German language tools on the web

I am currently reading Richard Nordsiek’s Das Thomas-Evangelim: Einleitung Zur Frage des historishen Jesus Kommentierung aller 114 Logien and am finding that my German is more than a little rusty. 😦 I am therefore engaging in a bit of translation practise so that I don’t have to look the vocab up every time I want to refer back to the bits about my particular text sections and also to force myself to think carefully about what is being said. Not to mention the fact that I actually enjoy the challenge of translating from one language to another.

I offer the following comments about German to English translation tools on the web:

  • LEO on-line dictionary is excellent! It offers a comprehensive list of ways of translating German words into English, including idiomatic uses. If it can’t find the word you’ve typed in its database, it also offers you a list of options that might be related to it on the basis of the word patterns in it. LEO’s base language is German and it only provides meanings of German words in English, Italian, Spanish, French and Chinese. You cannot look up, for example, a French word in LEO and find the English meaning, although it does do English to German as well as German to English.

None of the sites that offer translations of blocks of German are particularly good (no surprises here) so if you have never learned German at anything above a tourist level, don’t expect that you will be able to read theological German using only an on-line translation tool.  However, if you are just stuck on a particular sentence where you understand all the words individually but can’t make sense of how they’ve been put together in this particular context, there are three sites that I have found helpful, especially when used in combination.  They are:

  • Google translate: this is generally the best. It seems to be better able to tell from the context when Funk is an author’s name, rather than a radio, for example, and it also seems to have a wider vocabulary and to be better able to come up with sensible meanings for the compound words so beloved of Germans. It is by no means perfect, however.
  • Arthropolis transtlation: provides amusement from its translation of people’s names and is not so good with compound words, but sometimes selects a better option for translating particular idioms.
  • Provides a third perspective which is also sometimes helpful.  Has the same drawbacks as Arthropolis and provides the most wooden English, but …

(All of these also provide translation between a range of other languages.)

And when you get desperate for a particular word that you can’t find in a dictionary, there’s always ordinary Google which will often identify the names of famous (but not to you) people and provide definitions of technical terms that haven’t been included in your education.

My two new terms for the week are Weckformel and corpus permixtum. If I understand it correctly, Weckformel means “alertness formula” and was coined by Dibelius to refer to the “let anyone who has ears, hear” formula that is found in Revelation 2:7 and its Synoptic parallels (or maybe only the Synoptic parallels).  Corpus permixtum means “mixed body” and refers to Augustine’s argument against the Donatist heresy – that  that the church could not be a pure body because was a mixed body of saints and sinners. I suspect that my lack of familiarity with the latter is due to my having discovered that early church history was not compulsory for ordination and that I therefore did not need to sit through two semesters of classes from arguably the worst lecturer in the theological faculty at the time.  I don’t see myself needing to use either term any time soon, but at least I will understand them if I find them again. 🙂

And even when translating for my own personal use, I find myself trying to decide where I should walk on the line between an absolutely literal translation and one that reads more smoothly in English.


I am informed by my German friend that the bits of Nordsiek’s writing that I am finding hard going are actually written in very difficult German. Perhaps my German is not as rusty as I had thought.  🙂


Christopher Skinner’s interviews with Davies and Patterson

I am not very good at updating my blogroll, I find. Christopher Skinner’s PEJE IESOUS (transliteration of the Coptic for “Jesus said”) has been around a while now (since September, in fact), and I’ve linked to it, but not managed to add it to the blog roll, despite it’s interest to people who are interested in Gos Thom. Last month, he posted an interview in three parts with Stevan Davies and this month, he has done the same with Stephen J Patterson (although part III is not up at the time of this post). In each case, I’ve linked to the first post and you will need to read up the blog. He also has a range of other interesting material on Thomas and on early Christianity in general. A blog worth visiting.

Getting back into Gospel of Thomas – commentaries

As I’ve moved from reading what I’ve already written to working on new material, it has occurred to me that over the last several years, several new commentaries on Thomas have become available. When I first began looking at Thomas, there were only four books that were commentaries on the text.

  • Rodolphe Kasser (1961). L’Evangile selon Thomas: présentation et commentaire théologique. Neuchatel, Editions Delachaux & Niestlé.
  • Jacques Ménard (1975.). L’Évangile Selon Thomas. Leiden, E.J. Brill.
  • Michael Fieger, (1991). Das Thomasevangelium.  Einleitung, Kommentar and Systematik. Münster, Aschendorff.
  • Richard Valantasis (1997). The Gospel of Thomas. London and New York, Routledge.

I own a copy of Valantasis and the only other one available in a library in Australia is Fieger.  The comments I’ve heard about the latter are underwhelming, but I guess I need to fill out an ILL request, anyway. I believe that Ménard is good and have heard nothing about Kasser.  Comments from readers are most welcome about whether I should start scouring the second hand sellers for copies of either of them.

