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CRITIQUES OF BIBLICAL TRANSLATION

Excerpt from the End Notes of the The Electric Mirror on the Pharos Lighthouse and Other Ancient Lighting. by Larry Radka

Hebrew Language

In regard to the Old Testament, the Hebrew language, as anciently written, was the most difficult of all languages to translate, wrote Bible scholar John E. Remsburg in his work entitled The Bible. In one of thirty weekly installments collected in his book, which had begun to appear in The Truth Seeker at the beginning of January in 1901, he went on to explain that:

It was written from right to left; the words contained no [written] vowels; there were no intervening spaces between words, and no punctuation marks. Even with the introduction of vowel points (dots or marks below the words that indicate vowel sounds) many words in Hebrew, as in English, have more than one meaning. Without these points, as originally written, the number is increased a hundred fold. The five English words, bag, beg, big, bog, and buy, are quite unlike and easily distinguished. Omit the vowels, as the ancient Jews did, and we have five words exactly alike, or rather, one word with five different meanings. The Hebrew language was thus largely composed of words with several mean¬ings. As there were no spaces between words, it was sometimes hard to tell where a word began or where it ended; and as there were no punctuation marks, and no spaces between sentences, paragraphs, or even sections, it was often difficult to determine the meaning of a writer after the words had been deciphered.
Here is the best known passage in the Bible printed in English as the Jews would have written it in Hebrew:

bllwhtmcmdgnkhtmnhtbdllhnvhntrhchwrhtfR
vgrfwsstbdrsvgrfdndrbldrdshtsvgnvhnstshtrnnd
nkhtsnhtrflvmrfsrvldtbnttpmttntnsdldnsrtbdrn
nmrvrfrlghtdnrphtdnmdg

Its no wonder Saint Jerome (340?-420), who published the Latin Vulgate version of the Bible, admitted: When we translate the Hebrew into Latin, we are sometimes guided by conjecture. Furthermore, Jean Le Clerc (1657-1736), a Swiss Protestant theologian and scholar, even went so far as to maintain that: The learned merely guess at the sense of the Old Testament in an infinity of places. This is in large part because of the ancient Hebrews' failure to write down their vowels and of the language subsequently falling into disuse. The adding of the relatively modern vowel points, by a few belated Dark-Age rabbis, in order to make up for this deficit, naturally casts very great suspicion and doubts on how the Hebrew vowels were originally sounded and used.

Verifying the recent appearance of these vowel points, the renowned J. Paterson Smyth, B.D., LL.D., Litt.D., an author of several books on the Bible, maintained that:

These marks are of comparatively modern date, certainly not older than about 500 or 600 AD. He added; We can imagine then what a sensation was produced when Elias Levita, a very famous Hebrew scholar, about the year 1540, proved to the world that these vowel marks were not in existence for hundreds of years after the time of our Lord ! Of course this caused some controversy at the time, but Dr. Smyth concluded that: No scholar now thinks of doubting the comparatively recent origin of the Hebrew vowel points.

Nobody today knows for sure how the original Hebrew was pronounced, regardless of the tales commonly propagated about the Jewish rabbis carrying on an accurate oral tradition for thousands of years. Our knowledge of the evolution of languages would almost certainly deny the likely possibility of such. If old King Solomon were to walk through Jerusalem today and hear the Hebrew spoken there now, he would probably stop in astonishment, listen in amazement, shake his head in bewilderment, and finally conclude that he must be in a foreign country.

God Singular or Gods Plural

Page 119 - It is noteworthy to point here that the Old Testament is a misleading authority in regards to the existence of the “gods” of the Hebrews. In fact, the Hebrew gods (elohim) are mentioned about 2,000 times in the Bible, but nearly all translators and biblical commentators - from about the time of Christ - have mistakenly, or intentionally, chosen, in almost every instance, to convert them into a singular “God” or combination of so-called “divine names” that implies that one Hebrew god rules the universe. You can verify the plurality of the Hebrew god by checking any Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, or The Higher Criticism and the Verdict of the Monuments - where Oxford professor of Assyriology A. H. Sayce also verifies their plurality. In his learned and courageous declaration, he openly maintains:

Elohim is a plural noun, and its employment in the Old Testament as a singular has given rise to a large amount of learned discussion, and, it must also be added, of a learned want of common sense. Grammarians have been in the habit of evading the difficulty by describing it as a “pluralis majestatis,” “a plural of majesty,” or something similar, as if a term in common use which was grammatically a plural could ever have come to be treated as a singular, unless this singular had once been a plural. We can construe the word “means” with a singular verb, but nevertheless there was once a time when “means” was a plural noun.

