Utterly lost in translation

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During a search for something else, I happened upon this page at the Bible Study Tools site. It provides a nice reminder (for the two or three people out there who might still need it) of the fact that it's dangerous to trust websites, in linguistic matters or in anything else. As the screenshot shows, it purports to show Psalm 86 in two parallel versions, the Latin Vulgate and the New International Version.

"Filiis Core psalmis cantici fundamenta eius in montibus sanctis" is translated as "Hear me, Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy." The correct translation is debatable, but the first four words mean "A song psalm for the sons of Korah", and the rest means either "Its foundations are in the sacred hills" or (according to the Revised Standard Version) "On the holy mount stands the city he founded." Verse 2, "Diligit dominus portas Sion super omnia tabernacula Iacob" (roughly, "The Lord loves the gates of Sion more than all the dwellings of Jacob") is translated as "Guard my life, for I am faithful to you; save your servant who trusts in you. You are my God." The third verse begins Gloriosa dicta sunt ("glorious things are spoken") but is translated as "have mercy on me". This is worse than the worst botch I ever saw from Google Translate. And I suspect human error is to blame.

They've got the wrong psalm, having fallen foul of the discrepancy between the Hebrew (Masoretic) and Greek (Septuagint/Vulgate) numberings. They have aligned the Latin of Psalm 87 in the Hebrew numbering (86 in the Greek) with the English of the Hebrew Psalm 86 (Greek 85). The Authorized Version of the bible (1611) uses the Hebrew numbering, as does the Revised Standard Version (1951). Catholic authorities (see Rosary Bay's parallel Latin-English psalter, for example) use the Greek numbering, having (correctly) recognized that psalms 9 and 10 in the Hebrew numbering are two parts of a single psalm. The error on the Bible Tools site goes on, of course, to affect all psalms from 10 (in the Greek numbering) onwards.

The psalm that begins "Fundamenta eius in montibus sanctis" turns up in certain magical spells and incantations, so the error could turn out to have rather serious consequences. For example, in section 110 of Claude Lecouteux's The Book of Grimoires: The Secret Grammar of Magic it is recommended that an inscription of the Fundamenta eius psalm written, in pigeon blood together with certain magical characters (which do not have Unicode numbers, so I will not try to reproduce them here), if smoked over mastic and aloe wood and then attached to your right arm, will preserve your health and cause your business affairs to prosper.

Catching a pigeon, subduing it, and draining its blood into a bowl left my kitchen in a bit of a mess, but once the gory stuff was done, and I had enough blood to moisten my quill pen, it didn't take long to complete the necessary scribal job. I sewed the piece of parchment into the lining of the right arm of my jacket, and haven't looked back since. I don't leave home without it. It has made me healthy and prosperous, exactly as was guaranteed.

But you do have to be able to tell one psalm from another if you want to get your spells right. So don't put your trust in just any old site you find on the web when looking for translations of documents. It could lead you even further astray than a random condo development brochure about armed structure and crystals.

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