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Distinguished Correspondent
Joseph_F
Posts: 271
Registered: ‎03-05-2009

Bible Translations

[ Edited ]

When studying any subject, it's always a good idea to go back to the original sources. This becomes a tad difficult when the original source is in a language you don't speak, which is the problem faced by most people when it comes to reading the Bible.

 

No matter how good a translation is, it will always lose some aspect of the original text. One immediate problem is that the Bible (or at least the Hebrew portion of it), is packed with wordplay and puns that are impossible or at least very difficult to convey in another language.

 

The example I like to use for this is the book of Ruth, which begins with a man leaving Bethelehem to escape a famine. Bethlehem literally means in Hebrew "house of food" or "house of bread". The first sentence, which seems grim in English, is actually something of a joke. Similarly, the man's two sons who die right at the start of the story are named, literally, "going to get sick" and "going to die", a joke that is missed when translations keep their names in Hebrew (Mahlon and Chilion).

 

But unless you want to learn a few different ancient languages, you're going to be reading the Bible in translation. So the question is: which translation. There are a few different obvious contenders:

 

King James - the original. It's a famously inaccurate translation, so reading it will give you a very bad idea of the meaning in the original languages, however its language is also famously beautiful. If you see a reference to the Bible in literature, it will almost certainly use the language of the King James

New Revised Standard Version - My Hebrew professor in college (who, I was startled to discover later, is one of the top Biblical Hebrew experts in the world) considers this the most accurate translation currently available. That doesn't necessarily make it the best, only the closest to the original meaning.
 
Jewish Publication Society - About as accurate as the NRSV.
 
Any number of plain language Bibles - These are what many people use, and their advantage is in the ease of reading. However, obviously, with ease of reading comes a loss in terms of the meaning of the original text. It's hard enough to translate complex text into English, harder still to translate it to simple English.

 

So, having said all that, what translations do you prefer? What's more important? Fidelity to the original text? Literary beauty? Ease of reading? Or are all translations failures by definition because they cannot completely recreate the original "Word of God"? 

 

 

Message Edited by Joseph_F on 03-25-2009 12:53 PM
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Jon_B
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Re: Bible Translations

[ Edited ]

The version I've always liked the most is the Zondervan NIV Study Bible  mostly because of the quality of the footnotes, comments, maps, and other explanatory content.  It's incredibly thorough and often explains in the notes that certain terms have historically been translated into English in different ways, sometimes mentions recent relevent archeological and anthropological information, and so on.  It's certainly not as poetic as other versions so the verses themselves are not really as enjoyable to read in that sense, but in terms of the information provided I like it a lot.

 

Message Edited by Jon_B on 03-25-2009 10:08 AM
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Nadine
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Re: Bible Translations


Joseph_F wrote:

King James - the original. It's a famously inaccurate translation, so reading it will give you a very bad idea of the meaning in the original languages, however its language is also famously beautiful. If you see a reference to the Bible in literature, it will almost certainly use the language of the King James

New Revised Standard Version - My Hebrew professor in college (who, I was startled to discover later, is one of the top Biblical Hebrew experts in the world) considers this the most accurate translation currently available. That doesn't necessarily make it the best, only the closest to the original meaning.
 
Jewish Publication Society - About as accurate as the NRSV.
 
Any number of plain language Bibles - These are what many people use, and their advantage is in the ease of reading. However, obviously, with ease of reading comes a loss in terms of the meaning of the original text. It's hard enough to translate complex text into English, harder still to translate it to simple English.

 

So, having said all that, what translations do you prefer? What's more important? Fidelity to the original text? Literary beauty? Ease of reading? Or are all translations failures by definition because they cannot completely recreate the original "Word of God"? 

 

 

Message Edited by Joseph_F on 03-25-2009 12:53 PM

I am not a bible reader but I do have a few reference versions. I consider the King James version pure poetry. In fact I sometimes have trouble "translating" the English properly. It is after all witten in the English of Shakespeare and the meaning of some English words has changed somewhat.

 

Most of the other versions are often sponsored by a religious group and do have a particular sect's spin to them in the choice of some words and phrasing. I have a parallel  translation of the Christian bible that includes the King James, the Amplified, the Living NewTestiment and the Revised Standard side by side in parallel columns. I have found the Gospel viersion put out by the Jesus Seminar most interesting. The translation is very modern and actually not the greatest for general reading. The book itself analyzes virtually every word in detail is definitely not a reading bible.

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Everyman
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Re: Bible Translations

For magnificence of language, nothing beats the King James.

