“Beyond Literalism: Interlinearity Revisited,” by Albert Pietersma
This paper answers the question, “What is the Interlinear Paradigm, the methodology behind the New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS)?” According to its architect, Albert Pietersma, the use of the term “interlinear” is not to be taken literally, as if it were being claimed that an interlinear text with the Greek words aligned with the Hebrew words actually existed. Rather, it is a metaphor and a heuristic tool. It is a way of conceptualizing the relationship between the source text (Hebrew) and the target text (Greek).
One way of conceptualizing the relationship between the underlying Hebrew and the Greek of the Septuagint is to refer to the Septuagint an “essentially literal translation,” which is the descriptor given by James Barr. But the advocates of the Interlinear Paradigm think this designation, while not totally wrong, needs to be refined and made more precise. Pietersma therefore coined the term “interlinear” as a metaphor for describing the nature of the Septuagint’s literalism. Saying that the Septuagint is more like an interlinear certainly takes “literal” to a whole new level!
Pietersma sees three characteristics of the Septuagint as a translation of the Hebrew that justify this designation (pp. 18-19):
- Isomorphic transfer – when a morpheme in the target text so closely mimics an item in the source text that it fails to fit the target context, e.g., when a preposition in Hebrew is rendered as an article in Greek.
- Lexical transfer – when a lexeme in the target text so closely mimics a lexeme in the source text that it fails to fit the target context, e.g., when a particular Greek word is chosen to render a Hebrew word based on an etymological interpretation of the Hebrew.
- Segmentation – when the target text follows so carefully follows the word order of the source text that the meaning of target text is not as transparent as it could be.
The result of these literal features is that the Septuagint is often characterized by unintelligibility. In Pietersma’s judgment, this pervasive characteristic (unintelligibility) is one of the main things that makes the Septuagint more like an interlinear than merely a literal translation.
It is almost as if Pietersma thinks the Septuagint really isn’t a translation at all. Indeed, Pietersma comes pretty close to saying just that: “One might further speak of ‘representation’ in distinction from ‘translation,’ of a deferring of meaning or a withdrawing by the translator of his own understanding” (p. 9).