A Fair View of Fred Franz' Translation Abilities

by IW 47 Replies latest watchtower bible

  • IP_SEC
    More and more the need has been felt for a translation in modern speech, in harmony with revealed truth,...

    Not to get off topic, but forscher this is the most profound quote I've read on this site in a long, long time. Thank you!

  • metatron

    Fred Franz was a remarkable man. I find the NWT to be painful to read, and the forcing of "Jehovah" to be near lunacy.

    In addtion, Fred took pains to conceal the likely fact that Israelites used flags and made no big deal about it.

    He was a sincerely deluded fanatic - with a good sense of humor.


  • Leolaia

    I like the point Forscher just made...that seems very natural that Franz would have run his Hebrew past a genuine Hebrew speaker, in the very least to correct obvious errors...

    I have long felt that the worst aspect of the translation is its very awkward and excessively-literal phrasing that truly obscures the meaning of the text. It is much, much harder to follow the thread of Paul's argument in something like Romans or Galatians in the NWT as opposed to more idiomatic translations that more ably express the thought of the Greek into natural English. It may be unintentional, but such wording that makes it hard to understand the overall picture in a passage accords well with the JW approach to the Bible as a collection of isolated proof-texts rather than books that can be read on their own terms, and thus complex ideas like Paul's notion of the relationship between grace and justification (which is counter to the whole JW work ethic) lie beyond the reach of the average JW reader who may discover such ideas anew through reading another translation.

    The other week, in researching for the Tyre thread, I found another example of how very literal -- if not ungrammatical -- English can be used to obscure the meaning of a text that goes counter to JW teachings. In most translations the meaning of Isaiah 23:13 is very plain: "Look at the land of the Babylonians (lit. "Chaldeans"), this people that is now of no account! The Assyrians have made it a place for desert creatures; they raised up their siege towers, they stripped its fortresses bare and turned it into a ruin" (NIV, compare RS, NASB, JB, Watts, etc.). This text is plainly talking about a destruction of Babylon that has already occurred, and in fact it alludes to the Assyrian attack on Babylon in the reign of Merodach-Baladan in the 8th century BC (during the prophet Isaiah's time). But the Watchtower interpretation of this prophecy against Tyre is that it was fulfilled by Nebuchadnezzar in his siege of Tyre and through Tyre's vassalage to Babylon. Clearly such a verse would be counter to this interpretation; how can Tyre be a vassal to a land that no longer exists? So it is interesting that in the NWT, the verse is rendered in the following manner:

    "Look! The land of the Chaldeans. This is the people -- Assyria did not prove to be [the one] -- they founded her for the desert haunters. They have erected their siege towers; they have stripped her dwelling towers; one has set her as a crumbling ruin."

    Aside from the sentence fragments and added words in brackets, this reading has made the reference to Assyria obscure and relegated to a paranthesis, whereas the subject in the rest of the verse is made to refer to the Chaldeans, presumably making Tyre a crumbling ruin. I found similar examples in Daniel 11 that also make it hard to understand what is being said.

    The NWT also renders sometimes according to an etymological fallacy when its theology or eschatology is at stake, e.g. kolasin as "cutting-off", for instance, and other renderings -- while technically permissible in some sense -- also facilitate JW teachings or practices, such as having "take in knowledge" (i.e. through the WT publications) instead of "know," or "exercise faith" (i.e. by doing works on the basis of faith) instead of "believe".

  • VM44

    Hi metatron,

    You wrote:

    "Fred took pains to conceal the likely fact that Israelites used flags and made no big deal about it."

    This is interesting. Could you say more about this? Particularly how did Franz make "big deal about it"?

    Did Franz deliberately cover up historical facts because they might go against current JW doctrines?


  • Narkissos

    moggy lover,

    You made a lot of good points, but I sort of disagree with your distinction between translation and interpretation. As far as translation -- not mere copy -- is concerned, what a text says cannot be separated from what it means, even though it does exceed (especially with formal features such as puns) what it means. Iow, semantics are central to translation, although there is more to translation than semantics -- a fact often forgotten by the champions of "functional equivalence" in translation. Which means that translation always comes downstream, not upstream, of exegesis. Even a fairly "literal" (hence obscure) translation usually reflects the hesitations of previous exegesis -- rather than the mechanical restitution of a rough text yet to be interpreted.

    Imo there is no neutral or disinterested translation. Every translator has an interest -- hence potential bias -- in his work.


    The problem is that no one living -- not even a modern Hebrew speaker -- can actually think in a dead language such as ancient Hebrew. Translating a sentence into Biblical Hebrew would involve a lot of creativity, unless it is a typically "Biblical" sentence.

