The book of Psalms=Sefer Tehilim: a new translation according to the traditional Hebrew text
© 1972 by The Jewish Publication Society First edition,
second printing 1975
Revised edition with updated translation 1997
ISBN 0-8276-0630-3 (case). -
ISBN 0-8276-0631-1 (paper)
PREFACE TO THE PSALMS TRANSLATION
In 1966 the Jewish Publication Society set up a committee of translators for the Ketubim, comprising professors Moshe Greenberg of the University of Pennsylvania (now of the Hebrew University), Jonas C. Greenfield of the University of California (now of the Hebrew University), and Nahum M. Sarna of Brandeis University, and associated with them rabbis Saul Leeman, Martin Rozenberg, and David Shapiro of the three sections of organized religious Jewish life in America. Dr. Chaim Potok, editor of the Society, served as secretary of the committee.
This English rendering of Psalms, the committee's first work, is a new version, not a revision of an earlier translation. It is based on the received (Masoretic) Hebrew text—its consonants, vowels, and syntactical divisions, although on occasion the traditional accentuation has been disregarded in favor of an alternative construction of a verse that appeared to yield a better sense. Such departures from the accentuation were made by many earlier Jewish commentators and translators.
The entire gamut of Psalms interpretation, from ancient to modern times, Jewish and non-Jewish, has been consulted. The results of modern study of the languages and cultures of the ancient Near East have been brought to bear on the biblical word wherever possible. In judging between alternatives, however, just as antiquity was not in itself a disqualification, so modernity was not in itself a recommendation. When the present translation diverges from recent renderings (as it frequently does), this is due as much to the committee's judgment that certain innovations, though interesting, are too speculative for adoption in the present state of knowledge, as to its commitment to the received Hebrew text (a commitment not made by most recent translations).
For many passages, our as yet imperfect understanding of the language of the Bible or what appears to be some disorder in the Hebrew text makes sure translation impossible. The committee's uncertainty is indicated in a marginal note, and alternative renderings have sometimes been offered where the Hebrew permits them. However, emendations of the text.have not been proposed.
The style of the translation is, on the whole, modern literary English. An effort has been made to retain the imagery of the Hebrew rather than to render it by English equivalents and approximations alien to the biblical world.
Consistency in rendering Hebrew terms was an aim but not an unqualified rule. Where its employment would have resulted in encumbered or awkward language it was abandoned. On the other hand, within a given psalm, key or thematic words and phrases were, as far as possible, rendered consistently. Repetition of key or thematic terms is an element of structure and composition in the psalms; its representation is one of the proper tasks of a translator. Terms having many values, such as hesed and sedeq (in the King James version, "mercy/lovingkindness" and "righteousness") posed a problem. In order to do justice to their wide range, a variety of renderings determined by the various contexts had to be employed. Here consistency was neither possible nor desirable.
The translators know that they have not conveyed the fullness of the Hebrew, with its ambiguities, its overtones, and the richness of meaning it carries from centuries of use. They do hope to have transmitted something of the directness, the simplicity, and the peculiarly Israelite expression of piety that are so essential to the sublimity of the Hebrew psalms.