Isaiah 5:7 and Puns in Hebrew

Since I’m presently working on Isaiah for the series it’s only natural that I’d wind up in Chapter 5 with it’s stunningly beautiful pun

לְמִשְׁפָּט֙ וְהִנֵּ֣ה מִשְׂפָּ֔ח לִצְדָקָ֖ה וְהִנֵּ֥ה צְעָקָֽה׃

God looked for justice (mishpat) but only saw oppression (mispach). God looked for righteousness (tzedakah) and instead he heard an outcry of pain (tz’acha).

This pun is virtually impossible to render in English. The Common English Bible tries, but meets the same resistance as every other rendition has-

God expected justice, but there was bloodshed; righteousness, but there was a cry of distress!

The REB is essentially the same. What this shows, it seems to me, is that the rendition of puns from one language to another is excessively difficult. Perhaps translators, and especially commentators, should indicate the pun in transliteration in a footnote or in their comments so that readers of English can at least have some sense of the beauty and brilliance of the underlying original.

About Jim

I am a Pastor, and Lecturer in Church History and Biblical Studies at Ming Hua Theological College.
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11 Responses to Isaiah 5:7 and Puns in Hebrew

  1. Off topic (when am I on topic?): “When are you going to be on Kindle?”

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    • Jim says:

      apparently some of them are – as i discovered when someone told me theyd read one on a kindle and i said ‘what the…’ because i hadn’t heard.

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  2. Jim Linville says:

    I love biblical puns! Neither of the translations really captures the brevity of the Hebrew, either, which is also very difficult.

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  3. On topic (God does still work miracles): The NET does note the verbal games in Isaiah 5:7.

    Does anyone other than the Jerusalem School note the possible word games in Jesus’ sayings?

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  4. “What the…” My reaction to Jim West books on Amazon. 😛

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  5. You want insulting? BAR is on Amazon but not on Kindle. Yet.

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  6. I read your blog, but not BAR. Feel better?

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  7. Oh, and I have nothing on Amazon because I am 1) too lazy 2) too scatter-brained

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