Monday, June 27, 2011

A Small Matter of Paragraphing: Joseph Smith Translation Jeremiah 37:16

The paragraphing of the Geneva Bible, which is the first direct English translation of the Prophets from the Hebrew, and of the King James Version of Jeremiah 37 differs from that found in the Hebrew Masoretic Text--and in the Joseph Smith Translation. In the KJV verse 16 begins a new paragraph; in Hebrew manuscripts verse 16 ends one paragraph and verse 17 begins another:

15 Wherefore the princes were wroth with Jeremiah, and smote him, and put him in prison in the house of Jonathan the scribe: for they had made that the prison.

16 ¶When Jeremiah was entered into the dungeon, and into the cabins, and Jeremiah had remained there many days;

17 Then Zedekiah the king sent, and took him out: and the king asked him secretly in his house, and said, Is there any word from the Lord? And Jeremiah said, There is: for, said he, thou shalt be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon.

The KJV closely follows the Geneva Bible (The Geneva Bible: a Facsimile of the 1560 Edition, 2007):

Wherefore the princes were angry with Ieremiah, and smote him, and laid him in prison in the house of Iehonathan the scribe: for they had made that the prison (37:15).

When Ieremiah was entred into the dungeon, and into the prisons, and had remained there a long time (37:16),

Then Zedekiah the King sent, and toke him out, and the King asked him secretly in his house, and said, Is there any worde from the Lord? And Ieremiah sayd, Yea: for, sayd he, thou shalt be deliuered into the hand of the King of Babel (37:17).

The layout of Hebrew Bibles in manuscript, excluding the Psalms, apportions text into open and closed paragraphs (or parashot). The letter peh, shorthand for petuxa (open), marks the beginning of a clear-cut, new paragraph. Peh marks a new act in the narrative or a new, distinct idea and signals the kind of paragraph familiar to readers of modern prose. Such a stand-alone paragraph can hardly begin on the same manuscript line as the previous paragraph; what space remains in the line must therefore be left blank. The blank space is what bears the name petuxa, being the "open section" of manuscript line. The new, or open, paragraph accordingly begins on its own, fresh line.

The letter samekh marks a closed paragraph (setuma). A closed paragraph but momentarily pauses the flow of speech, idea, or narrative, and therefore continues to fill the very same line of manuscript on which the prior paragraph ends. No visible break is contemplated, however small or great the seeming pause in action or idea--one letter follows another right to the end of the closely indited manuscript line. There is no such mode of paragraphing in English prose (see Page H. Kelley, Daniel S. Mynatt, and Timothy G. Crawford, The Masorah of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: Introduction and Annotated Glossary [Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1998], 155, 167).

The Hebrew system of open and closed paragraphs thus contemplates two distinct kinds of parashot--semicolon and full stop, as it were; but what must be remembered, if we are to understand the terms, is that it is the manuscript line itself which is, in the first instance, open or closed.


"Peh 'Open.' 'Abbreviation for petuxa' (cf. setuma). This refers to the short paragraphs ('pareshyot') into which the entire Bible (except Psalms) was divided. Such paragraphs could be either 'open' ('ptuxa') or 'closed' ('stuma'). An open paragraph (indicated by peh placed between two verses) had to commence at the beginning of a new line, with the preceding line left partly or wholly blank. These rules applied to handwritten texts but are no longer valid for printed Bibles, since their line and paragraph divisions are of necessity different from those of ancient manuscripts" (ibid., 155).

In manuscripts--though not necessarily in printed Hebrew Bibles--an "open section" of blank line follows Jeremiah 37:16; verse 17 begins at the head of a new line.

The Bomberg Bible, the print edition of the Hebrew Bible used in preparing the KJV, still preserved the manuscript notations for open and closed paragraphs--so why did the KJV translators arrange and translate Jeremiah 37:16-17 as they did? The simple answer is: Because they simply followed the Geneva Bible translators. But why did Anthony Gilby, a gifted Hebraist, and his Geneva group so translate? (For Gilby and the Geneva translators see Lloyd E. Berry, "Preface," The Geneva Bible: a Facsimile of the 1560 Edition.)