 

But for study, I, like your Hebrew professor, prefer the New Revised Standard, and use the HarperCollins Study Bible in that translation, though I have several other Bibles I sometimes read in. 

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Everyman
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Re: Bible Translations

And what about translation of the Koran?  I don't have any, and have never read it, so have no idea.
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Nadine
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Re: Bible Translations


Jon_B wrote:

The version I've always liked the most is the Zondervan NIV Study Bible  mostly because of the quality of the footnotes, comments, maps, and other explanatory content.  It's incredibly thorough and often explains in the notes that certain terms have historically been translated into English in different ways, sometimes mentions recent relevent archeological and anthropological information, and so on.  It's certainly not as poetic as other versions so the verses themselves are not really as enjoyable to read in that sense, but in terms of the information provided I like it a lot.

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Thanks for the information Jon. I hadn't realized the Vondervan NIV was out in a detailed study version. That looks most useful and I will look into that one. I do have the full audio version and it does read well but the introductions to each book definitly have a certain religion's spin on them, but that may have been just for the audio. I started a project one year to actually read the Bible from cover to cover since very few people do that. They just read favorite sections. But I wanted to see it from a full perspective. So I got the audio. But I ran out steam around Isaiah. Maybe I should revive the project.

 

Message Edited by Jon_B on 03-25-2009 10:08 AM

 

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Joseph_F
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Re: Bible Translations


Everyman wrote:
And what about translation of the Koran?  I don't have any, and have never read it, so have no idea.

Well, "translation" is a tricky word when applied to the Koran, since Islam's relation to non-Arabic Korans are very different than Christians' acceptance of translated holy writings. The Koran is not the "word of God" but rather is God, or at least as much of a manifestation of God as Jesus is to Christians. 

 

So because the actual Arabic words are considered part of God, any translation cannot be considered a true Koran. Which is why translations will almost always be called on their covers an "interpretation of the Koran" rather than simply "the Koran". 

 

As for which translations are most accurate, I'm not sure. Maybe someone else would know more about it.

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Nadine
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Re: Bible Translations


Everyman wrote:
And what about translation of the Koran?  I don't have any, and have never read it, so have no idea.

Neither have I. The Muslims themselves are not in favor of translations and insist that every member of the Islamic faith learn Arabic in order to read it. But I too would be interesting in a recommended translation.

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yeshuasgirl
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Re: Bible Translations

i read thew Complete Jewish bible!  it is wonderful and very informitive. check it out.
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Raven_Lunatic
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Re: Bible Translations

The two I use are the ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash and Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's Living Torah. They both have their plusses and minuses. ArtScroll comes with a lot of commentary, but it can get a bit too much, espcially if you're not that religious. The Living Torah is written in easy-to-read, contemporary style. The commentary mostly consists of "This word is translated by this rabbi as X, and by that rabbi as Y", but there are illustrated plates for things like the layout of the Tabernacle. Both translations have Hebrew and English side-by-side.

 

I've had it drilled into me that there really is no substiture for learning in the original Hebrew, but I'm horrible at languages, so English it is for me.

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Dreamer4ever
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Re: Bible Translations


Jon_B wrote:

The version I've always liked the most is the Zondervan NIV Study Bible  mostly because of the quality of the footnotes, comments, maps, and other explanatory content.  It's incredibly thorough and often explains in the notes that certain terms have historically been translated into English in different ways, sometimes mentions recent relevent archeological and anthropological information, and so on.  It's certainly not as poetic as other versions so the verses themselves are not really as enjoyable to read in that sense, but in terms of the information provided I like it a lot.

 

Message Edited by Jon_B on 03-25-2009 10:08 AM

 

 

 

Same here. I am totally for NIV because it is easy to read and understand. I agree with Jon, it's not really poetic, but you know what it means. To me that's the most important thing.

 

I have tried to read the New King James, but I have sooo much trouble trying to make sense of it that I pretty much have just given up on it. It is very elegant writing, but understanding it is a different story.

 

 

The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them. --Mark Twain
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Nelsmom
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Re: Bible Translations

I read the King James Version of the Bible and have not read any of the others.  I have a brother that speaks and teaches Arabic and if people are interested I can ask him what the best translation of the Koran is.  He and his family spent 11 years in Middle Eastern countries because he worked for the Foreign Langague department in the State Department.

 

Toni

Toni L. Chapman
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Peppermill
Posts: 6,768
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Re: Bible Translations

[ Edited ]

Nelsmom wrote:

I read the King James Version of the Bible and have not read any of the others.  I have a brother that speaks and teaches Arabic and if people are interested I can ask him what the best translation of the Koran is.  He and his family spent 11 years in Middle Eastern countries because he worked for the Foreign Langague department in the State Department.

