Lists in Daniel

December 11, 2009 by 2 Comments

The prophet Daniel, or whoever chronicled the book that bears his name, liked lists. For a start there’s the fairly modest list of clever people that King Nebuchadnezzar summoned to explain his dream to him:

magicians, astrologers, sorcerers, and wise men Daniel 2:2

Or a bit later on:

wise men, astrologers, magicians, and diviners Daniel 2:27

By the next chapter, we’re introduced to the list of important people that Nebuchadnezzar summoned to the dedication of his mighty statue:

satraps, prefects, governors, counselors, treasurers, judges, magistrates, and all the other authorities of the province Daniel 3:2 (and again in 3:3)

 This is quickly followed by the herald’s  command to:

peoples, nations, and language groups Daniel 3:4

that they are to bow down and pay homage to the golden statue, whenever they hear the sound of:

the horn, flute, zither, trigon, harp, pipes, and all kinds of music Daniel 3:5 (and 3:7 and 3: 10 …)

I think by now you get the idea of lists.  What does the translator make of them? The above are all quoted from the NET Bible (New English Translation). Other English versions use different words to translate the range of Aramaic terms (yes, this part of Daniel is in Aramaic, rather than Hebrew). You may find triangles, dulcimers, zithers and even bagpipes among the musical instruments if you look carefully in different versions. The truth is we can’t always be sure what was precisely the nature of each one, but in this case they all seem to be either wind or string instruments, with no percussion instruments included, unless “triangle” is a correct understanding of “trigon” (and NRSV does throw a drum in, in place of bagpipe).

Kasem has a suitable range of terms for horns and pipes but only one term for a stringed instrument which is plucked. It is tempting to fill the list out with various terms for drums, since Kasem has no shortage of these, but this would be at variance with the historical setting of the passage. A good approach for the translator seems to be to see what range of terms is available in the language and use these to spread across a similar spectrum without necessarily trying to match term for term individually. This may produce a shorter list (or even a longer one) but the variety is represented. Sometimes one just has to resort to “stringed instruments of different kinds” if there is just one term for a stringed instrument available in the language, as in Kasem.

Of course there are lists in other books of the Bible, but in Daniel they seem almost to take on a life of their own.

2 Replies to “Lists in Daniel”

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