The Bible in the Original Hebrew

I had the good fortune of hearing bits of the Old Testament in Hebrew recently.

Neat stuff. Very poetic and elegant.

(Mods, feel free to move to MPSIMS if that’s the more appropriate forum.)

Just out of curiosity, do you understand Hebrew?

BTW, not all of the Bible (the Jewish Bible, anyway) is written in Hebrew. Portions of Daniel and Ezra are written in Aramaic.

Zev Steinhardt

BTW, just out of curiosity, in what context did you hear it? Was it someone simply reciting a verse? Was it in the context of prayer? While reading the Torah with the cantallation? Or some other context?

Zev Steinhardt

Nope, don’t understand a word of it. Just thought it sounded cool.

The reading was during a sort-of Seder that my church held. (Please don’t stone me! :wink: )

And most if not all of the Christian New Testament is in Greek, of course.

Gotta chime in to make a recommendation.

Everett Fox did a literal translation of the Pentateuch that I found fascinating. I led a Bible study at my church based on it. It was a literal translation, word-for-word or as close as might be. The word for “altar”, for instance, was translated “slaughter site”, which gave me a visceral insight into the Judaic system of sacrifice I never got before from staring at the tidy, white-covered altar in my church. :eek:

zev_steinhardt, have you read it? All the feedback I ever got was from Christians, and I don’t read Hebrew.


I have not read it, so I really cannot comment one way or the other on it.

The Hebrew language, very often, will use words that are derivatives of other words that are similar. For example, the word for mercy rachamim comes from the root rechem (“womb”) so as to evoke the imagery of a mother having mercy on her children.

The word for altar mizbayach comes from the root zevach. The word zevach is an interesting word. It is used primarily in relation to sacrificial animals, but does not precisely mean “offering” (for which there is a different Hebrew word). However, the word itself does not mean slaughter - the word for that is shochet, which is an entirely different word. Indeed, when the Bible tells us to slaughter a sacrifice, it uses the word shachat, not zevach. As such, I’m not so certain that “slaughter-site” is really an apropriate translation.

Zev Steinhardt

I am unclear on the literary history of the Pentateuch and Torah. Are the earliest copies in fact in something like modern Hebrew?

The New Testament and other books of that ilk are of course in a jumble of languages, mostly Attic Greek (or so I am told). (Did Jesus speak Hebrew at all?)

Of course the Quran exists only in Arabic. Not that Arabic is considered especially special, but once you start translating it, all sorts of problems pop up.

Not quite like Modern Hebrew. Think of it in terms of the difference between Shakespearean English and modern English.

Jesus, in all likelihood, spoke Hebrew when praying and learning Torah and Aramaic conversationally.

Well, no translation can capture all the nuances of the original. That applies to any work in any language. Why would the Quran be any different?

Zev Steinhardt

Any translation has problems, but I find the Fox translation fairly useful.

For instance, in ancient Hebrew, to emphasize an adjective, it often gets repeated. The KJV translates this with a “verily” or “exceedingly” – “He was exceedinly strong” for instance. Fox leaves the word duplicated: “He was strong, yes, strong” to convey the sense of poetry of the original.

Fox also transliterates the names – Yakov rather than Jacob, etc. That nasty J-sound in English didn’t exist in ancient Hebrew, it came from the Protestant (Luther’s?) German translations where the y-sound was a “j” (like, “jah” for yes is pronounced “yah”.) When the names came into English from German, the y-sound became a J, so we have Jacob, Joseph, and Jeremiah rather than Yakov, Yosef, and Yeremiah.

Zev, I think you’d find Fox interesting. Sure, there are bits that one might object to – any translation, as you say, has problems. You have to sacrifice either the poetry, or the meter, or the literal translation, so it’s never perfect. And you can never catch puns or wordplay from the original, except with footnotes. But, still, I find Fox better than most at trying to capture the flavor of the original poetry and language-use. Of course, if you want the meaning of the original but in modern English, you need to go elsewhere.