 

Toni


Toni -- Please do!

 

I do know that The Meaning of the Holy Quran Tenth Edition (Abdullah Yusuf Ali) is the version that was used for at least one term of a Civilization course that is part of the core curriculum at Columbia University. 

 

Given that considerable discussion preceded adding the Qu'ran (Koran) to the curriculum, my guess is that the version to be used received at least a  modicum of academic scrutiny. 

 

However, this site suggests some of the issues that have arisen. I cannot speak to their significance or validity, only that issues exist.  (The Wikipedia article also suggests some of the issues in later editions.)

 

The somewhat sketchy Wikipedia article on Abdullah Yusuf Ali cited above includes links to other material, which I have not pursued.  It does suggest that Marmaduke Pickthall was another respected "translator" of the Quran into English.

 

It is widely recognized that the Bible has been translated into many languages, even ones that are marginal in numbers of users.  I do not know what is the situation for the Quran, given that Islam is, like Christianity, an evangelistic faith, but also given the especial status of the Arabic text.

Message Edited by Peppermill on 03-25-2009 07:36 PM
"Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here." -- Leo Tolstoy
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Nelsmom
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Re: Bible Translations

Peppermill,

 

I will but it will proably be the weekend before I have a chance to talk to him but I will find out as soon as I can.  I will also check and see if it is avalible on this website.

 

Toni

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Choisya
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Re:The Koran

 

 

One of the best translations of The Koran is by N J Dawood, which is said to maintain the poetic rhthym of the original. The more recent translation by J M Rodwell is technically good but less poetic.  (The Koran is noted for its poetry.)

Barnes and Noble have an excellent selection of translations of The Koran. I am familiar with this version and was able to discuss it with my former Muslim lodger over a period of 7 years.      

 

 

 

 

There are also dual translations in Arabic and English.  The majority of Muslims learn the Koran by heart in Arabic, whatever their native language, and are unfamiliar with translations, which used to be the case with the Bible when it was only known to the clergy in Latin.  

 

The Holy Qur'an; Text, Translation, and Commentary by Abdullah Ysuf Ali has an excellent commentary.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Koran for Dummies  And, though perhaps sacreligous, The Koran for Dummies by Sohaib Sultan is a useful guide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Joseph_F wrote:

Everyman wrote:
And what about translation of the Koran?  I don't have any, and have never read it, so have no idea.

Well, "translation" is a tricky word when applied to the Koran, since Islam's relation to non-Arabic Korans are very different than Christians' acceptance of translated holy writings. The Koran is not the "word of God" but rather is God, or at least as much of a manifestation of God as Jesus is to Christians. 

 

So because the actual Arabic words are considered part of God, any translation cannot be considered a true Koran. Which is why translations will almost always be called on their covers an "interpretation of the Koran" rather than simply "the Koran". 

 

As for which translations are most accurate, I'm not sure. Maybe someone else would know more about it.


 

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Choisya
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Re: New Testament

[ Edited ]
Although I am an atheist, I studied comparative religion alongside politics at university and have always maintained a philosophical and historical interest in the subject.  One of the most useful books I acquired was Hugh J Schonfield's The Original New Testament, which when published in 1985, incorporated the latest archeological and bibliographical discoveries into the annotated translation.  Schonfield, a Jew, was an eminent historian, biblical archaelogist, linguist and author  and was one of the first to publish work about the Dead Sea Scrolls in the controversial

Passover Plot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I believe the Original New Testament is now out of print but if you can get hold of a second hand copy, I recommend it.  Here is an extract from a long review of it:

 

 

 

Schonfield's is a strikingly interesting approach, highly personal, but well-informed, like Richmond Lattimore's contemporary translations (1962-1982; collected as "The New Testament," 1996); although Lattimore, a classical scholar, avoided both theology and history in favor of reflecting Greek style. Schonfield is certain to infuriate some people, and to annoy almost every reader at one point or another; but the translation and commentary are never dull, and despite glossing over some issues as too boring for the General Reader, mostly reliable as to facts, if not conclusions. (One sometimes has to read carefully to tell the difference.)

The translation was not originally undertaken to support Schonfield's decidedly quirky "take" on Jesus (whose career he later interpreted as that of an apocalyptic messianist, who stage-managed a "Scripture-fulfilling" confrontation with Rome), but to present the lay reader with two then (circa 1950) less familiar ways of approaching the New Testament; as Greek texts whose contents and order are less securely established than official translations would suggest, and as the products of Jewish communities, not yet clearly differentiated into "The Early Church."

