I have, in an earlier post, pointed out a resource I consider very helpful in learning and practicing modern research languages (French, Italian, German, etc): http://www.duolingo.com. Another practice I use is to read the Bible in these languages. As an undergraduate, I was completely opposed to using materials which I knew in English to study foreign languages. I promised if I ever was asked to teach Koine Greek, we would only use Josephus or Philo – I didn’t want those future students of mine to get off too easily. Granted, this probably assumes that students would know the Bible well enough to recognize it and this is assuming a lot.
I’ve changed my mind a bit, or at least relaxed my philosophy. There are a lot of benefits to studying a language with materials which you know in English.
I’m reading through St. John’s prologue this morning in German (in the Hoffnung Für Alle translation) and I noticed that 1.6-7 is not exactly what the Greek says. The Greek reads:
Ἐγένετο ἄνθρωπος, ἀπεσταλμένος παρὰ θεοῦ, ὄνομα αὐτῷ Ἰωάννης· οὗτος ἦλθεν εἰς μαρτυρίαν ἵνα μαρτυρήσῃ περὶ τοῦ φωτός, ἵνα πάντες πιστεύωσιν δι’ αὐτοῦ.
And there was a man, having been sent by God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, in order to witness concerning the light, in order that all men might believe in Him.
The German translation, however, reads as such:
Gott schickte einen Boten, einen Mann, der Johannes hieß. Er sollte die Menschen auf das Licht hinweisen, damit alle durch seine Botschaft an den glauben, der das Licht ist.
God sent a messenger, a man called John. He was meant to point out to men the light so that all men might believe in Him who is the light.
You can see the differences – in the Greek, St. John the Baptist is the subject of the sentence (Ἐγένετο ἄνθρωπος – “There was a man”), but in the German translation I’m using, God becomes the subject (Gott schickte – God sent). It’s not as though German does not have the passive voice – the translators very well could have written, “Ein Mann war schickten” (A man was sent), but chose not to.
My point in writing this short post is to point out that it’s fun to read these familiar texts in other languages because it’s not always the exact equivalent of what you’re used to. Not only did I get the benefit of reading the German, but because of the oddity, I thought for awhile about German passive construction. Win-win, really.