Originally published in the Swedenborg Foundation’s newsletter Logos, in the winter of 2011.
By Lisa Hyatt Cooper (with a little help from her friends)
Over the years that the New Century Edition (NCE) project has been underway, the translators and editors have been asked several questions that may hold interest for the NCE audience in general. Here are answers to a few of these NCE “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQs).
Q: What translation of the Bible does the NCE use for Swedenborg’s Scripture quotations?
A: The only translation of the Bible with which we are concerned in the New Century Edition is the Latin version that Swedenborg made as he was writing his books. (He translated what he needed as he went along—he did not compile an entire translation first.) It is Swedenborg’s concept of what the Bible says—not anyone else’s—that we try to convey to the English reader. So we translate Scripture quotations directly from his Latin texts. In fact, in many passages, if we just plugged in a familiar English translation, such as the King James Version, it would not match the sense Swedenborg found in the Bible.
That said, the NCE translators are influenced consciously and doubtless unconsciously by the English translations they have had ringing in their ears since childhood. We may even consult various translations, in an attempt either to understand the Latin where it is difficult or to explore options for English renderings. But there is no one English translation that guides us.
Swedenborg himself apparently took a similar approach when rendering the original Hebrew and Greek of the Bible into Latin. There were many Latin translations of Scripture available to him, and we know that in addition to the Vulgate, translated by Jerome (circa 347–420 CE), he owned versions by Sebastian Castellio (1515–1563), Theodore Beza (1519–1605), Benedictus Arias Montanus (1527–1598), and Sebastian Schmidt (1617–1696). He relied on Schmidt’s renderings more heavily than on any other translation, but the influence of other translations can be traced in his work. There are also places where he departs from all of them. For example, in True Christianity 303 he translates a phrase in Luke 10:5 as “the peace of the Lord.” Other Bibles read “Peace be to this house” or some equivalent. The NCE follows Swedenborg, and it also adds an explanatory note at the spot.
Q: Why do you use the old-fashioned term “Jehovah”?
A: The short answer is that we use it because Swedenborg did.
As the question indicates, “Jehovah” is not nearly as common today as it was among Christians in Swedenborg’s time. Now it is often rendered as “the Lord” or “Yahweh.”
Swedenborg attaches significance to the name in a number of passages. For example, in Secrets of Heaven 2586:1, 2769, 2822, and 3921:3 he says that “Jehovah” has to do with goodness and all that is heavenly, while “God” has to do with truth and all that is spiritual. So we can’t simply replace “Jehovah” with “God” or “the Lord.” It has a particular meaning that would be lost.
Q: What is your policy on terms that are not idiomatic in English, such as the plurals “faces” and “bloods” that are used in some other translations?
A: Swedenborg’s Latin renderings of Scripture are extremely literal. In Hebrew, the word for “face” is plural, and “blood” can be used in the plural to mean violence, and where these words are plural in the Hebrew, Swedenborg makes them plural in Latin. The Standard Edition of Swedenborg’s works represents them by the plurals “faces” and “bloods,” as in “Jehovah make his faces to shine upon thee” (Numbers 6:25; Arcana Coelestia 222) and “The voice of thy brother’s bloods crieth to me from the ground” (Genesis 4:10; Arcana Coelestia 373).
A literal translation of Scripture was very important to Swedenborg, and the NCE’s policy is to be as faithful to his literalism as possible without creating barriers for the reader. We do not want the reader to be put off by a translation that seems incomprehensible or disrespectful of the Bible’s holiness—both of which are possible with extreme literalism. “Faces” (when used to mean a single face, as in the quotation from Numbers above) and “bloods” seemed to us to be too high a hurdle to place before the reader, so we have avoided them in our translation.
In some cases, where a literal translation is difficult or awkward but is necessary for understanding the text, we have allowed violations of idiom or tradition to stand. For example, in Secrets of Heaven 298, Swedenborg’s plural vitarum, “of lives,” has been retained in the expression “tree of lives” in Genesis 3:22. Virtually every English Bible renders this “tree of life,” but Swedenborg notes the importance of the plural in §304: the plural “lives,” he says, refers to the double inner meaning, love and faith. Here too, bringing the English into conformity with other translations would lead to losing the inner sense.
To find more information about:
- The phrase “the peace of the Lord” in True Christianity 303, see True Christianity volume 1, page 748, note 526.
- The name “Jehovah,” see Secrets of Heaven volume 1, page 600, note 28.
- The plural “faces,” see True Christianity volume 1, page 716, note 243.
- The plural “bloods,” see Secrets of Heaven volume 1, page 606, note 76