Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Mother or nurse?

I don't like the New American or the Jerusalem Bible, and 1 Thessalonians 2:7 is an example of why. The phrase I've translated:

As a wet-nurse cherishes her own children

becomes, in the New American Bible:

as a nursing mother cares for her children

And in the Jerusalem Bible:

Like a mother feeding and looking after her own children.

I don't know how they justify translating τροφός as 'mother.' Every Greek dictionary I have -- Attic, Koine or Modern -- defines it as '(wet-)nurse.' The word literally means 'feeder,' and I suppose it could be stretched to mean 'nursing mother,' but I can't find any evidence that it was. Related words like τροφεîα (a nurse's wages) and τρόφιμος (foster child) support the 'nurse' definition, and so do the uses of τροφός in the Septuagint. Furthermore, if Paul were writing about a mother, surely he wouldn't need to emphasise 'her own children' (τά έαυτής τέκνα).

A wet-nurse must give her milk and motherly care to many women's children. With her own, however, she shares not just these things but also her soul. This is clearly how Paul -- whose 'milk' is the gospel -- feels about the community at Thessalonica. The 'wet-nurse' metaphor is original, vivid and precise; the 'mother' metaphor is just trite.

At least the NAB keeps the idea of 'nursing' in there somewhere. By changing the phrase to 'a mother feeding her children' (on what, fish fingers?), the Jerusalem Bible destroys any connection to Paul's original image.



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