We may take it for granted, therefore, that if the Hebrew word Elohim had not once signified the plural “gods,” it would never have been given a plural form, and the best proof of this is the fact that in several passages of the Old Testament the word is still used in a plural sense. Indeed there are one or two passages, as for example Gen. I. 26, where the word, although referring to the God of Israel, is yet employed with a plural verb, much to the bewilderment of the Jewish rabbis and the Christian commentators who followed them. It is strange how preconceived theories will cause the best scholars to close their eyes to obvious facts.

The Israelites were a Semitic people, and their history down to the age of the Exile is the history of a perpetual tendency toward polytheism. Priest and prophet might exhort and denounce, and kings might attempt to reform, but the mass of the people remained wedded to a belief in many gods. Even the most devoted adherents of the supreme God of Israel sometimes admitted that he was but supreme among other gods, and David himself, the friend of seers and prophets, complains that he had been driven out of “the inheritance of Yahveh” and told to go and “serve other gods” (1 Sam. xxvi. 19). What can be plainer than the existence of a persistent polytheism among the bulk of the people, and the inevitable traces of polytheism that were left upon the language and possibly the thoughts of the enlightened few ?

Page 119 -Yahweh, or Yahveh, was one of only several gods - as Sayce has just pointed out-that the ancient Hebrews believed in. Exodus 34:14 even specifically names one of their gods, “whose name is jealous,” and says he “is a jealous God.” Of what he is jealous, we do not know. Nevertheless, in opposition to the popular monotheistic notion that Jews and Christians entertain today - of one almighty God of Israel always ruling everything - then and now - stands adequate historical evidence that shows this notion originally emerged from an earlier age ruled by several gods. Monotheism (a belief in only one God) sprang forth from polytheism (the worship of many gods) at a relatively recent time in human history, and it progressed slowly, and only began to flourish several centuries after the time of Christ. It developed from the later Hebrew worship of a sole God, Yahweh - as, in The Religious Teachings of the Old Testament, Albert C. Knudson, a professor in the Boston University School of Theology, so aptly pointed out:

The sole godhead of Yahweh was a truth, that was only gradually attained. The different steps in this development, may be distinguished with a fair degree of clearness. We begin with the Mosaic age. It was to Moses, as we have seen, that the establishment of Yahweh-worship was due. Previous to his time the Israelites seem to have been polytheists. On one of the cuneiform tablets discovered by Winckler at Boghazköj and belonging to the pre-Mosaic age we read of “the gods” of the Habiri or Hebrews, and in Josh. 24.2, 14f. and in Ezek. 20.7f., 24 we are told that both in Mesopotamia and Egypt the Israelites worshipped other gods. The very name “Yahweh” also points in the same direction. The manifest purpose of such a name was to distinguish the god of Israel from other gods. If the Hebrews had not believed in the existence of other deities, there would have been no need of giving a personal name to the Divine Being through whom they were delivered from Egypt. He would have been to them simply God. Then, too, it is a significant fact that the common Hebrew word for “God,” Elohim, is plural in form. This plural, it is often said, was not numerical, but simply enhancive of the idea of might, a plural majesty. And this was no doubt to a large extent true of later usage. But originally the plural form must have had a polytheistic background. People could have begun to use the plural “gods” to express the idea of divinity only at a time when they believed in the existence of a plurality of divine beings. This is illustrated by the Greek use of theoi and the Latin use of dei. The plural, Elohim, points, then, back to an earlier polytheistic stage of belief. And this stage we naturally locate in the pre-Mosaic period.

What Moses did was to put monolatry in place of the earlier polytheism. He did not deny the existence of other gods, but proclaimed Yahweh as the sole god of Israel. He did not say that there was but one God, but insisted that it was Israel's duty to have but one God. But while he thus did not teach monotheism [like the wayward do now], the monolatry he established was an important step in that direction.

In fact, The Emphasized Bible even goes so far as to translate Amos 5:26 thus: “But ye carried the tent of your king-idol, and your Saturn-images-the star of your gods, which ye made for yourselves.” This is a more accurate translation than that in the King James Bible-wherein the Hebrew word used for “God” is actually elohim, which once again, should be translated “gods,” just as the Emphasized Bible translates it. Apparently its translators saw no great danger in rendering elohim as a divine plural in this particular instance. But, like about two thousand or so other times in the King James Translation, and in other translations as well, the translators apparently thought it was safer and wiser if the naive flock would read just “God,” so that the greatest deception of two millennium - that is, that there is but one God in this infinite universe - could be effectively propagated to future generations for perhaps another two thousand years. It is time for religious shepherds to teach their naïve flocks the truth for a change.

References

The Bible by John E. Remsburg

Several books on the Bible by Paterson Smyth, B.D., LL.D., Litt.D

Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible

The Higher Criticism and the Verdict of the Monuments by A. H. Sayce - Oxford Professor of Assyriology

The Religious Teachings of the Old Testament by Albert C. Knudson - Professor in the Boston University School of Theology:

The Emphasized Bible

The Electric Mirror on the Pharos Lighthouse and Other Ancient Lighting by Larry Radka


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