Isaiah 41 – An Interesting Translation Issue

I was reading the lectionary passage this morning from Isaiah 41 and came across an interesting translation issue in verse 14.  The issue revolves around the translation of the word mªtey (sorry couldn’t find a superscript “e” in my special characters). So, I checked out the text in parallel versions.

Isaiah 41.14 in Parallel Versions

Isaiah 41.14Parallel Versions Using BibleWorks 8

You may have been able to pick up on the word in question, just by reading the parallels.  If not, it is the word that is rendered as “maggot” (New American Bible), “men” (New American Standard and New Jewish Publication Society), “insect” (New Revised Standard), and “little” (Today’s New International Version).  That’s a pretty wide range of possibilities.

Translating mªtey in Isaiah 41.14

If I were translating this word, I would most likely translate it as “men,” while placing a footnote that states that the meaning is uncertain.  Other instances of this word as it is found in the Massoretic Text being translated as “men” are Genesis 34.30, Deuteronomy 26.5, Psalm 26.4, and Job 31.31. But, the text itself may be what is uncertain.  The difficulty comes in when scholars examine the parallel between “worm” and “men.”  The parallel is not transparent, and it has not been readily apparent for some time as this word is not uniformly handled in the ancient witnesses.  For a fuller discussion of how scholars have attempted to reconstruct the parallel based on ancient witnesses, I can only refer you HERE (page 59 and following).  Some of the suggestions include a link with the Peshitta and the Akkadian word mutu, which may have the word rendered as something like “lice.”  Most of this is beyond my expertise as I know no Akkadian.  At any rate, in reading the section of the work link to above, one finds that the offerings of modern translations (as in the image above) are only the tip of the iceberg.

I will say one thing though, “men” is a little bit more palatable than “maggot.”

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