Ridiculous Hebrew Tattoo

28 09 2008

Tyler Williams has several posts on horrid Hebrew tattoos, which can be found by scrolling down to “Tattoos” on the left-hand side of his blog page. Here is one that I recently found somewhere on the internet:

Trinity Tatt

Goodness, I’m not even sure where to start! First of all, this is supposed to be the trinity, but it is not. The “trinity” is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (although, for the sake of the argument, let’s reverse the order of the first two so that the Father can be at the apex). What this fellow has attempted to write instead is, “Jesus, Father, Holy Spirit”. Okay, that’s fine… I suppose.

Jesus is not spelt ישוא, but ישוע. The word ישוא looks like a stative verb formed from the adjective שוא, which is defined by Jastrow as “vanity, inanity, falsehood”. This word might mean, “He is insane”, which I think is hilarious, but would probably not be seen as so funny by the individual who chose to wear it for the rest of his life. Unfortunately for that individual, that’s not where the problems with his tattoo end – although he may be relieved to know that the worst of it is over. Or the best part of it, if you share my view on these things.

The second problem, and the most obvious, is that you can’t just pick and choose which letters to vocalise and which to leave blank or you end up with a tattoo that, like this one, looks ridiculous. He has marked both shins (ש) and all three waws (ו), although the third one looks a bit crowded as he’s actually duplicated the dot for the second shin, rather than just let one dot suffice for both, as certainly would have looked neater. He has also, for no apparant reason, written the qamats underneath the aleph (א) of the word for “father” but not under the quph (ק) for “holy”. And why has he not put in the vowels under the yodh (י) or the mistaken aleph (א) in “Jesus”? Or under the khet (ח) in “spirit”, or the definite article (ה) in “holy”? It’s anybody’s guess.

Man, I wish for his sake that it ended there, but his tattoo is just terrible. In trying to write “[the] Holy Spirit” he has translated the English back directly into Hebrew and created a Christianised Hebrew term. Perhaps that doesn’t count as an error from his perspective, but “holy spirit” in Hebrew (as in, the spirit of prophecy) is רוח הקודש, with the waw (ו) before the daled (ד). He, on the other hand, has written רוח הקדוש, with the daled before the waw. In truth, what he wrote means “[the] Holy Spirit” whereas my alternative would literally mean “[the] Spirit of Holiness”. I suppose that it all hinges on whether he is using Hebrew because it looks cool (my suspicion) or whether he is actually trying to recreate what the followers of Jesus himself would have actually used.

I feel sorry for him. Getting a tattoo done in a foreign language without first checking with somebody who reads that language is really stupid. Oh well.

Update: This post is generating a lot of comments from people who are seeking advice about Hebrew tattoos. Rather than commenting on the post, please just email me: “simon at benabuya dot com”.




15 responses

28 09 2008

It’s amazing to me how people’s sphere of interest and study limits their perspective. Like you, I also see a poorly-done tattoo, but unlike you (since I do not read the language) I see a tattoo that is badly placed, does not complement the shape of the body, and is unbalanced. Not to mention the fact that the font ems are different side-to-side, and that the shorter phrase has a smaller font than the longer!

Typography was not their strong suit. It makes this tattoo awful to look at, even not knowing the language or meaning.

If it was a closer view I would also criticise the technical aspects of the tattoo itself. Not all tattoos are stupid things- I disagree with that, of course. But you’re absolutely right about checking with someone who knows the language. Us tattoo artists have a saying, “Everyone gets the tattoo they deserve.” People who don’t take the time to research, check out the meaning, make sure, end up getting things like this.

28 09 2008
Simon Holloway

Thanks, Resonant – I like that. “Everyone gets the tattoo they deserve”. Still, I find it hard to believe that anyone deserves this one! You’re quite right about another thing as well: the typography is absolutely awful. But I suppose that anything is salvageable if you’re prepared to keep on adding to it? Or is that a dangerous attitude?

30 09 2008

It’s anybody’s guess.

