3 wrong ways (and 1 right way) to translate Biblical Hebrew

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by Neil Godfrey

I nice little book, And God Said: How Translations Conceal the Bible’s Orginal Meaning, by Dr Joel M. Hoffman, gives us some valuable and interesting insights into the complexities involved with translating from Hebrew to English. He entertainingly discusses some culturally entrenched mistranslations that we have inherited in most of our Bibles, too.

I am sure I am not the only one with an interest in Bible study who has been known to struggle to find original meanings of Hebrew words by piecing together data from a number of lexicons and dictionaries. Hoffman has a discussion highlighting three common methods of understanding Hebrew that don’t work very well. I can understand his advice being fit for amateurs but he seems to be saying that even professional translators have also at times fallen into these traps:

Unfortunately, three common methods of understanding Hebrew are rampant among translators, and none of them works very well. The three methods are internal word structure, etymology, and cognate languages. (p.21)

The news is not all bad, though. Hoffman does discuss a fourth method that really does work. But first he addresses the three bad wolves.

Wrong: Internal word structure

Hoffman illustrates the problem here with English language analogies.

The word “patent” by definition means a “non-obvious art”, with “art” being use in its technical sense to embrace science as well what we think of as art. But the key part of the definition is “nonobvious”.

In fact, Section 103 of Title 35 of the U.S. Code, the part of U.S. law that deals with patents, specifically notes that “non-obvious subject matter” is a “condition for patentability.”

He incidentally refers to one wag who managed to patent the simple stick though describing it in a way to hide its obviousness, and I have seen a patent go through for “a circular transportation facilitation device” (the wheel!) — again clever scientific jargon can be used to make something obvious seem quite novel.

Now since the suffix “-ly” usually turns a word into an adverb, one might expect that patently would mean doing something in a non-obvious way. But of course we know the word means the exact opposite!

Again, the word “host” means someone who welcome guests at parties. But “hostile”, once again, has an opposite meaning. If we tried to use the word “host” to understand “hostile”, or vice versa, we would get a completely wrong answer.

Knowing the meaning of “intern” does  not help us in any way to establish the meaning of “internal”. Continue reading “3 wrong ways (and 1 right way) to translate Biblical Hebrew”

The Dishonesty of a “Scholarly” Review of Robert Price

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Associate Professor of Religion at Butler University, and professing Christian, James McGrath, has written in his review of Price’s chapter, “Jesus at the Vanishing Point”, in The Historical Jesus: Five Views, the following:

Crossan rightly highlights that Price’s statement that he will simply skip the matter of the Testimonium Flavianum is “not an acceptable scholarly argument as far as I am concerned”.

It is outright dishonesty to suggest Price “simply skips the matter of the TF”. Price in fact discusses his scholarly views of the TF, and cites a number of scholarly references supporting his view and where readers can explore his arguments in more depth. Price also explains why the evidence for the TF is less conclusive than other evidence he proceeds to discuss.

(I expand on these and other points in my two-part review — Part 1Part 2 — of McGrath’s so-called review of Price’s chapter. The point of this post is simply to highlight as brief notes the extent to which at least one scholar will go when faced with mythicist arguments. See the fuller reviews for the details.)

McGrath also writes:

For instance, is it possible that early Christians went through the Jewish Scriptures, choosing a story here, a turn of phrase there, and weaved them together to create a fictional Messiah? Certainly – as are all other scenarios. What is never explained is why someone would have done this . . .

This is a double lie. Price nowhere argues that early Christians weaved scriptures to “create” a fictional Messiah. Continue reading “The Dishonesty of a “Scholarly” Review of Robert Price”