  • VM44


    "The problem is that no one living -- not even a modern Hebrew speaker -- can actually think in a dead language such as ancient Hebrew."

    Is this because the actual pronunciation of many ancient hebrew words is not know?

    One would think that not being able to "think" in a language would make it hard to appreciate the subtleties of poetry written in that language.

    What about Koine Greek? It is a dead language, are there any today who can think in that language?

    This is interesting....I wonder how close a modern person could come to the goal of actualy "thinking" in ancient hebrew?


  • TD

    Auld Soul

    How would criticism (stuffed into an appendix) regarding one GLARING and often repeated error in NWT translation constitute evidence that BeDuhn was not somehow connected to the WTS?

    I suspect that Rud probably meant a theological connection rather than a familial or casual connection. BeDuhn obviously has a least a casual connection with JW's, but it doesn't appear to be any stronger than that.

    His Appendix (The only one in the book) was a blistering 13 page criticism of the NWT use of "Jehovah" in the NT.

  • Death to the Pixies
    Death to the Pixies

    Here is some further observations by Ray Franz in response to a question regarding his uncle FW Franz-s translating abilities:

    "... Fred Franz studied Greek for two years at the University of Cincinnati, with high marks, and continued his studies personally thereafter. One need only read the critical notes accompanying the New World Translation to see the extent of his knowledge of Biblical Greek and its grammar. He was self-taught in Hebrew. However, knowing him personally I am satisfied that he was capable of developing a thorough knowledge of the language. He was unusually mentally disciplined. He taught himself Spanish, a language I spoke in Spanish-speaking countries for nearly 20 years. While in Brooklyn, I associated with a Spanish-speaking congregation that he attended. I heard his use of the language both there and, previously, in Spanish speaking countries. Whether in conversational expressions or in public talks that he gave in Spanish I did not once hear him make a single grammatical error. He similarly learned Portuguese and gave talks in that language. He knew German from his childhood (his father having been born in Germany).

    On one occasion, while in Cincinnati, I took Fred Franz ( he himself did not drive) to a Hebrew museum which he knew contained a particular Biblical Hebrew manuscript that he wished to research. I stood alongside him while he read through the portions of the Hebrew text he wished to investigate. While working on the Watch Tower’s Bible dictionary Aid to Bible Understanding., on more than one occasion I had to seek out his assistance with reference to Hebrew renderings. He was always able to supply the needed information. In 1971, on a trip to Israel, we visited the Watch Tower’s branch office located in Haifa. A member of the staff there, Dalia Erez, a young Jewish woman, native to the country, did Hebrew translation of the organization’s publications. She spent part of one day discussing with Fred Franz certain translation problems she was experiencing and received his assistance and recommendations. She clearly found his knowledge of Hebrew solid.

    His knowledge of Hebrew was not equal to his knowledge of Greek and he was not an advanced or notable Hebrew scholar but his knowledge was sufficient to produce a creditable translation.



    (end quote)

    He seems generally miffed that so many people (usually dubious Evangelicals) incorrectly use his footnote in his book to state FW Franz had zero knowledge of Greek, or that he was wholly incapable of makng a translation.

  • Narkissos


    I think this has little to do with pronunciation, and much more with the limited vocabulary available from the extant classical Hebrew corpus (which amounts to barely more than the Hebrew Bible, cf. my first post on this thread). As a result expressing oneself in Biblical Hebrew would boil down to imitating Biblical expressions (as in prose composition exercises), otherwise you'd have to forge a neologism or use a foreign term every second word or so.

    It is quite different with koinè Greek which offers a much wider corpus extending from the Hellenistic period to late Antiquity. Still, I would say that the ability to express oneself in koinè Greek is very rare among recognised translators. "Thinking" in a foreign language implies a practice of dialogue and composition (either oral or written) which seldom occurs with ancient languages. I knew an old Catholic priest who was able to do that with Latin because most of the seminary courses he followed when he was young were still given in that language. I guess you could find similar cases in the Greek orthodox clergy -- the Greek church Fathers and liturgy are still very close to LXX and NT Greek.

    Another side of the issue is that you can expect very little help in Bible translation from speakers of either modern Hebrew or Greek, which are very different from the ancient languages.

  • metatron

    The Israelites used flags and likely did so to avoid idolatry (Jewish Encyclopedia).

    It's almost impossible to conceive of anyone going to war in ancient times without using a "standard" or flag to identify their troops

    amidst the confusion of the battlefield. The NWT tries to conceal or avoid translations that suggest flags because of their flag salute

    doctrine. One Hebrew word for sign or standard is related to a word referring to a sail.


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