In the last several years I have acquired three new books:

  • Reinhard Nordsieck (2004). Das Thomas-Evangelium: Einleitung: Zur Frage des historischen Jesus: Kommentierung aller 114 Logien. Neukirchen-Vluyn, Neukirchener Verlag.
  • April DeConick (2006). The Original Gospel of Thomas in Translation, With a Commentary and New English Translation of the Complete Gospel. London, T & T Clark.
  • Uwe-Karsten Plisch (2008). The Gospel of Thomas: original text with commentary. Stuttgart, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft.

These three books have made my task signficantly easier and since they are reasonably new, I offer some information about them.

April DeConick’s work is laid out so that it is very easy to follow and it offers a very comprehensive range of information. It provides the Coptic text, her English translation and the Greek P Oxy whenever this is available.  It looks, where appropriate at Text and Translation Issues; Interpretative Comment; Source Discussion, Literature Parallels; Agreement in Syrian Gospels, Western Text and Diatessaron; and Selected Bibliography. She also indicates whether she sees it as a kernel saying or an accretion.  It’s available in paperback – an added bonus – although I bought the hard-cover version as soon as it came out. Combined with its companion volume (DeConick, A. D. (2005). Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas: A History of the Gospel and its Growth. London, T&T Clark.) it provides a huge amount of resource information about the text as well as her insights into interpreting it.

Richard Nordsiek’s book is also available as a paperback. I can’t remember exactly what I paid for it, but it was quite inexpensive and some of the reason for the low cost can been seen in the formatting.   The layout is less user-friendly than DeConick’s – no headings, just the text in German translation followed by his comments. Where he is commenting on Coptic or Greek text, it’s presented using the appropriate alphabet, rather than a transliteration (thank goodness! – I find transliterated Coptic very difficult to read). There is very little white space in the formatting – no spaces between paragraphs – but the size of the text is good. This has kept the size of the book to a reasonably managable 408 pages. There is not much introductory material – 20 pages of introduction, 7 pages on the question of the Historical Jesus – and no indices. Apart from a 9 page bibliography the rest of the book is commentary with comprehensive in text citations. I haven’t used it enough to get a good feel for it, but am finding it interesting.

Uwe-Karsten Plisch’s book is translated from German (although I have not been able to find information about a German edition). There are times when the underlying German is not far below the surface, but it is in general a good read. Like Nordsiek’s book, this has minimal introductory material, but it does include an index of texts cited as well as a bibliography, which is divided into subheadings. For each saying, he provides the Coptic text, the P Oxy text where available, a Greek retroversion wherever there is a New Testament parallel and an English translation as well as comments.  Again, I haven’t used this enough yet to make any comment on the usefulness or otherwise of the Greek retroversion. The commentary is helpful, although there are times when I feel that he makes statements about things that are self-evident to him but for which I would like a bit of justification.

An added advantage of Nordsieck and Plisch’s books is that they sometimes highlight German language material that I had not heard of before. At other times, they provide an overview of particular German language material that I haven’t been able to access. Sometimes they convince me that I need to try harder. 🙂

No, not nailed to the perch

I was reading through Doug Chaplin’s 48th Biblical Studies Carnival, (which is huge) when I came across the suggestion that my blog is currently nailed to the perch. I followed the link and discovered that I haven’t posted anything since late September! I had not realised that it had been that long, but there is a very good reason for this.  The funding for my current position (the one that keeps food on the table while I indulge my fascination for Coptic text) comes to an end on 31 December so I have been applying for new jobs and sorting my office into things that belong to me, things that should stay in the office (assuming that if the promised fractional time funding actually materialises and they find someone to do anything part time, they might need some resources) and things that should have been thrown away years ago.

I had forgotten how much energy packing takes and when you combine it with writing job applications, there isn’t much energy left for blogging.

My ministry library is currently sitting in 9 book cartons in the office and my doctoral material is now mainly in a new, shared office in the School of Humanities postgrad “waifs and strays” room where I am being a full time postgrad for 3 months (taking annual and long service leave). The room is inhabited by several honours students, a masters’ research student, a full time PhD student who is waiting for a space to free up in one of the full time doctoral offices, an adjunct philosopher who already has his PhD, me (a part time PhD student who doesn’t actually have to be provided with desk space) and several other people who don’t seem to use their desks.

The room is divided into several bays with 2-3 desks in each.  Everyone is pretty quiet and the room is airconditioned because it used to be a computer lab. This is nice because we are in the grip of an extended spell of hot weather. No other member of the School has air conditioning – not even the Head.

I spent a week getting my head back around my research and acquiring necessary equipment.  This included a rubbish bin and a paper recycling bin, which the other occupants didn’t realise they could ask for, even though they are standard equipment in all offices on campus. I then spent a week at a national university chaplains’ conference in Melbourne, during which time I also talked to several people about potential ministry placements.

Today, I re-read chapter 3 of the thesis/dissertation and decided that it needs a significant rework and discovered that I don’t appear to have a version that still has the Endnote tags for the references.  Yay!! On the plus side, this is the chapter my supervisor/advisor and I had planned to submit for publication some time ago and I am so pleased that we didn’t, because I no longer agree with what it says.

So, Doug, thanks for the nudge.  Although I need to concentrate on getting some writing done so that I can claw back the lack of progress over what has been a truly unpleasant year, I do plan to blog somewhat more frequently over the next two months or so.