Sunday, March 26, 2006

Metonymy. The NET Bible is a load. Not counting the cover, the book is nearly 1 and 3/4 inches thick. Not counting the satellite pictures of the Holy Land, there are 2,543 pages. It does not fit neatly into my back pocket. It does not fit into any pocket. So it is my Sunday morning Bible, and the center aisle of our church is wide enough for the dolly.

What makes the thing so big are the footnotes. For most of the pages, I would say that the footnotes take up at least one half, if not two-thirds, of the page. For a lawyer, this is like candyland. We live for footnotes.

There is enough space in our worship service to do a little multi-tasking, using the NET Bible as one's screen. For the past several weeks, in addition to following the minister as he moves through Acts during his sermons, I have been looking at other passages that are suggested by his remarks, diving down into the footnotes for as long as I can stay down there without having to come back up to the verse for my breath. This morning I decided not only to follow the Acts passages, but also to start reading the psalms during the services. So I started at the First Psalm and blew all the way through to nearly the fourth verse of Chapter 1.

The first verse of Psalm 1 reads "How blessed is the one who does not follow the advice of the wicked or stand in the pathway with sinners, or sit in the assembly of scoffers." This verse has 9 footnotes. The footnotes are so thick on the page where Psalm 1 begins that the scripture text only gets as far as the beginning of verse 4.

The first footnote is at the end of the phrase "How blessed", and I want to talk about that, but let me say something about how fresh is the NET Bible text. There is nothing contrived about the translation, and contrivance really puts me off. (I hate to admit this, but I just cannot relate to "the Message", as great a scholar as Peterson is.) I find the NET translation crystal clear thus far, and there is a sort of pleasure in reading how the translators express anew passages with which I have been familiar nearly all of my life.

The footnote that follows "How blessed" states: "The Hebrew noun is an abstract plural. The word often refers metonymically to the happiness that God-given security and prosperity produce . . . "

"Refers metonymically". This is a new adverb for me. Lawyers do not think that way nor write that way. I had to go look that word up. The noun form is "metonymy" and, according to Webster's New International Dictionary, Second Edition (1938 - If I were a pagan I would worship this book!), it is a rhetorical device that means

"The use of one word for another that it suggests, as the effect for the cause, the cause for the effect, the sign for the thing signified, the container for the contained, etc. (darkness was the saving of us, for the cause of saving ; a man keeps a good table , instead of good food ; we read Virgil , that is, his poems; a man has a warm heart , that is, warm affections)."

(As a synonym for metonymy, the dictionary gives synecdoche, and that certainly clears things up for me.)

But back to metonymy and Psalm 1.

Look at verse 2 of your NIV. The NET Bible translates the first part of verse 2 as "Instead, he finds pleasure in obeying the Lord's commands". Appended to "instead" is footnote 11. The footnote states that the literal translation of this part is "his delight [is] in the law of the Lord", which, to one who first memorized Psalm 1 in the KJV, is the more familiar translation. The footnote indicates that the translator went directly to the idea to which the literal Hebrew metonymically refers:

"In light of the following line ['he meditates on his commands day and night'], which focuses on studying the Lord's law, one might translate, 'he finds pleasure in studying the Lord's commands.' However, even if one translates the line this way, it is important to recognize that mere study and intellectual awareness are not ultimately what bring divine favor. Study of the law is metonymic here for the correct attitudes and behavior that should result from an awareness of and commitment to God's moral will; thus 'obeying' has been used in the translation rather than 'studying'."

I think what I like about the NET Bible is that the reader is simply not patronized, neither in the text translation nor in the annotations. The reader is treated like a grown-up.

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