Taking the Hebrew particle ki as a marker of temporal conjunction, the equivalent of English when--a dictionary definition--the Geneva translators render the Hebrew into English as a complex sentence opening with a subordinate temporal clause (When Jeremiah was entered into the dungeon, etc.), followed by a temporal main clause (Then Zedekiah the king sent, and took him out:), which, in its turn, is followed in this archaic syntax by what ought, by all rights, to be a new sentence or two (and the king asked him secretly in his house, and said, Is there any word from the Lord?). The tight clausal balance of English When. . .Then focuses our attention, with the insistence of argument, on the translators' own layout of the text, the new mise-en-page, with its altered view of the temporal relation between these two verses.

Because the Geneva scholars understood ki as marking a temporal conjunction (when), translation of these verses required adjustments in the paragraphing; they accordingly moved the sign posts that marked the beginning of a new paragraph from verse 18 back to verse 16. But all such little words as ki make up the linguistic stumbling blocks of centuries to the awkward feet of scholars; for it is often the case that native speakers understand such nuanced linguistic markers differently than do the learned.

I should like to compare the readings of these Englishmen to what may be found in other Genevan translations of Jeremiah, made directly from Hebrew, into Latin, French, Italian, and Spanish. I'd like to know which learned Hebraist first tripped over little ki. The error, it is clear, was not of ancient date: Jerome translated ki with the logical conjunction itaque (thus, and so it was), a translation most Hebraists would have gladly followed. (See David Daniell, "The Translation of the Geneva Bible: The Shocking Truth.") The best known of the French Genevan bibles, the Olivetan Bible, translated directly from the Hebrew by Pierre Robert Olivetan (Calvin's kinsman) in 1558, separates verses 15 and 16, which end and begin on the same line of print, by leaving a significant empty space between the two. The division recalls the paragraph division in the KJV at verse 16. But the new verse begins: Et ainsi Jeremiah (And so Jeremiah); verse 17 begins: Mais le Roy Zedekiah (Then King Zedekiah)The opposition is thus one of: Et ainsi. . . Mais, And so. . . Then, which clearly differs from the "when-then" of the English bibles.

The verse in Hebrew reads: ki va yiremiyahu el-bet habor ve'el-haxanuyot vayeshev-sham yiremiyahu yomim rabim, which, if we parse word for word, says: when (or, as logical conjunction, so it was, or indeed) came in Jeremiah to the house of the pit and the xanuyot [whatever those rooms might be] and he sat, or stayed there days a-plenty). Verse 17 follows: Veyishlax ha-melekh, etc: And he sent, the king, i.e., And the king sent.

Following the Greek Septuagint, which has kai elthein (and he went in), some students have postulated that the Hebrew is corrupt. They accordingly emend ki va to veva (and he entered). Yet, says Professor McKane: "It should not be too readily assumed that Sept. kai elthen (v. 16) is evidence of a Vorlage (v-b-') different from MT (ki va), though this may be correct (so Giesebrecht, Cornill, Volz, Rudolph). Kai elthen, however, may be no more than a free rendering of the awkward ki va in order to secure a smoother translation" (William McKane, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Jeremiah [Edinburgh, 1996], vol. 2: 929). A smoother translation? Here is belated but good advice for the old English translators: Loosen up; go with a free rendering here and there; secure the smoother idiom, let the awkward alone. Alas! the advice comes just a nod after the 17th century scholars sent the manuscript off to the printers. Another student (S. R. Driver) "supposes that ki is a corruption of koh, 'So Jeremiah came'"; another, Ehrlich, "emends to keva, 'When Jeremiah came.'" Comes along just one little Hebrew word, and we're all completely bowled over.

The wording in both the Greek Septuagint and the Masoretic Hebrew show the verse as marking the end of an act: "And (or So it was that) Jeremiah went into the pit, and there he sat"--end of idea--end of paragraph. And that's how modern translators render the matter today. And that's also what Coverdale's Bible, the first English translation of Jeremiah, though dependent on Jerome not on the Hebrew, renders: "Thus was Ieremy put in to the dongeon and preson, and so [itaque] laye there a longe tyme" (see The Bible Corner Web pages). From Coverdale to the latter-day translators certainly marks "a longe tyme."

