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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

versão On-line ISSN 2224-7912
versão impressa ISSN 0041-4751


STEYN, Gert J.. Translators cross swords! Translation problems relating to the sword as a weapon in 1 and 2 Maccabees. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2020, vol.60, n.4-1, pp.994-1006. ISSN 2224-7912.

The purpose of this contribution is to address the translation problems related to the term "sword" as a weapon in the Maccabean books. The translation problem becomes evident in the various occurrences of ρομφαία, μάχαιρα and τό ξίφος in the source text of 1-2 Maccabees, as well as the frequency of the words in these books. Swords are historically contextual, and reveal important information about the nature of confrontation and attack strategies, as well as the relationship between attackers and victims, as it would determine whether soldiers would use them to stab, slash or cut their enemies. This is important information for understanding the translation context in which a particular type of sword was used, especially in the military context of the Maccabees. It is therefore clear that a definite distinction should be made between the various Greek terms used in 1 and 2 Maccabees for "sword". The ρομφαία was a longer type of sword, longer than one meter in length, with a broad blade that was only slightly curved, or even straight. The weapon was designed to serve as a stab and slashing weapon. The blade was fitted to a shaft or handle, which was only slightly shorter than the blade itself. The blade normally had only one cutting edge, although there were also some exceptions to this rule. It was a dreaded weapon because of its cutting or slashing power. The occurrences of the term ρομφαία in 1 and 2 Maccabees can be found in the context of the wars and battles in which the Jews were involved with the Seleucids and Ptolemies. In ancient war contexts, the Greek sword, known as a μάχαιρα, refers to a weapon in the form of a short sword or dagger, of which the blade had a slightly curved cutting edge on the one side and was level on the opposite side. It was designed to serve as a cutting weapon rather than a stab weapon. More detailed research into the Maccabean war context indicates that during the first phase of the Maccabees, some Jewish units were equipped with shields and such swords, similar to the classic Tragians and Scythians. Various sizes and forms of μάχαιρα, which was regionally specific and not necessarily uniquely Greek in nature, were in circulation. In biblical literature, violent death during wars or persecution often occurs by μάχαιρα as a weapon. Although the contexts in which the term μάχαιρα is used in 1 and 2 Maccabees are also contexts of war, the impression here is more that of close combat. The fact that the term μάχαιρα is used only a third in contrast to the two-thirds of the occurrences of ρομφαία in 1-2 Maccabees, as well as the specific contexts of 1 Maccabees 3:12, 4:6 and 2 Mac 5:2-3, seems to create the impression that the μάχαιρα was probably a hand weapon that was not widely used by the Jews at the time of the books of Maccabees. The ξίφος was a short stab sword or dagger with a narrow, double-edged blade and particularly sharp point. The term ξίφος is often generically applied in Aeolian or Attic Greek for a sword. It was especially used in hand-to-hand combat. The term ξίφος is not used in 1 Maccabees and occurs only twice in 2 Maccabees. It is clear from the context that ξίφος in these two instances refers to a short stab sword or dagger as a personal weapon. During the investigation, it has become clear that the existing mainstream English, German and Afrikaans translation traditions have predominantly and consistently chosen to translate all three Greek terms almost without excepton generically as "sword". During the recent translation process of the new Afrikaans translation, this translation has largely succumbed to the peer pressure of existing translation traditions, but has still managed to take the first offensive steps in the area of the translation problem related to the sword as an ancient weapon. This was done by specifying the type of sword mentioned in the source text in a footnote in a few strategic places.

Palavras-chave : 1-2 Maccabees; Apocrypha; Deuterocanonical books; Septuagint; sword; weaponry; context; translation.

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