Tag Archives: pun

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.