It seems to be a common misconception that Hebrew symbols have unambiguous pronunciation, and therefore one must always distinguish between sin and shin and between consonantal vav and “oh” and “oo”. I’m sure that had he chosen “Abba” instead of “Av” for “Father” he would have put in the dagesh there as well.

And you’re the expert here, not me, but doesn’t ruach hakadosh mean “a spirit of the Holy”, rather than a Christianized translation of “the holy spirit?” I would expect the latter to be haruach hakadosh

30 09 2008
Simon Holloway

You are quite correct, hence my parenthesised “the”. Sometimes, however, attributive adjectives in Hebrew work in such a fashion that the noun lacks the definite article but is noted as being emphatic because of the definite article on the adjective. A good example of this might be שמו הגדול, “his great name” in 1 Sam 12:22. Another would be חצר הגדולה, “the great courtyard” in 1 Kgs 7:12. Or even רוח הרעה, “the evil spirit” in 1 Sam 16:23.

(Those examples are all taken from Waltke and O’Connor. If you want to look up what they say about attributive adjectives, it’s at §14.3.1a-d)

5 10 2008

I actually understood “ישוא” as coming from the verb “לשאת”, i.e. “he will bear it”, in the sense of “he will bear this ridiculous tattoo for the rest of his life” (I guess everyone has their own cross to bear).

10 10 2008
Simon Holloway

I don’t think that would work… “He will bear it”, in Biblical Hebrew, would be ישא. The root of the verb is actually √נשא, but the נ disappears and doubles the ש.

24 11 2008

The difference in meaning between “הקודש” and “הקדוש” is an interesting one. While teaching me, Barry Levy made the suggestion that “הקודש” may actually be a reference to the מקדש… It makes some interesting changes to the meaning of “ספרי הקודש מטמאין את הידים” and related discussions…

24 11 2008
Simon Holloway

Yes, I saw that in his book, Fixing God’s Torah. He mentions that idea in his introduction, if I remember correctly… Do you think that he would suggest that רוח הקודש has something to do with the Temple as well?

26 11 2008
Tim Bull

I am one of the people researching Hebrew for a tattoo and everywhere I go I get different answers. Even with my exceedingly limited knowledge of Hebrew and its grammatical structure I can see some of the translations are just plain wrong. I am looking to translate the phrase “The world has a heart too” and the closest I can get is “For the world also has a heart” (לעולם גם יש לב) as I am informed that גם wouldn’t appear at the end of a sentence. Also I want to get to the bottom of why לעולם is more preferable than העולם “for the world” as opposed to “the world” or could it be “the the world”. Please advise.

27 11 2008
Simon Holloway

Firstly, there are a number of different ways of conveying anything and you need to choose a collocation that appeals to you. I think that לעולם גם יש לב sounds pretty messy. For a start, you do need the ל-prefix on עולם if you want to denote possession – but you don’t actually need יש. You could write:

גם לעולם לב
לעולם גם לב
לב גם לעולם

There is a certain pleasing rhyme in the words גם and לעולם and you might want to exploit that. Otherwise, it’s really a question of personal taste. But be warned: לעולם also means “forever”, which might make the tattoo mean something like “hearts are also eternal”. You could disambiguate by adding vocalisation (la’olam, rather than le’olam) or you could use a different noun (לתבל, לארץ). Neither of those latter two options sound as good to me.

30 11 2008
Tim Bull

Thanks for that. It looks like semiotics seems to be far more interesting than engineering is, might be and might not be feel a lot more comfortable than a definate is or is not.

חנוכה שמח

13 02 2009

could some please translate the name “gabriel” into hebrew for me???thanx

14 02 2009
Simon Holloway

If you would like to ask me questions regarding translations for a tattoo, you can email me at yahaduth@gmail.com.

8 07 2009

can someone translate to hebrew the phrase

The Lord’s Blessing.

many thanks.

20 07 2009

Hi would someone please please PLEASE translate “forever young” into Hebrew! I am getting a tattoo of this. I think it is צעיר לנצח but i want some more sources before i make such a commitment.

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