Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Hell, Hades, Netherworld, or Powers of Death?
The discussion on Matthew 16 has continued into this week, with well over 35 comments. It has been a good discussion, which, at the very least, has shown the difficult task that translators have in both respecting and being true to the original languages, while making a translation understandable to a modern reader. It is certainly not an easy job, and I am thankful to those who devote their lives to this work.
I just wanted to make a few observations on the topic of Hades and Matthew 16. Feel free to disagree with me on this. I had always felt that the RSV's "powers of death" was a bit too free of a translation of "ᾅδου", and so was quite happy when the RSV-2CE, following the NRSV, changed it to "gates of hades". Literal is always better right? Well, I am not too sure in this case anymore. It is certainly the case that "hades" may confuse some readers, linking it to Greek pagan mythology as some astute comments have already pointed out. Yet, as Theophrastus said: "the NRSV and RSV-2CE (but not the RSV or RSV-CE) must be correct, because they simply repeat the Greek term."
Then there is the whole issue with CCC 633 which is about Christ's descent into "hell" or the "abode of the dead". So "hell" is legitimate and a traditional option for this translation as well. But as Jonny pointed out: "Modern translations ofter speak of this collectively as "Hades" or the "Netherworld" because the term "hell" has become synonymous with Gehenna in modern English." So there still is a bit of problem simply with translating it as "hell".
With all that being said, I am somewhat leaning towards the original RSV's "powers of death" simply because it does leave the term a bit ambiguous. Certainly, as Theophrastus points out, there needs to be at the very least a textual note indicated the Greek behind it, but also some commentary would be necessary as well. There is also the issue of consistency in translation of "ᾅδου", which would also need to be addressed.
I throw these thoughts out there for discussion. For my part, this has been a good exercise in the challenges of translation, hopefully it has been interesting as well for many of you. Thanks for all the interesting comments and links on this discussion thus far.