be there dragons in isaiah 6?

Isaiah 6 is a magnificent account of Isaiah’s encounter with the true king. The scene features supernatural creatures, the שרפים (śĕrāphîm). Most translations going back as far as the Greek simply transliterate the Hebrew and so call the creatures “seraphim” (the Greek has σεραφιν). But I think there may be a viable alternative.

  • Seraph is the Hebrew word for serpent/snake. The word also means “burning” and it is supposed that the association comes about because the bite of a serpent produces a burning sensation.
  • These serpents have legs (they cover the legs with one set of wings) and hands (used to pick up the burning coal).
  • They have wings!
  • The Greek word drakōn means “dragon, serpent,” so a dragon is meant to be serpent like! The Greek word is used in Rev 12–13 and often translated as “dragon” in English versions.
  • These creatures are supernatural, so not something you’d expect to see every day.
  • They’re impressively sized and loud enough to cause the temple, built from heavy stone, to tremble.

So perhaps “dragon,” as popularly conceived, actually does fit quite well. Here, then, is a quick translation of the first verses of Isaiah 6:

In the year king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and exalted. The bottom of his robe filled the temple. Dragons with six wings were stationed above him – each had six wings: with two it covered its face, with two it covered its feet, and with two it flew.

They called to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is General Yahweh! The whole earth is filled with his glory!”

The stone frames of the doorways shook at the sound of their calls, and the temple filled with smoke.

Then I said, “Woe to me for I am destroyed, for I am a man of unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the king, General Yahweh.”

Then one of the dragons flew to me and in its hand was a burning coal which it had taken from the altar with tongs. It touched my mouth and said, “Now this has touched your lips your guilt has been removed and your sin dealt with.”

Perhaps the only downside is that “dragon” is used in Revelation in reference to Satan. Yet perhaps like angels there can be good and evil dragons!

yabt (yet another bible translation): the common english bible

The Common English Bible has been completed, the result of an impressive array of scholars, with admirable goals. A page comparing it with the NRSV and NIV is available here. Some brief and very initial observations based primarily on a few passages I like to check follows.
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should english bible translations transliterate God’s name?

Prompted by this discussion at Better Bibles Blog, I think there is one important side to the debate which is often overlooked.

First some brief background. I’ve always been somewhat fond of versions which render יהוה by Yahweh or something similar, partly because it makes better sense in many places to actually use a name when translating a name, partly because often using a title (i.e. “Lord”) interrupts the fluency of the text, and partly because, well, because I like to see little glimpses of Hebrew shining through into the translation.

Having said that, however, it is worth noting that there is a case for translating the name יהוה with the English “Lord.” The basis for the case is found in the NT, because whenever the NT quotes an OT text which includes God’s name it translates it as κυριος, ‘Lord’.

Now if that were all there was to it then I don’t think there’d be a strong case here. But wait, there’s more! The NT also consistently describes Jesus as κυριος, and so suddenly there is an important relationship established in the ambiguity of this designation for Jesus which the authors of the NT appear to self-consciously exploit.

A prime example is Matt 3:3’s use of Isa 40:3. First, here is what the MT for Isaiah says:

‏קול קורא
במדבר פנו דרך יהוה
‏ישרו בערבה מסלה לאלהינו

The LXX renders this thus:

φωνὴ βοῶντος
ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ ἑτοιμάσατε τὴν ὁδὸν κυρίου
εὐθείας ποιεῖτε τὰς τρίβους τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν

You can clearly see the transition from יהוה to κυριος which leads us to Matt 3:3

φωνὴ βοῶντος ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ·
ἑτοιμάσατε τὴν ὁδὸν κυρίου,
εὐθείας ποιεῖτε τὰς τρίβους αὐτοῦ.

So Isaiah makes clear reference to preparing the way for Yahweh to come. But what is in Matthew’s mind? Throughout his gospel Jesus is referred to as κυριος. So here we have some ambiguity—who are the preparations for? Are they for Jesus or for Yahweh himself? Reading on it becomes clear that John is anticipating the arrival of the Messiah.

The resolution to this apparent paradox lies, of course, in the divinity of Jesus, for the NT writers seem to apply both senses of κυριος to him.

So the danger in moving away from translating יהוה by ‘Lord’ in the NT is that the English reader loses this connection. As is inevitably the case when faced with such choices in translation, each choice has pros and cons and no choice will make everyone happy. Nonetheless, this particular translation choice has both biblical justification as well as theological significance, and so there is no a-priori case to dismiss the validity of the use of ‘Lord’ in English translations of the tetragrammaton.