As for the first, it still seems to be new and shocking to some to think of the New Testament as a set of writings with a complex manuscript history. Although this fact is not very obviously reflected in the standard, ecclesiastically-sponsored translations, which smooth over most such difficulties, particularly those popular printings with minimal textual notes, fuller editions make this clear (the Catholic "New Jerusalem Bible," for example, is available in study versions, with elaborate references to variants, and simplified presentations for the "ordinary reader"). There is a substantial body of scholarship which has attempted to figure out how the text reached its present state, not to be confused with historical speculations about "what really happened."

As part of offering a non-standard presentation, emphasizing unexpected and "difficult" variants, Schonfield often disregards traditional divisions, introduces new ones, separates out some passages as secondary elaborations, and shifts others from their accustomed places. He substitutes a reconstructed chronological order for the somewhat arbitrary arrangement in most printed texts. (The manuscript evidence on this is somewhat chaotic, and the usual order is a convention that lacks the authority assumed by many readers.)

 

On the Jewish side, Schonfield's treatment has some problems. On the one hand, he (very properly) discussed the astonishing variety of Judaisms co-existing in Roman times, and tried to reconstruct the messages of Jesus and Paul to fit among them. On the other, he tended to cite the modern "traditional" Jewish prayer-book as if it clearly reflected First Century liturgical practices. The antiquity of both the whole service and specific formulations in it are open to debate; some is clearly ancient, large portions are definitely medieval, some sections later still. '

Message Edited by Choisya on 03-26-2009 10:14 AM
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Joseph_F
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Re: Re:The Koran


Choisya wrote:

 

 

One of the best translations of The Koran is by N J Dawood, which is said to maintain the poetic rhthym of the original. The more recent translation by J M Rodwell is technically good but less poetic.  (The Koran is noted for its poetry.)

Barnes and Noble have an excellent selection of translations of The Koran. I am familiar with this version and was able to discuss it with my former Muslim lodger over a period of 7 years.      

 

 

 

 

There are also dual translations in Arabic and English.  The majority of Muslims learn the Koran by heart in Arabic, whatever their native language, and are unfamiliar with translations, which used to be the case with the Bible when it was only known to the clergy in Latin.  

 

The Holy Qur'an; Text, Translation, and Commentary by Abdullah Ysuf Ali has an excellent commentary.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Koran for Dummies  And, though perhaps sacreligous, The Koran for Dummies by Sohaib Sultan is a useful guide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Thanks so much Choisya. I own a translation of the Koran, but it has always struck me as particularly clumsy one. None of the English parses well. I'll look into these suggestions.

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Peppermill
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Re: Bible Translations

[ Edited ]

Joseph_F wrote (excerpt): When studying any subject, it's always a good idea to go back to the original sources. This becomes a tad difficult when the original source is in a language you don't speak, which is the problem faced by most people when it comes to reading the Bible.

 

No matter how good a translation is, it will always lose some aspect of the original text. One immediate problem is that the Bible (or at least the Hebrew portion of it), is packed with wordplay and puns that are impossible or at least very difficult to convey in another language.

 

The example I like to use for this is the book of Ruth, which begins with a man leaving Bethelehem to escape a famine. Bethlehem literally means in Hebrew "house of food" or "house of bread". The first sentence, which seems grim in English, is actually something of a joke. Similarly, the man's two sons who die right at the start of the story are named, literally, "going to get sick" and "going to die", a joke that is missed when translations keep their names in Hebrew (Mahlon and Chilion).

 

But unless you want to learn a few different ancient languages, you're going to be reading the Bible in translation....

A few comments, Joseph:

 

1.  Thanks for the story from Ruth.  I do not remember hearing those tidbits previously.  Although the names of the sons are interesting, I was surprised not to have encountered the translation of Bethlehem as "house of food" or "house of bread" before, given the obvious symbolism relative to the Christian sacrament of Communion or Eucharist.

 

2.  I have always found it a gift to have access to someone trained in Hebrew or Greek (or Aramaic) when doing Bible studies.  It has often arisen for me in groups when different members have been using different translations and we have wondered how close to the original we might get.

 

3.  Still, we should probably recognize that even if we were conversant and fluent in a language like ancient Hebrew, we might have virtually insurmountable issues in understanding the culture and milieu in which the words were used.   Some of the most interesting discussions in which I have been involved have dealt with the very limited vocabulary (a few thousand words) and how do we comprehend those concepts with our minds accustomed to a far more vast vocabulary. (E.g., "ruah" -- the Hebrew word for wind or spirit or breath.  One discussion is here; a Google search for "spirit hebrew" quickly gives several others that delve into other nuances and discernments.) 

