Mary and the angel – a new translation

Posted: July 31, 2013 by J in Bible, Linguistics
Tags: , , ,

Luke 1: 26-38

And the people were awaiting Zechariah, and they began to marvel at his delay in the sanctuary. And when he came out he could not speak to them, and they understood that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. And he could only gesture to them, and remained mute. And so it was, when his days of temple-service were complete, he went home.

And after those days Elizabeth his wife conceived, and she confined herself five months, saying, “This is what the Lord has done for me, in the days when he looked upon me to take away my disgrace among the people.”

And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to the Galilean town named Nazareth, to a virgin who was betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the name of the virgin was Mary. And coming near her, he said, “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.” But at this word she startled and wondered what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel told her,

Fear not, Mary, 
for you have found favour with God,
And look! you will conceive within your womb 
and bear a son
And you will call his name Jesus.
This one will mighty be,
and ‘Son of the Most High’ will he be called.
And the Lord God will give to him the throne of David his father,
and he will reign over the house of Jacob for all ages
and of his kingdom there will be no end.

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since no man have I known?”

And the angel answered her, saying,

The Holy Breath will come upon you
and the power of the Most High overshadow;
And so the holy one born will be called Son of God.

“And look, Elizabeth your relation, even she has conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who is called ‘barren’. For nothing shall be impossible with God.”

And Mary said “Here stands the slave-girl of the Lord. Amen, let it be for me according to your word.” And the angel left her.

What gains are there here?

Elizabeth’s speech actually sounds Jewish. That’s nice. The introduction of Mary occurs in a long, fast-paced sentence, very paratactic. A lot of intro in one breath!

There is the more sensory, aural effect of ‘At this word she startled’  – being greeted by an angel was scarey! There is the concrete bodily imagery of ‘conceive within your womb’ – politely excised by the Holman.

The song brings out the many parallelisms and verse pairings so typical of Jewish poetry: you will conceive/and bear a son. It ends with a triple parallel.

The one line of the poem that doesn’t have a parallel is the naming of the child. By standing alone, this instruction stands out like a highlighted saying. It will of course need to be remembered later, when Luke shows us Mary and Joseph giving their child the name the angel told them. (Luke 2:21)

Mary’s query also sounds Jewish. ‘Servant’ is too weak for doulos: here ‘slave-girl’ is more nuanced and gender-specific as in the greek. Also more interesting!

“Amen” is something Old Testament Jews said a bit, indicating agreement. It didn’t sound especially religious, just emphatic. It’s nice to bring out this Hebraism that Luke puts in his text.

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