A Virtue of Ancient Languages

Once upon a time I read that when the nation of Israel was being created in 1947, that the leading Rabbis were gathered to decide what the national language would be. You'd think it would obviously be Hebrew, but the concern was that if Hebrew became the national language, then the language of the Torah would also become the language of cursing longshoremen and the like. I don't know if this story is true, I've never been able to verify it. But the Truth of it is certainly true enough: the value of setting things aside for the Sacred.

We set aside space for the Sacred in churches, synagogues, mosques and temples. And many religions have an ancient language set aside for sacred use as well, a language that isn't used for the secular everyday at all. For example: Sanskrit for the Hindus, Hebrew for the Jews, Latin for the Catholic Church (until Vatican II in 1965), Greek for the Eastern Orthodox Church.

The nuance and depth of meaning in the original language is inevitably lost in translation regardless of how 'literal' it is or how skilled and sincere the translators. But more than that, in my own experience, confronting Scripture in its ancient form forcibly reminds me of how strange and mysterious it really is. That maybe I don't have it all figured out after all. (Imagine!)

For example, here's the 23rd Psalm in Hebrew:

מִזְמ֥וֹר לְדָוִ֑ד
יְהוָ֥ה רֹ֝עִ֗י לֹ֣א אֶחְסָֽר׃
בִּנְא֣וֹת דֶּ֭שֶׁא יַרְבִּיצֵ֑נִי
עַל־מֵ֖י מְנֻח֣וֹת יְנַהֲלֵֽנִי׃
נַפְשִׁ֥י יְשׁוֹבֵ֑ב
יַֽנְחֵ֥נִי בְמַעְגְּלֵי־צֶ֝֗דֶק לְמַ֣עַן שְׁמֽוֹ׃
גַּ֤ם כִּֽי־אֵלֵ֨ךְ בְּגֵ֪יא צַלְמָ֡וֶת
לֹא־אִ֘ירָ֤א רָ֗ע כִּי־אַתָּ֥ה עִמָּדִ֑י שִׁבְטְךָ֥ וּ֝מִשְׁעַנְתֶּ֗ךָ הֵ֣מָּה יְנַֽחֲמֻֽנִי׃
תַּעֲרֹ֬ךְ לְפָנַ֨י ׀ שֻׁלְחָ֗ן נֶ֥גֶד צֹרְרָ֑י
דִּשַּׁ֖נְתָּ בַשֶּׁ֥מֶן רֹ֝אשִׁ֗י כּוֹסִ֥י רְוָיָֽה׃
אַ֤ךְ ׀ ט֤וֹב וָחֶ֣סֶד יִ֭רְדְּפוּנִי כָּל־יְמֵ֣י חַיָּ֑י
וְשַׁבְתִּ֥י בְּבֵית־יְ֝הוָ֗ה לְאֹ֣רֶךְ יָמִֽים׃

And here's the Lord's Prayer in Greek:

Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς·ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου·ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου·γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου, ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς·τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον δὸς ἡμῖν σήμερον·καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν,ὡς καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀφίεμεν τοῖς ὀφειλέταις ἡμῶν·καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν,ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ.

How many marvelous treasures await us hidden in these mysterious ancient words? Which I know I shall never ever fully grasp? In a language other than the necessities of my day to day secular life?