 

4.  A guide to Bible translations that I have found useful is:

 

 

User's Guide to Bible Translations: Making the Most of Different Versions by David Dewey.

 

It includes some good discussions on accuracy and style, as well as the strengths and short comings of a considerable number of English translations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5.   Although Dewey refers to Eugene Peterson's The Message as a paraphrase (Dewey does acknowledge Peterson did his work from original language texts rather than another English translation, p.42), as "voguish"(p.36), as one "that people either love or loathe" (p.182), and as occasionally careless ("In Genesis 28:19, after Jacob deamed of astairway to the sky, did he actually 'christen' the place Bethel?" -- an anachronism? p.183), I find it a useful adjunct to more literal translations when trying to get to meaning.  However, I don't particularly "love it." I simply prefer it to earlier efforts, some of which, like The Good News Bible already seem dated to me.  I would not choose a version without verse indications and often find the Old Testament particularly useful for aiding comprehension (not available in all editions, since it was completed later by Peterson).

 

 

The Message, Numbered Edition by Eugene Peterson (Mine is actually a different edition, chosen for its ease of carrying, pleasure to use, soft cover, ribbon marker, and paper quality, since I knew this would be a book I would be carrying and using frequently.  Now, for the HarperCollins Study Bible and The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, Augmented Third Edition, New Revised Standard Ver..., one doesn't have those options, so one deals or uses a different version!)

 

 

Message Edited by Peppermill on 03-26-2009 12:03 PM
"Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here." -- Leo Tolstoy
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Peppermill
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Re: Bible Translations


Jon_B wrote:

The version I've always liked the most is the Zondervan NIV Study Bible  mostly because of the quality of the footnotes, comments, maps, and other explanatory content.  It's incredibly thorough and often explains in the notes that certain terms have historically been translated into English in different ways, sometimes mentions recent relevent archeological and anthropological information, and so on.  It's certainly not as poetic as other versions so the verses themselves are not really as enjoyable to read in that sense, but in terms of the information provided I like it a lot.

 


Jon -- thanks for this note.  When I first read it, I thought you were referring to the NIV Student Bible, also published by Zondervan, and I was going to point out the NRSV Student Bible is also available, with very similar, if not identical, notes by Philip Yancey and Tim Stafford. But on re-reading, you sent me to my library shelves, and I realize I have an NIV Study Bible to capitalize on alongside Harper Collins and Oxford Annotated NRSV.

 

Do you know if an audio (CD) version of the Old Testament (First Testament?) NRSV is available yet?  The last time I checked (about two years ago), it was not, although the New Testament was.  I have not spotted it yet on either bookstore shelves or on-line catalogs, although I have not gone digging aggressively.

 

"Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here." -- Leo Tolstoy
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Joseph_F
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Re: Bible Translations

[ Edited ]

Peppermill- You're absolutely right. Not only is our vocabulary in Biblical Hebrew limited by the relative scarcity in availible texts and its basis in educated guesswork, but the cultural context of the Bible makes the understanding of it a tricky thing.

 

Apologies to those who consider the Bible the actual Word of God (you are absolutely welcome in this discussion as well), but I will be speaking of it as a historical document for the purposes of this post. Also I'm talking here about the Hebrew Bible:

 

When dealing with a document that is well over 2,000 years old and from a culture entirely different than our own, and furthermore was written over the course of several centuries (think how much our own culture has changed over the last few centuries), there is a major problem in deciphering the actual intended meaning within the cultural context of the authors.

 

Reading the Bible as is with no guide to the history and culture of the Israelites means you will almost certainly end up at a meaning enitrely divorced from the original meaning. What you are reading comments on and reacts to hundreds of years worth of political and religious events within the community, and reading without understanding those events can be compared to reading a collection of great American political speeches without any knowledge of American history, system of government, or culture.  

 

One could very easily argue that all this is beside the point: obviously the interpretations dervived from the text have been far more important to our history and culture than the original intentions of the authors. It would be fair to say that as it is a religious rather than historical text, the interpretations derived from it in a religious context are all perfectly valid.

 

So, do original intentions and cultural contexts matter? Or are religious interpretations the only thing that matter with a religious text?

 

And for those who believe the Bible to be the direct Word of God, what are your reactions to different interpretations made of the text? Are they inspired by God? Are some of them inspired by God? Or are those who have a relationship God simply able to see the original meaning of the text as it was plainly written?

 

 

Message Edited by Joseph_F on 03-26-2009 01:24 PM