question “who hath begotten the drops of dew” that YHVH had “begotten” the dew in the same sense that e.g. Irad begat Mehujael. The flipside of Christ having been “begotten not made” is that by contrast the created order, down to the drops of dew was, strictly speaking, made not begotten. But this passage should not be read as if it were speaking so strictly. There thus seems no particular reason why the Hebrew verb rendered in KJV as “gendered” (archaic clipped version of “engendered”) must be interpreted as suggesting the male-mode-of-engendering rather than the female-mode-of-engendering. Or vice versa, probably. Unless one has some presupposed interpretive axiom that God would never ever use maternal rather than paternal similes by way of implied self-reference even when speaking in a loose and poetic fashion, but why would one presuppose that?

  44. OK, stepping back a bit. The rhetorical questions in Job 38, as in that entire soliloquy, all assume a negative answer, so as to highlight that which God can do and humans can not. To rephrase verses 28–29: The rain has no father, no one (i.e. a human male) begat the dew; ice came from no human belly, the frost was borne by no one (i.e. a human female).
    They do not mean to imply that God has fulfilled those roles, metaphorically or literally, only that obviously no humans have.

  45. Mark and I then went on about ‘belly’ = ‘womb’ in various languages, including English. I pointed out that Latin venter is ‘belly’, ‘body’, ‘stomach’, or ‘womb’ (and figuratively ‘unborn child/son’, ‘lust’, and ‘gluttony’ as well), which led to partus sequitur ventrem. Which leads to the use of sequelae ‘litter’ (of animals) for the children of slaves.

  46. Drawing inferences from the way God is presented in Job can be tricky, since it is a quite peculiar work in the context of the Tanakh. It is written in a atypical poetical style, with some archaic spellings and a unique diction. There are differences of scholarly opinion about how much of that is an intentional affectation on the part of the writer and how much is evidence that the document preserves elements of a very old tradition. Moreover, while the final redaction of Job probably took place after the preparation of the J and E documents, it still presents a very theologically old fashioned vision of God; most obviously, Job is permitted to argue with God, like the premier prophets Abraham and Moses. So, given its affectedly poetic character and otherwise unusual character, it is not too surprising that some unconventional metaphors may show up in Job.

  47. “In fact a very convincing etymology for the name derives it from עֵצָה ʕēṣā ‘advice, wisdom’, with an ‘ayin. Melanchthon’s form is עָשָׂה ʕāśā ‘do 3sg. masc. past’.”

    Your preferred root was suggested as a possibility years ago by A. Dupont-Sommer, H. Schoeps, and R. Hanson.
    The root mentioned by Melanchthon (and others) and used in a self-designation in Dead Sea Scrolls may not only explain the origin, but also why some forgot it: Sadducees and Pharisees would not agree to call Essenes ‘osey hatorah.

  48. Well this Casaubon is indeed a hard Act(s) to follow,
    given the widely held agreement that the author of Acts of the Apostles is the same said Kata Lukan of the 3rd synoptic gospel , it can be assumed his knowledge of the finer points of Hebraic script wasn’t as good as his professed source, i.e Shorty of Tarsus (Pharisaic scholar par excellence).
    Further it is to be noted that even the anatomical knowledge of conception, thus creation vs generated, was as errant in the times of Aquinas’ great Summa , We cannot surmise any which way but loosely as to what Luke (via Casaubon the Bourbon , or the Bois boys ) is attempting to express. Koine Greek is a poor tool for understanding Aramaic or Hebrew ; French and English are even less tangibly fingering the P.I.E. of root languages.
    From a purely legal point of view, to which the 3rd book of Pentateuch makes reference to the 2nd book;Iit is in the spirit that we best seek the answer, and leave the linguistic flaming hoop leaping to those head-bangers. The “Kingdom of Heaven” (the metaphysical concept not the movie starring Orlando Bloom) is
    within, seek it there good people. Navel gazing or eye-rolling, or a combination of both has been highly recommended by the much older Vedic texts.

  49. J.W. Brewer says:

    Casaubon’s conjecture, as tracked down in a comment above by Stephen Carlson, was that Luke, writing in Greek, was intentionally echoing a Greek verb found in the LXX version of Deuteronomy, which Luke would likely have known well. The extent of Luke’s ability to read Hebrew is irrelevant to that point.

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