Let's consider both Anchor Bible editions of Jeremiah.

John Bright (page 225): Verse 16: "Jeremiah was, indeed, put in one of the vaults in the cistern house and left there for some time."

Verse 17 [New Paragraph] But then King Zedekiah sent and had him brought to him," etc.

(Page 225 note): Heb. "Indeed [or "when"] Jeremiah went into. . ." (ki va). LXX  (wayyavo'), "and Jeremiah went into. . .," may be preferable.

(Page 230 note): and left there. Literally "and he stayed there," Hebrew awkwardly repeats 'Jeremiah' as the subject, which we omit with LXX for smoothness' sake."
The Anchor Bible  Jeremiah  John Bright (Garden City, New York, 1965, 2nd ed, 1980).

Jack R. Lundbom (Pages 3-4): Verse 16: "Indeed Jeremiah went to the Pit House, yes, to the cells! And Jeremiah dwelt there many days."

17 "Then King Zedekiah sent and brought him"

(Page 60): "The initial ki is best read as an asseverative, i.e., 'Indeed.' Some commentators get a comparable reading from the LXX's 'And Jeremiah came' (kai elthen Ieremias). The AV and RSV render as 'When,' beginning an awkward dependent clause. This is remedied in the NRSV, although for some reason the final 'Jeremiah' in the verse continues to be untranslated. The Hebrew reads: 'And Jeremiah dwelt there many days.'" Further: "...The LXX omits 'Jeremiah,' which could be more haplography (homoeoarcton y. . .y)." Jack R. Lundbom Jeremiah 37-52 (The Anchor Bible; NY, 2004).

It's surprising that Joseph Smith should follow the old manuscript Hebrew mise-en-page, rather than the KJV. The Prophet had not yet studied Hebrew, and the KJV lay open before him as he worked. But what's the surprise? Joseph Smith is a Prophet--like Jeremiah. And like Jeremiah, Joseph was often detained, tried, and imprisoned (he calls Liberty Jail a "dungeon") on charges of blasphemy and treason. Yet despite the constant persecution, Brother Joseph was given sight and power to reveal the fullness of the scriptures, including changes both substantial and seemingly insubstantial to the Book of Jeremiah. The whole thing is marvelous; thus we shouldn't be surprised when the Prophet, going beyond paragraphing, changes the Geneva Bible (and the KJV) yet a bit more by dropping the verse's second, and thus superfluous, Jeremiah. Professor McKane, after all, reads: "Jeremiah was taken to dungeons under the house and there he was held for a long period" (922). That lopping makes for smoother translation into English; it would have made for a better text in the original Hebrew as well (the Septuagint, after all, drops a Jeremiah or two in verses 16 and 17).

Here's how verses 16-17 read in Sir Lancelot C. L. Brenton's translation (The English Translation of the Greek Septuagint Bible as found on

LXX (Greek Septuagint) Chapter 44:15
And the princes were very angry with Jeremias, and smote him, and sent him into the house of Jonathan the scribe: for they had made this a prison.

(A new paragraph follows in Sir Lancelot's translation of the LXX! something which we should not find in the original Greek):

16 So Jeremias came into the dungeon, and into the cells, and he remained there many days. 17 Then Sedekias sent, and called him; and the king asked him secretly, saying, Is there a word from the Lord? and he said, There is: thou shalt be delivered into the hands of the king of Babylon.

Now for the Prophet Joseph Smith, another type and witness of Christ, for whom the following verse from his New Translation prefigures both the tortured months in the dungeon of Liberty, Missouri and the bloodstained moments of witness in Carthage Jail, Illinois:

And Jeremiah was entered into the dungeon, and into the cabins, and he remained there many days.

End of Paragraph.


Though I claim no priority in pointing out how the Joseph Smith Translation of Jeremiah 37:16 matches the ancient mise-en-page of the text, and thus avoids the linguistic trap into which the Geneva translators fell, I have not found any published studies of JST Jeremiah 37:16. Still, there are many Latter-day Saint students of the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint. . .p

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